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Calibrating Healthy Relationships After Emotional Abuse

I had to learn how to be treated with kindness. I am lucky enough to work with gentlemen. Their natural behavior is kindness, compassion, and empathy. When they extended politeness toward me, I had to learn to accept it. I had to learn how to accept an offer for a drink. I had to learn how it feels to be listened to and valued. My opinions matter at work in a way that I had never experienced at home.

And now I have to learn normal dating patterns in a healthy relationship because what I know has always become emotionally abusive.

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Sexuality and Body Confidence

I don’t need to say what I will or won’t take in a relationship just as I don’t need to say I’m in charge.  It’s in what interests me.  It’s in the authority I live in.  It’s in how easily I give things a hard pass or what boundaries I set up. It’s what I allow to happen and how I allow others to talk to me.  I don’t feel like I need to make myself a certain way. 

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Everything Happens the Way It's Supposed to and It Isn't Always About You

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A couple of weeks ago I was getting a haircut.  I loved the way his work made me feel. I wanted a trim and a dye job.  I have a bit of hair at the nape of my neck bleached, then dyed purple. I wanted it near work in Santa Monica to help me take my time getting home so I could avoid traffic. I found a hairdresser who uses gentle products and was very social.  I loved my time in his chair. While he worked and the shop began to close, his cleaning man came in to scrub floors and make the place smell chemically clean and sanitized. We chatted about his birthday weekend plans apart from his twin sister.  We chatted about the twins I carried long enough to love. Just as my hair was washed out, a woman came into the shop.

The hairdresser was supporting her with a hug and the benefits of friendship.  She wore a cute black dress that was perfect for work and made me jealous of it until I remembered I rarely sit like a lady in a dress.  She seemed to be holding back with so much pain and emotion.  I asked if she had just endured a long day and my moment of compassion opened her up just enough to be authentic in the pain she felt.

This woman was going through a divorce with a man still intent on making her suffer even though they were no longer together, and she was faced with starting over.  New city, new job, new lower credit score (divorce will do that) and no idea how she was going to get through it. I've been there and I'm certain several of my readers have as well.

I gave her encouragement like I got so many times from people who had been divorced.  I told her she was stronger than she knew.  I was told the same thing repeatedly and it was only in the months after I found a new normal that I could see it was true.  I told her there were good times and bad times.  Remember the bad, but cling to the good.  I told her that I acknowledged her for not giving up and getting this job for herself.  She insisted the job was for others and their expectations of her, but I pointed out she was doing it for herself.  I knew because she wasn't in bed, hiding and quitting life.

The cleaning man stopped to encourage her as well.  He was a man that got to start over after nearly 40 years and and it wasn't his first choice either.  He also eventually found freedom in starting life over.

What are the odds that I would be in the right time at the right place with another stranger sharing a similar story of getting through the end of a marriage with a woman who needed to borrow our strength?  We were exactly where we needed to be when we needed to be there.

There was another hair appointment that was supposed to be worked in tandem with mine.  She had cancelled and had she been there, we might not have had that same cradle of connection and care that we were able to offer her. Had I decided to go straight home or wait for the weekend to go to a salon near my home, I would have missed her.  We are right where we need to be, when we need to be there, but sometimes we're meant to be present for someone else.  It's not always about me, and I get to see how I might help others.  That is a gift.  It is a special honor.

I told her to hold onto that moment.  It was one of the good ones where she openly cried with two strangers and she was met with love and compassion.  One day what we gave her will be needed by someone else. I'm certain she will give and also receive in the act of giving the way I did.

There is a right time and place for everything.  There's a whole song and bible verse on it if you don't believe me.  The thing is you get to look at the moment you are in and see what the purpose is.  Maybe you're there and the reason is you're meant to support someone else.

Why Dad Has to Look Great, Even Through Divorce

I might give more clarity than is appreciated by my ex on my blog, but not to our kids.  They don't read my blog.  They don't always want to do the reading for homework and Mom just blathers on. I don't lie to them but I defend their Dad to them all of the time.  They are free to express themselves in my home, so when they call him names, I'll remind them that he loves them as much as I do.  When they justify their opinions, I remind them that we can all be a bit selfish or lazy, but that doesn't mean we love anyone else any less. I remind them that having them do chores around the house prepares them for life alone and their Dad is doing the right thing by teaching them independence.  They help out when I need them to but I resented feeling like a slave to my parents, and will never ask my kids to do work I won't help them with. I might not like their Dad as a person and my life is so much happier without him but I admit, my kids have a good Dad. Why do I defend him? Because even in the ways Kid1 splays himself across my couch, he is in every way his father's child.  I love my sons.  Every part of their personalities is special to me.  There are even ways where I see their Dad or grandfather coming out and those are special.  I know them and I know where they come from and they're my kids.  I want them to feel safe talking about him to me, and they do. Because I defend him even when I don't want to.

We get our first sense of identity from our Dads. It's how we fit in his world that tells us we matter.

My relationship with my kids started in pregnancy.  I was talking to them before they had ears to hear me.  I had that bond or connection, and I still do.  The act of growing up means we are part of our mothers and spend a lifetime learning independence from her.  Even as an adult, I see the ways I follow what my mom did and the ways I try hard to distance myself from her.  I see it in my sense of style and the way I give my kids affection.

When a child is born, they still rely heavily on the parent they attach to, but the smell of mom can soothe a crying baby because that feels like home.  It's instinct.  When they get older, they start to look to the other parent, (in my case my Dad as well as my children's Dad) to see where they fit.

Mom is different from Dad. There's a sense of safety when a child gives mom a melt down.  Mom understands and will make it better so they can safely fall apart.

With Dad, there's a distance that holds a different sense of security and safety.  They will behave differently.  It's not just me.  Most seasoned moms will tell you their kids are different people, depending on who is around.

When it came to angry tempers and who was more capable of losing their shit, it was always me.  The pressure of keeping a clean house, behaved kids and his needs met was overwhelming.  My needs were neglected and it looked like anger.  I was scary.  Without fail, I could tell my kids to behave or I would call their Dad, who was usually more patient, and they would behave.  They listened to his authority without him needing to raise his voice.

Our home feels different now.  I have certain rules, but I allow flexibility.  I will ask them to shower after dinner, but I'm flexible with showers as long as they happen before they leave for school in the morning.  I will ask them to go to bed, but in bed with devices is okay as long as they're asleep before I am, and even if they aren't, they won't be punished for brains that won't slow down. I don't worry about what they wear to school as long as their bodies are comfortable and warm.  Much of this is very different from their Dad and most homes because as mom and head of my household, I can do it how I want to and giving my kids more control and authority over their bodies is important to me.

But I'm not Dad.

When my niece was younger, I asked her brothers to step in and be the man in her life.  I asked them to take her out and play basketball and spend time with her.  I let them know that if the men in her life don't give her a sense of value, she'll believe any boy that tells her he's the only one that cares about her and that will groom her into his victim.

My Dad has always been part of my life.  To this day, I see my Dad fairly often and we talk.  I've become more open with him than he probably appreciates at times.  Growing up, I still had Daddy issues to reconcile.  It was mainly that he was present and my Dad, but he wasn't the person I imagined him to be.  He failed the rules I set for him in my head.

My Step-Dad was patient beyond measure.  He gave me rides, bought me things I wanted, was kind and patient.  I was terrible to him.  I called him "Penis" and sometimes to his face.  I treated him like the name Step-Dad meant I was to step on him.  It was years of patience and I couldn't see him as a decent man until 5 years into his marriage to my mom.  Now I'm so blessed to have him in our lives.  He's been a terrific grandfather to my kids.  He spoils them.  He loves and cares for them, and he looks out for me.  Step-Dads are really special and mine is a great Dad.

I'm lucky to know my brother in law as a great Dad to my nephews.  They live separately from me, so I don't know all that happens as they parent, but I've seen him guide my nephews in a way that they are respectful, responsible, and caring.  Of course, my sister had a great deal to do with that too (because my family is filled with badass warrior dragon slayer women), but I'm not writing about moms.   He has been present and involved in their lives.  He has given structure and discipline as well as encouragement.  He has put being their Dad above being a person in the ways where selflessness has been more common than selfishness.  That's a great Dad.

