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Sunday, December 7, 2014

Single Mom Whining

There is a blog out there called "Single Dad Laughing". It's actually really good. But this weekend, I was certain I could start a blog called "Single Mom Whining." After all, it's the Christmas season, and if being a single mom isn't hard enough, there is the pressure and stress I feel because of the issue of , well, stuff.
What brought it on was my almost 6-year-old's upcoming birthday. In our community, when we have a birthday party, we try to make it about the child and his or her friends and the experience. Presents are either hand-made or optional. We love it because it is a win-win. No one has to stress over what latest toy to buy, and the birthday child (and his family) are not inundated with more stuff that will be used once then tossed aside.
But I couldn't help but have pangs of wishing when my son asked me if he could have a "real" party, one where he gets lots of presents from friends. Single mother guilt kicked in. Parenting guilt kicked in. Am I depriving my child? Am I just wanting to compensate him for having divorced parents? But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that isn't the gift I need to give my child. A stressed, financially-depleted, guilty mother does not serve anyone. Friends who are stressed because of you don't either. Besides, I'd rather teach my son what really counts, and give him an opportunity to learn self-control.
 I gave my son three choice toys I knew he wanted and I could mostly afford, he had a party complete with making graham cracker gingerbread houses and sweet handmade or handed down gifts from friends, and a hike in the woods where the highlight was finding an old wagon tire that was the perfect size for 6-year-olds to roll down hills. We had spent the day cleaning and anticipating the party. My children went off to their dad's in high spirits and I doubt my son even remembered he had asked me for that "other" kind of party. And I felt foolish for even thinking that was better than this:



The night before, we had picked up and set up our Christmas tree. I was in a slightly irritated mood because we had been shopping, and again, that is stressful because I am reminded of what I don't have or what I can't give to my kids. I inwardly grumbled that I had to carry in the tree by myself, that I have no partner to cheer me on, that I am taking on mortgage, car repairs, and parenting all by myself. We set up the tree, and I wanted it done a certain way but my eleven year old wanted it done the "right" way (because mom is increasingly not "right" in the eyes of an eleven-year-old). We exchanged irritations with each other, finally got the ornaments down and the tree up. As we took out the ornaments, I was flooded with such sentiment. There are such precious things here. Most of our ornaments are hand made and gifted to us. Thirteen years of teaching and so many of those ornaments are treasured gifts from students and families. Sweet ornaments from when my twenty-somethings were small. Serena and Davis enjoying each and every ornament "Oh!!!! I remember this!!!" It was like they had never seen ornaments before. Christmases over the years came to memory, friends and family who were in our lives, loved ones who had passed on. Gentle tears came, for so many dreams have been put to rest, and there is still so much to learn, and people to love. The irritation was soothed and I came into the present. I was immediately grateful for my sweet children who teach me so much.
Our tree ended up being beautiful:

In the midst of a bit of feeling sorry for myself, of my child's impatience with wanting something he couldn't have, of my own impatience turned intolerance in a charged mother-daughter interaction, I forgot the value of anticipation. Isn't that what this season is about? Anticipating something joyful, anticipating the light. You don't have to have it right now, and in fact, it is good to unload some old things before you do "get" it. It always comes. The gift is the anticipation.
I'm still making as much as I can for gifts this year, as I've done for some 20 years now. I'm telling the kids we are keeping it simple. We have projects going pretty much every day. They don't always get done but we have projects. We are planning gathering with family and celebrating loved ones, the REAL important stuff.
I can be Single Mom Whining for awhile. I have every right and reason to grumble some days. But I also have every right and reason to be deeply, humbly, and ever-grateful for this life. And I am!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Self-Care

