Sunday, August 13, 2017

Regrets .. I've had (more than) a few ...

Everybody has regrets.

"Regrets, I've had a few;
But then again, too few to mention.
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption."

See? Even Frank Sinatra. But he only had a few, and didn't feel like they were worth bringing up, even in a 4-1/2 minute song.

I have regrets. More than a few. And at times, the thought of them nearly paralyzes me. It usually starts like this: I think of something I wish I hadn't done ... and I ponder and obsess on that awhile, then that usually begets another regret ... and another ... and by the time I'm done I've regretted myself into a hole of shame and deprecation.

I've thought about this blog and writing everything I'm feeling, and how any comments made would probably be something like, "The past doesn't have an eraser." "Learn from your mistakes and move on." "The mistakes you made yesterday helped shape the person you are today." "Learn to forgive yourself." "Regrets are nothing more than wasted thoughts." "Regrets are life lessons."

Yeah, I know all this. But here's the deal. We all have regrets - you can't say you don't. They exist, to quote Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, "deep down in places you don't talk about at parties." You can frost them with inspirational sayings and positive thinking and claims that you did what you thought you should do at the time (which of course is very true at times, but doesn't qualify to push it out of the "regret" category), but they're still just icing that cake you hate because you had it at the worst birthday party of your childhood.

Many people can overcome regrets to a point by finding a place for them to occupy so deep down inside of them that there's so much other shit on top they'll never see the light of day. For me, they hang out pretty close to the surface. I don't know if I'm supposed to get over them, or they're supposed to go away at some point, or if they are simply my punishment for making bad decisions and fucking up. Maybe they're God's way of keeping us humble - letting us know that we can sit here and think we are awesome people and good Christians and wow aren't we just the all that and a bag of chips but really we are ignorant humans who (for some) think we are the end-all-be-all.

Yeah, you're gonna regret that.

I'd love to be one of those who lies on my deathbed saying I have no regrets. If you can do that on yours, more power to you. Maybe I'll figure out how to get there one day. But right now, I kind of see that as saying your shit doesn't stink. "Everything I did worked out the way it was supposed to be, regardless of any bad decision I made on my part." Plus I don't want to lie on a deathbed. I want to go quick. Real quick.

That leads me to my biggest regret. In the grand scheme of things, I have some that are of greater consequence; in fact, most of them I'd say were more impactful on how I lived my life or the effect it had on others. Regardless, the fact that I left my mother's side a half an hour before she passed away is something for which I will never, ever forgive myself. I can sit here and say that I wanted to make sure my dad got home because there was a snowstorm. I can say that I had to pick up my kid from his friend's house because I didn't want him spending the night out again. I can say I was tired and had been there by her side most of the day. It is of absolutely no comfort. I relive that night over and over and over and over in my brain. She had all the signs of being very close to dying. I hesitated before I left. My dad almost turned around in the snowstorm to go back to her after I sent him on his way. We left at 10:30 pm. She died at 11:08. And not only do I have to live with the fact that I wasn't there,  my dad has to live with it as well, and I have to live with the fact that he has to live with it. If I had it to do over again, I would have stayed. I would have stayed.

If I had it to do all over again, I would have been nicer to my little brother when I was little. I blame myself for some of the problems he had growing up, and probably for the distant relationship we have now. You can tell me not to blame myself, but I know I am to blame. So why would I not? If I had it to do all over again, I would have been less of a bitch to my parents when they moved to Peoria when I was 13 and hating my life. Sure, I was immature and selfish and unhappy. Why is that an excuse to be such a shit to your parents who are in the same boat as you?

If I had to do it all over again, I would have waited to go to college, or stuck it out at my first one, or gone somewhere different. I hate having to explain that I went to four colleges and feel dishonest when someone asks where I went to school and I only mention the one I graduated from because I'm embarrassed at my immaturity, indecisiveness and stupidity during my college years.

I certainly would have broken up with the completely self-absorbed high school boyfriend who I made the catalyst of my inane decisions my freshman year of college. And to that end, if I had it to do all over again, I would have much more faith in myself so that I would never, ever allow my life to be ruled by a man. If I had it to do all over again, I wouldn't settle no matter how high I was told my expectations were. I wouldn't think that a man's hopes and dreams were bigger or more important than mine. I would have listened to my intuition and not turned a blind eye to my feelings of insignificance, tendencies to watch everything I said or did or my uneasy suspicions of emotional infidelity.

If I had it to do all over again, I would have done the marriage thing differently. I don't think I'm the type of person who should be married, but an overall regret of mine is that I have always done what I "should" do because I could never really come to terms with the fact that I'm the kind of person who lives life a little less mainstream than others. And I always thought that what I wanted to do was selfish if it meant infringing on someone else's plan (like my parents' plan for me and college) or dream (like my ex-husband's flying career).

