Thursday, December 31, 2015

Counting 'Em Up

So remember when I was all freaked out about having six days to myself?  Yeah, well.  I spent those days so contentedly, walking for miles, sleeping twelve hours at a stretch, sewing, taking ass class instead of teaching it, watching movies.  I had to consciously go and court conversation but beyond that it was pretty dreamy.

I pick up the kids this morning. I have them for the next two weeks (with one all-too-brief two-day window of solitude) - paying the piper for my week off.  Now that’s what I’m panicking about.  I love them - I LOVE THEM - but being a single parent, I’m finding, is a life of extremes.  I’m either the only adult in charge for every last need or I don’t see them at all.  At my worst moments in either scenario, I’m exhausted or I’m lonely.

I’m also carrying sole responsibility for my finances, my house, every last decision that’s made about my life.  Which is exciting at times (mine, all mine!!!) and terrifying at others (the roof is leaking, the toilet in the rental is backed-up, quarterly taxes, what?).  The craziest, loneliest part of that is not having a partner to bounce stuff off of.  Not to solve my problems, but just to hear them.  I talk to my friends, sure, but is there one person to whom I can unload at the end of day (besides my kids - whose problems I’m hopefully helping to solve instead of the other way around)?  There isn’t.  And so these worries float around in my head untethered, popping up like whack-a-moles.

I read something on Facebook (where I consume most of my scientific news - don’t look at me like that) about how the human brain likes to worry.  Worry gives the brain an activity.  But it also creates yucky chemicals (cortisol, etc) that diminish your health - mental and otherwise.  This link, this Facebook thing (what was it? who knows? who cares?) suggested that every time you start to worry you should instead think of things you’re grateful for.  Because the chemicals your brain makes when it’s grateful are good for you.  And gratitude gives your brain something to do besides worry (which, according to the Gods of Facebook, is it’s default mode).

So in these times of worry (all day, every day), when I catch myself slipping into anxiety, I count my blessings.  Children, healthy.  Me, healthy.  Work, fun.  Money, yes there’s some in the bank.  House, somehow I have one.  Airbnb apartment, paying for said house.  Friends, oh my god, friends.  Men, yes them, too (and on this topic I try to be grateful even for the torture - generally self-inflicted - in my romantic life - I am alive, I am alive).

On this last day of 2015, I am grateful.  For all the change of the last few years, for all the growth that change has insisted on. I’m grateful that I’m living my life on my terms.  It’s not easy, this path I’ve chosen.  I’ve picked every fork in the road that’s led me here, but sometimes I feel very alone.  I’m grateful I have the fortitude to sit in loneliness, to sit in the vacuum, without pulling anything and everything in to keep me company. 

I am grateful for happy accidents.  I’m grateful for new friends, for old, for every time in a day there is a genuine connection with another human being.  I’m grateful for every time something makes me laugh.  I’m even grateful when something makes me cry.

2016, I’d like to meet you without anxiety.  I’d like to meet you with bravery, maybe even with lightness.  My life has been awfully heavy of late, maybe 2016 is the year of sunshine.  Or the year that I can see the sunshine, feel the sunshine, that’s been here this whole time.  Or, I don’t know, maybe it’ll be another shit show.  That’s ok, too.  Give it to me, 2016, I can handle it.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Silent Night

The kids left yesterday for a week.  I have six solid days of freedom, both from parental duties and (largely) from work.  I feel alternately exhilarated and panicked.  The days are all my own.  And…the days are all my own.

This is the second Christmas I’ve spent alone.  This year, like last, I spent the day walking.  Ten miles; up Baldy, down to Phoenix Lake, around through Fairfax and back home.  It was beautiful out there, breath-taking, clear from yesterday’s rain, the winter sun low in the sky, hours of golden light.

As I walked, I thought.  About the last couple years - Ben and I officially separated on New Year’s Day two years ago.  About Christmases past.  About the family I was born into.  About my mom, who I still ache for.  About my dad, who I still can’t figure out.

They’ve been beautiful, these last two Christmases.  Silent.  Sometimes it’s nice not to have to talk to anyone, not to have to chat, to make conversation, to please someone.  But every person I passed on the trail said “Merry Christmas”, a greeting I always returned.  And every time it was jarring.  Oh yeah, it’s Christmas.  A day about tradition and family.  Not always a happy day but usually an important one.

I spent Christmas Eve with Megan and Evany, my best friends of over thirty years, with their husbands, their kids, mine.  They are my family.  In this long transition between my old married life and whatever’s next, they are my people, just as they’ve always been.  Their husbands are my people, their kids.  And my kids, you don’t get closer people than that.

I have six days - okay, five now - to either fill or leave empty.  Days before the new year.  Days to find my north star (again), to listen to the whispers of my heart.  To take a breath before stepping forward.  Into what, towards what, who knows.  All kinds of time, all kinds of quiet.  

