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.



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 and 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.
Love,
Mom

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."



Sunday, March 5, 2017

To Mr. Trump, with Sincere Thanks


Dear Mr. Trump,

I have never been one to be well-versed when it comes to politics. I'll be the first to admit that up until the past year, I would've been like one of those people in those "man on the street" interviews who gives a deer-in-headlights look to questions like, "Who's our Secretary of State?" or "What is the electoral college?" or "Who is Vladimir Putin?"

I knew about issues on a high level from headlines I read on Facebook or Yahoo or perhaps MSNBC if it was on at the gym - at least enough to acknowledge if asked. But I would be the last one you'd want to have an intelligent conversation with at a party about any of them. It's not that I'm an idiot or that I didn't care; I just didn't pay attention, and all of it seemed so far removed from me that I figured  it was "someone else's" problem.

That's all changed. And I have you, Mr. Trump, to thank.

Before you, I really didn't know the difference between the popular vote and the electoral college. Well, now I do - not only because of the fact that Hillary won the popular vote handily yet the electoral college was in your favor, but that you've BEAT IT INTO OUR HEADS AD NAUSEUM since then.

Before you, I didn't know much if anything about the President's Cabinet. I didn't realize that you could hand pick them like celebrities for The Apprentice - based less on skill and experience and more on their bank account and star power. I never knew who the Attorney General was. Now I know exactly who he is, and what he is - and isn't - supposed to do, like lie under oath about conversations he had with Russia during the Presidential campaign. I didn't even know what the big deal was with Russia until the campaign and the allegations, and now I'm learning all kinds of stuff about sanctions and (former) National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and why Putin is always shown with his shirt off riding a horse. And of course I knew that being a bigot wouldn't be a big check in the plus box to getting a seat on the Cabinet, but apparently it's not a deal breaker.

I didn't know who the Secretary of Energy was, or that best case scenario he isn't supposed to forget that in 2011 he proposed to abolish the department he now leads - or that he can't just say he's down with the existence of global warming just to get the pick.

I didn't know who the Secretary of Education was, or that it's evidently a luxury to have someone in that position who either worked at, attended, or sent her children to public schools. Or that she's basically a scam without a plan, a voucher plan to divert money spent on public education  - which is guaranteed for all students - to private schools.

I never really paid attention to what the vice president did, or believed. Now I do, since the current VP thinks that homosexuality can be reversed with conversion therapy, that abstinence-only education should be taught in schools, that agencies like Planned Parenthood should be defunded for providing abortion services. and who doesn't believe there is wage discrimination against women and blacks.

I certainly never knew about immigration and deportation. I didn't know it was possible to ban citizens from Muslim countries and refugees from entering the United States, or to threaten to separate women and children, let alone build a freaking wall 2000 miles long and up to 55 feet high. I mean, at least Mexico's going to pay for it, right?

What I did know, but never really appreciated until now, is that the President was someone for whom you had respect, whether you agreed with all of his policies or not. Now I'm sure there are people who didn't respect past Presidents, but overall, the Office of the President is something we should respect. Because America. Kind of like standing for the National Anthem. But I digress.

I respect Barack Obama. I voted for him, not only because I wanted to see the first African-American president, but because overall, I agreed with his views I read about (insert my own political knowledge disclaimer from above here.) And honestly, he seemed like a good guy. In fact, I was OK with Obama being a role model for kids, back when that "ANYONE can be president" moniker was so popular. Now that's changed. "ANYONE can be president" means, literally, ANYONE, even a narcissistic, slimy businessman with no government experience who probably didn't even really want to BE president; he just liked the game. I feel so sorry for parents who have to try to explain you to their children. "OK, kids, America made a big  mistake and we just have to hold on for at the most four years then you'll be able to have pride in our President again," or, "Kids, Mr. Trump and the First Lady - that's not really how a husband and wife or mommy and daddy should be with each other, but let's see what the Obamas are doing right now."

You know, Michelle Obama seemed like a very poised yet approachable woman - and she turned out to overachieve in that respect and so many others. I mean, who wouldn't want their little girl looking up to her? She could hold her own with world leaders then turn around and get her groove on with James Corden. She was the people's First Lady, in my opinion. Now Melania? Gosh, every time I see her I just feel so damn sorry for her. She's that trophy wife who probably married you because you promised her the moon and made her life comfortable but she never EVER thought she'd be doing this whole First Lady thing. It's obvious by looking at her that she'd rather be holed up in her (ivory) Trump Towers apartment taking care of her son (who I feel sorry for as well). So fess up. Once you figured out you were really going to win this thing, did you sit Melania down, point a finger at her and say, "DON'T SCREW THIS UP FOR ME, MEL, OR I WILL RUIN YOU"?

(Melania, if you're reading this, RUN - don't walk - right out of that White House and take your son with you. You made a mistake - we all do. It's OK. And you won't be alone - there are millions of us out here who are strong enough to have your back and teach you what it's like to stand on your own two feet. We'll help you out, Sista.)

Oh and speaking of women, I never knew that in this day and age it was possible to have a president who would set us back about 100 years when it comes to women's rights. I mean, it's pretty obvious you think women are second class citizens. Now granted, when you were talking to Billy Bush about grabbing pussy 15 years ago, I'm sure it never in a GAZILLION YEARS occurred to you that you'd be President someday. BELIEVE ME, it didn't occur to any of us either. But the fact that you were elected President IN SPITE OF all of all your comments about and view on women makes me absolutely want to "rise up" like those millions of women did in the Women's Marches all over the world just after your inauguration. And that movement continues, which is really, really cool. So watch out - because if according to you it takes 10 women to do the work of one man, well, we already have you beat - handily.

I never knew that we could come so far as a country that we FINALLY elect an African-American president, only to COMPLETELY do a 180 and SOMEHOW invite a racist, womanizing, narcissistic shell of a man like you to run our country. To put it in language you can understand, it's kind of like Obama was the really nice boy we all dated, but we dumped him for you, that kind of dirty, rough around the edges guy, only to find out that you beat the shit out of us while our nice ex is kitesailing in the British Virgin Islands with Richard Branson.

I never knew that, although a lot of America is trying REALLY, REALLY HARD to give you a chance, you'd blow it even after you were given a speech that was all but gift-wrapped and tied up with a bow. Now, I have to be honest. You didn't fool me. As a writer, I've penned my share of articles, speeches and quotes for other people - stuff they never wrote. They just signed off on them and BOOM - the words were attributed to them and they sounded like rock stars.

You didn't write that speech. I mean, I know every President has a speechwriter, but I doubt you even had any involvement in that speech, which is why you were shown practicing it in the car on he way to address Congress. It didn't even SOUND like you - or the you we currently know. Someone with a great thesaurus had your back and threw you a bone that you, in turn, threw at all of us. We bit, but not 24 hours later, we were left with only a bad taste in our mouths.

I didn't vote for you, Mr. Trump, and sadly, I don't respect you. But I have to thank you. Because of you, I'm paying attention now. Because of you, I truly care about what happens to the people of this country, and the people who want to call this country home. And I want to tell you - I'm watching you. And so is America. Because here's the deal. We the People are the ones who will prevail. You'll run this country amuck like some three-year-old toddler on a sugar high, and we'll come in right behind you and clean everything up so when guests arrive we can say, "Oh, this place? It always looks like this!"

Thank you, Mr. Trump, for making me care, and for making me realize that you are temporary. We the People are permanent, and we will prevail.