Sunday, May 14, 2017

To My Boys on Mother’s Day

I hadn’t planned on writing anything today. Then I saw this picture in my "Facebook memories" – you know, that stupid feature that sends you pictures from a year or two or three or four that either makes you go, “AWWWW I remember that!” or “OMG, Facebook, THANKS A LOT, I was trying to forget that.”

Today's was a good memory. I had somehow bribed you to bike ride the Rock Island Trail using the carrot of Jane’s Ice Box, a local diner/ice cream shop as our goal and it worked.

That day, I was happy – happy that you had agreed to go, happy to spend time with my boys, happy to be out in the fresh air, exercising on such a gorgeous day. I saw you both ride ahead next to each other and snapped a picture.
Having it show up on Facebook four years later makes me happy, but in a heart-tugging, that-kinda-hurts, wistful kind of way. That picture represents more than two brothers racing ahead of their mom to get to the ice cream at the end. Now, it represents two young men who are slowly riding away from me and the life I have known for nearly 20 years.

I remember when both of you were born like it was yesterday. I remember those crazy newborn weeks and months. I remember amidst all the chaos and hormones that I could sit and hold you and just stare at you for hours. With you, my oldest, it was how fair you were– I could literally see through your earlobe it was so transparent. For you, my youngest, it was just the opposite. Your eyebrows extended all the way to the hairline of your soft, dark head. And you’d both stare back at me like I was the greatest thing in the entire world.

I remember when you were toddlers and all the discoveries you’d make. My oldest laughing uncontrollably as you ran in and out of the sprinkler on a hot, humid evening, then coming up to me and hugging my legs saying, “I get Mommy all wet!” My youngest loving to be outdoors with your brother, digging for bugs, chasing frogs or catching fireflies.

I remember when you were in grade school, and you’d smile so big when I showed up to have lunch with you or at your room parties - and when you came out of school at the end of the day I'll never forget how you'd look around, spot me, get this big smile on your face and run at me like you hadn't seen me in weeks.

Back then, you regaled me with stories when I asked you the daily question, “What was the best part of your day?” That was a great age to do a lot of fun things like visiting all the swimming pools and playgrounds, hiking at Starved Rock or taking the train up to Chicago – you were at that past-nap stage but not old enough to think I was taking you on the best adventures ever.

I remember when you were in middle school and things got a little more complicated. I remember not knowing as much about what was going on during your school day, or hearing friends’ names I’d never heard before. I remember freaking out because you were getting to be that age where you didn’t want a babysitter but you were too young to stay home alone. I remember feeling guilty that mom had to go to work when there were so many adventures we could be having together, not realizing that I was slowly becoming not so big of a part of yours anymore. I remember feeling scared at 8th grade graduation, thinking that the next four years were going be life changing for all of us.

And they were.

You two are so different. I never realized it fully until a few years ago. It’s almost unbelievable – but at the same time, looking back, your personalities as they are now were there from the very beginning. I know I’ve said this a million times, but I’ll keep saying it. You have no idea how much I love you both, equally yet differently. You always used to ask me (and still do at times) who I loved more. I can honestly say I love you both the same for the individuals you are. I hope you know this love one day if/when you have kids, but even then I'm not sure - I think a mother's love and a father's love, though both intense, are very different.

Sometimes it makes me cry just thinking about you. It chokes me up realizing that your dad and I created you. We made you. I am awe-inspired just typing those words. I look at you both today and I think for the millionth time, “You are my greatest accomplishment." You are. I’ve failed at a lot of things, and I know I’ve made many, many parenting mistakes. But I made you – and that’s two of the greatest things I’ve ever done in my entire life. And I want you to know on this Mother’s Day that I am so, incredibly grateful that God gave you to me – that he picked ME to be your mom. It has been my honor to raise you, take care of you, teach you, show you, laugh with you, cry with you and help you grow. I could not have asked for any tougher, more exhausting, more humbling, more heart-wrenching job and I would never, ever trade our years together for anything in this world.

Thank you, boys, for coming into my life. Thank you for loving your mom, because I know you do. Thank you for giving me a reason to celebrate Mother's Day. Thank you for making it possible for me to look back at pictures and both smile and cry at the memories we’ve made together. It has been a privilege to be your mother. And as you pedal further and further away from me, just know that I’m still back here, pedaling a little slower, letting you go on ahead, but still trying to keep you in my sights, just in case you need me.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

What's One Word That Describes You?

