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Serenity On Saturday

23 Aug

It’s Saturday, I’m single, and for the first time in my life, I’ve experienced serenity.

Not this Saturday. This Saturday I’m my usual hot mess. It was last Saturday when I went on my son’s Boy Scout camping trip. The boys went to a “lake” that was actually a 120 foot deep shale quarry filled with crystal clear water. You couldn’t see the bottom, and there was no beach to gradually wade in. All of us had to wear life jackets as we enjoyed a zip line and a multitude of inflatable climbing structures. My son was a bit intimidated by it all, but he enjoyed the canoe and the paddle boat.

They warned us to take off rings, earrings, or anything else valuable. When I went in the water, I left my glasses on dry land. But in the canoe, I never thought to take them off. I really can’t see without them.

We were paddling along the sharp cliff wall of the quarry, where there were blackberry brambles growing out from the cracks in the rocks. As we paddled under those brambles, a branch brushed the side of my glasses and knocked them off my head into the water, where they sunk into the blackness before I could even blink.

In about 5 seconds’ time, I experienced all the stages of grief compressed. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and ultimately acceptance. It was nearly instant. My heart raced for a moment, and then serenity washed over me. Complete acceptance that my glasses were gone. And I laughed. What else could I do? I spend hours every summer pillaging blackberry bushes for the plumpest, sweetest berries, and now they were having their revenge!

My son thought I was losing my mind that I was so calm. He was horrified at what happened and was frantically calling for the lifeguard who was patrolling the area in his kayak. I joined in the effort to get his attention, but not because I thought there was anything that could be done.

In that moment, I had totally surrendered. I let go absolutely. I had prescription sunglasses back at the campsite, and I’d go to LensCrafters when we got home Sunday. Until then, I’d be ok.

I can’t think of a another time in my life that I’ve been so at peace about something I couldn’t control, especially so quickly. Usually the journey to acceptance is a long winding road that involves a lot of crying and backtracking. Of course, letting go of people and situations is not like letting go of a pair of glasses, either. But it was a wonderful concrete example of what serenity is and how it actually works.

Since the incident with the glasses last weekend, I’ve had to do more letting go, and every time I’m tempted to “pick up” again, I take a deep breath and say to myself, “The glasses are under 100 feet of water.” The thing for which I want to grasp is gone, if it was ever there in the first place.

But that’s not the end of the story. One of the park’s employees had diving gear. He got suited up and found the glasses about 20 feet down, stuck on a rock ledge. I truly never thought I’d see them again, but grace came through yet again.

We’ve all heard that cliche, “If you love something, let it go. If it doesn’t return it was never really yours.” Well, I’ve had lots of “boomerangs” in my life, lots of second and third chances with work situations, relationships, friends and family. And I can say from experience that even if it does come back (which is never a guarantee) it’s still not really mine. It was never really mine, ever.

That’s the heart of serenity.

Raising Adults

12 Jul

It’s Saturday, I’m single, and my son came home from camp today. A week ago, I had to carry him down the stairs, and his father had to push him toward the car, and the Scoutmaster had to pry him away from his dad’s arms at the camp entrance. Aside from the day we told the kids we were getting a divorce, camp send off is the hardest thing I’ve had to do as a parent.

I’ve spent the better part of this past week questioning whether I’d done the right thing. Thank goodness for all my guy friends who’ve assured me that, yes, he’s going to be better off having gone to camp, in spite of his resistance. He will thank me one day, they said. And God bless the Scoutmaster who sent email and photo updates of the boys every day. It was my lifeline.

Through his Sunday morning tears, my son told me the reason he was so upset was that he didn’t have any say in the decision; we decided for him. I told him we’ve been making decisions for him for 11 years, because he’s been a little boy. And now that he’s getting older, we will have to let him start making some of his own decisions. After he got back from camp, of course.

I’m looking forward to that about as much as I look forward to the end of summer break.

It’s gotten me thinking about why I sent him to camp in the first place – to foster his independence and help him find the confidence and community he needs to sustain him as he makes the journey toward adulthood. As hard as it has been to deliberately remove my son from his comfort zone, what got me through my self doubt was continually reminding myself that I’m not supposed to be raising a child. I’m raising an adult.