There's a holiday schedule for my kids.  Easter is coming and I get the Saturday before Easter and their Dad gets Easter Sunday.  We used to visit his family and I wanted the kids to keep that tradition and enjoy a quiet day with them where they don't have to house hop and we can just enjoy each other privately.  For Christmas I get Christmas Eve.  My mom started having celebrations on Christmas Eve so we could spend Christmas Day with our spouse's families.  Without a spouse I was planning a hike alone but a friend invited me to share their Christmas meal.  I sat at the table and watched a Dad hold a baby so his wife could eat her meal.  I watched him connect with his children and guide them with love.  He knew the needs of his children as well as his wife did.  I was so blessed that night by being able to watch a man be a great Dad to his children in supporting his wife.

I remember taking a picture of the mess Kid3 made in my hair when he wanted to brush and style it for me.  It was fun for him but it reminded me of all of my bad hair choices as a child.  I cringed.  I couldn't go out like that.  The smile on his face made it a moment worth remembering through the selfie I snapped.  Yesterday a facebook post almost moved me to tears.  A friend posted a picture of her husband with their girls.  He was proudly wearing the polo shirt and tie his daughter picked out to go out and spend time with his daughters and a niece.  That is a great Dad.

It seems to be an anthem among single moms that there are no good Dads out there, but that's not true.  There are many amazing Dads out there and it comes down to a choice to be that person.  Just like moms, it's a moment to moment choice. Sometimes we shine with patience, love, care and understanding.  Sometimes we fail miserably and hurt the children we love with impatience, anger and selfishness.  The great ones never quit and learn with the kids coaching them to greatness.

How We Compare Past Pain To Gauge Present Pain But It's All Relative

My writing feels broken. Life still moves at the speed of "slow down, WTF!"

That hasn't kept the words at bay.

My love life has been moving in a positive direction.  It has made change for me and my boys and we're riding the waves as a family.  For the most part we're okay but in one very specific way, we're not.

My firstborn is having a hard time with the changes and not having my home whole has made writing a challenge.  How do I write about doing what feels good, when so much of what I feel is tied into how my son feels and the ways we're not blending our lives into ways where I can proclaim we're all doing epic shit.

Friday I drove myself to an ER after pushing through a job interview and saying I had a little indigestion.  The chest pain was bad enough that I was crying.  Not sobbing or asking for attention as much as silent tears and gritting my teeth through the nurse's questions.  It was bad.  I found my sense of humor.  She was hiding out but given free reign, she's a bit snarky and had no patience for the whiny bitch next to me.  (If a nurse or doctor is trying to help you after you go see them for help, don't bother trying to justify kicking them.) I was sent home after being given really good drugs and felt better through the weekend.

Monday morning I called an ambulance after a night of chest pain, vomiting and being unable to sleep.  I know, pretty bone headed of me.  I kept thinking, it hurts, but it's not as bad as the pulmonary embolisms.  And then it was.  It went from kinda uncomfortable to more painful than full on labor pains pretty quickly too.  I think at some point I may have begged for death while running to the bathroom to vomit and it was only after getting through the night that I called an ambulance and had the paramedic act pretty bored as he realized I wasn't actually having a heart attack.  They hung out with me and waited for another ambulance to take me to a hospital where I was taken in and tested and poked and prodded and drugged.  The 7 am call included a transfer to my plan hospital and a discharge after 33 hours, with lotsa fun follow up appointments in my near future.  Gallbladders are like lungs.  They're supposed to function without using pain to grab your attention.  If you feel pain, play it safe and see a doctor.

I kept thinking of my worst possible experiences and I held them up to what I was going through.  I held up the past with the present in a way that let me see that I was not actually dying.  I matched up battle scars to see that I've been through bad situations and it doesn't make the current better or worse.  It reminds me there's no point in whining about it.  I will get through it.  There are no other options.

That moment helped me find the funny and crack some jokes.  That comparison gave me the clarity to see that I haven't been able to write, but it's about me.  It's not the boyfriend.  It's not wondering what I can write or if I should. It's my relationship with my firstborn that makes me feel so shattered that the words stopped.

It's new territory.  I get to learn and we get to stretch, and in time, this will be one of those battle scars in our relationship I will hold up.  I'll remember how hurt I am that I have hurt him.  I will remember how torn I feel by the directions my heart is pulling me in.  I'll remember that in this moment and every moment around it, I've been trying to go by my gut and do what is best for me and my family, without sacrificing myself for my family.  It's a marker.

I will see the parts that were broken.  I'll compare them to the next terrible thing.  I'll remember how we managed and the ways that made us stronger.  It'll be okay.  The words will flow again.

 

How We Bounce Back After the Marriage Ends

I was never a tennis player.  I ran around a tennis court with my Dad once.  It was some time right after high school on the open courts in Griffith Park.  I remember having no control of the ball.  I kept swinging my arm up and sending ball after ball over the fence walls and being the person to chase them all.  It was just exhausting.  I hated the experience.  I'm sure there's a really bad poem about that day on my hard drive somewhere. I'll spare you the angst. Take that same ball and include a dog willing to run around and it has a whole different feel for me. I actually enjoy throwing the ball and watching a happy dog chase it down before it lands.  It comes back a slimy mess of drool and it comes back with the expectation that the game would continue.  You throw a ball for a dog to chase and there is an exponential growth of energy and excitement.

That poor ball though, right? You reject it.  It lands and then comes back a mess.  And yet it comes back.  It bounces back.  (Just grab it before the dog gets to really start chewing.)

There are lessons here.

I know more than one cancer survivor.  The word "survivor" sounds very different from who these people are to the life they lead.  I have never met a survivor that wasn't thriving.  I have never met one that was afraid to say the important things.  I have never met one that wasn't stronger than they thought they could be, brave in spite of their fear, or courageous through all of their physical pain. They have mastered bouncing back.

I know more than one person that has gone through a failed relationship and the bounce back isn't pretty.  I spoke with a woman last week and our experiences were similar.  Bouncing back was a long and hard journey that wasn't a bounce from relationship to relationship to mask what needed healing. At the end of the road we both came out stronger, but at the lowest points, even our mothers had a hard time seeing our pain.

We know how to be alone.

We're not afraid to be alone.  We even celebrate moments alone and you can't threaten us with leaving. At one point it was terrifying to hear the sound of an empty home.  It's possible to find a way to be comfortable sitting at a table for one in a crowded restaurant on date night.  We know the devastation of a relationship that has ended and taken our dreams and expectations with it.  We know how bad it can be and we know we survived with strength we didn't know we'd find.  Most of the encouragement I had in the beginning was that I am stronger than I think I am.  It was and is true.  Who knew? Others that have been through it knew because I sure didn't.  It's something you find out once there is no one around to rescue you but yourself.

We know how to roar.

We have learned how to listen to our own voice and we've found the courage to speak for ourselves. We do what feels right because we know there will be others willing to share their opinions without support and we know at the end of the day it's our choices with the weight in our hearts that will allow us to sleep or keep us up all night.

We know it can always be worse.

Finding your way through a life-change can knock the wind right out of you, and just when you think you can stand on your feet again, the ground shows you it can swallow you up without warning. You'll hear about friends going through a rough patch and you won't be able to fully empathize because you know it can always be worse and you know it has been, but you are stronger for it and you can get through it. You offer the nuggets of hope that helped you through the worst of it and laugh at the rest because that perspective shift is the control you needed to launch you past the pain.

We know how to ask for and accept support.

We know when to set our pride aside. It feels terrific to know we can do it all on our own,but sometimes we can't.  It can be really hard to ask for support and humble ourselves, and know help doesn't look the way we want it to and it often comes at a cost, but we ask for and accept support anyway because we know we have to.

We learn that it isn't always about us.

A week ago I was humming to myself.  It was one of those Mariah Carey songs that end up in ranges that even dogs couldn't hear.  I was humming badly and someone walked in on me in the office kitchenette. I was embarrassed and tried to excuse myself but the woman walking in the room didn't even hear or really notice me.  In her head and taking up her full attention was the world that sees only her as I was in my world that saw and cared about everything I did.  Our worlds would have never met if I hadn't stopped her to draw attention to the fact that I expected her to see me.

The world that crashed around me was my world.  In the beginning it was ugly and I was emotionally bleeding all over Facebook and to anyone that I thought cared about me.  Some friends saw more than they wanted to.  Some friends didn't see or know anything.  Other people wanted the juicy details and my personal hell of a side show. Given space, some people will still really care, but not enough to be present.  Maybe they'll offer space because they don't know how to react.  Maybe they have no room for someone else's pain. Given time, will the opinions of others matter?

