Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Prayers for a better life

With all the suffering in Ferguson and the recent reports of gang rapes at UVA, I just wanted to send out a prayer to the universe—a prayer for peace and healing, a prayer for change, a prayer for love and kindness over despair and violence.

Please, please, let us turn our world into a better place, one that is not mired in racial and gender hatred.  Please, please, help us choose love and peace over these terrible acts of violence.

I wish I could change the world with a sweep of my hand, but I can't.  How do we talk to our children, how to we prepare and protect them from these challenges when they grow older?

I've started, already, dropping little kernels of information with DD1, sprinkled in during talks about school or what her friends are doing, or what’s on the agenda for homework that night, or in the car on our way to swim lessons.  She is only in elementary school, but somewhere along the line, I decided to start the messaging now, planting the seeds, hoping they will take root before she enters puberty and begins to completely ignore me (so not looking forward to that!).

Observations about knowing her body, that it's HER body and no one else's, that only she has the right to her body.  That it's not okay for people to say mean things to her, that people in this world treat girls differently (the brownies did a lesson on other countries where girls can't even go to school).  And even though we live in the United States of America, and girls CAN go to school, there are many, many people in our country who do not think girls are "good" enough, and they are wrong.  That girls and women are just as good as boys and men and that’s how it should be.  That people who are not white, like us, are sometimes treated differently than people who are, and that's not okay, either.  We are smart and kind and loving and we deserve a place in our society, as girls, women, as brown people.

In the fairytale endings of whatever story we’ve been reading, I always add, you know, that prince is only a prince if he is kind and isn’t mean and doesn’t yell at people.

And every now and then we talk about boys, i.e. Prince Hans in Frozen SEEMED like he was nice, but he wasn’t in the end, and that’s why it’s really important to know the whole story about someone.  That there are people in this world who SEEM nice, but aren’t nice on the inside.  And while it’s our job to be kind and patient and fair, but it’s not our job to FIX people who are mean because they are broken inside, especially if they hurt you or people you love. 

One day in the car on the way home from school, we were listening to the song “Belle” from Beauty and the Beast, and both DD1 and DD2 said, that Gaston is not nice.  And I said, really?  Why do you say that?  And DD1 said, “Because he only likes Belle because she’s pretty, he doesn’t really care about who she is.”

So maybe my messaging is taking hold.  I don’t want my girls to grow up mistrustful of the world, but I do want them armed with critical thinking.  It’s a fine balance, and I don’t know if I struck the right tone, but I have to say I was really happy when they gave Gaston the elementary school/preschool smack down. 

How do you stay positive in the face of such negativity and violence?  How do you “win” by living the “good life” and hope that we stay safe and on the side of peace?

I wish I had the magic answer.  Instead, I hold onto my babies and drop little kernels of knowledge and hope they take root and will bloom to protect them as they hurdle into the future.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Working mom or Stay-at-home mom, why does it have to be a “vs.”?

One of my fellow single-parent now blended family friends posed this question—how do you handle the “burden” of being a working mom—when the Ex is guilting you for working rather than staying home to take care of the little one?

My response:  It's such a balance...and some days I feel guilty that I wasn't around more for DD2 as I was for DD1--I was out due to disability for many months, then part time after a year...but I knew that I had to work to support my family, I was the main breadwinner. My mom was a working mom, so I guess I inherited that from her.

Shame on your ex for making you feel guilty about it. It's only his projection on being a deadbeat with no job and no means to support his kids. (He has a well-documented and extensive history of drug use, psychological abuse, and physical abuse with my single mom friend—thank goodness she is out of that relationship!)

The working mom v. SAHM is an ongoing discussion with no clear "winners" or "losers" in the eyes of mainstream media. But the way I see it, we all "win" because our family dynamic is the one that works for us.

I don't know if this is helpful--but looking back on it, I know one of the reasons I was able to leave our abuser was because of the role modeling of my working mom. I don't know how she did it, but she supported our family, had dinner on the table at 6, all while holding down an engineering job that also included business trips now and again (babysitter hired). But the working mom clearly rubbed off on me, and that somehow, deep down, it instilled the 'normalization' of being a working mom, and to be financially independent, and although i nearly lost my house due to the divorce....i survived. Because of my mom. I never had work troubles (knock on wood), in fact work was the one saving grace because it was the one stable element in the most unstable times of my private life. 