Based on the current outcome, I’m really good at raising children. I have three really well-behaved kids who sit still in restaurants (even without the aid of electronics), listen attentively on guided tours of historical places, are quiet in church, go to bed when I ask, and do their homework without much prompting. They are “free range kids” who have their run of the house and can be trusted (mostly) not to eat all the junk food if I sleep late in the morning. Occasionally they make their own beds and clean their own rooms, although the little one hasn’t caught on to this yet. They work out most of their sibling conflicts without much parental brokering. I’ve followed my mother’s method of childrearing – let kids be kids within boundaries which keep them safe, keep them on a predictable schedule and a regular routine, and use encouragement and scolding in equal parts. It has worked.

However, I know very little about raising adults. I am not convinced that I am one myself, and I’m not so sure I want to be one.

It’s Saturday, and I’m still a child on the inside. I want to go to camp. I want to pick blackberries. I want to play at the river. I want someone else to do the cooking. When I really was a child, I thought being an adult meant being able to do what I wanted, when I wanted. Turns out, that’s not what it is at all. Being an adult means having to wake up when I’d rather sleep, go to work when I’d rather play, cook and clean when I’d rather be out on my bike.

It’s Saturday, and being an adult doesn’t mean I get to make all the decisions for myself. Not really. It’s Saturday, and my kids make my decisions, whether or not they realize it. My clients and employers make my decisions. My mortgage company and utilities companies and banking institutions make my decisions.

My only real choice is my attitude. Will I decide to have an attitude of resignation, or an attitude of rebellion? Neither one suits me. How about an attitude of denial? That one works for a while, until it doesn’t. The bills and the laundry and the dishes pile up, demanding attention. The children whine more, and I wine more. Or crush candies.

It’s Saturday, and I choose an attitude of acceptance. And as my son opened the car door to face his mom again, he had a smile on his face. He was beaming, actually. He apparently chose an attitude of acceptance, too.

It’s Saturday, and he’s not going to be thrilled to learn that adulthood doesn’t mean doing whatever he wants. But, he’s off playing with his friends now. I’ll let that lesson wait until Sunday.

Single (Dads) On Sunday

16 Jun

It’s Sunday, I’m single, and it’s Father’s Day.

Being single, one of the things I miss the most about family life is seeing my kids with their dad. My son, who turned eleven yesterday, was born on the Saturday before Father’s Day, and I recall that Sunday in the hospital vividly. Less than 24 hours postpartum, I was a mess -physically exhausted and emotionally shell-shocked. He was calm, he counted wet and poopy diapers, he cuddled that baby boy who spent no time in the hospital nursery thanks to his loving respect for my maternal wishes. Once I’d recovered, I swooped in with confidence and became “mom” – the only one who could feed, clothe, change, or calm. But for that one day, Father’s Day 2003, he was the competent one.

Like most men I know, including my own dad, my kids’ father was and is a deeply emotional man who didn’t always know how to express those deep emotions. It spilled out in fits of silliness. Occasionally there were moments of tenderness in a touch or a look. There was awkward affection, and repressed anger. Being young and female, I thought there was something wrong with all of that. But once our son, and later our first daughter, came into the family, they opened up the tap on his emotions. A father playing with his children demonstrates an intimacy he can’t always achieve with his spouse, no matter how much he may genuinely love her.

When I see a man loving his child in his own way, I see his true nature. Even when he struggles with losing his cool or being able to connect, the fact that he tries is beautiful. It is a privilege to witness.

I’ve got a lot of dads in my life. Some have been like fathers to me, guiding me, chiding me, cheering me. Others have been partners in love, partners in friendship, and partners in single parenthood as they’ve shared their experiences, and have walked with me through mine.

