Sorry not sorry

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I’ve noticed something recently that bothers me. So, since this is my nature (and this is my blog) I’m going to (more or less politely) rant about it a little bit.

I try not to characterize people by their generation, because it’s fruitless and inaccurate and annoying. But something I’ve found to be true of a good portion of my generation is that many of them show a great capacity for compassion. Maybe it’s all those Care Bear cartoons we watched as kids, but something a lot of us highly prioritize is the ability to see beyond someone’s behavior or appearance to their circumstances and to truly empathize with the struggles they may be experiencing. This is a wonderful trait for obvious reasons.

But it can also come with a surprising downside to which I’ve been privy several times in the recent past.

Part of being so full of empathy is that one naturally begins to see one’s own life through the lens of the greater universal experience. One begins to measure what one does (or doesn’t) have against the truth that many spend every day having even less (and that some will always have more).

By and large, this is a wonderful thing to add to our general perspective.

And then comes the guilt.

The last few public holidays (April Fool’s Day, Mother’s Day, and the like), I’ve seen an overwhelming number of posts talking about how our celebration of such holidays needs to be tempered by the realization that there are others out there struggling with these and other holidays for a few possible reasons. And I understand this. I’m all about being sensitive to the very real struggles that many are going through on a daily basis and have no desire to make someone feel bad for not having what I cherish. But at what point do we acknowledge that the guilt of having is taking over the celebration of what we’ve been blessed with? At what point does having something wonderful come with the constant burden of apologizing to others for fear of your happiness hurting their feelings? At what point do we ask why it’s unacceptable to be publicly grateful for the good things in our lives?

Having experienced both a divorce and a miscarriage in the not-too-distant-past, I can thoroughly understand the feeling of everything being an unpleasant and uncomfortable memento: pregnancy and birth announcements, wedding and anniversary pictures, family pictures accompanied by sweet words celebrating the joy of raising children with your soul mate. In short, it was impossible to scroll through facebook without receiving powerful in-my-face reminders of the things I had lost or was in the process of losing. But in that time period, painful as it was, I could not ask or expect that anyone else lessen their own joy (or refrain from expressing it) because of my pain. In truth, it wouldn’t have decreased the aches in my heart in the slightest. Nothing brings attention to a gaping emotional wound like having your friends and family and friend-quaintances tip toe around you because of it. If anything, seeing other people celebrate reminded me that those truths, those possibilities, weren’t dead just because of my experiences. It gave me hope that other people were still having love and happiness and that, once this season had passed, it could be possible in my life again too. Not that all of this went through my head while I was observing the happiness of society at large and wallowing in my own personal misery. But looking back I can see that the celebration of those who had those things did, in some ways, do me good. When we suffer loss we need to know that loss isn’t all there is. We need to be reminded that every happy ending can’t be appended with a “what about me?”

What ABOUT me?

It can be inordinately difficult and breath-stealingly painful to feel like the only person in the room whose life is lying in tatters while every one else celebrates what it feels like you’ll never have (or never see again). I’m not discounting that. And it is important, in the midst of our own happiness, to be sensitive to the fact that others may be going through a period of emotional, physical, or spiritual poverty and loss. If anything, our own happiness should give us the perspective, kindness, and courage to reach out to those who may desperately wish for a taste of what we’re feasting on. But the last thing anyone needs who is already suffering is to be looked at with pity, apologized to for the happiness others experience, or encouraged to view everyone else’s blessings with bitterness and loathing.

Those who suffer are among you, yes. And for every joyful celebration you experience, there will be someone wishing they had it or mourning the loss of it. But the solution isn’t for nobody to be happy. We don’t ask much. A simple reminder of your love and friendship and (if applicable to you) prayers does wonders. And, please, keep celebrating. We need to know that the good is still out there, even if we’re not in the middle of it right now.

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The Work of Resting

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This morning I finished a 90 day yoga challenge. The hard part wasn’t dedicating half an hour or so to working out every day. I mostly do that anyway. The workouts themselves, while challenging me to new levels in so many ways, weren’t the hardest part either. Honestly, the hardest part was every seventh class. The ones where we lightly stretched, breathed, and then just…

rested.