I can't say I regret getting married simply because I have two amazing sons who I am completely convinced God wanted me to have - these two specifically - even though I doubt my prowess as a mother. But I regret how I did the marriage thing, despite the specific advice from my mother on how to have a successful one. I regret how my marriage ended because of words not said, actions not done and emotions not taken into account because at some point I just wanted it all to go away so I could start over. How many times have I begged for a re-do in life?

I regret a lot of my relationships, or poor excuses for them. Again, I did what I thought I should be doing, but in the end could never emotionally commit for one reason or another, so I bolted - sometimes without notice or explanation. Because it's hard to explain something you don't understand yourself. Not an excuse; much so a regret. Then there was the relationship that went on much too long because I had become a shadow of myself. I regret letting that go on way past its expiration date, for dragging my kids to another city, for not accepting and doing something about the fact that he was still emotionally invested in someone else, and for allowing myself to be deprioritized by him and by myself. I look back on that and wonder how I could have had so little self worth to allow myself to put up with all that shit - and to put my children through it as well.

I regret the decision I made to move into the school district I did. This is one of those things where I thought I was making the right choice, but I still think if I would have had a little more time to think it through and do my research versus being under the gun, I would have made a better decision that could have more positively affected the lives of my kids as well as my own mental health. I regret not staying in an area where my kids already had friends, and I had friends, and we all knew each other. I haven't had that since I moved back here, and I think it would have made the difference in a lot of respects.

So unlike Mr. Sinatra, I have a lot of regrets. Regrets of things I have done, and regrets of things I didn't do. I have regrets about things that probably haven't even happened yet. And yes, I'm sure many of you have them as well; some of them much bigger and life-altering than the ones I've listed here. Some of you are able to find a place to put them so you can go on living your daily lives without these compunctions filling your mind like a stopped-up toilet.

I wish I could, but I can't. I just can't. A part of me wishes I could go back in time and change how I reacted to things; the other part of me would like to take some sort of pill that would make me forget they ever happened so I can have some peace. I just want peace with myself. Forgiving myself I'm sure is the "answer", but to me, forgiving myself doesn't do much for the others involved. I'm sure my mom doesn't want me to obsess over not being there when she died; my kids may or may not wish they were at a different school or living in a different part of town; past (short) relationships have probably all but forgotten my name and the longer ones are probably pretty relieved, as is my ex-husband - for dodging that bullet he could have been married to for the rest of his life.

What can I do? Again, probably not forgive myself. Probably not forget. All I CAN do is try to slow down and THINK and make better decisions so I don't add on to my laundry list of things I hate myself for - or regret, I should say.

Oh, and fun facts about the Sinatra song mentioned earlier: Paul Anka changed the words to this originally French song to be about a man looking back fondly on a life he lived on his own terms. Sinatra hated the song because he thought it was "self-serving and indulgent".

Trump danced to this song with Melania the night of his inauguration.

Bet Sinatra has more regrets than we first thought.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

FOMO vs. KIMO - I Know I Missed Out

So, you know about FOMO, right? FOMO is Fear of Missing Out. It's like when you go to Facebook and you see all the seemingly amazing things everyone else is doing and you wish you were doing them too and you basically start to feel like a worthless slug that you're not doing more with your life.

OK that last part is kind of my own personal neurosis. Whatever.

I suffer from a chronic case of FOMO - but mine is sort of retroactive. I have KIMO - Knowing I Missed Out. And it really sucks.

This summer alone, I have scrolled through countless photos of my friends' and acquaintances' cross-country vacations, family get-togethers, spur-of-the-moment daytrips and local adventures. I've seen action shots of siblings of all ages, arms around each other, playing in the surf or posing at the top of a mountain. I've seen captured moments of a brother and sister leaned up against each other sleeping in the car after a long day of swimming, husbands and wives arm and arm spouting their endless love for each other despite "the years of ups and downs", and tearful reunions of family members from across the globe.

And it's all wonderful. Really. It is. Like pages out of a travel magazine, I've been transported to the beaches of Florida, the hills of the Badlands, the Rocky Mountains, the coasts of Maine and more than one of our nation's natural wonders. And though I've visited a few of those places, it wasn't enough. It was never and will never be enough.

I often have asked my son over the past few years if he'd like to go on a vacation. Since he's a teenager, his response is usually the same. "Could I bring a friend?" And then, because he's such a compassionate kid, he'll say, "But then who would you have?"

