getting older

It’s a lot scarier than I ever thought it would be to get older. I can’t see small print without glasses anymore, and my mind is definitely not as sharp as it used to be. I don’t remember names of songs or bands I’ve listened to for decades. I often wonder how these old men keep getting elected as president. I’m not trying to be a jerk, I know people are still brilliant when they are older, but it seems that the time it takes to process information and recall things from memory gets a little slower.

I spend a lot of time analyzing my skin in the mirror. I know it will never look better than it does at this moment. Working out hurts more, injuries take longer to heal. I’m more exhausted than ever before. I seriously have a different type of medical appointment almost every month as part of regular maintenance. I recently took my car in for an oil change and listened to the “advisor” in a shirt and tie at the fancy dealership I went drone on about service milestones at 48,000 miles, 60,000 miles, 90,000 miles and I thought about my own doctor appointments. How will I keep things straight between services for my body and my car? Do I schedule a colonoscopy at 50 years old or 48,000 miles? Is it time to get my brakes or my eyes checked?

Old age in this country seems frightening. If I live that long, I don’t want to be driving around when I’m 86, getting flipped off or cussed out when I get confused about when to make a turn (honestly, this is already happening), or running down to Walmart to pick up a prescription. I don’t want to be doing any of this even now at 50. By nature of the fact that I had my kids at age 39 and 40, most of my mom friends are in their 30s now. Sometimes when I’m talking with them, my mind drifts off to when I was their age. Busy traveling the world, finishing up my graduate degree, getting divorced, dating a few psychopaths, crying a lot, and finally thinking at age 38 that it might be nice to have a kid one day. It wasn’t necessarily the best time of my life and I don’t really miss that decade.

I have a precious few older female friends who have had colorful lives just like me and they are amazing, doing incredible things, and inspiring me every time I’m in their presence. They don’t talk about their physical and mental slowness or pains. They don’t focus their efforts on finding a companion due to some irrational fear of being alone. They no longer obsess about whether they are building a healthy and happy foundation for their kids or just screwing them up for life. They are just…free. I want that.

anxiety

I’ve gotten so increasingly anxious over the past couple of years that I started carrying my “fix it now” anxiety medicine with me wherever I go.

In 2018, I was hospitalized twice after a bit of a breakdown due to stress and relationship issues. I was equipped with pages and pages of coping strategies and emotional regulation worksheets. None of which were news to me, I had been talking to clients about and training practitioners for years on positive coping, trauma and resiliency, thinking errors, grounding techniques, and self care. While in the hospital, I shared space and meals with people who had just gotten out of prison who had mental health issues and no place to go and people who were on mandatory mental health holds. We heated up food that had been frozen since the Ice Age and drowned it in hot sauce. We had structured days, no cell phones, belts, or shoelaces, and lots of resources at our finger tips. I got to sleep for 10 hours straight my first night there. I haven’t sleep for 10 hours straight in years. Staff was caring, approachable, and helpful (you would never have known it was a state-funded program), and I felt at ease knowing that I was responsible for nothing and no one, just simply showing up where I was supposed to be when I was supposed to be there. Would that ever happen again? I’d like to think not.

I would like to say that I’ve made a full recovery and it has been smooth sailing. That I clean my house or take walks or check facts or call a friend or tune into wise mind or ground myself in my senses when I’m anxious. But I don’t. I’m a lazy patient when it comes to preventing anxiety and its attacks. I’m not really qualified to write about anxiety or how to support people with it or what works and what doesn’t work when you or a loved one has it. I haven’t quite processed it to the point that I can provide helpful support like some of my friends can. It interferes with my daily activities and with my relationships. A couple of things that help me when I’m on the brink of disaster are hearing “How can I help?” from someone I trust and when another person shares that they’ve been there, or are there. It makes me feel less alone. It can be especially tough as a single parent. You can’t tap out when your mental health issues hit you the hardest. The best you can do is tell your kids you need a break (if they are old enough), and fall apart behind a closed door, if you can actually make it to a private space in time.

A pandemic, a layoff, starting a new job in a field I know nothing about, watching the world blow up and violent crime increase hasn’t helped. I know it has been hard for lots of people. I rarely go to the grocery store anymore, even though it was a favorite outing for me during COVID lockdowns. The other day I actually had to walk into the store and there was a woman pushing a cart around the aisles aimlessly, wearing only a white bra and shorts (ok, yes, I was in Walmart). Some people drink, some smoke, some meditate or pray, some exercise, some go to the store in their skivvies. We are all finding ways to deal and it’s not easy.