Hard work, I’ve found, is often easier for me to commit to than rest. I spent a long time praising myself for this, the way so many do who “just can’t stand taking a break”. I always avoided the calmer yoga practices because “they weren’t enough” and I needed to “challenge myself”. So every time I found something to push me, to make me sweat, to bring me one step or pose further than I had been last time. I don’t know if it’s a societal ill, an extrovert problem, or a personality quirk. I told myself that by “doing the hard work” every time I got on the mat (or put on my workout shoes) I was committing to a healthier me, to a better lifestyle, challenging myself to be a better person. I was going beyond my previous limits and building a stronger, happier me.

Nonsense.

Well, perhaps not utter nonsense. But a flawed concept nonetheless. On the one hand, it is true that we never get anywhere new by only going as far as we’ve gone before. On the other, it is equally true that by never stopping to rest we never gain the benefits of our previous work or enjoy all these new places we’re getting to.

Resting, taking it in, appreciating the work we’ve done and preparing for the work to come is hard work. But so worth it. When I began this challenge, the 7th days were brutal for me. My mind kept racing, wondering if I had done enough in the previous week to earn this rest. Thinking about the hard work I could be doing. My body bridled at the inactivity. Eventually, I began to handle those days and then to anticipate them. They were the time I could calm my mind, pay attention to what was going on around me, congratulate myself for the work I’d done, and mentally and physically prepare for the work in the upcoming week. And then I noticed something- this extended beyond my workout time. I was able to embrace taking a day or evening off to rest without thinking of all the things I could be doing or feeling guilty for not spending a certain amount of hours on active pursuits. It’s not an art I’ve perfected, as yet, but I know this is one piece of that challenge I will carry into my next one(s).

There is still work to be done. It will be difficult. But at least I can do it sitting down.

Lessons Learned the Hard Way, Episode 2 (Volume 4)

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The girls are with their dad this morning, which gives me a rare Monday morning to myself. So far, I’ve accomplished  a workout, breakfast, a couple of loads of laundry, a shower, and, obviously, sitting down to blog. At first I had no idea what to write about, just that I had time and should take advantage of it before two adorable distractions with half my DNA make that difficult if not impossible.

At first, I had a really hard time with the girls being away for long periods of time. Spending the night at their dad’s house was difficult for me. Not because I didn’t trust him or didn’t think that they would be ok there. I suppose it was a collection of reasons. As a working mother, I cherish any time I get with my kids (and feel a smidge guilty about any time I have the opportunity to be with them and for some reason don’t take it, even if that reason is entirely justifiable). As a homeschooling part-time-at-home mother, I feel that every second with my kids is a chance to invest in them and sometimes that makes doing anything else with that time seem like a waste.

Obviously, once I type those reasons and look at them, they seem kind of insane. But this is about honesty. And those are things that go through my heart and head when I think about my children. While we were married, I was able to live in that mom-responsibility haze without too much interference. When I was not at work, I did not often leave the house without the girls or have a lot of “me time” to feel guilty about. Now that we have two separate households, they are of necessity at the other one occasionally and this does force me to wrestle with who and what I am when I’m not “hey, mom!”

I have always had my own hobbies and interests and have long advocated that moms do something to maintain their own sense of identity is crucial to their parenting and, if applicable, their marriage. So the concept is not anything new to me. But, if I’m being totally honest, aspects of the practice are. The first time they were away at his house overnight, I struggled. I struggled to sleep. To find things to fill my time. Worried if they were ok. With practice, it’s gotten easier. Now I build a list of things that I can get done on those days (which helps me avoid doing those things while they are with me, and results in time for more games and stories and tickles with them when they are here). And every time I pick them up or they are dropped off after an outing with daddy, it’s just a little bit more exciting when we see each other again.