Self-care as a single mom is in some ways easier an in some ways harder. Often, while married (and I think this echoes the complaints of many a married woman) my self-care was sacrificed on the altar of family needs, and many a bag was left for me to hold. I see married women I know who ARE lovingly supported by their husbands, and this gives me hope that it can be done. Time offered to you in a good marriage often comes out of recognition of your worth and respect for your needs. Time offered to you out of a divorce comes out of a rejection and/or denial of your worth. So this time to myself, as a single mom, so often at a premium, also has a tinge of sadness.  I forget, a divorce is a trauma, a tsunami of tragedy that sweeps through and forcefully reorders your life. Only instead of Red Cross you have subpoenas coming to your door. It is a nightmare, and you have to rethink what you knew about human beings very quickly, and here is the caveat: you have to do it without losing hope. Because if you lose hope, you lose your strength and your hold on truth. No one is going to come pick you up, and when the masks come off of others, you are left more alone than you thought. For me, although I hate to admit it, this ability to be resilient in deep trauma is what defines us as human beings.
So, since there is much to recover from, self-care becomes even more important.
Here is my self-care manifesto; a list of reminders to take care of myself:

  • read and learn every day. 
  • commit to healing and spiritual growth. I will make space for having feelings. I will have safe people who can hear and validate  feelings and that I can freely talk to. I have a plan for my recovery and I'm carrying it out. Grief is a process. It isn't all about a divorce. A divorce is a portal into what you need to heal in your life, as well as offering a healing in and of itself. 
  • create and make stuff. It has always been vital to my life, and is especially vital to my recovery
  • go to therapy and become more aware of myself. Self-awareness is key to developing courage for the truth
  • take long baths
  • move my body. One of the reasons I bought my house was for the opportunity it presented for physical work. Right now, I have a huge pile of mulch that I shovel and haul up a hill in a wagon. Repeatedly doing that leaves my muscles sore, my body sweating, a meaningful task accomplished, and my mind cleared.
  • listen to good music, and sing frequently
  • cultivate good, safe friendships
  • laugh. A LOT. Make others laugh, and be frequently delighted and amused
  • hold my kids in my heart (side note: my divorce left me feeling in many ways like ex-wife and also ex-mom. My role as mother completely changed, and I am no longer a mother in the capacity I had been. This was incredibly confusing for the children and for me, and took a long time to adjust to. It's still an adjustment, to have to now assert my position as their mother, when that is something that should not have to be asserted)
  • hold and be held. Hugs are super important. A single mother does not stop to think of the number of adult hugs she has gotten in a week. I know the people who will hold and hug me and it helps both of us.I will nurture my needs to give and receive affection with adults (mother/teachers give and receive affection with children all day but adult hugs are a different nurturing)
  • this is a prickly one for idealistic me, but identify and let go of toxic people in my life. We all have traits that we tend to attract from people, and keep attracting in order to heal certain things in our psyche. For me, it has been attracting those whose words and actions don't match up, a superficial, fake quality, not being able to handle feelings or proclaiming one thing while doing the opposite, investing in an image that is not congruent with behavior in personal relationships, and pretty much everything in this article. Whole families also tend to have those qualities. I've pulled back to what I thought I'd learned at an earlier stage in life: that it is good to talk about what needs to be talked about, that the truth needs to be told. MY truth. Health in a family is defined not by the problems, but by the system of forgiveness in place for dealing with those problems. Where there is no forgiveness of self and others, there is no way to resolve anything. And by forgiveness I do not mean sweeping anything under the rug, or giving up and ignoring. I mean the highest process of facing and working through problems, of building the ability to be trustworthy in giving an apology, and trustworthy in receiving an apology. 
  • Related to the above is letting go. Let the haters hate. They love to see people suffer. I don't, and when I myself suffer, I will overcome. Let go of all kinds of things. Know when to let go. Gosh, that is hard.
  • the biggest thing is REMEMBER MYSELF. Remember the goodness, what I offer to the world, that my experiences do not define me but they develop me. Get to the truth, get to my truth, and have the voice to speak it. I will speak my truth (which seems so hard at times). 
  • reach out to others. I cannot emphasize how crucial this has been. I'm two years into this divorce healing journey and can now reach out to help those who are still struggling, or offer solidarity to those who are still in the midst of it.  Side note: For some it is a ten, twenty year process. Read that again. Did you know that could happen? That you could still be in family court ten years after you are divorced? It happens, which is why family courts need support and training on Cluster B personality disorders. For support, One Mom's Battle and One Mom's Battle:Kentucky are invaluable resources.  
  • Make lists. Lists of goals, lists of things to make, lists of what to do today, lists of what to do with my students and classroom, lists of qualities to cultivate (like joy, equanimity, pleasure, and contentment), shopping lists, "truth" lists (lists of events that were somehow distorted in the past by others or are distorted by my own thinking), parenting issues to work through, things to cook, home projects, things I can do for self-care (smile)
  • Nourish my body with healthy food and cook it myself
  • have a schedule and rhythm to my week and my year
  • have pets
  • preview the week and anticipate rough spots. Cook ahead, clean ahead. Get organized. So important now that I'm in school (college)
  • fuss over my house. (This has always been an issue for me. Many of you can walk into a room and see what needs to be done and sweep through and have things looking neat, immaculate, decorated, and put together. While I have had my moments, for the most part, this is a struggle for me. I don't have the budget for cleaners or decorators, and why take away my learning opportunity anyway? I have to work at it and learn to take pleasure in my surroundings, and I do! Despair prevention for me starts with a fresh layout of furniture, a clean space with enough clutter to be inviting and enough order to be practical. It's always a work in progress.)
  • continue blogging and wait for camera cord to arrive in the mail so I can post pictures of stuff I'm making (ok, so not really an ongoing thing, but it sure explains the lack of pictures lately!)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Be an Anarchist