So right now you are sharing your baby girl’s time with day time caregivers, but you get all the snuggly evenings and mornings and week ends and holidays. And maybe you are instilling that same sense of confidence and financial independence just by being your bada$$ working self.

(And by the way, by not working doesn't mean you are any less bad a$$, and if it ever does turn out you can stay at home while babygirl and your toddler boy are young, that would be awesome!!!)

I'm merely saying--every family does what it takes to survive and thrive. and the way you are thriving and surviving is just fine. Shame on exie for making you feel bad.

And further, shame on people for making others feel “bad” about their choices to work, stay at home, or do some version of both.  We live in the damn 21st century, why haven’t we moved on from judging the choices women make for taking care of their families—seriously?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Thoughts on blended families?

I love my husband with all of my heart. We dated for a year before we got engaged. The girls adore him.

When he moved in this past April, I expected some 'transition' issues, but I had no idea the extent. He was very angry about how the ex treated (and treats) us, and that's understandable. He made demands that the ex cannot drop the children off at our home, which I thought was fine, set up a boundary, we have a third party drop off spot, for the absolute rare occasions the exchanges do not happen at school.

So...it turns out hubby can't stand where we live, and i also understand that, because it's where we lived when I was married to my ex. At the same time, I love my home, I'm so proud to have survived and made it "our own"--and truthfully, i've lived there twice as long as when the ex was there. but when I say, okay, let's move, he wants to move to another town altogether, and that would make my commute absolutely horrendous--because i couldn't change schools without it being a major pain in the arse, unless the girls get into a hugely expensive private school, which we would have to pay for because you know who would not pay a dime. but part of me is concerned--there was never any illusion about where we would live--i understood wanting to 'start over,' and supported moving out, but he hates the town--which i disagree with, it's a beautiful little town. property value here is high, so investing would be a smart investment. it's safe, the kids love it, DD1 loves her school...

so, he feels 'trapped' and again, i understand, but I don't know what to do about it. i can't change how he feels, and he refuses to try couples counseling. I guess i'm flabbergasted in a way--i've always been absolutely transparent about the complexities of our life, and dealing with my nasty ex--the best offense is a great defense (which is to disengage). He has gotten better about dealing with the ex.

I just don't know what to do. we have these nasty blow ups, and it's very stressful. he wasn't like this before he moved in, and i thought we would work through it, but this latest blow out, it just makes me so tired and stressed. i can't concentrate on work, i can't concentrate on being with my kids. it's just...i don't know what to do. it's not like i hid ANY of the warts of what it would be like living with us, but maybe he just didn't believe me, or thought he would be able to change it all.

if anyone could give me advice on blending families, i'd really appreciate it.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Healing from abuse--listed in 10 steps (but it sometimes feels like 2 steps forward 1 step back)