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Leaver and the Left

When a relationship ends, it’s rarely mutual.  Usually, no matter how miserable both parties may be, just one makes the decision to pull the plug.  And so we have the Leaver and the Left.

The Leaver, often, is further down the road in processing the break-up.  Often they’re more at peace, in part because it was their decision (however difficult) to move on.  That said, the act of leaving takes a great amount of bravery.  The moment when you say good-bye is terrifying.

The Left, on the other hand, might feel powerless, might feel taken by surprise (even if there have been months or years on the rocks).  Being left is a huge ego blow.

When a marriage ends, particularly a long-standing one, particularly one with children, it upends your entire life.  Everything is in the air, waiting to land.  It’s scary as hell.  Both the Leaver and the Left live in this space but at least for the Leaver there was a choice involved.  It’s an entirely different experience to embark on a treacherous journey on purpose than to be sent on that trip against your will.

I’ve found, in this post-divorce, middle-aged dating pool, it’s best for Leavers to date Leavers and Lefts to date Lefts.  If a break-up is recent, you tend to process with your new friend (or at least I do).  For a Leaver to go on and on about their hysterical and angry ex might be hard for a Left to listen to.  A Left venting about the selfishness, the gall, of their former partner is going to be rough for the Leaver.

Even friendships tend to run down party lines.  Leavers have lots in common; bravery, guilt, exhilaration.  Lefts might bond over grief and anger.

Lefts get more social support in a break-up, generally speaking.  Leavers can be seen as the villians, Lefts as the victims.  Leavers have upset the status quo, have turned the page; societies don’t like that so much.

Often when I meet a new divorced friend (and when I sense we land on the same side of the divide), I ask, "Are you the Leaver or the Left?"  Always there's a clear answer.  It's a world view.

I have played both roles, I’m sure we all have.  Both are wretched.  Breaking up is hard to do.

Friday, December 4, 2015


Lana, my middle child, my eleven-year-old, is very much like her mother.  She’s particular, she’s precise.  She not only makes her (full-sized, canopy-draped) bed every morning, she arranges each and every throw pillow in a prescribed order (a meld of blues and various sizes, she gets the symphony of random just right).  

She is an incredible sweetheart, my girl.  She is my most tactile child; she always holds my hand when we’re out together, she insists on a hug on the hour, she still sits on my lap whenever possible.  She tells me constantly that she loves me - she insists her love for me has such depth I can’t fathom it - I assure her that once she has a child even her great mother love for me will be dwarfed by her passion for her kid - and she tells me in no uncertain terms that I am simply wrong.

Recently she decided that she wants a nickname.  “Mom,” she said, “Call me ‘Monkey’ because I was born in the year of the monkey.  Call Mae ‘Horsey” because she was born in the year of the horse and Mihiretu “Puppy” because he was born in the year of the dog.”  I agreed, half-listening (the kid talks non-stop).

An hour later when I said, “Lana, will you put your shoes on the rack?”, she replied indignantly, “You didn’t use my nickname!”

I tried again.  “Monkey, will you put your shoes on the rack?”  She was pacified.

That was the one and only time I called her Monkey.  I tried to explain to her that you can’t give yourself a nickname - it has to be birthed organically by the namer, usually someone that loves you.

Last Sunday the girls and I were sitting around with our friend, Elizabeth, and her son, Hugo, people we’ve know long and deep.  We got on the topic of character traits - what some of our idiosyncratic ones were.  Mae, I diagnosed, was a bit of a bull in a china shop at times - something of a blunt instrument, physically - she can hug too hard, she can spaz out and throw herself full-force to the ground for no apparent reason.  Lana, we agreed, could be stubborn.  But more than that, I elaborated, she could be - and here I paused, choosing my words carefully.  She, truth be told, can be a tiny bit bitchy when she’s pissed off.  I used precisely this word in precisely this way.  Lana laughed in recognition, thank god.  Because it’s true.  When push comes to shove with that kid she can elevate to a chilly plane from which she imparts cutting, exact punishment.

The next night Mae and Lana and I were watching old episodes of 30 Rock - we’ve been binging lately.  Lana got pissed, I can’t remember about what, and Mae said, “Lana, stop being so bitchy!”  Ironically, given my own use of the word towards that girl, I have a rule that Mae can’t call Lana a bitch - it happens with some frequency.  “Mae!” I said.  “Fine,” she said.  “Lana, stop being so beepy!”

We all laughed.  And now, when Lana gets edgy, we say, “Beepy!”  Like when she called me “Fatso” with the simple wish to hurt my feelings when I had just (inadvertently) hurt hers.  Like when she tells her brother that we went and saw a movie without him.  Like when she insinuates that Mae is a lesbian (which would be fine, if Mae were a lesbian).  “Oh, Beepy,” we might say, with a sigh.  And then we all laugh, including Lana, the beep evaporating in the warmth.

She got her nickname.  It’s not of her choosing but it fits.  And it comes directly from our hearts, because we know her so well.  We adore her.  And she is - the tiniest bit - beepy.