10:15 on a Monday Night

Day 5,468,901 of the pandemic…my kids are in bed early (10:10 pm – I know the doctor has repeatedly told me that a 9- and 10-year old need more sleep) and I am sitting here wondering if I should a) do early Christmas shopping (is the end of November early? My definition of “early” is pretty loose re: kids’ bedtime), b) continue watching “Away,” my current Netflix favorite about a mission to Mars starring Hilary Swank or c) keep reading a mystery series I’ve been into lately, where most of the scenes are set in a cozy house in a Quebecois village and always involve warm croissants, homemade jam and a Scotch. Decadent. I’m reading mystery novels for the food and drink escape. Or I could just keep sitting here listening to my kids through the wall talk about how they would spend Robux if they had it – this is a currency in their favorite video game. My son has fallen asleep mid-sentence and my daughter continues to talk…they remind me of an old married couple. My daughter sings random songs from TikTok while my son sleeps. There is no such thing as going to bed early for my daughter.

How are we holding up after the first week of remote learning? Not sure. I’ve never spent so much time at home in my life and I’m one of those people who gets out quite a bit still. Now the kids are locked at home with me and each day is a blur – I’m typically tied up with work all day long and they are back and forth grabbing really crappy snacks that I leave in a basket on the stove (fire hazard). I really feel for everyone out there these days. I probably have it pretty decent given the circumstances, and every day it can be challenging to keep my head straight and remain optimistic. I’m determined not to have the shittiest holiday season ever – I don’t like this time of year and each day I wake up, I start with my pro-holiday mantra of “this is going to be the best holiday season ever!” and “at the end of this week, it will be one down, one to go.” Yay!

If you are reading this, I hope you are hanging in there too. I am available to listen, change your flat tire, bake you some cookies, or buy you a coffee. Just reach out. 🙂

Solo Mama: (Not) Surviving Work at Home with Kids

Hey Mamas! Are you at your wit’s end? Read on.

There are several reasons why I’ve dropped blogging for months, but I’m not ready to share those stories. What I am ready to do is try to make light of my current situation because honestly, I’m not really surviving work at home with kids. We just finished the Lord of the Rings trilogy for the first time and I don’t quite relate with the tenacity, willpower and courage of Frodo, hence making me Gollum. I’m raggedy, unpredictable, and even worse, I host more than two separate voices battling for power in my head. I’m tussling with Frodo on the precipice at the end of the movie, just before being knocked into the fiery pit below with the ring, which represents the last grains of my sanity…

What would I say to you, mama, also trying to survive? Let me tell you. At the start of this “Safer At Home, Stay At Home, Now Come Out but You are Still Safer at Home,” I kind of liked it. Maybe I’ve held out longer than others…but I’m feeling myself start to crack. Here are 3 of my go-tos to try and stay grounded:

  1. Avoid social media as much as possible. Surprise! Everyone is still posting their highlight reels! Our lives are falling apart to some extent but nevermind! I lost 20 pounds, my son was just accepted into Harvard at 10 years old and we are moving to LA because my daughter was discovered by a Hollywood agent who just happened to be buying cereal at Walmart while in town filming Back to the Future 4 when she lurked past him wearing a mask and matted hair that she had not combed out for 3 weeks.
  2. Create an “approximate” schedule. (That you will revise every day, but at least you have the satisfaction of telling everyone that your kids are on a schedule of learning AND fun!) Here is our schedule if you need some ideas. It is not copyrighted, so feel free to steal it and paste it up on the fridge:
    • Wake up and do chores that mama creates on the spot just because she thinks you should build character and not just sloth around the house all day like the teenagers you have not yet become.
    • Complete one homework assignment
    • Complete one language lesson on Duolingo so mama can post on Facebook that you are developing fluency in Navajo
    • Find new ways to pick on each other and make each other cry with intermittent spells of good fun
    • Go outside and ride around in the vacant lot across the street while mama accompanies you during her 20th Zoom meeting that day
    • Eat lunch (a cookie)
    • Get on your devices (here is where we take a wrong turn every day…)
  3. And finally, drink water! (Just kidding. That’s a tip in about every list of tips you can find online).
  4. Really, just try your best not to lose your shit and if you do sometimes, don’t feel bad. I would say that I’ve tried baths, meditation, learning languages, reading devotionals, long drives to nowhere, exercising, therapy, regularly taking my meds, and it is just plain hard out there right now.

Until next time, I’m thinking of all of you who can relate, and trying to push good vibes out into the universe…

Solo Mama: Single Parent Overload

Whhhoooooaaaaa!

I hit Monday night, at the end of a long weekend (Dr. King, I celebrate you AND I also celebrate sanity AND there are too many Monday holidays over the next few months), and I realized I was on the verge of losing my mind. I was anxious, irritated, and had a very short fuse. Does this sound familiar to any parents with an extra day tagged onto the weekend? I’m blocking any Facebook parents who post cute, smiley, huggy-family pics from their long holiday weekend snowmobiling, ice fishing, taking a cooking class, posing with Mickey at Disney World, adopting a cat, getting matching tattoos, attending a major sporting event, soaking in hot springs or skiing at ??? (I don’t even know where it’s cool to ski anymore). Insert LOL emoji here. Especially this past weekend.

