Single Mom Life-Am I a Fighter?

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Another afternoon conversation with one of my best girlfriends went like this:

“Well, I am really proud of you.  You fought back and you’re not a fighter,” my friend with a smile.  Her remark was in response to my son’s most recent IEP meeting.  I had not backed down.  I stood my ground when they were trying to remove services.  They were telling me he was doing well, despite the fact that he was going into Fourth grade and unable to use capitalization and punctuation.  By the end of the meeting, they were giving me the additional testing I wanted.  They had acquiesced.

For some reason, her comment hurt.  Of course I’m a fighter, I thought. Geeze, one of my favorite sports to watch is UFC.  Conor McGregor is the most arrogant showman, but his unhinged fighting style keeps me constantly entertained.  Nothing brought me more joy than watching him run around the ring after winning another championship to become the lightweight and featherweight champion.  He was just screaming with his thick, Irish brogue, “Bring me me other belt!”

I know she intended this as a compliment. I know her intent was to show that I could be strong, and I nodded and smiled back, but later, the words haunted me.  You are not a fighter.  You are not a fighter.  The words cycled through over and over again and the feelings of inadequacy and annoyance came with them.  I started to question.  If I am not a fighter, I asked myself, then how do I do all of this?  How did I leave a marriage that was completely wrong for me, start over as a single mom, and get up each and every day to work and fully support my boys?  Don’t you need to be a fighter to do that?

I know she’s a “fighter”.  She gets in the ring, puts on her gloves, and delivers some great punches.  She will go to bat for anyone she feels has been taken advantage of or wronged.  She uses words and phrases that cut people into shreds and causes them to retreat into themselves.  She always has a cause to stand behind.  There is always something that “isn’t okay” and she needs to step up.  I felt that she was telling me that I am weak.  I lack the strength that she has to be a fighter.

When I get angry, upset, I become quiet.  Sometimes I cry.  My words become sparse and I have no desire to attack anyone.  When someone is not doing what I like or giving me what I want, my first response is not to blame them.  I question myself. I question my own feelings.  The feelings of anger in my body are uncomfortable.  It feels like a scratchy suit that is entirely too tight.  I don’t want these feelings inside of me.

I have read that there are no wrong emotions, and one needs to be open to all of them.  One must allow emotions to pass through.  Observe the feeling, detach from the feeling.  Pema Chodron  speaks about this in her text When Things Fall Apart.  If you are looking for spiritual guidance through tough times, I highly recommend this book.  If you can get the audio book, which is read by Pema Chodron, you will not be disappointed.  Pema Chodron was married and she divorced her husband for another man.  She remarried and years later she arrived home from work and her second husband told her that he was leaving her for another woman.  Talk about difficult emotions.  This event signaled an ending of sorts.  She found her current spiritual practice and is now a Buddhist monk.  She helps people to navigate through their own emotions and spiritual speed bumps.

But this is not how I feel about anger.  I don’t want to feel it at all.  I want it gone, banished.  I worry about how anger in me looks to others. I apologize for it.  I become immobile.  Clearly, my friend’s words touched a sensitive nerve in me.  I did not want to be viewed as weak, but there is no part of me that ever wants to be angry.  Is there a way to be balanced?  Is there a way to be both?

I started to really question what is true strength.  Is strength allowing our emotions with no reaction?  Is strength using that anger to motivate and push us to undo the wrongs that we see?  Is strength cycling through our anger and exploding on someone else so that he/she understands what we are feeling?  None of these things sound like strength to me.

Perhaps I am not a fighter after all…


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Single Mom Life & Baking

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I am completely addicted to those baking shows.  I love watching people compete to win fame, recognition and prizes because they can out

cook or bake someone else. I also love food.  Food has traditionally meant love in my life.  Feeding people good food is how I show my extreme appreciation for them being in my world.

The boys and I watch these shows together.  We  joyfully try to determine who will be the next one who is “chopped” or ruled “Baking Champion”.  Like coaches on the sideline, we yell at the television screen to give advice or cheer on the contestants.  We are exalted when our favorite wins.  We are surprised when the one we liked the most loses.