Things getting a divorce has taught me, number 4: sometimes absence DOES make the heart grow fonder. And sometimes it can even be fun. 🙂

Lessons Learned the Hard Way, Volume 2 (Episode 3)

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I suppose you could call me an idealist.

Not in the sense that I travel with rosy-colored glasses through life, blithely assuming that all is a perfect dream (giving people (or situations) the benefit of the doubt isn’t something I default toward). I do, however, have a lot of ideas about how the parts of my existence that I have some level of influence over should function and I really appreciate it when life lines up with the expectations in my head.

As may be assumed, this is not always (perhaps even generally not) the case.

*When our home school day doesn’t live up to the “perfect school day” I keep tucked away in my head for reference (which is almost every day, mostly because the perfect school day revolves around the idea of me being at home in the morning instead of at work).
*When my kids get sick one after the other and throw an entire week (school, work, church, etc) off schedule.
*When my marriage ends and I find myself, as a thirty year old single mom, moving back into my parents’ house.

I tend to harbor expectations of how a situation should ideally play out. And I can roll with the punches to a certain degree. I can easily overlook getting 2 loads of laundry done instead of 3 or finding out that the coffee shop doesn’t have the flavor I planned on ordering. But when that ideal outcome goes completely and terribly awry in a big and significant way, it can be really hard for me to deal with. Because I feel like I’ve failed to accomplish something important. And that this, in some way, speaks to my overall success as a person, mother, friend, or (until lately) wife.

I’m working on it. Learning to navigate the unexpected with grace and elegance is pretty much my entire to-do list at the moment.

Things getting a divorce has helped teach me #3: things don’t always go as planned. And that’s ok. Sometimes it’s even better than ok.

Resolved:

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So it’s the new year.

This year, more than any before it, I have felt the motivation and freedom and encouragement that comes with starting over. I sense a deep responsibility to and opportunity for the recreation of my life and myself that I haven’t in the past. Pretty obviously, this is tied to the fact that I AM, in fact, starting over in many ways. As a divorcee. As a single mom.

As a person who finally keeps track of her finances.

Turns out when you’re the only one in the family making purchases, it gets noticeably easier to keep track of what money is being spent. More to the point, you no longer have the “well he never keeps track of them or gives me the receipts” excuse(/problem). So this is one of the first resolutions on my list: to, finally, as a 30 year old single woman and mother, keep track of my finances in a real and consistent way. Naturally this includes several sub-goals, including keeping track of purchases, putting a certain amount in savings each paycheck, and *hopefully* getting my student loans paid off this year.

Another goal I have is to get paid to write and/or edit this year. As part of that, I’m going to try and be more consistent with making writing a priority. It’s usually that thing I would really like to get time for but which typically ends up on the back burner (or possibly off the stove altogether) because other things always seem so much more pressing. But this year I am committing to putting some real effort toward making a daily commitment to writing something and to seeking out ways in which this can be a means of providing for my little family.

I’ve also decided to spend some time crocheting for charity. Interestingly, I had picked out a list of charities around the country who accept crochet donations sometime around the end of last year in preparation for this goal and then found out, shortly after the beginning of this year, that my church’s women’s ministry would like to work together to crochet enough hats and scarves for some local area needs (women’s shelters, etc). The list of nationwide charities I had prepared may have to wait for next year, but the chance to work with a group of ladies I know and love to help fulfill needs in our own area is an opportunity I’m thankful for and one not to be passed up.

Not all of my resolutions are big or life changing. A few are just to continue in current established healthy habits. Because losing the work I’ve already done in pursuit of new habits isn’t success at all.

So far, I’m proud to say I’ve made a few very real and concrete steps toward each of these goals.

I realize this year will bring struggles of its own. My divorce will likely be finalized this year. I will continue to struggle with the realities of co-parenting and co-educating our two beautiful daughters. The anxiety flare up following my miscarriage a year ago is still something I have to work at and manage (though it has gotten better and easier in many ways). The difficult and overwhelming task of completely overhauling my current work status still looms before me. The beautiful freedom of starting over may sometimes just feel scary and empty. But I’ve got a lot to work toward. And that’s something.