I’m an introvert, and every introvert knows that you need time alone to recharge. Time alone over the past 10 years=non-existent. In addition to being an introvert, I hold myself to standards that are simply not achievable. Our little family was non-stop from Friday night until Monday night with activities, friends, family, typical weekend chores – groceries, laundry, house cleaning – and by the time I realized I was tapped out on the final evening of the long weekend, it was too late.

Back to the time alone piece. Every parent knows that once you have children, you are never alone. They follow you everywhere, like tiny little poltergeists, they appear from out of nowhere and they are usually bleating “Momma. Momma. Momma” and then they disappear as mysteriously as they appeared.  As they’ve gotten older, “Momma” is just the stem to a monologue about a random piece of trivia that they’ve encountered on YouTube. The other day, I opened up the browser on my phone, and the first page was titled “How do I be a girl in Roblox?” Really. Everything about them is shocking. And it never fails, the moment you’ve hit your word quota for the day, one of them launches into a speech about Tones and I and how they imagined she would look based on her voice in the song “Dance Monkey” or they ask you about sex.

It is also a one-way street with these people. The other day, my daughter and I were painting clay animal figurines, and I brought up what I thought was an important topic. I wanted to know how she felt about it. After she answered my first question, she said, “Momma, can we not talk anymore? I’m trying to concentrate.” I will need to remember that line the next time they want to discuss the body styling of Mustangs versus Camaros in the car or ask me what world events I might be hiding from them (my son accused me of purposely withholding current news from them about Iran last week).

I hit a wall Monday night. I need to notice the warning signs before everything caves in. I need to be better about going into my room, closing the bedroom door, and hanging up my “Keep out” sign and escaping even just for 30 minutes. It might just make us all appreciate each other more as well. For others who hit this wall on a regular basis, I see you.

 

Solo Mama Exhausted

It’s the holidays. And most people are stressed, on edge and exhausted. Church today was a good reminder of where to focus. Our pastor had just come back from a 6- month sabbatical with a simple message, which he delivered through tears: God loves you. God wants what’s best for you.

Wow, did this resonate with me. I’m exhausted. I’ve felt disconnected from God for over two years at least and possibly longer. I’ve done all the “right” things to try to get reconnected. Examples include attending church twice a week, listening to numerous different speakers on YouTube and podcasts. Downloading and attempting to use a Bible app which everyone in the world seems to be able to figure out except me.

But I’m exhausted and I still don’t feel connected. I’ve never had to search so hard. God had always been near and present. Through friends, family, my children, people I interacted with daily demonstrated God’s love in some form.

The dark side of this, the dark sad places though, are the haunting voices and feelings that have been tearing me apart from the inside. The fact that I’ve been tearing myself down as a parent. Never feeling like I’m doing it right or good enough. The fact that I’ve been trying to prove to someone that I’m worthy enough to love for the past two years and still not hitting the mark. The fact that even though I put my full self and efforts into my job, there will always be naysayers. I’m so tired. So tired about not making the mark in these major areas of life. I feel gut punched. I imagine most people do, they just don’t say it out loud.

What exhausts you? How do you recharge and remind yourself that you are worthy and good? Once you find this, how do you sustain it? And pithy sayings are never enough anymore to answer the question: “Where does God go when you desperately need Him?”

Solo Mama: Pathways to Our Careers

Finding meaning in our work…a new series at church. I am fortunate to have always found my work to be profoundly meaningful. Again, mostly selfish reasons for the post, for the purpose of connection with others who may find the connectivity helpful or perhaps “normalize” (although we can never normalize injustice) difficult experiences along their own paths. There may be material within this post that some would find triggering or upsetting, so please be forewarned.

I first entered my career about a year after completing college studies in art and psychology. I landed a job in a diagnostic home for boys housed in a program run by the Catholic church just outside of Chicago. These boys were only meant to be housed in this particular part of the campus for about 90 days, but like all institutions, most stayed much longer. They were chronically abused, neglected, or were already wards of the state, permanently separated from their biological families, most often for good reasons. There were approximately 8-10 boys living in the home at any given time, ranging in age from 6 to 17.

I was a “family educator” and everything that happened in the home drove the delivery of positive or negative consequences based on a point system. It was a constant flow of observing behavior and experiencing interactions with the boys and reinforcing these behaviors and experiences with teaching and points. They carried cards around the home all day long to track points, except when they were at school at the alternative school program most of them attended nearby.

I was one of two females who worked in the home. They would only place up to two females in any boys’ home, and the management had decided I was too soft to work with females. The supervisor who worked in my home was a disheveled, thin, middle-aged man who likely spent his entire life in social services after I left. He came down hard on anyone who was late for their shift; I remember being scolded and threatened with a write-up when I was 3 minutes late for my shift one time, which started at 7 a.m.