We know how to bounce back.

The thing about bouncing back is you are first launched.  You are thrown far, and land hard in a way that throws you in places and ways you would never choose. You end up covered in things you would love to wash off and you accept that some of it is shame and part of that shame never belonged to you.

Shake it off.  Newton's 3rd Law tells us every action has an equal and opposite reaction.  Live boldly and prepare to be launched.  You were born to fly.

 

 

 

How To Find Closure After Something Special Ends

A few mornings ago Kid3 was singing an Adele song and laughing about it. He found the funny without knowing what it was about, other than the many memes starting with, “Hello.” I asked if he knew what the song was about and I told him it was about getting closure and saying hello a long time after a relationship ended. Then the jaded bits came out to bite me and it’s worth looking at if it makes my inner cynic stand at attention.

Closure is about being able to move on from something that meant enough to destroy you a bit when it ended. It could be a relationship. Or a job you relied on. Or the death of a person you didn’t expect to die and refuse to let go of. It’s about accepting that something you loved and cherished doesn’t exist in your life anymore and knowing that it isn’t who you are. You are not a broken relationship and the past is not where you'll find your badassery.

The angry black woman in me said, “you expect someone that failed you while you were both in love to make you feel better now that you’ve had the time to move on?” I mean, true artistry looks like this woman in love. Even when you aren’t amazing, my heart full of infatuation can make something truly terrible look like I can’t live without it. I take your flaws and push them aside because living with them is better than living without you. Take that amazing artist interpretation, give it time and I may just see how much we really weren’t made for each other.

Time will show me the ways I didn’t give space or obsessed way too much over every single detail that seemed relevant but really wasn’t. I’ll see the ways I failed and pride will shove the reasons he failed me to the forefront. And closure sometimes asks us to reconnect to reexamine and release these things. But why?

I’m currently in a relationship. It’s new and I’m still in that happy phase so this really is a look back and doesn’t apply to him. But he's different. I can see the things I question and his answers shift my perspective. I'm different.

Looking at past relationships, there was a fascination in each man I cared about to the point that I wasn’t caring for myself. I wasn’t writing or finding time to be in my happy place. I was relying on him for happiness and that means I wasn’t happy. That neediness often made him (all of the hims) unhappy.

Take my unhappy ass, add a man who was equally unhappy. Subtract the value for our love and how much we cared about each other and it still didn’t add up to keep us together. In the ways we cared about each other . . . The ways we lied to soften the blow of rejection . . . Ultimately, walking away is the greatest rejection possible . . . And that care still couldn’t keep us connected. Time passes and for me that means head turning weight loss. I return to my happy place that shares way more than you’d ever be comfortable with. I start buying myself flowers and reminding myself of the ways I’m awesome that couldn’t be seen under the shadow of the man I placed on my pedestal, and let’s find that closure!

The reality for me is that I have never been able to find closure in a conversation with the men I once gave my all to. I couldn’t see how he might fail me until he did and once I had that hindsight vision of who he was, I see how he could have never been what I painted him as. I see the ways he could never even communicate what I needed to hear because he’s never been as open or emotionally self aware as I am. I held him to my standard and I know he’ll never meet another woman like me. I’ll never meet another woman like me.

For me, closure comes from hindsight and a vision of what my future should be. It comes in facing the ways I accepted less than I desired and taking notice of the ways I undervalued myself to prove to them they were worthy of my love, affection, time and desire. (My desire though... Not everyone can or should handle that much intensity.) I appreciate the times that were good. I relive a few of the good memories. I’m careful to see them with the perspective of someone that was once in love and is now happy and fulfilled in self-love. I can see the good for the good it was. I can also see the ways it was a relationship I would never wish on a loved one and I can stand tall as I walk away because the closure I needed was always in my control and not at the mercy of a man who failed me and odds are would repeat that pattern.

Find the good. Honor it. See the bad. Recognize how you accepted it and promise yourself to do better next time. Be open to love and let go of fear. That’s the closure you’re looking for. It will come in waves and surprise you when you least expect it to.  Go with it.

Relearning How to be a Girlfriend After Being Married

I’m still learning. When I wake up and get ready to face my day, I get to decide I don’t have to know what it will look like or how it will feel. The hard part is realizing the many ways I need to unlearn an existence. I was a wife for 15 years. I made meals I never ate. I rubbed sore muscles and washed laundry for someone that wasn’t my offspring or me. Dishes were washed and bathrooms scrubbed as the last thing I would ever want to do with the consistency of someone suffering from severe depression. The stench of urine never went away because teaching my boys to use a toilet when I didn’t have a penis as an example means it was a poor lesson and it often failed all over the seat and floor. (New lesson: bleach will make my skin reek and burn my eyes but after a while, the chemical scent fades and with it the smell of stale urine only a barfly could appreciate.)

I dated when I was younger. It was a goal to be someone that might become a wife one day. I wanted to be all that would make me a wife. Even to the point that I would put my desires behind someone else’s. I was a chameleon for love, as it were.

Fast forward to nearly two years ago and I’m suddenly single again. A year ago I started to enjoy being single. I’m doing what feels good and exciting to me. I go where I want and stay out as long as I want and it’s about making myself happy. I’ve gotten really good at buying myself flowers and discovering Victoria’s Secret for myself. I eat what I want and enjoy the epicurean delights of self-satisfaction. I love being single because I get to be selfish without feeling selfish.

Then lightning strikes and there’s a man. Just one. There’s a boyfriend and I get to unlearn being a wife to learn how to be a girlfriend and no longer a single woman.

There are moments of joy because I love the way I feel when I’m with him. There are moments of doubt. I have FOMO (fear of missing out) just like anyone else. Is there someone else? Could there be someone better? I have moments of telling myself to relax and enjoy each moment for the spontaneous gifts of our time together. Our times together are amazing enough that I want to learn to be an us when I was so happy with just being me. And moments where I feel like I don't deserve him. They coincide with moments when he tells me he knows there isn't another me on this planet.

I found myself rushing home after work to be by his side and in his arms. On a kid free day as a single woman, I would normally just explore the area I work in or drive to the ocean for a while until traffic was a straight shot home and into bed.

I keep turning the thermostat slightly lower to accommodate his comfort rather than my desire to comfortably walk around naked at home.

I would normally have a light dinner or a non-existent one on a kid free night, and I wonder if I should cook for him or how that should look as his girlfriend that isn’t hungry and he surprises me by caring for my needs and being self sufficient. I have moments that beg for a lifetime in spite of my fear of what that could look like. I wonder if I want more and I ask why can’t I have the more he’s offering. And there’s happiness and contentment and moments that shock me and rock the certainty I almost lived in. (I'm certainly adaptable.)

I find myself trying to remember how I am supposed to behave and care and not rely on him. Can I rely on him? Does he ask that of me and why does that scare me. Around that time, the reality of being abandoned shows up and I see how I keep holding him at a safe distance, without accounting for the fact that there is no safety in what we have and that is the thrill I have a right to embrace.

I’m learning what drives him and where his passions are. I’m learning to see the new patterns of who we are and not place the heavy burden of the old (my past) on top of him.

When I met my ex, it was on the heels of a superficial relationship with someone else. He introduced me to a song that I in turn introduced to my ex. We played that song over and over on our honeymoon. I kept wondering if I should just tell him and pick a different song. I heard it on the radio this morning and it was interesting how the memories of it were layered by two different men. I heard another song with a similar scenario and two different men, and again, the significance and memories cascaded in a way that felt so confused and beautiful. There was a moment with my current boyfriend. There was a sweet emoji he texted to me (and so help me, I’m embracing smiley faces and I don’t feel like an asshat doing it). He sent a picture that reminded me of my ex and I let his expression color the picture in a different light. Like brush strokes on a canvas, we are offered a gift in our expressions and it was a moment to shift what I saw and how I felt and rather than dwell on what it was, I was able to bask in what we’re making it. And that moment is his and mine and has nothing to do with anyone else.

My kids on the other hand . . . Kid1 isn’t in love with my dating one person. (He might have enjoyed the idea of me being a player or hard to keep because that meant I was so picky only his Dad was worth holding onto and that means only my kids held my attention. He isn't rude but refuses to engage.  Kid2 is indifferent. Kid3 (at 10 years old) has moments where he likes the new boyfriend and moments where his anger is palpable. He tried breaking my car window after watching me, watch him pee all over the toilet seat on purpose. I withheld my smirk and laughter at how visceral his need to be territorial was.  And there I go with that bleach lesson again. We're all learning.

