Wednesday, June 20, 2012

I’ve had an epiphany!

That’s what I told my friend the other day. She – knowing me pretty much better than anyone else – said, “OK, bring it. I’m all ears.” 

Apparently I have epiphanies on a regular basis. 

Here’s the deal. I have realized that for the most part, I’m always slightly stressed/worried/upset about something. If it’s not work, it’s kids. If it’s not kids, it’s family. If it’s not family, it’s relationships. Or finances. Or my weight. Or any one of a thousand of my own insecurities. Or my dog. Stupid dog.

Obviously, I’ve never been one of those “not a care in the world” people who live by the seat of their pants and seem to have a sort of invisible fence between their brain and these seemingly insignificant issues that are an integral part of the lives of people like me. I’ve always been envious of people like that – the ones who don’t seem to worry about if so-and-so is mad at them, or if they’ve done something inappropriate, or if they haven’t been as diligent or attentive or whatever it is they are expected to be with their jobs or their relationships. I don’t think it’s that they are uncaring people – I just truly believe that their brains are wired differently. Those things that can make or break my day are inconsequential to them. Their epiphanies probably are more along the lines of finding cures for cancer or inventing the cotton gin.  

But back to my epiphany. Lately, I have found that my stress triggers have been in the areas that I consider to be a priority; however, that priority has not been a two-way street. In other words, what is a priority to me has not necessarily been reciprocal. 

For instance, I love my job. I really do. 90 percent of the time I love what I do for a living and the people I work for and with. After some pretty crappy past jobs situations and 19 months of unemployment, I continue to wake up every day thankful that I can get in my car and drive to a place where I enjoy what I do. But there was a time recently when that 10 percent crept up on me. I think it happens to us all. I felt overwhelmed with projects that I didn’t think I knew enough about, overwhelmed with the work/home imbalance, overwhelmed at the fact that I felt I had so much I wanted to give to this job but it just wasn’t possible and/or there just wasn’t a place for it. Now I feel this has been somewhat rectified and that I am in fact as much of an integral part of my company as they are to my professional life. And that’s a really good thing. Now I feel as if the priority I give to my job is reciprocated. That’s a great feeling – and it makes me want to do an even BETTER job. And THAT makes me happy. 

My kids are obviously a priority and I love them more than life itself. But as any working parent knows, and any single parent can relate, there is a constant sense of guilt for not being there as much as you feel you should, bewilderment as you enter a new phase of their struggle for growth, and lack of patience from having the responsibility of them with only every-other-weekend support from the other parent. And I struggle with my kids at the ages they’re at in that I feel as if I give to them and a) they take and want more or b) they don’t want anything to do with me. 

It’s tough now, but what I have to realize is that the Kodak moments you have with your kids when they’re pre-teen and teenagers are not planned – they are spontaneous. You can plan a day at the beach - pack your fishing gear, plenty of sunscreen, sandwiches and lots of snacks – and they can fight all day until you end up walking away from them and sitting on the damn beach by yourself just to get some peace and quiet. Or, they can come home from a weekend at their dad's and decide that they missed you so you at the last minute go and get smoothies for dinner and recreate the Wayne’s World version of “Bohemian Rhapsody” in the car on the way home. Unbeknownst to my children, in that moment they made me a priority, so I damn well made sure they knew they were mine. But they’re the exception of sorts to this priority rule since they’re not old enough really have true priorities other than getting to the next level of Minecraft or seeing who can fart the loudest; however, I think deep down they know that if I weren’t around they’d be in a world of hurt. 

Then there are relationships. The ones that may be important to you but you take for granted. God’s one of those for sure, though I’ve come a longer way in the past few years than I have been ever in my life. My family has always been an overall priority, but it’s easy to assume they’re always going to be there without any cultivation or legwork. When my mom got cancer, it was a no-brainer to move her to the forefront of our priority list – and I think it served as a reminder to the four of us kids that our parents pretty much deserve to stay up there.

I’ve realized lately that I’ve neglected some of my friendships and that these people not only support me, they’re going through things too. I spent time with three different friends this past weekend and discovered that the admiration I have for them is actually shared in return. WOW. Really? How cool is that? That in itself made me realize there are other relationships in which I put an enormous amount of energy, yet get very little in return simply due to the fact that we do not have parallel priorities.

That’s really what it’s about, isn’t it? That’s the epiphany. Parallel priorities. Learning to live your life spending your time with people important to you who feel you are of equal importance to them. And learning to let go of those people and things that may seem incredibly important to you, but somehow at the end of the day, when you are exhausted and stressed out from analyzing why you don’t feel any sort of fulfillment or satisfaction or peace, you reluctantly realize that you must move them further down the list – at least more in line to where you are on their priority grid.