As fun as it would be to have a traveling companion, I don't NEED one. But bringing a friend is literally a logistical nightmare. His friends seem to have jam-packed summers with their own family vacations, traveling baseball teams, friends and relatives visiting from out of town, even summer school.

Last week, after wistfully perusing another Facebook family vacation album, I said, "We should do a family vacation." His response was, "Well, we don't have much of a family."

He's right. We don't. And I'm sorry for that.

When I "had" a family, we didn't take big trips - the kids were young and my ex and I divorced when my oldest was seven, but we did manage a trip to Disney together AFTER we were divorced. Neither of us wanted to miss out on the kids' experience there and there were no significant others to explain it to, so why not? And it was wonderful and amazing and not that awkward, surprisingly.

When I was in a long-term relationship a few years later with a man who had children as well, we trekked to the Dells - and I finally felt like I was doing the family stuff I always wanted to do. The next year we road tripped with some of his family to the Badlands - complete with a packed SUV and cooler of sandwiches just like my mom used to make on our cross-country trips in the old station wagon.

It was the best vacation I've ever taken - in part, because I felt like part of a family, doing things that I had wanted my family to do.

When that relationship ended, so did the travel. Granted, my kids were getting older and they are four years apart. My oldest went down a bad path and money that could have been spent on airline tickets and amusement park admissions went to his issues, and traveling as a "family" meant tear-filled visits to Colorado and Montana with my ex-husband. Not really my idea of a great time, though I will say the least difficult part was traveling with my ex. I'm lucky in that respect.

My kids aren't kids anymore - they're 16 and 20. No longer are they wrestling on the basement floor or building Legos together or even playing video games side-by-side; in fact, they aren't very close at all. Life choices and different personalities have opened a chasm between them that I hope one day can be closed up - but not right now. The idea of taking a family vacation isn't palatable to either of them - let alone with just their mother.

I always wanted one of those cabins up in Wisconsin or in the Ozarks. I have it pictured in my head - it's on the lake, with a dock and big Adirondack chairs where we sit and have campfires and watch the sunset. Every year around the same time we pack up the car and head out for our two-week stay, and the kids look forward to it just as much as Christmas. Sometimes they bring friends; sometimes other family members join in the fun. A tradition. A family vacation - guaranteed at least once a year.

I never had it. Now it's too late - financially, logistically and emotionally. I rarely talk to any of my family members. My dad is 86, my siblings and I aren't exactly close, my oldest has his sights set on getting out of Peoria, and my youngest can't seem to find a friend who has any time to come over for the day, let alone take off for a couple of weeks. I don't know how these families do it, but I feel like a failure.

This isn't the kid of family dynamic I ever wanted. I did my best when the kids were young but I wish I would have done more. I wish things would have turned out differently. I will always wonder how much of what I did and didn't do during their lives led to how my kids developed, the choices they made and how they feel about each other now. I regret that I didn't give them the memories that I wanted them to have so badly.

I know I tried - when both of them were young we were very involved in every local kid-related thing I could get my hands on - play groups, tumbling, art, soccer, baseball, basketball, football, speed skating, martial arts, swimming, rock climbing, apple orchards, College for Kids, children's museum memberships, hiking at Starved Rock, biking to Jane's Ice Box, crafts at home, pumpkin decorating and trick-or-treating with neighborhood kids, volunteering ... but they weren't family vacations. I didn't show them the world. Hell, I barely showed them any of our country. Sometimes I feel like I just killed time, hoping someone else would invite us on their family vacation so we could piggyback on their memories.

I want to tell my kids I'm sorry. I want to tell them that I wish I had given them what every kid deserves to have - those two weeks in the summer to go away to another place, so that when they go back to school and write "What I did on summer vacation," they have a story to tell. I wanted them to help me pack the car with suitcases and a cooler and a bunch of beach stuff or fishing poles and play the license plate game to pass the time. I wanted all those photos to thumb through and put in albums or post on Facebook to say, "Hey! Look at our awesome family vacation and how much fun we had!" But it didn't happen - and it will always be one of my many, many regrets.

For all of you who are taking family vacations, I know they're a lot of work. I know it's not all smiles and kids running into the surf hand in hand, and Kumbaya around the campfire. But cherish every single moment anyway.

I'd give anything to be in your shoes, because I certainly, regrettably KIMO.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?

Apologies to the Bee Gees.

Young love is adorable. Seriously. You know, the sweet, innocent, first-love type of love. Young love means you'll see your teen coming home grinning ear to ear, and you don't even have to ask why. Young love is late night FaceTime chats that you let go because did I mention it's adorable? It's celebrating one month anniversaries and having to go to the store to help pick out a flower or a card. It's seeing your teen be "romantic" and getting a first look at the kind of significant other he's going to be.