 "most anarchists are gentle people" and seek only "for all people to live in peace, following their own stars."- Anna Zilboorg 
I want to be an anarchist. My daughter came to visit this weekend. We start to engage in deep conversations, for she is wise beyond her years. We had a lovely evening of talking and went to church this morning with a friend. I had put on a pot of soup the day before and was looking forward to our visit. Listening to my daughter talk, and hearing what she was saying about accepting yourself, being comfortable in your own skin, and having something to contribute to the world, made me think about how rare this quality is...this quality of congruence in who you are. It is anarchy. 
Making things is also anarchy. There is the simple fact of our living in an exchange-value, capitalistic culture. But make something yourself...gather your yarn from a local farm, spin your own yarn, create your own garments, and you have committed an act of gentle anarchy. If you weave your own fabric, take your time to work through a process, sew your own clothes, make anything with purpose, you have committed an act of anarchy.
Renate Hiller, a dear woman to me for I spent four summers learning from her at Sunbridge College, says of the fiber crafts: "I feel I am experiencing my inner core because it is a meditative process...you have to find your way, you have to listen with your whole being, and that is a schooling that we all need today. Because we are so egocentric, and this makes us think of what is needed by something else, so we are, in a way, practicing  empathy: empathy with the material, empathy with the design. I think this practicing of empathy that we do in the fiber crafts is paramount for being healing for our world, and it is a service for the divine that we are surrounded by. " Listen here: 

Wow, fiber crafts as a way to develop empathy, and empathy as an act of service. Sounds like pure anarchy to me.
It's true that in this day and age, empathy is most certainly anarchy. This morning, I took my daughter to St. Stephen's, a very energetic and lively church. The sermon this morning fit right in with the concept of empathy as an act of service.  If you have been in church, you might remember the story of Joseph, who was cast off by his brothers and left for dead. Later, he was put in a position of power to help his brothers, but would not help them unless they brought back the youngest brother, Benjamin. He made them "reach back" for their brother. In the ultimate act of empathy as anarchy, Joseph then helped his brothers. The pastor characterized what Joseph was saying as this, "Yes, I know you are haters and I know you are no good." and then he recognized, "God sent me before you to preserve life."
This was the ultimate act of anarchy on Joseph's part. Here his brothers had tried to get rid of him, and he had every reason to spurn them and withhold from them. But he recognized the bigger picture, and gave to them. When when THEY had the power, they deceived and left him to die. When HE had the power, he gave and saved their lives.  
It was funny because the pastor quoted a verse about hypocrites: "If you bring a gift to the altar, and remember your brother has something against you, leave your gift and first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift." (Matthew 5:23-24 paraphrased) In other words, be an anarchist. Have good character. Let your words and actions match up. 
In some Buddhist traditions, bodhisattvas vow to not add to the suffering of the world. It's different than preventing, or ending, or fixing suffering. It is not adding to the suffering of the world. Sometimes this is all we can hope to do...to not make someone else's life harder or add to their burden, especially when we have done so in the past. This is an act of grace in anarchy as well.
Ok, please bear with me as I offer one more video, another short TED talk from an anarchist that is worth the four minutes of inspiration today: 

Empathy, service to our fellow man, spinning, weaving, speaking your truth, making things, growing things, and a pot of homemade soup. I am inspired to cultivate anarchy. Won't you join me in finding our inner stars and following them?
In a world full of haters, love is the highest anarchy.



Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Richard Parker

credit: Life of Pi movie


Tigers are exciting. Their lithe, rippling movements are fascinating. They are ready to spring, playful, stunning in the beauty of their markings. They are fierce and animal, tigers in every way.
In Life of Pi, Pi was saddled with a tiger in his boat, drifting and lost in the vast ocean.. He and the tiger formed an arrangement. Although Pi believed he had trained the tiger, there was an understanding that at any time the tiger could attack and kill him. Therefore, a certain dependency ensued, with the tiger relying on Pi for food and Pi relying on the tiger to not eat him, and to even protect him.
Pi attributed human qualities to the tiger at times. The tiger's very name was Richard Parker. When their little boat washed ashore in Mexico, Pi was heartbroken that Richard Parker just lopped off into the woods without "saying goodbye". His  gestalt came when he declared that the tiger kept him alive.
I have tigers in my life. Most often I invite them in, attribute human qualities to them, and bring them into my boat, set up an arrangement, and rely on their protection. These days, I am questioning why I need a tiger in my life.
I have wondered if the answer is in how Pi said the tiger kept him alive. Even though he thought he was keeping the tiger alive, the tiger triggered in him a state of hypervigilance enabling him to think on his feet and mobilize limited resources for survival. Once he got to shore though, he was heartbroken and moved on, because you cannot go chasing and bringing back a tiger to make him say goodbye. Tigers, as attractive as they are, are still animals. They will accept you into their realm as long as you have something to feed them, or are of use to them somehow. But they cannot be reasoned with, demonstrate empathy, show compassion, or forgive, for those are human characteristics. A tiger will always be a tiger. Pleading, cajoling, and classical conditioning will not change that. Pi ended up sad that the tiger did not acknowledge him in the end. The truth is the tiger was not capable of acknowledging him.
But what if you can't just put your tiger on the shore? What if you have tiger children that you have to place in the tiger's boat from time to time? Wha if you have to see the tiger every day at work? Or the market? This is what I struggle with...finding a place for the tiger in my life that does not involve me placing qualities on the tiger that are not congruent with the state of being a tiger, and making the tension and conflict  of interacting with a tiger does not become a need. It causes me suffering.
So I try to not become sad when the tiger says "I won't be a tiger, I promise" and then acts like a tiger.
I wonder, is fear is what I know of being alive, of being human? Is this why I have called tigers into my life?
Tigers are everywhere: in government, big business, and anywhere there is a definite discarding of human qualities in favor of a base, animal nature. We even call this "dog eat dog" to describe ambitions that do not count the human cost, ambitions that are rooted somehow in survival, and nevertheless, cause suffering in other humans.
In humans, there is a fragility that arises in adopting a tiger-ish, narrow view of what is tolerable, a headlong drive to the top. And what is tolerable does not include other people. Which is why the tiger must roar and hiss and scratch and tear...to keep you out of his narrow tiger world and discovering how frail and scared he really is.
I read an article that spoke of our survival in regards to parents and parenting:
The attachment system is a primary motivational system similar to other primary motivational systems for eating and reproduction.  It developed over millions of years of evolution involving the selective predation of children.  Predators are seeking the old, the weak, and the young. 
Children are prey animals.
Children who bonded to parents, i.e., to specific individual people, received parental protection from predators.  Children who bonded less strongly to parents fell prey to predators (and other environmental dangers).  Over millions of years of the increased survival advantage provided to children from bonding to their parents, a very strong and resilient primary motivational system developed that strongly motivates children’s bonding to parents.
-
Bad parents expose the child to predation and to other environmental dangers. Children who rejected bad parents died. Children who were MORE STRONGLY motivated to bond to bad parents had a better chance of survival than children who rejected bad parents. Over millions of years of evolution involving the selective survival advantage provided to children from an INCREASED motivation to bond to bad parents, the attachment system expresses an INCREASED child motivation toward bonding to bad parents.

