Be Kind…

Be Kind…                                                                                                                             (for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about)

I don’t know about you, but this quote seems to pop up in my social media more often than any other. It resonates with people, because it is true. I look around me and see people fighting battles all around me every day. Chronic illness, temporary severe illnesses, divorce, loss of a loved one, loss of a child, deployment of a loved one, having to move, being single, the list could go on and on, big and small things. Everyone’s capacity is different, what could be no big deal to one person, is devastating to someone else, because we all have our own stories.

I don’t know what it is like to walk in someone else’s shoes, but parts of my story help me to understand and empathize with parts of other people’s stories. The stories I understand best are those of single moms. We may not have all arrived here the same way, but here we are, and it is hard. I can’t say it is harder than anyone else’s hard, because I haven’t walked there. But it is frustrating when people compare things to my hard. When someone says they are “single momming it” because their partner is gone for the weekend/week/month, it is like saying to someone with a chronic illness, “Oh I know how you feel, I had the flu for a whole week last year” No. You don’t. That experience gave you a tiny glimpse, a taste, it allows you to have empathy, it does not allow you to claim or understand what fighting that battle is like.

I am not saying it isn’t a hard battle when you are left alone with your kids, when you are used to having someone there. There is no doubt it is rough. But you likely went grocery shopping and stocked up before they left. You likely didn’t plan any major events for that time. You likely get to call them at the end of the day and tell them how it went. And most importantly, you have an end date. A finish line. A point to look forward to where the battle will end and life will return to normal. I don’t have that luxury, and neither do my fellow single moms. This is our life, this is our normal, everything resting on our shoulders. Every.Single.Thing. There is no one to pick up the slack. There is no one to talk to at the end of the day. There is no one to fill up our bucket as we continuously empty it. It is exhausting, with no end in sight.

How do we be kind when we haven’t been there, done that, got the t-shirt? Don’t compare and don’t discount. I won’t discount your experience; I haven’t walked in our shoes, but yes I know it is hard to be alone. I will listen; I will ask if there is anything I can do to help. Don’t compare, empathize. Instead of comparing and saying you know what it is like, say wow, this is hard, I can only imagine what it is like for you all the time. Ask questions, listen, offer help. This life is isolating. Be kind.

[Not] An Apology

After my last blog post I almost wrote an apology. Posting something written while crying is probably not the best idea. But I did. And the next morning as people started commenting on Facebook, telling me that everything was going to be alright and things would work out, I felt bad. I didn’t write it because I wanted pity or attention. So I almost apologized. But I didn’t.

My writing process it probably different from most (everyone’s probably is). I don’t do rough drafts, I don’t start something and come back to it. I usually have some idea, some thought, that starts to bother me, and I muse on it for a week or more and then when I can’t stand having it in my head anymore, I sit down and write. And it usually goes in a direction I didn’t anticipate. I revise as I go, and then when it is done I send it out into the world. Because I know if I leave it, I will decide that it isn’t good enough, or doesn’t need to be said, or something along those lines.

The last blog post was no different, the core was something that had been kicking around for a while. The crying my eyes out while writing was the unanticipated direction. That fact that my process was the same is what kept me from knee jerk apologizing, and that gave me time to think it through. And I got a little help in my thought process.

First I heard the song “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissett, and I while I am not recommending the song (you have been warned) the chorus makes a good point. Singing to an ex, she says “I’m here to remind you of the mess you left when you went away. It’s not fair to deny me of the cross I bear that you gave to me.” As I talked about in the last post the fall out has really been bothering me lately. I feel like it has been 7 years, I shouldn’t be dealing with this anymore. So that last line, really hit home, it ISN’T fair to deny the fall out. The course of my life was drastically altered by someone else’s choice. That is fact. And that fact is still affecting my life today. Just to be clear I am not advocating playing the victim. We all have to take responsibility for our own actions. I have worked hard to stand on my own two feet. But that doesn’t make it easy.

The Second thing that helped solidify my thought process was this blog post about being a single mom on the Huffington Post. What we do is not easy. That doesn’t mean that we don’t love it. That doesn’t me we would trade it for the world. It just means that it is hard. And it isn’t fair to expect us to pretend that it is not. The whole reason I started this blog was to write about the hard things, with the hope that just one person will read it and know that they are not alone, know that what they are feeling is normal. So I don’t apologize for my last post. Because someone out there needed to hear it. Someone out there didn’t need it all tied up in a neat bow with all the answers. They needed raw, they needed real, they needed to know they weren’t alone.