  1. Joy:  Once I left my abuser, there was that moment (and many moments thereafter), that I celebrated—not in any tangible way, but emotionally, almost giddy about how somehow I DID it.  I got out.  I saved myself.  I immersed myself in hugging my babes and working and figuring out the new system, the new grind, the grind that I daily embrace, sometimes rejoicing, because the alternative was so awful.
  2. Doubt and Fear:  Then the doubts creep in.  DD1 or DD2 starts throwing a fit or a tantrum, that later I understand is perfectly natural given the context:  they are hungry, or tired from a long day at school, or transitioning back from dad’s house, or just in general moody (that goes for DD1, she’s elementary going on high school some days, I swear), or all of the above.  And I think, crap, how is this “new life” better for them?  Me being tired all the time, short on patience?  Or, nasty e-mauls pour in, which sometimes trigger panic mode (this got better with time, but sometimes they can be almost as bad as right after the separation), and I have to first calm the F*** down.  Then, in the aftermath, gather all my wits about me, and figure out how to respond.  Consult my trusted advisors.  Who I think are getting burned out by this, and I don’t blame them, so I’m trying to scale back a bit.  I have to learn to trust myself, too.  It’s been more than 3 years, and I’ve improved, but I’m not perfect.
  3. Building that “new life” step one:  I noticed within that first year that our house was so much calmer.  Up until he moved out, I had worried, fretted, frightened to take over all the parenting duties, but you know what?  The before-sunrise-wake-up, while we are all tired, is so much MORE peaceful than the explosions of DD1 spilling milk and him swearing and yelling and DD1 or DD2 crying until someone threw up.  Yes, it’s a speedboat race challenge to get us all out the door, lunchboxes and backpacks and mommy work crap all packed up in the car, but within the chaos, there is peace.  I need to remember that.  So much more peaceful.
  4. Building that “new life” step two:  Much of our life is built around our “routine”—sometimes I complain about slogging through said mornings, and after school activities, and evening craziness, but my girls are doing well—in school, developmentally, socially bonding with their pals and their family and new stepfather—so the routine, I think helps.  In some ways, I think when the girls do “act up” when they come home, it’s not so much that they are upset, it’s that they know that it’s okay in my house to relax and push the boundaries.  Because we will always be firm.  Supportive, but firm.  (And no, I’m not perfect, I sometimes yell, but every day and every week I’m learning to get better at it.  Sleep helps).  They know at my house there are rules, so they lean into them.
  5. Taking the time for therapy:  My therapist helped me get out of my abusive relationship.  She even showed up at court to support my case.  She still helps me heal.  To understand the triggers.  To recognize things in my previous birthday blues post.  To love and accept my loving husband as human and to accept his love and also be realistic about what I can expect from him and what I can give.  To not project my fear and doubts onto him, but to own them and work on them myself.  To yes, take concerns seriously and ask him to work on certain things (his transition moving in was very difficult, and he still is working on the ‘fight’ and acceptance of my strategies in dealing with the ex), and at the same time, live in the moment.  To know it will take time to fully gel as a couple and as a family.  Let it take that time and it’s okay to be hopeful for the future and realistic about how we can handle it.
  6. Taking time for self:  I’ve started exercising more.  I know that sounds trite and ridiculous, but now that I’m getting older, I’m worried about staying healthy and living a long life.  To be there for my daughters’ milestones for as long as I can.  I think it’s helping my mood and emotional regulation a bit (although hard to tell from the last few posts!)
  7. Letting go:  Sometimes, no matter how hard I plan, or how prepared I am in the face of an e-maul, there’s just nothing I can do.  So I have to let go.  Firm and civil, but let it go.  It doesn’t matter if the Ex screws stuff up with the school or digs nasty comments at me (well the school part is a PITA, because I do try and clean that crap up—and the nasty comments are a drain), but the Ex will be what the Ex will be.  Like someone told me—it’s like a dog who always steals food from the table.  You know he will steal the food.  And unlike a dog, he can’t be trained, so expect it.  Don’t let it get to you.  Detach.  (So much easier SAID, then done, but I’m making progress).
  8. Love yourself and your family:  The best way to overcome, heal, and even, in a way, to “win”?  Live a happy life, free of anger.  Try somehow to forgive (but not forget, so you’re always prepared), so that you do not poison your life.  The Ex is no longer in your house.  Leave him (or her) at the door and concentrate on your sanctuary that is now your new home and new life without him.
  9. Grief:  Even in my “new life,” I find times when healing just hurts—that healing is pain and pain is healing.  I get upset at myself for letting my Ex upset me (I know the dog will steal the food, so why am I getting myself in a tizzy?!), or around certain milestones—birthdays and holidays, I get emotional and question the journey I’ve made.  I grieve for the ‘lost’ family, even though I know it’s for the best, and would never take back my actions.  It’s letting go of “the dream.”  Grief doesn’t magically disappear…my father died and I still grieve for him 24 years later, you know?  So it’s okay to have moments.  Be gentle with yourself.  Breathe.  Know that these feelings will not last forever, like the tide, they ebb and flow, and with each ebb and each flow, you are getting stronger.
  10.  It’s okay to be happy, to have hope:  I keep grappling with this one.  I’ve been in survivor mode for a long time, maybe since childhood, and have lived so long in that saying—we accept the love we ‘think’ we deserve, i.e. in my case, love that comes with pain.  It’s time to change that thinking for people out of abusive relationships.  It’s only okay to accept the love that we DO deserve.  Love that comes without a cost.  When I have a giggling, sweet moment with the girls, like last night before bed time, reading Little Red Riding Minnie for the thousandth time, it’s okay to breathe in all that happiness and contentment.  When I come home to loving notes from my husband, it’s okay to believe his words.  Being happy is not a preface for something bad coming later.  Being happy is accepting your life as it is and knowing that more good and kind things will come.  Even in the face of predictable nastiness from an ex, or a toddler meltdown in the chaos of general parenting and/or work stress, or in the context of seemingly insurmountable problems of our world, focusing on what you CAN do, with yourself and your family, in your own community, giving what you can and embracing what you can.  Give hope and love to yourself and your family.  Because that’s a chance to grow and heal some more, and maybe that’s enough to change the world, in the smallest of ways—because you are adding not fear or loathing or hate, but kindness and hope and love.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Birthday Blues, I think.