So you see, bonding to something we consider "bad" or dangerous has a survival intention. Adults do this type of bonding too. Pi bonded to a predator, and so did I, and even though it has afforded me some illusion of protection, it has also afforded me sorrow. Like Pi, I can change my mourning and sorrow into something good, and use wounds from the tiger to transform and thrive. Now, I have a gift. I can smell tigers from a mile away and avoid them like the plague. I also have a liability in that I become a powerless, afraid-of-tigers person and yet again try to persuade the tiger to act like a human. I'm undergoing Yoda training to help me with that.
There is an Indian story that relates to this, about a boy who is persuaded by a snake. The snake wants the boy to pick him up and put him inside his cloak, and the boy resists, saying, "you will bite me!" The snake insists that he will not bite, that it is ok. When the boy picks up the snake and places him inside his cloak, the snake bit him. The boy, incensed, asks the snake "Why did you bite me? You said you wouldn't bite!" The snake replies, "yes, that is true, but you knew I was a snake when you picked me up."
I have picked up snakes and yoked myself to tigers. Collectively, as a culture, we have picked up snakes and invited tigers to make decisions for our daily lives. We know they are snakes, we know they are tigers, and still we expect something different. Tigers and snakes have their roles, and if anything, and ideally, lead us to our humanity.

Friday, October 31, 2014

House Fire

Some wonderful people need to rebuild their lives due to a house fire. Liam and Valentina are wonderful people (I've only met them once but I can say this with certainty...they really are)
Please go here, read more, and help if you can:
http://www.gofundme.com/liamvalentina

Monday, October 13, 2014

By Definition

Two things:
1. Online dating is a funny thing. While I have tried it, met some really nice people, and had a good time, it just got boring after awhile. Or something. Others I know have a lot of success with it, some play with it and use it to just flirt, and still others roll their eyes when I mention online dating and usually have a funny story about a strange guy (and apparently there are a LOT of them out there-the nice guys often apologize for their fellow man's behavior). There is also this perception that certain sites are just "hook-up" sites and you will get different opinions about that from different users. That's my empirical data to date.
That being said, OkCupid does have this cool thing that appeals to the psychology student in me. It's a personality assessment based on your answers to the questions they give you.
Here is mine:

I was rather pleased with this assessment.
Here is one from a man just to give you an idea of the categories in which they place people:
This guy had a lot of "more" and a few "less" but I could not fit it all on the screen.
So take that for what it's worth. The logarithms that assigned those characteristics could be off, or they could be spot on and indicate a person's self-awareness or lack thereof (because it's there for all to see if you are worse mannered, less literary, or sloppy based on answers YOU gave) I think you have to answer a LOT of questions to get a lot of characteristics.
One thing I will say about conversing with people through sites like these is that you get bombarded with sadness. Hearing stories of how people have so deeply and casually hurt others is just sad. It is hard to hear the depth of people's pain sometimes.
By the way, I'm an I/E NFP if you are into Meyers-Briggs.

2. Subsequent relationships become defined by what I did NOT receive in my marriage, or, sometimes, relationships. I ask the questions of myself, go back through the incidents. No matter how mundane or innocuous, these were things that mattered then and matter now: would he come help me if I had car trouble? would he help me with the children's bedtime? would he value my family or does it have to be all about his? would he help with dishes or would he be critical? would he have a word of encouragement for me when I'm down? would he hold me if I had an unnamed sadness? would he hold me if he said something insensitive or unkind? does he apologize? is he comfortable with my having needs? would he ever just ignore me? does he support my interests and accomplishments or is he threatened by them? does he LIKE me? would he stand up for me to his mother? would he behave in every way like my friend? would he care for me financially? does he accept me for who I am or is he already making me his project?
Every day things. These are what I ponder.