Broken Dreams

I am getting rid of my son’s baby stuff. I kept everything. When my son was a baby I was just sure that a wonderful man would come along, I would get remarried and have more babies. So I kept everything. Clothes, bedding , toys, furniture, accessories of all kinds. As he grew older, I just kept putting the old stuff in storage. My storage unit, which once had plenty of space, slowly filled up. Well my baby is seven now, there is still no man on the horizon and the thought of having another baby has become decidedly less appealing. So I am purging. Everything.

But as I worked in my storage unit. I looked at all the other things, that have been in there for the past 7 years. Tables and chairs, cake pans, special linens, art, all the things to make a house a home. And I thought, at what point do I give up on that dream too? At what point do I give up on ever being able to gather friends around my table that seats 8. At what point do I give up on having a kitchen I can bake cakes in? At what point do I give up on having space to display the things I love?

When I took a Divorce Care class, years ago, they told us to make a list of all the things we had to grieve the loss of. Not just the loss of your spouse, but the loss of the plans and dreams. The thing is, no one told me those losses would continue so far into the future. I have healed. Most of the time I don’t even think about it much. But lately I look around and I see that there is still so much fall out. There are the holes that I wrote about last year. But there is just the everyday drag, and the feeling that none of this should have been like this. It shouldn’t be this hard.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to go back. I wouldn’t trade the lessons I have learned and the person I have become for anything. But I just want something to be different. Something to make it a little easier. I want someone to wrap me in their arms and tell ME it is going to be all right. Tell me not to give up on my dreams. Tell me that someday I will be able to sit around my table with friends and celebrate that this chapter is over.

 

 


Alone

I have heard this sentiment so many times and in so many ways. I think it is wise and totally true and something everyone should learn. I thought this was a good version, and the painting is hauntingly beautiful.

10151416_675032745883776_2157172414783979823_nHowever, it makes me want to scream.

So much of this type of advice is presented as a formula: Learn how to be happy alone AND THEN you will find someone. When you don’t NEED someone anymore, THEN it will be the right time. When you stop looking THEN someone will come along. Well guess what? I am happy, I am not needy, and I have stopped looking multiple times…and NEWSFLASH: I am still single.

I have learned HOW to be happy alone. But it doesn’t mean I WANT to be alone. I WANT a companion. I want someone to go on adventures with, to share the wonder, someone to be the second driver on awesome weekend trips, someone to talk to at the end of the day, someone to laugh with, someone to cry with, someone to be honest with, someone to do the dishes at the end of the day when I have nothing left.

In the past 7 years I have been in one relationship and gone on 4 first dates, and exactly zero second dates. From each one I have learned something new about myself, or about what I want. Being divorced makes you realize idea of “The One” is ridiculous. I believe there are multiple people out there with whom I could have a happy successful marriage. And with each of those people life would probably look very different. I am not picky, but there are certain qualities that have to be there. I know what I want, and maybe that is the trouble. I don’t see the point in “dating” for fun when I don’t see it going anywhere. As a single mom my time is precious.

Somewhere near the top of the hard and awkward list is being a divorced, single mom and tying to date. The number one issue is time, how do I carve out time for myself? And when I can, do I really want to spend it awkwardly talking to someone I don’t know over coffee? But wait, I have to meet someone first. How am I supposed to meet people? And where? And with whom? My friends are mostly married with kids, so they don’t go out anymore. I don’t really have many single friends, because, you know, I have a kid. And on the rare occasion that I do go out I want to have fun, not spend my time figuring out how to meet people. And on top of all that I am just naturally awkward and probably would have no idea how to respond if someone was actually interested in me…much less know how to show that I was interested.

Everyone tells me I should do online dating. But I just can’t bring myself to do that. There is too much personal history relating to my divorce to make meeting people online seem ok for me. Someday I might be able to work past that, but not today.

So where does that leave me? Alone. Happy, self sufficient, and not looking too hard…but very much alone.

All the Single Ladies

It is here again, February. The month that single ladies seem to dread, and I am already hearing the complaints about “Singles Awareness Day”.  Every year on Valentines Day I end up making a Facebook post in response to all the posts by my single friends. This year I thought I would get ahead of the curve.