New Traditions After Divorce

It is a great Christmas to be me.  I'm really giving myself to the holidays as a single mom on my terms. When we hashed out custody, I was intentional with wanting Christmas Eve with my boys.  My family always celebrates Christmas Eve and I was able to start my celebrations with a first date at Catalina Coffee Company yesterday morning (beautiful blue eyes, amazing conversation, couldn't look away from his dimples, didn't feel an ounce of chemistry, great venue). I then enjoyed most of yesterday with one sister over several hours of making tamales yesterday. This morning  was alone with my boys at breakfast.  We had our private gift opening at home and then I enjoyed a day with my kids and ginormous family.  Right now I get to have a really appreciated quiet night alone.  (Although that hot buttered rum is calling me.) Tomorrow my adventures will continue with more family and friends. I started my day with my boys at a Denny's Christmas breakfast.  I hated making breakfast first thing in the morning.  I was never hungry and the kids were always picky.  I got to eat later in the morning, and I wasn't the short order cook.  I don't remember last year, but this year has been great. I explained to my boys the thoughts my last post inspired for me.  I explained that in asking what they want for Christmas and focusing only on that, I was teaching them to be takers without bothering to show them the joys of giving.  It was a stretch for me but I asked them if they wanted to go get a present for their Dad for Christmas.  The little one immediately said no.  The oldest said he was planning to draw him a picture, and my middle son hesitated the longest before saying no.  Maybe it was strange to imagine me footing the bill for him.  I then asked if they wanted to pick out a gift for their Grandparents and they were excited about that.

We walked around the CVS after expressing gratitude that we weren't at Target when we drove by the Target parking lot on Christmas Eve. (We're working on finding gratitude in everything.) The boys picked out house shoes for their Grandpa, and a blanket for their Grandma.  They wanted something to keep them warm and comfortable.  We wrapped it and when we arrived at Grandma's house, for the first time they gave their grandparents a gift they picked out themselves.  It wasn't something I picked.  It was something they chose and they got to experience the gratitude of their grandparents.  The look on my children's face was all I needed in that moment.

I see where my children are growing and where I need to continue to guide them in so many ways and today was a humbling and encouraging lesson for me.  But it was a day of shifting traditions and seeing how it's about learning and growing as a family.

Not only have I been teaching my boys to be takers, I was teaching them to live in scarcity, and keeping them from dreaming big.  My older two had modest wish lists.  My little one wanted a trampoline, but that was the most out of the box gift they came up with. Later in the day, Kid3 expressed wanting a Nintendo 3DS.  In the past that meant waiting for the next holiday or birthday.  I explained that I always want to give my kids what they want and we don't have to wait for a holiday or for him to deserve it.  We just had to wait for when I could do it, but it would go on the whiteboard at home as a goal.  What I didn't expect was that in my daily examples, I was teaching my oldest to be a martyr.

After breakfast and picking up their grandparent's gifts, they came in the house and I told them they could open their presents.  In the past, it was always structured.  One present at a time, with all of us watching.  It always bothered me because it was a show of "look what I got you and show me you like it." It shifted.  It wasn't about the individual gifts but the overall feeling of getting them what they wanted and letting them know I listened to what they wanted and noticed the things they didn't say. Today I told them to have at it.  They had the freedom to open their presents with their names on them and I stood back and enjoyed their excitement.  They were happy.  I exceeded their expectations.  Then they asked if I could get a duplicate for their Dad's house.  I said we could wait until they're back with me and see if they still need what they want.

At one point, Kid2 was fully hit with FOMO (fear of missing out) and wanted a game his brother asked for.  He raged.  He searched for a different game he lost a while back and he was in complete break down.  I had him come to me and I held him as he cried.  He sobbed.  He screamed.  Kid1 had started looking for the game on behalf of his brother and he decided to do all he could to support his brother . . . Including giving his brother the game I had just given him for Christmas in exchange for $10.  He later threw in his gummy bears as well (his absolute favorite candy). He sacrificed his joy for his brother.

Wow. I mean, this kid!  He's mine.  He gets my good and my bad, and surprises me with things I didn't know were possible.  I gave him a Christmas hug in parting and had him look me in the eye. I told him he doesn't have to sacrifice himself because he matters.  I told him he can't be a world changer if there's nothing of him left to change the world.  Now I get to live that to give him that example.

Toward the end of the night, I got feedback that makes me want to address a couple of things.  I should clarify that the dates that look too good to be true are catfish, but there are really great men that are real.  Good morning, good night, and surprise sexy texts are a reality.  It's super rare that I want to meet in person.  He has to be really special to get my time. If you don't like what I write, you don't have to follow or read it.  It's a choice.  Stand by it or find a hobby.

The part that bothered me was it was suggested I was doing Christmas wrong because I was stepping away from a tradition I adopted but never called my own.  It made me doubt our celebrations long enough to ask my kids if they were happy.  They let me know they had a great day.  They had fun with our family.  The younger two even suggested wanting to go home with me and I melted at the hugs from Kid1. My sisters were a bit surprised at how much my Kid1 has grown.  Our day showed me my next goal and tonight I am having the evening I used to enjoy.  There might be a bit of booze. There will be some yarn work and maybe some reading.  I won't be up all night setting the tree to look a certain way.  I didn't have to bake cookies for Santa.  I love the life I get to live!

I didn't have a traditional Christmas before I got married. We always gathered for Christmas and I think Christmas Eve became our tradition shifting in favor of our growing family.  We gather Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day we get to have our children and in-laws.  This year we had tri-tip, tamales, coleslaw, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, fresh fruit and veggies, and desserts.  Thai noodle soup was the highlight of my night.  It is a throwing together of our huge family and our smaller families.  At some point my brother started throwing dollar bills out for the kids in a "make it rain" dance they love.  It's chaos, but it's family. It's my family.  Our traditions shift and grow, as do we, and I get to make this celebration my own in all of the best ways.

There was a terrific balance of my wants and my kids wants.  There is a give and take where we do what we like, and no one is forced into more than we want.  We went to Grandma's house for me, and my introvert got to decide when we were done and leaving. My inner ambivert was happy with his timing. There was time with my family and time alone.  There will be space for friends and I'm shooting for solo explorations as well.  I don't have to cook foods I won't eat or feel like I have to do things I really don't want to. This new life feels like freedom and it tastes like I want more.

Sometimes A Person's Best Offering Isn't Enough

In spring of 2006 I was still majoring in geology, so I was still struggling through college level algebra.  I was newly pregnant with Kid3 and exhausted with my full college course load.  I took out a student loan.  I opened a checking account without telling my ex or at the time my husband.  Without getting permission I did this secretly and he found a receipt.  Most of that loan went to groceries, but I knew what I had done was wrong by the laws of our marriage and I knew it was an act of rebellion from the way our finances were controlled and handled.  I knew my email accounts would be searched next and I was freaking out.  I just had a venting session by email with a really great friend, and realized my ex was in the process of uncovering one of my lies.  I had my friend go into my email account and change my password. I didn't at the time see this as financial abuse. Venting was about frustration, but it was also about my not trusting him to be able to handle or address my frustrations.  I didn't trust him to do what I wanted, and never gave him the opportunity to prove he could.  It's not something I would suggest.  I was a faithful wife, but not necessarily obedient.  And I'm still figuring out what normal and healthy look like.

In my frantic call and the fear I felt over the situation, this friend of mine was that voice of reason.  He pointed out the many ways my life was crazy and he did it in love.  I remember saying to him, "I know he's giving me his very best but I know that will never be good enough for me." That was a profound moment for me and it was followed by a choice.  Knowing I felt this way, I decided my marriage was a choice that I would keep choosing.  I decided I could find ways to be fulfilled and do what made me happy.  Without trying to upset him, I chose to find little victories for myself while still being his wife.

Today I was talking to a co-worker and friend.  I brought up that idea again.  You should hold it a minute.  There will be people in your life that offer you their very best, and you get to recognize that the best they can offer is still never going to be good enough for you. This has become an old concept for me that really strengthens my resolve to learn to love unconditionally.  I want to give from my heart without attaching a price to that love because some people could never afford it, but what happens when my perspective shifts a bit?