I truly believe that God did not intend for anyone to do parenting on their own. It takes a father. Not just as a loving role model for the kids, but as a nurturer of their mom. I will always believe that marriage is the ideal environment for this kind of nurturing. But being single on Sunday, I don’t have the ideal, so I sure am glad God has brought so many beautiful and diverse dads into my life. You all are amazing and humbling, and you make me a better mom just by allowing me to witness your being the best dad you can be.

It’s Sunday and I’m a single mom, loving all the single and married daddies who love their babies. Who make the sacrifices. Who make the best of a less than ideal hand. Who show me what love looks like.

Stepdads On Saturday

7 Jun

“I wonder if we’ll ever have a stepdad.” This sentence occasionally escapes my 8 year old daughter’s lips, and it takes my breath away every time.

The first time she said it, I thought she was worried that there would be a stepdad one day, but after a conversation with her, I learned that she was kind of hoping there would be. I’m not sure which is worse.

I mentioned it to a single father friend whose kids are about ten years older than mine. He said they used to ask him the same question a lot when they were little (swapping genders, that is). He suggested that the question may be her way of saying she misses having a dad at home, or missing having two parents living together. Her way of coming to acceptance about a less than perfect family situation.

There is a stepmom. She is awesome. She knits them beautiful stuff (I can’t remember the last time I handmade anything). She makes them clean up after themselves on the weekends they stay with she and their dad (it’s all I can do to get them to put candy wrappers in the trash can and laundry in the hamper). Mostly, she and their dad are doing a pretty good job of modeling what a healthy married couple looks like, and for that I am grateful. That was and still is one of my biggest regrets in dissolving my union with their father.

Ironically, my daughter’s “stepdad” comments are now my opportunity to model healthy marriage decision making. Every time the topic surfaces (this week it was in the car on the way to the baseball game) I get the chance to tell the kids that the decision to get married is a very serious one, and that even though I may have some very nice male friends, it takes more than just “niceness” or even love to make a partnership that is supposed to be forever.

This week I had the chance to take the conversation a little further. “God brings lots of interesting people into our lives,” I said. “As you get older and you want to have a boyfriend or girlfriend, you’ll learn about this, too. You’ll learn what you like and don’t like about lots of different types of people, and sometimes you’ll like someone a lot as a friend, but you wouldn’t want to share a house with them. Or you might like them more than they like you and your feelings might get hurt,” I continued. My inner child was listening to the monologue, too; I wish someone had said these words to me. Not that I would have heard them.

“Here’s what I’ve learned. When God brings someone special into your life, and you start to have those feelings, there are three important things to do. First, be honest with each other. Always. Second, don’t ever change yourself to please the other person, or ask them to change for you. Finally, keep God in the middle. Pray for knowledge about what kind of relationship God wants you to have, and God will let you know.”

I wish I could say I came up with that on my own, but I didn’t. It was the advice my own “spiritual mama” gave me recently. It’s what she and her beloved did when they found themselves falling in love, and apparently it worked. They are now married, but I’m sure if God wanted their relationship to be just a stop along the journey, they would have handled that scenario with just as much grace and witness to God’s guidance.

I know some divorced people who do not allow their kids any view of their romantic lives. For good reason. Why have a revolving door into their home and their hearts? When I first ventured into post-marriage dating, I kept my romantic life completely secret. I was very skeptical when their dad wanted to introduce them to the woman who (unbeknownst to any of us at the time) would become their stepmother. After all, what if this was just a rebound? What if they got confused?

He had a different attitude. For him, keeping a relationship secret would be the worst thing he could do. If someone was special to him, he wanted to share that with the kids and share them with the person he loved. I’m glad I didn’t stand in the way of that, even if it did require me to suspend my judgement and my insecurity, and trust that whatever the outcome, my kids would be okay.

I may not be able to model a healthy marriage to my kids, but I can model healthy dating. I want to teach them there is nothing shameful about having romantic feelings for someone. I want them to know their “single mom” is also a woman who believes men are generally good. I want to demonstrate that friendship is the best foundation for “something more.” I want them to see it’s okay to feel excited about someone’s attention, and I also want them to see having a “significant other” doesn’t have to mean you “have” to get married to each other or the relationship was a failure. The only failure is in not learning from each other. I want them to know it’s normal to feel sad when special relationships come to an end, and I want to show them that goodbye can be just as healthy as a lifelong commitment if it’s done with love and grace.