Priorities shift, depending on a bazillion factors. But overall, your top three to five should be about the same no matter how they may jockey for position. If you don’t feel like you share parallel priorities with your top picks, maybe it’s time to reevaluate them. If you’re giving your job everything you’ve got and it’s literally sucking the life out of you, it’s time to reevaluate. If you’re talking about a friend more than you’re talking to her, or vice-versa, it’s time to reevaluate. If you can’t stop thinking about a special someone yet you suspect he’s got someone or something else in the forefront of his brain, it’s time to reevaluate. That’s my epiphany and I’m sticking to it.

You may now cue the angels with their chorus of Hallelujah. And you’re welcome.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

When did summer become such a bummer?

Answer: When your kids are 10 and 14.

Back when I was a stay-at-home-mom, summers were tough only because I wasn't used to having two kids underfoot 24/7 for three months. But on the plus side, we lived in a neighborhood of other moms in my same predicament, and those long days became almost enjoyable swapfests  - of kids, backyard pools, Popsicles, sidewalk chalk and playground equipment. Everything in everyone else's garage was community property, and it was not unusual to have multiple children who were not your own happily munching dinner with the rest of your family on the back deck.

Fast forward 5+ years, and I'm a single, working mom struggling to balance giving my kids the summer that I think they should have with a job I need to have. My older son is volunteering at a day camp (begrudgingly and at his mother's "strong suggestion") and the younger one  is home with a wonderful sitter who may in fact be Mary Poppins reincarnated.

You can't beat that, right?

Here's the deal, though. When I get home, they're tired. Worn out. And I've been sitting at a desk all day and ready to go hike, swim, climb, bike... do SOMETHING. And they're just not game.

"Going to the pool", which used to be on our daily to-do list, isn't any fun if they don't have a friend to go with. Gone are the days when all our friends had a membership to the same pool - and gone are the days when I could afford that. So if we do get to the pool, it usually consists of the younger one whining that the older one won't get off his phone and into the water and begging for snacks over and above the soggy pretzels I sneaked in my beach bag.

Here's a typical summer suggestion hit list from Mom and their response.
Me: Pool?
Them: We don't have any friends there.
Me: Miniature Golf?
Them: Too hot.
Me: Hike?
Them: Too tired.
Me: Museum?
Them: Too old.
Me: Bowling?
Them: We suck at bowling.
Me: Don't say "suck".
Them: That's so stupid. Everyone says "suck".

See where this is going?

Now when I was their age (oh, here we go, you say) I don't remember relying on my mom to be my entertainment director. I was hanging out with my friends. My mom would put on her Jackie O. sunglasses and scarf and hop in our old convertible Mustang and drop me off at the local pool, where I'd spend the whole day then walk (yes, walk!) home. In the evenings, I'd ride my bike around the neighborhood or watch movies in my friends' basements. But we here are at kind of a transitional stage - relatively new to this area of town and school district. We don't know our neighbors, nor have the kids made many friends yet. So they sit at home a lot, until I somehow convince them to do something that they a) don't really want to do and b) certainly don't want to do with their mom.

I feel bad. And guilty. It's summer, and they should be enjoying it and being the carefree kids that they are allowed to be until the day they turn 16 and their lives become segmented with work responsibilities. They should be sleeping late, watching cartoons, then rushing to get dressed because a bunch of kids just rang the doorbell. From there, I don't see hide nor hair of them until dinnertime. Now THAT'S a summer.

Summer should be full of adventure, water, mud, grass stains, sunburn, poison ivy and hair bleached blond by the chlorine. It should be nights of staying up too late catching fireflies or laying on the driveway trying to locate the Little Dipper. Days playing a pickup baseball or kickball game. It should be begging to camp out in the backyard, itching mosquito bites, and eating breakfast out on the patio. It should be weekends where you pack up the car with a cooler of sandwiches and drinks, some air mattresses, fishing poles and plenty of beach towels and high tail it to the nearest State Park or lake beach. It should be strains of  "are we there yet", "just 10 more minutes" and "this has been the best day EVER."

I had that. I miss that. I wish I would have enjoyed that more, knowing that one day my kids would too soon forget how to be kids. That they'd be in such a hurry to grow up. That they would want to abandon the things that we adults pine for as some of the happiest times of our lives.

I wish I could tell them. I wish I could make them understand what they're missing, even if they have to do these things with their mother. I wish they could just want to stay kids for another couple of years, and not be in such a hurry to drive, to get a job, to leave the house. I'll eventually be ready, but I'm not one to rush things. Because I know what's in store for them, and it isn't summers like these.

There's the door kids. Go. Feel the sun on your face, the grass between your toes, the water on your skin. Run. Bike. Swim. Enjoy. There will come a day when you will long to just go outside... and play.