The other day, my teenage son and I were chatting. (This sentence blows me away in that I can actually “chat” with my teenager.) Every once in a while, he poses some pretty interesting questions. This time, the question was, “What one word would you use to describe me?” Now, being a wordsmith, this made me pause, because I really wanted to find the right word. So I said, “Hmmm … that’s a great question. I’ll have to think about that. Let me get back to you.” To which he replied, “Do you know what word I would use to describe you?” I waited nervously. What would he say? “Stressed?“ “Overprotective?“ "Meddling?"

“Resilient,” he said.

Wow. I wasn’t expecting that. Resilient. He explained, “Because you’ve been through a lot of stuff and you’ve gotten through it.”

This really made me think. Yes, a lot has happened over the years that my son has been old enough to be aware of, and in some cases, go through with me. But it made me wonder – should he have been privy to all of this? I never really knew when my parents were going through something. First of all, that was usually kept between them, and second, I was too selfish to even notice. I suppose when you’re a single parent and don’t have that “Plus One” to bounce things off of, maybe you take advantage of your “too mature for his age” 15-year-old son.

Then I thought, because I’m resilient, maybe I’m showing him how to be resilient. We talk a LOT, this kid and me. I never expected that at age 15 he would have the compassion, empathy and maturity well beyond his years that he possesses. He’s the one who asks me how my day was – every day. He’s the one who actually asks me for advice, and even wants to know how it was for me when I was his age. He asks questions that make me know he’s thinking of the future – questions about college, working, relationships … even having kids (OK slow down, Son).

I wonder how much of this is because he’s been right here with me through my ups and downs. He was the one who was there when I got the call that my mother had passed away. I’ll never forget what he did – at age 13. He sat down next to me, put his arms around me, and didn’t say a word – just sat there as I sobbed.

He’s seen me struggle with my older son and the intense feelings that have emerged through that - frustration, anger, worry, fear and extreme sadness. It’s hard to keep it from the one person who lives with you – even if he is only 15.

Though the “stuff I’ve been through” may be a bit unique in some ways, it’s no more than many go through – and much less than some. Yeah, every once in awhile I throw a pity party for myself and selfishly think I’m the only one in the world having a bad day, but then I get over it and pull myself up by my bootstraps and remember the good I have in my life.

That must be where the resilience comes in.

A little later on, I finally found the word to describe him. “Authentic,” I told him. “What do you mean?” he asked. I said, “How you act is who you are. You are compassionate, and you act compassionate. You are kind, and you act kind. You are thoughtful, and you act thoughtful. You don’t put on airs. You are simply a genuinely good person.”

That made him smile, and at that moment, I think we both felt that together, between my resiliency and his authenticity, we could conquer anything that life may throw at us.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

On Being Alone: It’s All About Percentages

It’s official. I’ve had an epiphany.

After one marriage, one wedding (not a marriage – long story), a few couple-of-month relationships, a multitude of first dates and some good, old-fashioned therapy, I’ve come to a life-altering conclusion, in the form of percentages. Which is weird, because, well, MATH. But anyway, here goes.

I have discovered that, on average, 75 percent of me is pretty darn content being single.

This is a huge deal. Seriously. Not pining for a significant other is a new thing. Realizing I’m OK is a really, really new thing.

See, other than cohabitating and being married for a total of 11-ish years, I’ve never lived with anyone – and it occurred to me that I’ve never really WISHED to live with anyone. I mean, I thought I wanted to be married when I was in love, but somehow there seemed to be a difference between “sharing my life with someone” and “living with them”, if that makes any sense at all, and it probably doesn’t.

I don't mind not coming home to, "Hi, Honey, how was your day?" I really don't. I don't mind sleeping alone because I still stick to one side of the bed (even before my dog and cat occupied the other.) I even don't mind not having that given "date night" on the weekends. I mean, sure, sometimes I get lonely – usually holidays when I know a lot of couples are out, or when there’s something going on that I think would be fun to do with a significant other – but hey, I’m sure there are plenty of married people who sometimes wish they were in my shoes, so does it really matter whose grass is greener?

OK, so, back to the percentages. So, 75 percent of me is good with this alone thing. So that leaves … let’s see … carry the one … 25 percent of me that wishes I had that “special someone”.

But here’s the problem. While percentages are a logical way to figure something out on paper, they don’t always work out in real life – just like a partnership is never going to be 50/50 all the time. Sometimes it’s 60/40. Sometimes it’s 90/10. You gotta roll with that.

So, say I find someone, and I think, “Hey! I like this guy! I want to be around him and do stuff with him and go on dates and have adventures, blah, blah..." Oh, and obviously he needs to think so, too. So we hang out on the weekends and maybe once or twice during the week and more times than not, I start feeling unsettled because in my mind, he's starting to get all up in my 75 percent.