It’s Saturday, and I’m a single momma. This is not the path I would have chosen for myself 15 years ago when I started dating my children’s father. But it’s the path I’m on, and I’m going to make the most of every lesson I get. For me. And for them.

Surprised On Saturday

15 Feb

It’s Saturday, I’m single, and love is not what I expected.

I was spending time with my “valentine” last evening – a single dad who has proven to be a wonderful shepherd into the world of divorce, parenting, healing – and this Alan Jackson song came on the radio. We paused in our conversation as he turned up the radio, because he likes the song so much.

It’s called “Remember When,” and this song encapsulates what I once upon a time expected of love. My friend likes the nostalgia and good old fashioned “country” sound of it, but listening to it makes me feel sad.

I expected everything in this song. I expected that “my first” would also be my “last and only.” I expected that when life threw curves and we broke each other’s hearts, we’d learn to trust each other again. I expected co-creating new life would bring us closer together. I expected that on any given day, if you’d asked me, I would say I would do it all again. And unfortunately, none of that was my reality.

My reality was that on our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple, I boycotted the holiday without telling my spouse. Which is kind of a metaphor for the rest of our marriage, when I think about it. My reality was working through my anger and resentment until there was only love left, which meant loving him enough to stop wasting his time with my unrealistic expectations, and letting go of the fantasy.

Yesterday, he posted a picture on his Facebook page from his recent remarriage. He and “Wife 2.0″ as I affectionately refer to her were kissing in front of crossed Star Wars lightsabers. I love Star Wars, but there’s no way I’d have had a Star Wars themed wedding. Whatever regrets or sadness I may have about my divorce, when I look at that picture, I know in my heart that I did the right thing, freeing him to find his match. I was SO not “the one.” Love was having the courage to admit that and hurt him in the short term so that he could be free to find happiness in the long term. Love is not at all what I expected.

“Sometimes we forget the difference between symbols and substance when Valentine’s Day rolls around,” according to these wise words from the 12-step book Believing In Myself. “Romantic tokens are flattering and fun–but tokens aren’t love itself. Many of the valentine tokens being given today are inspired by a sense of obligation–because old Hubert or Billy or Sam knows what’s good for him! Some are even given to reduce guilt or to show off. Love itself costs a lot more than long-stemmed roses or even diamonds.

“Real love is measured out in steadiness, commitment, and unselfishness over the long haul. It has to do with willingness and forgiveness and just plain fortitude. It means being consistently mindful of someone else’s welfare. If we are engaged in such relationships, we are fortunate indeed, whether or not we have someone on hand today to tell us how wonderful we are. It’s love itself that’s wonderful, not the tokens.”

That sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? It’s Saturday, I’m single, and I’m living that kind of love. It may not look like a marriage that withstood the test of time. But it’s in failing at marriage that I found the ability to love unselfishly, consistently reminded of another’s welfare.

I’m still sad, but I’m also glad for all the life I’ve had, when I remember when.

Hope & Help

19 Jan

It’s Saturday and I’m saddened and inspired. A week ago my community was shaken by a horrible tragedy. A well-known and well-loved mom of three was struck and killed by a drunk driver while she was jogging. In the days that have followed, my friends and neighbors have grieved her passing and celebrated her love of life by wearing blue and running in her honor this weekend.

There’s an excellent reflection on it here: http://www.alifeofgratitude.com/4/post/2014/01/meg-menzies.html

There has been a lot of talk this week about drunk driving. To a lesser degree, there has been talk of road safety, not only for those behind the wheel, but also those who share the road on foot or on a bike.

There has been very little talk about the deadly disease that may have been behind Meg’s death. Yes. The disease.

The driver was drunk at 8 in the morning. I think it’s pretty safe to say that someone who is that intoxicated that early in the morning has a drinking problem.