I find myself shattered and humbled because I really appreciate the concept that I will offer my best to someone and it won't be a shadow of what they have earned through the patience and love offered to me. I'm often trying to pay attention to what my physical reaction to a person is, and I carefully look at how they treat those around them, but to someone else,  I'm held under that same critical gaze and not measuring up.

As harsh as that may be, I'm at peace with it.  I had another friend ask if it would be okay to post a picture of me.  She wanted me to see it and get my approval. I don't really care.  For the most part, people will love or hate me (there's rarely anyone that falls in between) and it won't matter because I love me and I love how I look.

I was having this moment of doubt and fear as I'm standing in the idea of what it feels like to accept someone's attention.  I'm feeling the stretch and pull of what it means to consider a relationship that is meant to grow beyond company.  It's not love I'm afraid of.  It's the idea of feeling profound and deep love again and having it disappear.  It's the idea of falling in love and planning a future and having that fall through.  It's being vulnerable so I'm no longer in control and rejecting others.  It's being in a space of accepting that I might be rejected.

Do I run? Of course not.

I face my doubt and fear head on.  I live each moment in the moment, without latching on to the past or grasping for a future.  I exist for the sake of breathing and nothing in love exists beyond that. One day it may take me so far away from solid ground that I will be lost and I get to remember to stay afloat.  I will love fully, without expecting anything in return as a barter and I will embody unconditional love.  This is how I face that fear.  This is how I embrace what could be.

Outgrowing Confining Comfort and Why You Can't Grow Without Space For It

I woke up this Thanksgiving morning in a really bad mood.  I had gotten several texts and messages throughout the night.  When I'm online dating, a lot of activity is always between 1 and 4 in the morning, and just before a lunch break at work.  I've written about this. I'm a light sleeper and I didn't sleep well.  My neighbor started playing soft hits on an injured speaker and singing along to it.  Singing is my happy sound, so I normally wouldn't care, but my mood was enough to know that I wouldn't have been in the space I wanted to be in if I had gone to feed the homeless like I was planning to.  Instead I went to see pretty things in an effort to find my center.

I went to Abalone Cove because it was on my list and my sister that hosted Thanksgiving lives close enough that not going would have been a wasted opportunity.  The views were beautiful, and the trail down the bluffs to the ocean was easy.  I sang to the music on my favorite playlist.  I danced alone on the beach.  I picked up rocks and sat on boulders to watch the waves crash.  I stood in gratitude for the life I get to live and the opportunities to feel freedom that land in my lap.

After the hike up, I went across the street to the Wayfarer's Chapel.  It was a beautiful building with amazing acoustics and beautiful gardens. I was so glad I took the time to explore.  You should totally be exploring. [facebook url="https://www.facebook.com/yessica.maher/videos/10209160517703821/" /]

I made stops afterward on my way to my sister's house. The Wayfarer's Chapel is beautiful and Hopkins Wilderness Park was closed for Thanksgiving so I walked through Redondo Beach Pier.  I found ways to recharge and find that inner joy so when I was at my sister's house, I was happy to pitch in and be present.  I was dancing and singing while completely sober because that was what I chose for the day. It was a really amazing feeling and it carried me to sleep.  I mean, I got home and my neighbor's celebration was still in full swing, but I was happy to hear the happiness from his party and it didn't stop me from falling asleep.  I slept through all of the late night texts and messages.

Part of my walk on the beach was the hunt for rocks.  My favorite rocks are unique in color, often rounded by water or weathered in some way so they are smooth and not crumbling and if I'm really lucky, I find a rock that has a hole weathered through it.  I've had two before and I've given them both to people that matter to me.

The first was given to a friend of mine that helped me work through the major traumas of my marriage and life.  We met in that second leadership class.  It's about taking leadership of your life and part of that is facing whatever you've been running from. He was a safe place to yell and cry and scream.  I left it all in that room when it comes to my ex and my parents. We exchanged our vulnerabilities and he showed me areas that were broken and helped me heal them.  Time doesn't heal everything.  You need to release it, and let it all come up and out of you.  It was just in September and I cried so hard that I was shocked by the sound coming out of me. I had given him a rock I once found with twin holes, side by side, being weathered in.  They were dips and not fully formed.  I was thinking of a gift to give him and holding that rock and I realized it was us.  Just as I rescued it from being weathered, together, I was being rescued from the hole inside of me and with his help, I found hope again.  It was after working through things with him that I started seeing dates as a possibility for a deeper connection.  Before that, I wasn't  at all emotionally available.

The second was the first rock I've ever found that had a hole through it.  I was unique and beautiful and I loved it enough that for a while I drove around with both in the console in my car.  I would hold them through traffic and they made me happy.  I gave this second rock to a person that is gender fluid.  I think of her as a her, because I identify with her as more female, but when she shifts into more of a male, he is so hot (and way too young).  I offered the rock as a unique gift for a unique person.

Now I have new rocks that will ride shotgun with me.

My favorite take home is this last rock.  It has holes through it from sand and water washing it.  I also has a tiny shell inside of it.  I imagine the shell was much smaller when it first landed in the rock.  As the creature grew, so did its shell.  The rock was protection.  The rock offered a safe place where the animal was protected from prey.  It was able to grow and eat in safety until one day it was too big.  It was too big for the life it was meant to lead, so it left and created a new shell and probably didn't need the same protection because it was bigger and stronger than it was.

This could be a metaphor for the life I've had as a wife, but it's so much bigger than that.  We grow as people when we're protected, and eventually the situation that protects us becomes a prison instead.  It's the blurred line between supportive love and enabling co-dependency.

I love the life I get to live.  I love feeling independent and free.  I feel so much peace in knowing that I'm not the only one responsible for my kids and that when they're gone, I have the freedom to figure out what I want my life to look like and who I want to be.  Without the safety of that rock, I would have never known what it was to not be able to be who I am and stand where I do.  I occupy the spaces that matter to me.  And it feels really good to look at this rock and know I'm no longer that person that was confined by my protections.

Reinventing Yourself

I watched a beautiful friend blossom in a few short months, and this transformation is one that inspires me.  We met at the first leadership class I took in July.  I had just started a new job.  I was still going stir crazy with way too much down time at work to make me happy. I’m still getting on my feet as a single mom and near 40-year-old starting on a new career.  This young woman was a petite powerhouse.  I mean, she looked solid and muscular.  She was beautiful.  And she was nervous about the company we were in.  The class I took was a privilege. I'm fully aware of the gift I was afforded. At the time I was stll skeptical about the class.  The way things fell into place put us in a room with actors, lawyers, doctors, business owners, nurses, news anchors . . . It was a mosh pit of success. I was an odd one out, but that is who I embrace on most days.  She was lost. We were standing outside of the room on the way in from a break and she told me she didn’t know if she belonged there, she was only a scientist. Seriously.

I remember thinking how amazing it was that she was a scientist.  I dropped my geology major because it was too hard for me to do it well.  Literature was easy for me.  I was frustrated that with my education in Los Angeles, I couldn’t get a better job because of my lack of paid experience and she was feeling unimportant because she was a scientist.  I got past my shock and told her that she was a badass.  I gave her a minor glimpse of the amazing I saw in her. Fast forward to last night when I showed up for her graduation from the third leadership class, and she embodied all I saw in her when I first met her.  She was no longer ashamed to be "just a scientist," but has already set things in motion for medical school.  She is fierce and the transformation in her life is encouragement.  Being able to see her grow the way she has in such a short time, and for me to be inspired by that is her feedback.

On my lunch today, I shared a Facebook live stream because I choose to get comfortable with speaking in front of a camera.  I used to be such a ham and lately I'm more like chicken. [facebook url="https://www.facebook.com/yessica.maher/videos/10209140257437327/" /]

I’m a mom that would have given every single breath, vision and dream for my family, at a radical personal cost because this is what I thought motherhood meant.

My parents always did what was necessary.  They worked, they were present.  To this day, I've never seen either of my parents drunk or high.  They embody sacrifice and putting their children first. The last almost 16 years has taught me that being a sacrifice to my family doesn't serve any of us.  I believe I would do what I can to be the mom and example I need to be for my kids, but that means learning to balance self care with caring for them so I can continue to care for them.