A little history of my history with Valentine’s Day is in order. Growing up we always made Valentines cards for family members; they were works of love involving doilies, lace, scissors and glue.  For many years when I was small we had small fabric hearts, which at Christmas would hang on the tree, then when the tree was put away, they would hang on a row of nails across the beam in the middle of the house. Some years we had a Valentines tree, pruned branches of fruit trees that were forced into bloom by being brought inside, we would make small valentines to hang on the branches. When I got older my dad would always bring home potted primroses, cards and candy for my mom and I.

Fast forward to the first Valentine’s Day I went out with a boyfriend. We went to a concert at our church, I can’t even remember who was playing. He picked me up, for the first time ever, and we were just so happy to be driving alone that we took the long way around to church. I had made him chocolate chip cookies. He had nothing for me. I still remember the sheepish look on his face as he handed me a lollipop he got from the sound room. Fast forward again, to the Valentine’s Day before I married that same boyfriend. He gave me a salad spinner, (I really, really wanted one) and inside it were snickers bars and homemade coupons for back massages. (Which when I ran across one, years later in our marriage, he refused to honor.) In nine years those are the ONLY two valentines days I remember. (actually, I remember one more…but that memory is terrible, and I would rather not talk about it.)

I have way more memories of family Valentine’s Days then of romantic Valentine’s Days. In the last 6 years of I being single again, I have had great Valentine’s Days with my family, we lay out our cards and gifts at each persons place setting for dinner. Several times my mom has made a delicious heart shaped pizza. Once I went out with a friend for dinner and a sappy chick flick.

Why do I tell you all this? Because being with someone is no guarantee of a happy, satisfying Valentine’s Day. And NOT being with someone doesn’t have to mean a sad, disappointing Valentine’s Day.

The point is: Valentines Day is just a day. It can be good or bad depending on what YOU make of it. You can choose to wallow in your singleness, be hyper sensitive to all the hearts and flowers, and make comments about how stupid it is. (And can I just mention, self-pity is NOT attractive) OR you can chose to make the most of the day, by showing those around you that you love them. Make cards. Have friends over for dinner. Decorate. Make it about giving love, not selfishly wanting romantic tokens. Don’t let one day ruin your month, your week, or even your day.

So what are my plans for Valentine’s Day this year? My best friend and I are taking our sons to their first rock concert. Definitely cracking up to be the most memorable Valentine’s Day date I have ever had.

Too Long

There is a saying that floats around on the Internet, I am sure you have seen it. It goes something like this: Depression is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of having been too strong, for too long. I used to think it was kind of stupid, because depression after all is a mental illness, a chemical imbalance.

I used to think it was stupid…until about a month ago when I started feeling like it was describing me. I am tired. Tired of always being strong. I can feel the depression creeping in, the apathy and despair and I can feel the hope draining out. And I try to fight. But fighting takes strength, and I am just so tired.

Having to be strong all the time takes its toll. Never having the luxury of falling apart, because there is no one to pick up the pieces. No one to pick up the slack. No one to hold you. No one to help you make the decision. Just you, all the time. It is too much for one person. We weren’t made for this.

I am guessing that most single people feel this way at some point or another. But I guarantee that ALL single moms (and dads) feel this way. Parenting wasn’t designed to be a one-person job. It is hard to constantly pour yourself out for someone, with out someone pouring into you.

There are two more quotes that were shared today by friends as I was thinking about this, and I thought they were rather fitting. The first one I thought was beautiful way of putting it.

“You don’t need another human being to make your life complete, but lets be honest. Having your wounds kissed by someone who doesn’t see them as disasters in your soul, but cracks to put their love into is the most calming thing in this world.” – Emery Allen

The second more in depth

“To be loved but not know is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully know and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.” – Timothy Keller

I am tired of being strong alone. I need some kisses on my wounds, I need to be known, I need to be liberated, I need to be humbled, I need to be fortified.

Labels

One of the reasons I didn’t want to send my son to regular school is because I didn’t want him labeled. While he is extremely smart, he is also one of “those kids” and I didn’t want him stuck with labels that weren’t true. I had read the lists of symptoms for ADHD, and while he had most of hyperactivity and impulsivity traits, he had none of the attention deficit problems.