My favorite is Cake Wars.  Four bakers battle out making the best cakes.  The show chooses the theme, and the baker’s job is to create the best confectionery delight that will impress the three judges.

The other day there was a particularly tight competition that revolved around a famous superhero, and each baker was attempting a creation that was larger than any other.  They kept saying things like, “I have never tried this before, but…” and “This cake is larger than anything I have ever done…” or “I know this is ambitious but…”. When time was called, and the judges started their critiques, we heard them say that the work was sloppy.  They told the participants that they had been too ambitious: they had flown too close to the sun.  As the show continued into the second round and the bakers continuing to say these same exact things, my son Jonah asked an interesting question.

“Why do they always do that?” he asked.

“Do what, Buddy?”  I replied.

“Why do they always try and do these big cakes with all this stuff when it’s more important that they just do a good job?”  I shook my head. I did not know the answer to this, but his observation was correct.  Here were skilled bakers in a tough competition, and they were choosing this time to go above and beyond.  They wanted to build four foot cakes with all of the characters doing things that looked beyond expectation, but they were doing this while sacrificing the details.  Their fondant work was sloppy.  They made characters that looked like a child had created them.  They were unable to complete their design.

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The sudden clarity of their misdirection caused me to become very introspective.  In what ways do I, do we all, try to be too over-the-top when the situation calls for precision and tact?  What projects do I start with relish and grandiose ideas, only to end with lopsided and empty results?  What project loomed in my future where I would do the same thing?

It’s an important lesson, I think, to learn.  I see it in my students, my friends, myself.  I am always trying to create the biggest cake and I miss the importance of a straight fondant seam.  I focus more on the ostentatious display and ignore what my character’s face and hands look like.  I do not consider the flavors of my cake. I only want to make sure I have five cakes baking.  This transfers into my teaching, my mothering, my relationships.  And the reality is that I don’t even want this humongous cake.  No one can eat that much cake anyway.

As a teacher, I focus too much on students respecting me and what my classroom looks like to outsiders instead of the quality of my lessons and content.

As a mother, I wonder too much about what other mothers are doing and saying as opposed to what my boys think about me as their mother.

As a person in relationships, I often get so wrapped up in how many friendships I have and the way my romantic relationship appears on social media sites when I should be more concerned with how I feel in each of those relationships.

It is something that I am going to continue to work on.  It is a focus I am going to try and change for the better because at the end of the day we are all just works in progress.  Shifting one’s focus from the bigger picture is not easy, but possible.  I imagine that the bakers in these shows want success at any cost and lose sight of what their strengths and weaknesses are.  Perhaps they get so excited to showcase their abilities in the arena that they miss important pieces of what makes them amazing bakers.  It must be tough with the whole world watching and so much at stake to make the best decisions.

So what do I do when I feel myself losing focusing and unable to see what is directly in front of me?  I pause, breathe, and realign myself with my three major aspirations: I want my students to leave me with more tools to be better learners in this trying world; I want my boys to grow into happy, healthy men who contribute in a positive way to this trying world; I want my relationships with friends and family to be strong, loyal, and fit so I can continue to contribute to this world in a supportive way.

Yep, this looks like a great place to rest.

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Single Mom Life- The Seat of the Soul

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Many years ago, I read Gary Zukav’s book The Seat of the Soul.  It was a game changer for me.  It was recommended by a friend who just moved away to live on an Native American Reservation in New Mexico.  I picked it up, but I never imagined the path I would take after reading it.  I have always believed in a soul.  I have always believed there was much more to life than what I could see, hear, and think.  This book reaffirmed that.