I’ve been fighting the birthday blues.  Or maybe it’s the onset of the holiday season that’s triggering me.  At any rate, it’s this weird crux between wanting to cry and feeling depressed and wanting to just go to bed. 

I think it has to do with this whole idea of what these milestones were supposed to mean.  I wasn’t supposed to be a divorced family.  We were supposed to be in tact, to celebrate together, to not split the days, weeks, months.  I was supposed to wake up every day and see my little girls’ faces, cheerful or grumpy, whatever, I’ll take it.  Instead, I have to constantly stay vigilant to the barrage of emauls and controlling behavior.  And no, I do not want to go back to what it was, it’s just this weird yearning and grieving for what was supposed to be.  Someone once told me that divorce is not just the loss of your spouse, but the loss of “the dream” of what our family would be:  together, in tact, venturing along the path of life as one.

Logically, I know it’s not the way it’s supposed to be for us, that this “Life 2.0” is what is best.  And my dearest, loving husband, went out and bought little presents for the girls to give to me, made a whole big deal out of it.  So sweet.  And last night, since it was a kids free night, we went out and did a little shopping and he took me to a really nice dinner, to celebrate again.  What on earth do I have to complain about, why do I have the blues?

Last night, I told my husband that my family growing up was very complicated situation and while my mom did the best she could, our family is just straight up f-ed up.  Not in any way that’s physically dangerous, just, the emotion pieces aren’t there.  For example, Hubby’s mom and dad and sister and brother—they all called or text or FB-ed and wished me happy birthday.  Seriously, so sweet!!!!  And they sent cards and presents, just the sweetest ever.  Did my mom or brother call or text?  That would be a no.  When I called my mom a few days later, she was so involved in reviewing a chair donation, she wasn’t listening.  Whatever, it’s all good, my mom just works on a different frequency, I love her for being my mom.

I continued saying—that then I created a family with my ex-husband, but that all blew up in my face, no matter how hard I tried to make it work, change myself, look for ways to avoid setting him off.

So meeting and then marrying him—now this is my chance, my chance to have a family.  Whether we have a baby or not, we are our own family, no matter what.  And I think that maybe terrifies me a little.  Like there is a black hole inside me, because it has NEVER worked out before, and I’m circling it, analyzing it, waiting for it to suck out my last chance to be a family.  This same black hole has something to do with the fact that:  maybe I don’t know how to be happy.  I only know how to be struggling, surviving, battling for a safe place.

Now that I’m here, at this magical “safe place,” I don’t know what to do with myself.  I doubt, I worry, I wait for the other shoe to fall.  Sadness and fear are my comfort.  What is this happy? 

Happy is what I dreamt of, wished for, a destination of where I wasn’t ever sure I’d ever arrive. 

At the same time, somewhere in me is that seed of hope.  That “Jane Thrive” that my friends recognized when I got out of that hellhole relationship from before.  The hopeful Jane Thrive that believes in the good in people more than the bad, that believes that kindness will be enough at the end of the day.  That being a kind, loving person is the best way at “winning” any kind of wargames that are thrown at my feet by the ex.

I guess I am still learning how to grow that seed into a garden, versus succumbing to the black hole.  I guess I have to figure out how to take up those tendrils of fear and doubt, embrace them, because for whatever reason, they taught me to survive, and let them go, weed them out of the yard--so I can really learn to be happy and healthy.  I wish there was a magic pill or a wave of a fairy wand to make that easier.  Writing it down helps.  Thank you for listening.