I homeschooled him in kindergarten, which was very much a village effort, as I was in my final year of nursing school. I kept my options open by applying him to a new charter school, whose philosophy of education I was excited about, both for K (he was 56 on the wait list) and again for 1st grade. When I applied him for 1st grade, I prayed and basically told God that if he didn’t get in then I would know that homeschooling him was what I should continue to do. He didn’t get in.

Over the summer my Grandma broke her hip and eventually was moved into my mom’s home on hospice. This removed my mom’s ability to help with my son, and also provided employment for me; while I continue to job-hunt for an RN position. As the school year approached, I was dreading it. I was overwhelmed and just didn’t know how I was going to make it work this year. But I just kept telling myself that this must be the right choice, because he didn’t get into the other school, that God had a plan, and it would all work out.

The Tuesday morning before school was supposed to start, I was driving home when the phone rang. I answered, and the voice on the other end told me that a spot had come open in 1st grade and my son was next on the list. I asked if I could get back to them by the end of the day and hung up the phone. My son was in the back seat, and I told him the news. He reacted with anger. When we got home, I left him raging outside and immediately went to talk to my mom.

I was so overwhelmed by the unexpected news that I just started crying. I was scared to make this choice, for what it might mean for him, and I was also relived. Throughout the course of the morning, I prayed and I talked to his dad, and to my good friend. My mom talked with Zachary about new opportunities and he quickly changed his tune, becoming excited about this new adventure. By noon I had made my choice, called them back and accepted the spot.

That was Tuesday. Meet your teacher night was Wednesday, and school started Thursday. We scrambled to find uniforms, met the teachers and showed up Thursday morning for drop off. I walked him to class, gave him a hug and walked away, he didn’t even ask for a second one. I couldn’t have been prouder.

But he quickly started struggling. He was getting in trouble quite often. Little things and big things. Some things could be chalked up to adjustment or being a 6 year old boy, but some couldn’t.

After the first time I volunteered in his classroom, I was mortified. I came home and researched ADHD diet modification. I KNEW he didn’t have the AD part, but the HD side was terrible from what I observed in class. That weekend I removed all artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, and MSG from his diet. By Monday I was hopeful, as he seemed to be calmer. But I knew I was going to need more help than that. So I went to the Principle and Vice Principle. I told them I knew he was having a hard time adjusting, and I wanted to be proactive about it. I asked about a school psychologist, but they instead referred me to Youth Services, who in turn, because of his insurance, referred me to a private psychology office.

We had an evaluation and started regular appointments. And then he got suspended from school. Nothing I had been trying seemed to be getting through to him. So I went into crisis discipline mode, pulled him out of soccer, removed all the toys from his room, took away all privileges. It wasn’t easy, but his therapist suggested it and backed me up on it. She also said they wanted to do some testing.

Testing means labels. What could she want to test for? I racked my brain. I came up with only one reasonable option. At the next appointment she said they had gotten authorization, and they wanted to test him for Asperger’s. I wasn’t surprised, because that was the same thing I had come up with.

I had never considered Asperger’s before the mention of testing. But I had always known that there was something different about my son, and the way he related to the world. So it just made sense.

Not everyone felt that way however. Some family straight up denied it as a possibility, others tried to tell me reasons it might not be true. But my mother’s intuition knew it was the truth, it just made sense. My closest friends were the most understanding, making sure I was ok, then telling me that he is a great kid, and this wouldn’t change anything.

A few weeks later it was confirmed that his diagnosis was Asperger’s.

After all my anguish over not wanting to send him to school to get labeled, you would think I would be upset. I wasn’t. My main emotion was one of relief. Relief that he wasn’t a “bad” kid, relief that there was a reason for some of his behaviors, relief that with this new understanding, would come better ways to help him.

I also felt vindicated. Like finally I had an answer for all the people who looked at him and me with disapproval, or told me I coddled him, or I should spank him more, or best yet  “I know you’re a single mom and all, but you need to do something about him, he is just bad.” I felt like screaming to the world: SEE I knew he was different, that he wasn’t just trying to be bad. SEE I knew I was right for trying to understand his feelings rather than just making him do things. SEE I was right to talk with him and not just punish. SEE I was doing the best I knew how!

So now we are living with a label. Does it change who he is? No. He is the same sweet, funny, intelligent, artistic, articulate boy he has always been. And I have learned an important lesson: Not all labels are bad. They are not something to be afraid of. If it is the right one, they can help bring understanding.