“I have learned silence from the talkative, tolerance from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet strange, I am ungrateful to these teachers." -Kahlil Gibran

Ok, I really have still been making stuff. Those kinds of posts are brewing...bear with me!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Extraordinary Life (aka, things I learned from my second divorce)




These are the things I wish I'd known or been able to tell my newly-divorced self a couple of years ago:

-There are things you could have done and things you did do that didn't make a difference. In the end, it would have been the same no matter what you did. You do not always have that kind of power over situations or hearts. Sometimes, it is the other person's issues that you are taking on, or their messages about your worth. Besides, the pursuit of being "good enough" for someone is an aimless and unworthy pursuit in life.

-It gets better with time. There was a time when I could not even LOOK at an intact family without having to excuse myself from whatever it was I was doing and go cry. Yes, seeing families made me cry, with a dad's arm around mom or asking her what she wanted him to do with a kiss to her forehead for comfort. I didn't want to lose my family, or even the dreams and illusions I had of what that should look like. But that passed, and I am much better now. My family is what it is, and we are a single-mom family.


-You can't make a person: love you, like you, be aware of themselves, apologize, care, accept you, acknowledge you, value you, tell the truth, respect you, hear you, hold you, listen to you, make peace, make amends, feel remorse, stand up for you, want to be married to you, put in an effort, be compassionate, support you, do what they say they will do, be who they say they are, recognize how they have hurt you. These behaviors are a choice. You cannot MAKE anyone do these things for you, and their choice not to is a good indication of what they are able to offer you (hint: not much.). (This goes for ex-family, too. If tempted to engage with them again, remind yourself it only brings more hurt).

-People who are shut off like that inspire in me an urge to explain, persuade, and prove my worth. See above. That is no longer where I need to put my efforts in life and I am sad that I got sucked into that kind of situation, that most unworthy of pursuits.

-Chances are your gut instincts were right. And are still right.

-healing takes a long time, and anger lingers for a longer period of time than you are comfortable with. You still have to travel that path, learn what you need to, and know that a commitment to spiritual healing is absolutely vital. Divorce, especially the second time around, is deep pain on so many levels. It causes you to grapple with humanity and suffering and meaning in your life. It hurts. It sucks. You loved deeply, and you cared about your family and marriage. That deserves ALL the energy and ALL the emotions that come with sincere healing.

-You can maybe compete with another woman, but you cannot compete with a man's mother. If he did not stand up for you to his mother, that is just sad. Lesson learned.

-Rejection can be a gift. If you had been living a half-life and were forcefully booted out of it, then a whole-life is waiting for you, and it is never too late to have an extraordinary life. Now you have the freedom to do it. No, you are not too old, too broken, too worn out by love, too caught in the wringer. You can start now, and your life will be full of grace.

-control is not love, love does not hurt, and walking on eggshells is not a normal state for a happily married woman. It's true. This should help you get over him.

-it is possible to be grateful for those who have deeply hurt you and it is possible to forgive without having any closure (or hearing apologies). Forgiving heals your soul, them apologizing heals theirs. Here's the catch, though: you can only heal your own soul. Quit expecting people to do things they are incapable of doing. Make the apologies you need to make and then move forward. So much grace is to be found in this type of gratitude!


-Men, or a special man, will come along and show you what the other side can look like. You will have the time of your life and laugh raucously again for the first time in years. You will be treated with respect...like a queen! Your heart will fire up when you thought it was dead. You will feel more alive and loved in those moments than you have in years. You will even begin to hope and (gasp!) love again. You are not permanently damaged and you do not hate men because of your experience. No, it will not "take a crowbar to open your heart" again, even though you go around saying that all the time (stop that!). You will realize too that you DO have things to offer a man, no matter what someone else did to obfuscate that fact. Wonderful things. Because love and joy and lightness are your natural states, your birthrights, you will absolutely reclaim who you are, and then some.

Now go, have a splendid, extraordinary life!
(and by the way, it's my mother's birthday: Happy Birthday to the best mom ever! AND it's Michaelmas. For further reading: http://imagineself.com/2014/09/discerning-dragons-michaelmas/)