Lessons Learned the Hard Way, Volume 2 (Episode 2)

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Here’s what no one tells you about having a child with a late November birthday: around September you start thinking “I should start planning for the holidays”. The week of Halloween, you start figuring out what theme the impending birthday party will be built around. And from the next week til January 2 is a rushing, screaming, white knuckle roller coaster of planning and shopping and making and baking and hiding and wrapping and hoping and stressing that you’re somehow doing too little and too much all at once. Because of this phenomenon, I have been planning this blog for a couple of weeks but just now got the time to sit down and write it.

But here I am with the time and, thanks to the cup of half-calf coffee I indulged in earlier, the mental awareness to do so.

Something I’ve been trying to do a lot lately is to work on acknowledging all the things I have to be thankful for in my life. I think we’ve all heard the common-sense advice that one of the best ways to get through a tough time mentally or emotionally is to focus on the things that are going right for you. I’m learning how true this is. The simple practice of looking around and realizing that, despite what may be going wrong or crooked at the moment, I have so many solid blessings to count makes a difficult journey an infinitely more beautiful one. And one of the main blessings I find myself habitually counting is in the people around me. Daily, I am blown away by the amount of support, love, and encouragement I’m surrounded by.

I don’t need to tell you that divorce, no matter how freeing leaving a bad relationship may be, is a struggle. There are many days where the gravity of that total life change overwhelms you. Some days are hard. Some nights are hard. I cannot count or express the number of times a really rough day has been made even just the smallest bit easier by a phone call, text, or message asking how things are going or a sincere hug or a random drop by and invitation to get tea or an encouragement to go have some time to myself while the grandparents watch the girls. There have been nights when my mind starts to spin and I’m afraid this is the time the darkness will start closing in when I consider all the people I have in my corner. And often just that knowledge gives me the space to breathe and think and remember that healing happens and it takes time. Whether providing an ear to listen as I struggle aloud with the transitions I’m growing through or just a silly distraction or a basic connection with another human being, it helps. It helps to know you’re not alone. That people care and that your life and interactions aren’t solely tied into the heartbreak and dissolution you’re going through. Love helps. Friendship helps.

Things I Learned from Getting a Divorce, #2: walking through the darkness gets indescribably easier when you have the kind of friends who are willing to step into that difficulty and heartbreak and pain and walk through it with you.

To Be Honest,

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A somewhat interesting fact about me that you may not be aware of: while I am (clearly) an extroverted thinker, I am an introverted feeler. This means that I process my thoughts by talking about them, *usually* with another person (although in a pinch talking about them with myself is always an option) and have no reservations, generally, about saying what I think on a matter. (This also means I tend to get called things like “opinionated” or “the girl who has no filter”.)  But when it comes to processing my feelings, I am much more prone to doing that quietly inside my own head, and I am often somewhat more reticent to express those feelings out loud, even after I’ve processed them, unless I feel safe and comfortable enough with someone to do so. This tends to be especially true of the more vulnerable emotions, such as fear, hurt, etc. Things like anger and excitement, for example, don’t tend to be as intimidating to express, although it generally still takes me some internal processing time to decide that those are the feelings I’m experiencing. Around elementary-jr high school, I discovered that poetry was an easy (and safe) way for me to process and express those feelings, and have frequently written poems about things that I needed to feel through since. Most of these don’t see the light of day, for the reasons mentioned above.

But writing is about being brave. And so I’m practicing. I wrote the following a few months ago and find myself coming back to it on a fairly regular basis. So. Here goes:

you don’t want
me
us
this
anymore

you use phrases like
“shouldn’t be”
but all i hear is
“i’m giving up
the fight
for you”

and i say
mean things
about you being
a coward
and an ass
and in some ways you are
but really
that’s the only way i know how
to say
this hurts
this breaking
this shattering
this bruising
this abandonment

i hope you find
yourself
your peace
your life
love
but someday
you will look back and
i will be
your regret

you won’t be mine