 

Yesterday, I was running the footpath that circles the fields where the boys play soccer.  When I run, I love to listen to music or youtube.  When I went to the app, an Oprah Soul Series popped up.  Always one for a little Oprah, I hit the play button.  She was interviewing Gary Zukav.  In the interview, they discuss what a soul is. He also explains how the soul is on a mission.  He believes that the personalty/body is merely a “boat” that is following a “Mother Ship”.  Our bodies are the boats.  Our soul is the Mother Ship.  He states that every intention can be broken down to two motivations: love and fear.  When the “boat” is being steered by fear, we are often misguided and clinging to safety and fake harbors that misdirect us.  When our intentions are guided by love, the boat can fulfill what it came here to do and properly follow the direction on the Mother Ship.  Oprah’s voice lowered and she repeated his words the way she does when she is in full agreement with her guest.  She got what he was trying to say, and I got it at that moment too.  It lead me to the following questions:

What am I doing in my life because of fear?

What am I doing in my life because of love?

Raising my boys to be kind, generous, thoughtful, careful men…LOVE

Teaching my students to be better readers, thinkers, writers, communicators…LOVE

Constantly analyzing my sons’ behaviors to make sure that they are doing           everything well…FEAR

Harshly grading a student because he/she did not work as hard as I believed he/she could have worked…FEAR

Two sides of the same coin.  I define myself as a mother and a teacher, and I want to be great at both, not just adequate, proficient, okay.  I want to be GREAT.  Is it FEAR or LOVE that makes it so?  Honestly, I am still sitting with these questions.  I wish I had an answer today, but that is not so.

Below is a link to the interview.  It is life changing, though I guess everything has the potential to be if you choose to see it that way.


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The sky as I was walking. I thought it  looked like a Mother Ship.

Single Mom Life- Dating

Dating is a difficult thing even when you are young.  At least, that’s what I assume because I never really dated.  I started seeing my ex when I was 19.  We married when I was 27.  We divorced when I was 37.

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I never dated.  So when I was thrown into the dating pool, I was lost. I read every dating book I could.  I tormented my friends and family for answers.  I consulted people who were in healthy relationships for clues.  They all said various things, but the most difficult point they all made was that I needed to be okay with myself before I could ever be in a happy, healthy relationship.  How could I be okay with myself when I felt too old to be single, too young to be alone, and too strapped with the responsibility of two little boys?  There was just too much. In addition, I did not see those same traits in the people who were in solid relationships.  My single friends seemed to have these characteristics, but my coupled comrades never seemed to even want to leave the house.

Date yourself.  Love yourself. Enjoy your alone time. Focus on you.  All of these things seemed impossible.  I tried dating myself. I went to the movies. I went to the Flower Show. I made myself elaborate dinners.  It felt sad and lonely.  I tried to do more exciting things.  Maybe that would make me a more exciting person to be around, but I found that I am a lot funnier when I am with people who laugh.  Dating myself just magnified the idea that I was alone, and I was scared that I would remain that way forever.  For the majority of my life, I had been in a relationship.  I had been someone’s other half, and even though it was bad more often than it was good, it felt like more than what I currently had.

I am now in a relationship, and if I am being completely honest with you, with myself, I still don’t think I am completely comfortable with myself.  I enjoy being the other half in a relationship.  I like having someone to turn to who is not just a friend.  I look forward to seeing my BF walk in the door and I feel safer when he sleeps over.  I still dislike being alone for long periods of time.  I don’t need time by myself.  I wonder if that means that I still have so much work to do or maybe it is okay to be just the way I am.

I guess my point is that I didn’t listen to the multitude of dating advice that is floating around out there, not just from books and social media sites, but also from my friends and family who love me. I didn’t pretend to not be interested in my BF.  I made plans with him at the last minute.  I told him when I felt insecure and scared.  I did not figure out who I truly am.  I am still a work in progress, but that did not mean that I did not and could not find love and happiness.  I really just tried to stay as close to what I really felt was right.  Advice is great and I seek it out every time I try to implement change in my life, but I continually come back to the idea of listening to myself.  Quieting my mind and asking myself what is real and what is right.  It ended up being what was just right for me.

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Single Mom Life…At the Beach

Today we are at the beach, and it is beautiful. A light green water-soaked journal was pushed up by the surf. My seven-year-old ran over with the dripping book.