I hesitate to use that word “alcoholic.” I don’t know if he is or he isn’t. I struggle with that word because it conjures up images of a ragged street person, not a well-respected medical doctor who seems to be functioning well in society. And then there’s this idea of alcoholism being a disease, as if his lack of control somehow excuses him of the consequences of his behavior. It doesn’t, nor should it.

Most of us are aware that alcoholism is a recognized disease, but we probably don’t understand exactly what that means, even if we know people whom we think could be alcoholic. I’ve come to learn that it’s a disease that affects not only the problem drinker, but also everyone with whom that person comes in contact. Whether the drinker is a spouse, a child, a parent, a sibling, an employer, an employee, a friend, a neighbor, a complete stranger behind the wheel of a car in the oncoming lane of traffic, there is someone else who cares about that person and who also must live (or die) not only with the consequences of the alcoholic’s behavior, but with the fear that relationship generates.

In a special way, I think of that drunk driver’s own children. Did they worry about how much their dad drank? Did they even know? Did they make excuses for him thinking it was the kind and merciful thing to do? Are they carrying around guilt and shame for their dad’s actions? Do they feel somehow responsible for his behavior? Is their rage turned inward, or outward? Do they believe there is no one else in the world who could ever understand or give them unconditional love and compassion as they, too, grieve this tragedy?

I think of the people who love alcoholics in their own lives, who hear this story in the news and think, “That could have been my son, mom, sister, boyfriend …” The ones who feel a sick mixture of gratitude and relief and fear that today, it wasn’t my loved one, but it could have been. The ones who would be crushed if anyone found out.

I think of the countless children of children of alcoholics, who’ve grown up with non-drinking parents who suffered the consequences of growing up in an alcoholic home. Do you know what happens to the children of an alcoholic who don’t get help with living in that kind of hell? Sometimes they become rigid and controlling, or develop “socially acceptable” addictions to work, exercise, food, shopping, video games, romantic relationships, porn, anger, or self-pity.

They may not be distracted drivers, but they most certainly are distracted parents, distracted spouses, distracted employees. The children of these children of alcoholics often pick up the drink to cope, and the cycle continues. Or, maybe they don’t pick up the drink, but they scratch their head and wonder what’s wrong with themselves, especially since they had two functional parents, material needs met. Grandchildren of alcoholics may not even know there was a drinking problem in the family, because families of alcoholics often practice such rigid secret keeping.

Alcoholism is a family disease. It affects everyone who comes in contact with the problem drinker, in big and small ways. And with as many problem drinkers as there are out there, if you love one of them and are sick with worry about them or consumed with anger at them, I promise you this – YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

You are not alone. There are many people who have experienced the feelings of responsibility, guilt, shame, anger, fear, depression, anxiety, and hopelessness that you may be carrying. Perhaps you’ve done everything in your power to fight this disease and its effects. I know you haven’t won, because it is impossible. You didn’t cause it. You can’t control it, and you can’t cure it. You’re not that powerful, and trying to be will only kill you early or rob you of the joy of living.

However, we can contribute to the disease by our attitudes and actions. We can enable. We can give the drinker an “excuse” to drink when we argue with or belittle him. We can delay the natural consequences of her actions when we lie to her boss and say she’s sick with a stomach virus.

We can contribute to our own disease by throwing ourselves into our work, our volunteering, our romantic relationships, our candy crush games, our political action groups, our hobbies, our depression, our anxiety … Yes, “our” disease. We are just as sick as the alcoholics. We lash out unexpectedly at our children. We run around the house insanely searching for bottles to dump out, as if that will stop anything. We become compulsive about helping others, sometimes to our own detriment. We get so overwhelmed with living that we stop paying our bills or sleep until noon. And we get behind the wheel tired and distracted and most definitely impaired. And we haven’t put a single foreign substance into our bodies. We act like alcoholics, stone cold sober.

We can’t do anything to stop the alcoholic if she doesn’t want to stop. We cannot save him from his disease. But we can save ourselves from ours.

There is help and hope for families who’ve been affected by this disease. For Meg’s family. It can be found at Al-Anon.