Young love is also heart crushing. Especially the first one. It's hearing muffled sobs coming from behind a closed door. It's hearing the TV on at 3 am because sleep is elusive to him. It's watching your teen experience and process one of the most emotional and difficult phases of life - the breakup.

There is no more powerless feeling a parent can have than knowing that your child is hurting and there is really nothing you can do. That this gut wrenching event was bound to happen and they have to go through it and work it out in their own time and in their own way.

Although you can't "fix" it for them (and nor should you, as well as a multitude of life events that happen to your kids), there are a few things you can do that may help your teen while he or she processes these new emotions - hurt, disappointment, sadness, and loss.

I'm so very lucky in that my teen and I can talk easily about a lot of things. But when it comes to matters of the heart, it's important to tread lightly. It's easy - especially with all of my relationship experience - to tell them how to feel or what to do or what will "get them out of it." Here are a few pointers that I found to be effective as you stand on the sidelines watching your child hurt. As always, take what you like and leave the rest.

Acknowledge his feelings.
When you learn of the breakup, simply let your teen know that you agree that it sucks - even if you don't. To him it does. Whether you think the breakup was for the best or not, your teen is hurting and doesn't need to be told "I told you so." Tell him you're so sorry. Tell him you understand why he is upset. Tell him his feelings are valid.

Let him talk - if he wants to.
Some kids may slam the door to their room and refuse to talk about it. Shoot, probably many teens will. But encourage them to talk to you. Then listen. Don't ask a lot of questions. Don't offer advice at this point. Let them purge what happened and the more they talk, the more you will almost be able to see their little brains processing what just happened to them.

Relate to his situation.
I'm sure we can all remember a time when we had our heart broken. For many of us it was during the teenage years. Put yourself back in that place and time and remember how you felt. As adults, we now kind of know the modus operandi of heartbreak. Your teen doesn't. If you can show him that you were once in his place and felt the same feelings, it will help him understand that his feelings really are normal. After my first breakup, I remember this hot wave coming over me, then feeling like I had been punched in the stomach. I cried for days, slept like crap and barely ate. I was convinced I would never be happy again. Your teen needs to hear that and see that you are, in fact, still standing.

Tell him what YOU did.
OK, so now he knows you know how he feels. But what then? Tell him how you worked through it - the good, the bad and the ugly. Tell him what embarrassed you about it and what you were proud of. Tell him what you learned and what you would and wouldn't do again. See, while you're doing this, you're giving him options without giving him advice directly, which is kind of the last thing he wants.

Mom him when you can.
Don't ask if he's hungry. He's not. Pick up his favorite food or a smoothie and just set it in front of him and walk away - I bet it's at least picked at when you return. Don't ask if he wants to go somewhere or do something. He probably doesn't. Ask for his help or assistance on little errands, then see if getting out helps his mood and suggest lunch or ice cream. A change of scenery does wonders - we know that; he doesn't.

Make promises.
Not the ones you can't keep - the ones you know to be true. Tell him you PROMISE that he will not feel this way forever. Tell him you PROMISE that he will find someone to love and who will love him again. Tell him that you PROMISE that very soon, every day will start to get a little easier. Tell him you PROMISE that he is worthy of love and that despite what he thinks right now, he will he will experience those feelings again.

Let him be sad.
One thing I hate is when you are upset and people tell you not to be. Your teen is sad. Tell him it's OK to be sad and that he has a right to be sad. Again, relate your experiences to him. Let him have a little time to throw his own pity party and work things out in his head a little. Sometimes that will mean talking to friends, sometimes it may be playing loud music. Sometimes that might just mean sitting there and not saying or doing anything at all.

Stay close.
This is perhaps the most important piece of advice I'll throw out there. Your teen is experiencing a whole new set of emotions that he isn't familiar with or used to dealing with. Don't discount them as "that's life." To him, this is HUGE. And with times as they are now, teens are reacting differently to crisis situations - sometimes desperately. Keep an eye on him and watch for any behavior that may be detrimental to his safety. If you suspect your teen may be experiencing these feelings, trust your gut and get him some help. Even if it's a one-time conversation with a therapist or someone experienced in dealing with teens, that person will be able to better determine what the course of action should be, if any.

Above all, just be there. Be there when your teen wants to talk, and let him know you're there even when he doesn't. Understand that heartbreak is a roller coaster, and some days he'll feel great and others he may be down in the dumps again. Let him work through his emotions as only he can do with the capacity he has, but step in when you can see it's becoming overwhelming. Show him that life is worth loving, and love is worth living for.