That’s when I put on the brakes. That’s when I run like a spooked horse. When someone tries to creep too much into my “alone” time, I get nervous – say like when you’re on a plane, and the seat next to you is empty, and a lady with a screaming baby starts walking toward you, and you pray to GOD that she doesn’t sit down next to you, and when she does, you want to just jump out the emergency exit.

That’s me – when I get over 25 percent. And I just now realized this. And I understand that this is MY THING. I own this little neurosis, I really do. But is it such a bad thing?

Maybe I just haven’t found the right guy with whom I either want to share some of my 75 percent, or who only wants 25 percent of me. Maybe it’s because I need more therapy to get my percentages in better balance. Maybe it’s because I’m selfish and self-absorbed. Maybe it’s sour grapes due to a long string of first and sometimes second dates that either turn out with no callback or so many callbacks that I want to turn off my phone. Or maybe - just maybe - I prefer to be alone. The percentages seem to reflect that.

I recently visited a good friend and we had some great talks – you know, those deep and meaningful ones where you can get all insightful with each other and not feel stupid. He said something that was so profound to me it has literally changed how I view any relationship I may have. It was, “You teach others how to treat you.”

*Drop the mic*.

That’s brilliant – and what I had been doing completely wrong for so long. Before my percentages discovery, I was searching for this elusive person to complete me, and in that quest invariably and inadvertently let him set the tone and just accepted it. If he didn’t text during the day, he was probably busy. If he didn’t offer to pick me up, he was probably just trying to be sensitive to my nervousness (which in one case extended to the ninth – and last – date.) If he seemed distracted, he had something obviously more important on his mind. If he liked sexting and I wasn’t down for it, it was because I’m too much of a prude. If he drank too much when we went out, he was just trying to have a good time. When I was away from my phone for an hour and saw seven missed calls, it was just because he missed me. When he didn’t understand why I couldn’t go out on a night I had my kid, I was obviously just too hung up on my own mom guilt. Whether a guy liked me or not, I found an excuse, telling myself that it was me – that I was the problem. I needed to not be so sensitive. I needed to be more open-minded. I should like him more. I should like him less. It was exhausting, and perhaps is one of the catalysts for this whole 75 percent thing.

When I think about, “You teach others how to treat you”, I realize, I rarely did that in any of my past dating escapades, nor in my last long-term relationship. It was always me who felt like I had the problem because I couldn’t adapt to the other person’s vision of the relationship, or lack thereof. And aside from the fact that I completely own my end of relationship mistakes and issues, I think the big thing was that I was trying to even out my percentages - which isn't possible in most relationships, let alone any I'd have.

Since this revelation I’ve cut off ties with two guys to whom I’d been casually talking – one for quite a while, actually. He’d text me every day, or every other day, and hint that “we should go out” but never actually asked me out. We had great conversations and I just figured, “He’s taking it slow” or “He’s been hurt before.” I know. I’m an idiot. But once I implemented this whole “teach him how to treat me” philosophy, i.e. letting him know I was tired of the texting thing and was he ever planning on asking me out because this was kind of weird and I couldn’t believe I’d gone along with this for so long, he avoided the question. It was then I realized he wasn’t taking it slow – he was a douche and I was playing a game I didn't even WANT to play. So I told him that wasn’t how I wanted to be treated and to go f*ck himself.

OK, that was probably harsh, but it felt really, really good, because he really was being a douche, and I really hated being treated like that. I was being strung along – and letting myself be strung along. I thought that because someone was showing interest in me, I should be thankful, and figured, “Hey, beggars can’t be choosers.”

Wrong. I’m a chooser, and for now, I choose me.

Again, this may come off kind of like my sh*t doesn’t stink, but you have to understand where I was compared to where I am now. I was searching for this person because society says you need someone in your life in order to be happy, and being alone is something about which people feel sorry for you. How many times have I heard, "So are you seeing anyone?" Ugh. Really? I know - people are just making small talk and trying to be nice, but sometimes I just want to say back, "No. So how's your marriage?"

Here's the deal. I understand these percentages may change with time, and as long as that change is authentic and of my own volition, I’m OK with it. Sure, maybe someday I’ll come upon that person who I don’t mind creeping into my 25 percent and causes me to gladly revise my numbers. But for now, teaching MYSELF how I want to be treated and feeling really, truly OK with being alone has made me realize that my cup is three quarters of the way full – and that makes me happy.

I saw this video quite a while ago, and while I related to it in SO many ways, I felt so wistful to get to where this woman was in her life. Take a look – this is a great example of the realization that "alone" isn't always a negative word; sometimes it's a choice that once made - even at just 75 percent - can bring you great peace. As she says, and I truly believe, "... if you're happy in your head then solitude is blessed and alone is okay."