Al-Anon is a program of recovery from the affects of drinking on the family and loved ones of an alcoholic. It is an anonymous fellowship of people who understand as perhaps no one else can. If anything I’ve written has sounded uncomfortably familiar to you, then you could undoubtedly benefit from learning more. There’s a wealth of information at the Al-Anon website:

http://www.al-anon.alateen.org

Feelings On Saturday

11 Jan

It’s Saturday, and I have feelings.

There’s a prevailing wisdom about feelings – that we shouldn’t act on them. After all, feelings aren’t facts.

That may be true. They may not be facts, but they are real.

My feelings are beautiful and strong and entertaining. They excite and stimulate and inspire me. My feelings often take me outside my comfort zone and break me out of routine. Other times, my feelings are a routine, a habit that I barely stop to question. My feelings disappoint me, regularly. Occasionally, they disgust me. My feelings scare me.

But don’t ever say my feelings are just an illusion. Don’t try to soothe me that way – by telling me those scary, disgusting, disappointing, habitual, exciting, stimulating, inspiring, entertaining, powerful, BEAUTIFUL feelings aren’t real. I told myself that lie for far too long, and when someone tries to “make me feel better” by dismissing my feelings, I feel angry. Especially when the person doing the dismissing is me.

My feelings are my responsibility; not a problem to be fixed, but a reality to be accepted. How many times have my own children expressed their feelings, only to have their mother try to make those feelings go away? As uncomfortable as I am with my own feelings, I’m doubly so with theirs.

I’m sure the people in my life sometimes feel that way about my feelings, too, so I don’t hold it against them for wanting to make me feel better. It’s because they care, and also because my feelings make them feel uncomfortable. I’m ok with that. Your feelings are your responsibility, and I won’t change mine to make you ok with yours.

There was a time when I believed the conventional wisdom. Don’t act on your feelings; they aren’t real. I could tell you where that got me, but if you are reading this you probably already know. The day that I finally acknowledged my feelings and let them have a seat at the table when the committee in my head convened, my life changed. For the better.

I challenge the conventional wisdom. My feelings are real and they deserve to have a role in determining our shared destiny. Relegated to the darkest closets of my mind, my feelings wreaked havoc on my life when they occasionally escaped. I was terrified of them, even the pleasant feelings. But when I gave them a place at the table, when I listened to what they had to say and what they had to contribute, I was amazed.

The Feelings, it turns out, were very closely acquainted with Honesty. Without Feelings on the committee, Honesty was there but didn’t really participate except when called upon by the chairman of the board, and only then with great reluctance and timidity. The Feelings brought Honesty out of her shell. Now Honesty is one of the first committee members to speak.

The Feelings, it turns out, were not big fans of Action. When first invited to the table, Feelings kept pretty quiet, afraid that speaking up might cause Action to do what Action does. The chairman of the board had to remind Action that we need to hear everyone’s voice before making decisions. Only then did the Feelings speak up. It turns out, Feelings rarely wanted action; they just wanted to be heard.

That woke up another half-asleep participant on the committee – Compassion. When feelings spoke, Compassion listened. Thinking and Discernment did their best to interrupt before Feelings had their say, but Compassion stepped in. Caution, too, was reluctant to give Feelings the floor, but when she saw that nothing bad happened, Caution regularly consulted Feelings before going to Action for results. In fact, with Feelings at the table, Caution became much less afraid of Action, who had been dominating the committee along with Thinking and Discernment.

With the help of the committee in my head and the wisdom of friends who’ve “been there done that,” I’ve come to repeal and replace the conventional wisdom into which so many of us have bought. “Don’t act on your feelings” has been changed to, “Don’t react to your feelings.” That means my feelings get to exist, get to be heard, get to be acknowledged – even the unpleasant ones. Instead of reacting, I respond to my feelings. I reflect on them. I take them to heart. I consult them whenever I have an important decision to make, and if they speak up loudly, I stop whatever I’m doing and listen. They are my early warning system when I’m going off course as often as they used to be the rudder that steered me off course.

It’s Saturday, and my feelings are mine. What I do with them will shape my destiny.

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