“Look, mommy. Look what I found,” he said. I am used to shells, rocks and worn down bricks. I am not used to saturated journals. I took the journal from his hands and carefully turned the pages. The ink had not run. It felt as if I entered a Nicolas Sparks novel.

“What does it say?” He asked, squinting into the sun. I scanned the first page. It had a June 2018 date. It was addressed to “Dear Reader”. Does this writer know that there will be an interloper, a peruser of these pages? She, and I only say “she” because the handwriting is fluid and curved like a woman’s, is writing in an abstract way about her day. The words seem poetic in some spots and strained in others. I feel like I am spying and I wait for a passerby to reprimand me for this infraction.

“I’m not exactly sure,” I say as I put the book down by my chair. I plan to look at it later. Who knows what I will find there.

Berlin

I am currently in Berlin. There is a cool breeze coming through the open windows of the bedroom of our second story flat. There is a wonderful German chocolatier next door and bakery next to that and if we walk only a few blocks north, we can see a DDR watch tower and remains of the Berlin Wall. We are within walking distance of the U and have traveled quite easily and comfortably every day this week. East Berlin is such an interesting city and it is filled with so many dichotomies. The people have been relatively friendly. More are kind than not. The food is amazing. I am happy here, and it makes me wonder why I don’t live in a city like this.

Tomorrow we return home and this will be a memory, but for right now I am enjoying the wall of ivy to my right and the gentle snore of my BF as he has chosen to sleep in today.

When Your Son Gets Caught Stealing…

Storm    My ten-year-old son stole money the other day from his father.  He was spending the weekend with his dad, and he was playing Fortnight.  His dad put his credit card in to allow him to buy more supplies.  My ex did not log off, and our son, seeing he still had access, charged another $60.  When asked why he did it, he answered that he wanted to get the same things he friends had.  He saw an opportunity and he took it.  My ex was devastated. They had always been buddies, pals.  My ex called me right away, and he confessed that my son’s behavior was getting out of control there.  He was being disrespectful to him and to my ex’s girlfriend.  I tried to be sympathetic and part of me just wanted to say, “Well, this was on your watch…”, but I know none of those things will help our son.

“I just feel like he doesn’t respect me,” he said sadly. Again, I tried to feel bad, but here is a man who stole money from me, refused to get a job, secretly ran up $30,000 in credit card debt, does not provide me with child support, foreclosed on a home that was still in my name, and just recently told me that spending every weekend with the boys was just too much for him.  It took every fiber of my being to stay silent.  Now is not the time for finger pointing and name calling, I thought.

This is such a tough job, and it is even more difficult to co-parent with an ex, his girlfriend, and my boyfriend.  No one ever talks about that.  Divorces happen all of the time, and I never read anything about the trials and tribulations of trying to meld a new family together.  As a child of divorce, I try not to do what my parents did.  My dad remarried and had two more children.  My brother and I were the step-kids from a previous marriage and we were treated as outsiders.  We did chores every week, while my two new brothers did nothing.  We had strict rules and regulations, while they were allowed to do more.  We felt unloved and we watched through a fishbowl while my father moved on with his new life.  Our mom, on the other had, married a man who did not have children. They also chose to not have children of their own.  Instead they saw us when it was convenient as they traveled throughout the world.  We were secondary in their lives, the thing they did one weekend a month or that special week down the shore every year.  We did not belong there either.

Now I am trying to navigate through these same waters and I don’t want to make the same mistakes.  My ex’s girlfriend has two children from a previous marriage.  My boyfriend does not have any children.  I have a great relationship with my ex’s girlfriend, so as soon as I was told about my son’s behavior, I called a team meeting.  I sent out a text to her, my boyfriend, and my ex saying that we needed to meet to discuss these recent events.  My ex’s girlfriend is totally on board and so is my boyfriend.  Radio silence from my ex.  We are all meeting for dinner on Wednesday to talk about how we are going to proceed as a blended family.  We are going to have to discuss how we are going to co-parent these boys through these trying times, and we are on on board except for him. His silence in all of this is deafening to me.  I am not sure how Wednesday will go, but it should be interesting to say the least…