Just this weekend, my son wanted beef jerky.  I had passed on that bag for myself just the week prior.  It looked good, but I was being frugal and decided I didn’t need it.  Kid2 asked and before he could finish his sentence I had already approved. I debated and denied myself, but offered it freely to my child.  I’m not doing anyone any favors by showing my family I don’t matter.  I’ve done it long enough.  I have been getting a sitter to show up for me, so I could show up for friends lately, and soon I’ll be getting a sitter to show up for me, so I can show up for me. I'm working on fighting for every choice like I matter because I do.

I get to make space for my own joys and pleasures along what I do when my kids are with me and when they are away.  I don’t need to be a martyr.  I can make sure my kids have what they need and celebrate with friends because that’s the point of a sitter.  I don’t need my time to become secondary to the idea that my time is only valuable in the context of a date night with their Dad.  Grocery shopping or a Target run used to be my ideal space for “me time” because I had no idea there was more to life than being a mom and a wife.  My enjoyment of my life is just as important as theirs is.  It’s a valuable gift that they would see that I am not secondary or sacrificial to my family. I don't need to stay home with the kids and make space for someone else's dreams and hobbies. Happy wife, happy life takes on new meaning when I’m in charge of my own happiness.

I am in the process of a divorce from a marriage that has lasted 42% of my life.

I get to decide what being single means.  I get to figure out what I like to do and go do it.  This usually looks like hiking and museums with some really great food thrown in and watching live performances in Santa Monica. This looks like those incredible hugs from that really hot guy with washboard abs that managed to convince me my curves and softness are sexy and that I’m beautiful. Or it’s coffee with that one man who never skipped leg day from Uruguay that said my name in a way I can’t copy.  He made me laugh and that was enough. It's late night texting that means I don't go to bed until 4 in the morning with the bald man with soft crinkles for laugh lines and a deep, penetrating voice that tickles unexposed fantasies, and that's okay because when I wake up at 6:30, he's still the one on my mind. It means spending the night out alone because dating myself never disappoints me.

I get to learn how to budget my finances.  I get to prioritize purchases that I value.  I can buy a game for my kids, or budget and plan for school pictures or jewelry if it sounds like something I would like.  I don’t need permission or to worry about picking a fight.  There is no more fighting or my passive aggression.

I get to decide how I want to raise my kids when we’re in my home.  I get to let them test their boundaries without feeling like I’m coddling and overbearing because someone else thinks I need to be. I get to teach them to cook and test their independence in doing so when they're ready.

I’m starting a career from spending most of my adult life as a stay at home mom.

I love my job, but I get to take my time figuring out what my career should look like, and being picky about my next job.  This morning that meant I turned an hour long interview into 8 minutes, because I knew they couldn’t offer the work environment I thrive in. I had no reason to waste another second of my time impressing them when they can't offer what I want.  In dating, it's text messages that look like this:

"As beautiful as you are, it feels unfair to test out the fact that I know it won't work.  We want different things and as much as I might enjoy your company in the short term, you aren't the one for me.  I hope you find who you're looking for."

I get to figure out what brings value to my work and what solidifies my work ethic.  I can say yes.  I can say no. I'm in a position to ask for what I want and there's nothing forcing me to stay in the present aside from the fact that it's what I have been doing.  I'm not happy with a portion of something, so I'm not happy with the whole and I don't need to sit and complain because I get to change things.

This means you get to reinvent myself.

If you find the people you surround yourself drain rather than energize you, it's time to create space for yourself.  You don't have to apologize for taking care of yourself.

If you don't like how superficial your connections are, you get to reach out in vulnerability and accept support and encouragement with genuine connection.

If you don't like your job, look for a new one.

If you don't like what your bank account looks like, see where you can improve things.  Is your bank offering cash back or an annual percentage yield? Are you pinching every penny? What are you prioritizing and is that serving you or costing you more?

If you don't like what you look like, change it.  Get a haircut.  Start exercising slowly enough that it isn't a struggle to increase what you started with.  Change your diet.

You are in control of your life.  If it doesn't look the way you want it to, the only one that can change it is you.  You are your only road block and your only motivation and the idea that you keep doing the same things because it works is a fallacy because if you are unhappy, it's not working.

If you feel fear, doubt, or stress, you should know you created it.  It's in your head, can't be measured or removed by anyone other than you, and it only hurts you when you allow it to manifest physically in your body.

Live the life you want by choosing better.  Even if it's one small step in the right direction each day, it's better than sitting in pain, complaining that you aren't living epicly.

Learning to Lead My Sons on a Hiking Trip

I was determined to take my boys hiking today.  I felt we were due to physically work out what it feels like to be a family in transition while we looked at pretty things. We went to Malibu Creek State Park.  Kid1 has had a rough couple of weeks with school, transportation to school and my childcare arrangements after school.  Kid2 needs me to step up our physical activity for the sake of his health.  His last physical revealed a 20 pound weight gain in 6 months. Kid3 is emotionally suffering and trying his hardest to be resilient.  It looks like aggression against Kid2. As we set out for the day, Kid1 was determined to show me his defiance by sitting in the car when we stopped for drinks and snacks.  We got to the park, and headed out and he was determined to lead, not knowing where we were going.  He was kicking at trees and rocks and I decided to let him go off, because he has enough of a sense of self preservation that he wouldn't go off trail.  There were several people on that trail and for the most part at the beginning, I could still see him. At one point, he doubled back to say he wanted to go home.

He set off again, and I kept pace with Kid2 who was going the slowest, and setting my pace.  Kid1 was thundering off, and Kid3 was anxiously going back and forth between us as Kid2 and I were bringing up the rear.  As people passed me, I asked if they had seen a teenager in dark colors wearing a beanie up ahead, and everyone noticed the angry teen that wouldn't acknowledge them.  We were heading to the Rock Pool, and it was a left turn that happens well before the MASH site (which I might just experience on my own one day).  Because the MASH site was straight ahead, I was sure Kid1 was continuing straight ahead.  It's what I did when I went to Runyon Canyon on my own.

Kid2 was starting to suffer and I didn't want him to continue that far beyond where I planned to take them.  I had him sit on the trail and rest, and told him I would go find his brothers.  He was happy to rest, and within a short while I caught up to Kid3.  He had already turned back, to make sure I was okay.  I had him sit with his brother, and started running along the trail in search of Kid1.

I can't tell you the last time I ran, because it's not my jam.  But I ran.  I was running on a dirt trail, littered with dips and rocks.  I was light on my feet and I felt powerful.  It might have been my irritation.  When I caught up to Kid1, I had an earful for him. I let him know that his anger and stubbornness and unwillingness to seek direction made his entire family walk farther than we needed to. I acknowledged my failure to lead him in staying with the son that needed more physical support and encouragement.

I was this powerful gazelle, running along the trail toward him, but in stomping anger as we walked back together, I slipped on a rock and fell.  He was angry enough and probably afraid of what used to be normal that he didn't laugh at me.  I told him I appreciated it, but not laughing told me how upset he really was.

We headed back and Kid2 and Kid3 were walking toward us because they wanted to catch up to us.

The details aren't nearly as important as the lessons.

  1. The last person sets the pace because we're a team has always been my ideal, but it's not enough when I'm alone with the kids and there isn't another adult to lead us.I need to take us places that are not just my choice, but destinations they would like to explore.  I need to internalize the joys of the outdoors and exercise for them and I can't do it when I'm forcing my agenda.
  2. Kid1 is just like me in his need to stubbornly go off on his own. I normally look at it as adventure but the cost to my team as a leader isn't always fair.
  3. Kid3 is a mother hen, worrying about everyone.  I spent the day trying to show them it's my job to be mom, casually intervening when they tried to correct each other. I told them they should be getting in trouble together and they are not eachother's parents. They can't take my job.
  4. I failed Kid1 in not reining him in and leading him more closely. He is not ready to lead and I shouldn't have let him. From where I was, I didn't see it as leadership, but when he hit that fork that he didn't even see, and I had to chase him down a good mile or so, it became clear he needed me to set boundaries. On the way back, he was allowed to go ahead as long as he waited at every single fork in the road for my guidance.
  5. More preparation wouldn't have been terrible.  I kept looking at the progression of the sun with our late starting time and wondering what would happen if we had to hike back in the dark and I didn't have a flashlight. We got back well before the sunset and watched it from Point Dume.
  6. I'm fearless in life except when it comes to my boys.  I was worried about the little ones when I was off and chasing my oldest.
  7. Hiking isn't a family trip for good reason, and our future compromise is museums. I couldn't enjoy the beauty on the hike. It felt like exercise and not fun.
  8. I'm in better shape than I thought I was and running doesn't have to be a dirty word.

When we were heading home Kid3 went from a tantrum to complete break down and it looked like aggression toward Kid2 and a meltdown on the floor of the car as we parked along PCH.  Being near the ocean was a bonus because we got through his moment and the ocean and the music I played in the car allowed me to shift back into joy before we got home.  As a family, we had a collective break down.  I nearly lost it, yelling at Kid3 and it was a look from Kid1 that gave me a moment to pause.  (Mom fail.) Kid1 told us about the many things stressing him out the last two weeks. (Bonus for him finding his voice!)  Kid2 is always the King of a Delayed Reaction, so I get to see what that will look like later.  I was losing it and watching the ocean to find it.  Once we were home, Kid3 admitted the divorce isn't sitting easily with him and that was part of his need to cry and kick his brother. We'll be heading to my mom's house to hammer it out with that 100 pound heavy bag later.  He said all he was ready to and I'm sure we'll talk again later.  We always do.

We'll be okay, but I get to learn from what today looked like.

Thursday, November 17, 2016 or The Day I Filed For Divorce

Day 1

I went to the courthouse with my stack of documents and I did it.

I filed for divorce.

Last week I met with an attorney I found through the LA Bar Association.  He was older and kind, and we went over the forms I had already filled out.

The good: Free legal advice and direction.

The bad: He wouldn't represent me.

The sad: He wouldn't represent me because his retainer was $3,000 and I think he felt bad about asking that much of me.

The inspirational: He thought I should be a legal secretary because I have the chops for it as demonstrated by my preparation and understanding of his explanations.

I had always planned to file for my divorce on my own but the love of family means I get their wisdom from their own experience.  I was consulting an attorney out of fear because mistakes happen and when I arrived I was intentionally receptive and ended up with free legal advice.  I left his office feeling confident again.

I love what I do for work.  I'm passionate about it and I love learning more.  My job pays me like they don't need me to stay because they don't seem to value the training already invested.  This meeting prompted me to really consider the direction I should be shaping my career into.  At the same time, being undervalued means I qualified for the fee waiver.  Yay for fighting with that poverty line!

I walked out of that courthouse with the weight of the past two years lifted.

It's been over 20 months since March 11, 2015 when I was told my marriage was over.  There was no warning and I was in shock . . . but 20 months? The time has become a toddler.  I've gone from a crying mess on the floor unable to care for myself, to a toddler that doesn't know when something might be out of reach.  I can see it so it must be meant for me, right?

I walked to my car feeling free and beautiful and courageous.  This joy carried me through my day where my news to a couple of co-workers was met with high fives and concerns of "are you okay?"  I am great.

It became a day of celebration and that looks a lot like self care.  Is it possible that self care is just a personal celebration? It felt like it. In the last couple of months I have gotten to a place where the mani/pedi's have slowed down.  It's about responsibility and that looks a lot less frivolous.

I had a breakfast of mojo potatoes smothered in nacho cheese and bacon.  Lunch was albondigas soup.  Dinner was Squash soup with a dessert of creme brulee.  It was epic food joy all day and a celebration of who I am with every single bite.

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Mr. Marcel on the 3rd Street Promenade, Santa Monica

I stopped at the Pandora store and asked for a divorce charm. They don't make those.  They should. I thought about the 16 with a circle around it.  It was 16 years of marriage and now I'm embarking on a new adulthood.  In the end, I decided on an angel wing because I was flying high and loving the freedom I was walking in.

I walked back to the pier with this song:

https://itun.es/us/KWHpJ?i=591273015

On repeat. I stood on the pier with icy wind blowing consistently at me. It was strong enough that my hair was uplifted and held away from my face. It was a cool caress and I remembered the night my tribe lifted me high above their shoulders ... when I had given up my pride and stepped into vulnerability, being seen and receiving their support when I stretched beyond my comfort but did not break. I heard the crashing waves and I was moved by the emotion of knowing that once again I was being stretched, and I would not break.

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I kept the news primarily to myself.  I didn't warn anyone of what I was planning all week.  I didn't even tell my siblings until the next day.  We all knew this was coming, but I wanted it to be a solitary journey. I only told two people that know my ex, and while I didn't get a response on a voicemail I left, I did get encouragement in the form of a message from a great friend.  He announced a pregnancy with his his wife, and I messaged him my congratulations with my news.  He said, "Sorry about the divorce but it's for the best. We both begin new chapters."

I filed for divorce and it wasn't in anger or pain.  I filed and it wasn't at a time when I was dating anyone or falling in love.  It's not about another person in my life.  True story: I realized without a doubt I was being catfished Monday.  Tuesday I was online dating again, embracing whatever that looks like.  I decided to take the good to grow from, and the bad becomes an Instagram share for laughs.  Bring on those dick pics and prepare for my snark.  Wednesday I set up a coffee date for after work at 6:30 and a different one for 9. It was just a meet and greet, yet I was stood up by both.  Dating sucks, but it can't be worse than staying in a dead marriage. I'm ready to embrace my freedom. Thursday morning I filed for my divorce. I filed for divorce and it was a moment to take back my independence and it felt like freedom. I don't feel like a victim to his decision anymore.

I walked from the Promenade back to the pier, and I could hear a man on a bar patio trying to get my attention by yelling loudly enough through my blasting ear buds so I could hear his appreciation of my walk and I kept going because this day wasn't going to be marked by meeting anyone else.  Imagine this: My gray and pink CSULA hoodie, bootleg jeans, Ugg boots, and still I still walk in a way to turn heads.  This day was all about me. This was one of the best days to be me.  I felt so alive.

Day 2

The next day dawns beautifully and I spend it practicing writing my name again, like you do when you fall in love with a new person, but I've known me my whole life, and this name is one I was born into.  I can't get my signature to look like it used to look because my hands are no longer the hands that used to write it.  I've grown in ways and changed in ways and my signature cannot be the same because I am not the same. Is it possible to be who you were but not who you were because the old you is gone and you're a new person?

I vaguely wonder if I should check out where his copy of our divorce papers are through the online tracker.  I wonder when he will be served because the sheriff will do it for me, but they have a few weeks to get the job done and I decide to enjoy this space I'm in.  I text my siblings and was received in love.  I reach out and talk to more friends.  I'm greeted with hugs and high fives and congratulations as if my child has just been born but there are no tears or fluids or blood.  It's clinical in its neatness.

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My kids return home and I get to face transition day energy shifts.  I debated telling them about the filing. They knew it was coming, but do I tell them it's started? I get to share my joy in a way that will shatter the hope of their yesterday as minimally as possible, but I know the devastation. I've lived through what I'm doing to them.  In the end, I realized the sheriff's are serving him and I have no idea when that will happen.  I don't want them freaked out, so I explained what was happening, waiting for things to dissolve into tears.  They accepted it.  They took it matter of factly, and were back to telling me about their days and the things they want.  Kid1 was angry toward Kid2 who was in a loud nirvana and Kid2 was fighting it out with Kid3.  It could have been my news.  It could have been the transition and the fact that each one is a boy and that's what boys do.  Either way, I'm present and we're listening to each other.  It's a good space to be in.

Day 3

We had a physical day of exercise and feelings came up and I gave space for them to come out.  The boys are feeling the pain I expected, and being present is all I can do. I realize the weight of my news in terms of being with their Dad, knowing details and him not knowing them.  I don't want them to feel like they're keeping secrets, so I tell him what I've done so they don't feel they have to.  This was met with gratitude from the kids, and a better reaction from the ex than I expected.

When things first started shifting beneath me, my sister told me I'm stronger than I know and I get it now.  I feel it now.

Irrational Fears After Emotional Abuse

New experiences over old ones mean you get to remember forgotten details, while learning new things. Hiking with my more athletic friend to Mt. Hollywood was awesome.  She slowed down when I needed to and she was very in tune with my pacing needs.  I had to remind myself it's okay to take a break.  It's important to stay hydrated.  Her wisdom kept me from trying to drink for thirst when I felt full because puking would have sucked.  I wanted to keep up with her, forgetting that she runs marathons for fun, and the trail from the Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round that was challenging yesterday was one she did while holding a toddler.

The sweat and my awareness of how badly I smelled was new to me.  I mean seriously, I was walking and then the sweat happened. Everywhere.  I could smell myself and it was pretty gross. Hiking as a teenager meant I got sweaty, but that was uncomfortable.  Something about that first childbirth changes a woman's body.  Sweat is no longer cute.  It reeks and the changes in my sense of smell paired with body smells make exercise so not attractive to me. When you start to smell like you're more in tune with nature than with beauty products, the rest of nature begins to accept you as part of their landscape. (Hunters know this trick.) That moment taught me to either get comfortable with bug spray or get comfortable with bug carcasses all over your skin.

My friend taught me how to step like a duck when we were going down the hard way.  I'm used to squatting and staying low to get down somewhere steep, but she taught me to turn around and climb down.  One of those falls that has me in pain right now taught me that you still need to look for places to stick your feet when you're climbing down backward, even if you're probably only going to slide down.

I've hiked before.  I told Kid1 that I planned to take them to Chantry Flats to hike to Sturtevant Falls but it would be in the spring when there would hopefully be snow melt making it to the waterfall.  He was surprised that I would consider the time of year, but I've done that hike before and overthink everything.  There may have also been an impromptu trip to Big Bear for the snow in July one year after high school.  Being young and fairly drunk all the time, we wanted to escape the heat in L.A.  We did, but clearly, snow wasn't happening.  It was cooler.  We caught a summer storm.  But no snow. Sometime after that, I started overthinking things.  It might have been my friends that made senseless adventure exciting.  This was the same group that decided we could go clubbing in Mexico after partying until 2 in Sherman Oaks.  We got there in time for the sunrise, but the clubs were closed.  Common sense wasn't so common, but we had a great laugh over the adventure.

In my teens, a hard workout would have started with hydration, protein and stretching.  Post workout meant a hot soak in the tub, serious hydration afterward, sleeping with both Ben Gay and Motrin, and forcing a day of rest that included light stretching in between . . . Not two fierce hikes in a row.  As an adult this weekend, there was hydration during the hikes.  That was it. My teenage self has been yelling at me all night.

Hiking and my aching body are probably not what has me up before the sun, typing without my glasses in the dark.   Hiking two days in a row took it's toll and exhaustion looked like adopting  a toddler's bedtime, but I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about boundaries.

I'm finding myself in a familiar, yet new place.  I had gotten so comfortable in being single that being who I was years ago is coming back to me.  I'm friendly.  I have always been comfortable with guy friends.  I didn't worry about boundaries because I was comfortable with them.  But then my marriage happened and things changed. I'm in a place where I'm thinking about how my actions might affect a man I care about.

Friday at lunch I ran into a male co-worker at Subway and we ate lunch together, but I wondered if I was doing something wrong.  It was lunch and nothing else.  Clearly, it was fine, but I doubted myself.  I was with friends on Saturday and felt like I needed to let this new man know where I was so he wouldn't have to worry.  I told him because even though I was visiting with friends, and being a responsible adult that acts like a Mom in all situations, I felt guilt.  I felt like the old lady in a group of younger people and didn't even flirt with anyone, but I felt like being out was enough to have to explain myself.  I gave my Dad a hug last night and smelled his cologne when I left, lingering on my skin, and wondered if there would be a problem with that if I were going home to this man.

I know this is all in my head.  This new man has done nothing to encourage these fears but matter to me. It's my past experience shadowing my present.  It's the first time since my ex that someone really matters and the first time I've had to face the scars of his jealousy.

I saw a friend at my high school reunion with his new girlfriend.  Before her, his social media was full of his topless exercise routines.  He fully understood the public service he was offering, but with the new woman in his life, these moments stopped.  It looks normal.  It looks appropriate.  I don't know if it is, because my reference points are skewed.

I get to learn what normal is.  Like all new things there's excitement and fear but I'm adaptable.  I can learn to walk like a duck.  I can learn that someone else's sense of security isn't my full responsibility and as I was told on a call yesterday, I am so worthy of so much.  I just have to step into understanding that in my skin, and no longer just as a sometime reminder in my head.

There should be simpler moments to concern myself with . . . Like do I aim for more sleep, or do I get moving so I can chase the sun?

Music Tied To Emotions in a Playlist for a Man

There was a moment when a playlist was born today.  I tend create music playlists that are about an encouragement I'm in need of.  They speak to me in ways that build me up. When I no longer need that message, I will create a new list. This one was different. It wasn't about motivation.   I started a playlist a week or two ago based on a someone else's list that I fell in love with, but there were a few songs that in the last couple of days made me think of a man I have been chatting with. He shared songs with me today and I heard them with new ears.  With a perspective shift, I went from giggling to blinking away tears. This playlist is all about one person. It's about wanting music to remind me of him and manufacturing emotions close to what he makes me feel. I haven't done that since the man I was into right before the man I married. My first thought was, "what the fuck, miss? I didn't order a side of feelings with my fries."  Then it hit me in all the terrifying ways.

I've been this unfeeling, uninterested person, content in the superficial distance I kept everyone at. I had fun left swiping and going out alone. For the first time last night I wanted specific company and it was new and sticky and not my normal.

I was a faithful wife and the idea of having feelings for someone wasn't something I was interested in.  I had a first crush in 15 years in January.  It was entirely one sided and silly.  But the idea of being open to looking at someone that wasn't my husband was a huge deal. My second was in May or June.  He was sweet and fun to obsess over, but with both men, I never imagined introducing them to my kids.  They were never more than a silly distraction.  They were safe and meaningless.  The feelings I got to play in today are very different and in some ways I haven’t felt this way since high school.  There's something almost pure and so far from predatory. In being me and the ways he's okay with that, I forgot about an endgame and there isn't one. It's a free fall and I didn't realize I floated off the ground.

These feelings are everything I hoped for when I started dating in May, but the out of control feeling and the hope that came with it was a lot to process.  It was entirely unexpected. What I wanted looked like more than what this is right now and that was big.  I don't normally want more than the moment and since I started dating as a single mom, I never have imagined more than a playmate for me that would never meet my kids.  I imagined him spending time with all of us.

I mean, he's seriously beautiful but I'm not objectifying him for you because it's secondary to what he makes me feel. And there's a proprietary shift where I have no interest in sharing what I want to be only mine. There was a man running on the pier last night and I usually appreciate that, but only noticed that I didn't care about a topless man running past me until he had already passed me by.

I realized it's easy to love unconditionally when you aren't in danger of falling in world shifting love.  When the risk is a reality rather than some vague ideal, it is hard to remain present in the moment and take it for what it is.  I imagined all the ways I wanted more and the many reasons why I could never have it and the anxiety of a loss I haven't experienced was something I was already feeling the pain of. Within 3 minutes, I imagined a really great relationship was dead and as crazy as that was, it felt real and intense. (Overthinking everything intensely is a superpower. We know this by now, right?)

Love is an intense emotion.  I'm a firm believer that we make a choice to love or not love, and the feelings follow.  We make a choice to let someone in and to find the ways we are similar and how we can relate to them.  We look at who they are and how their paths fit with the ones we've walked in life. I don't remember choosing but I did at some point.

There's a free fall.  There's a moment when the emotion is too strong to fight and we fall freely, hoping that there is someone rising to meet us.  We love the feeling and can't get enough.  We want to be surrounded by love and covered in its warmth, seduced by its smell.

It's an addiction.  We will do what it takes to have the love we need.  We sacrifice our time and dreams and alter our goals.  We give and shift what we don't have to make it work.  We make love into our god and when this deity removes her favor, we are lost in the abyss of all we expected, showing us how far from the earth we've floated and the crash that is coming can be delayed but is inevitable.

I had to remind myself I was overthinking it, and missing out on the present moment of joy he was offering me by being open to my transparency.

It's a short playlist for now, but it's growing and I'm going with it, whatever this becomes. Even if it doesn't. It'll run it's course, big or small, and I will welcome being changed by it. What fun is living if I am too afraid to share my life with someone so easy to share with? Sometimes just knowing desiccated areas of your heart can be revived is enough.

  • CALLmeKAT, Toxic
  • Boyce Avenue, It Will Rain
  • Boyce Avenue, Just Can't Get Enough
  • Jasmine Thompson, Like I'm Gonna Lose You
  • Lo-Fang, You're the One That I Want
  • Lotte Kestner, Halo
  • Ortopilot, Make You Feel My Love
  • Lukas Graham, 7 Years
  • Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, Growing Up (feat. Ed Sheeran)
  • Drake, One Dance (Feat. Wizkid & Kyla)
  • Drake, Controlla