The other woman in the home left as quickly as she came (we were hired at the same time), because one of the boys in the home, who was about 11 at the time, threw a chair at her as she was walking away from him, and she landed in the hospital with a severe back injury. I accompanied this young man on a supervised home visit during the time I worked at the home, and discovered that there were probably many factors playing into his behavior based on what I experienced at his apartment.

I used to grocery shop. Lord did we shop. When the kids were at school, we would take the van to the grocery store and spend approximately $300-400 per trip. I also used to accompany the kids on field trips. I remember on one of the trips, an 8-year old boy, I will refer to him as Tyler, who had started following me closely around the home and had really warmed up to me during the first week or so he was at the home, jumped into my lap. He was very squirmy and shifted around a lot and it took me a minute to realize that he was purposely rubbing up against me as he sat on my lap. I felt awkward and weird and I removed him from my lap, sitting him next to me on the seat. When we arrived back at the home, I caught the home supervisor in passing and reported what had happened on the bus with Tyler. He stopped, shook his head and paused for a minute, looking a bit lost. Then he motioned me to come to his office. I remember sitting across from him at his desk and he pulled a file from his drawer and pushed it over to me. He mentioned that it was typically best that they didn’t share the kids’ stories with staff, but he wanted to me to see this file so I was “informed.” He also prepared me for graphic material.

I will never forget reading through that file on Tyler. There wasn’t a lot there, a brief narrative and some other demographic information. I skimmed the narrative and in summary, it described violent, sexual molestation repeatedly imposed on this 8-year old by his mother and her partner and methods by which they did this. I felt sick inside and handed the file back. I learned how to draw safe and appropriate boundaries with Tyler during his short stay in our home. Sadly, he was the second youngest child in the home who had experienced molestation by his mother, the other little boy was only 6. He had been placed in two different foster homes already, and both families had sent him back because of his uncontrollable need to steal things and act out sexually.

The oldest boy in the home was 17. He had been placed with, and abandoned by, at least five foster placements. The most recent one, he had gone to a restaurant with his foster family, and they had literally excused themselves to address something outside the restaurant, and left him there. This young man never said a word. He was tall, slim and quiet. He would appear and disappear in rooms without a sound but spent most of his time in his room. The best I could ever get out of him was a “yes” or “no” when I talked to him. I remember once when a slow, sad smile creeped across his face when I cracked a joke about laundry.

It was at that job that I first experienced being told I was going to die, by a young man who was mentally ill and not doing so well being compliant with his medications, just before he went on run, stole a car, crashed it, and ended up in detention. Minutes before he ran out, he came into the staff office (which was an automatic loss of privileges), looming over me and screaming into my face that he was going to kill me. Fortunately, he was distracted by another young man, who ran by the office and told him “let’s get going!” I had been alone in the home for only a few minutes while the male staff member working with me that night had run next door for something, and all hell broke loose.

I watched a lot of Lion King during that job. The younger kids watched it every afternoon after school. I had most of the lines memorized and all of the songs. After a few months at that job, I started struggling mentally and emotionally. I was young and hadn’t let learned how to compartmentalize my experiences and set good boundaries. One night, as I was driving home around 11:30 p.m., I was hit by an ambulance that was running lights and sirens to a local hospital. Luckily, it was just my car that was totalled, but I realized at that point that I wasn’t going to make it much longer in that job. I had been lost in my thoughts, tired, and distracted when the ambulance hit me.

I left, having worked there just shy of a year. It was a high turnover job, quite a few front-line staff members didn’t even make it as long as I did. I didn’t realize it at the time, because I went straight to corporate for a couple years to escape, but that experience would launch my career working in the justice system. I think the most profound observation about that year was that of the 8-10 boys who lived at that home during any given time, I only met 2 boys who were white. Dozens of boys and young men passed through that home that year, and almost all of them were kids of color. That fact alone hooked me and brought me to the justice system, where I have worked in or alongside in some capacity over the last three decades. While the setting has changed, the impact of our public systems on communities of color has not.

Finding Love…

That’s a catchy title isn’t it? Unfortunately this post is not about a juicy romantic interest or a dashing new lover (why don’t we use the word “dashing” anymore?). 😂

No. It’s about accessing love from within yourself. Accessing love for yourself. Loving yourself. Connecting with some warm fuzzy feelings for you.

See? I can’t even saying it’s about “loving MYSELF”….I have to put it in the second person point of view. Loving myself feels selfish.

The problem I’ve discovered though is that if I don’t love myself, I can’t expect others to love me. And I can’t very well love other people because I’m too busy criticizing others or picking them apart to try and convince myself that I’m lovable. And that just puts me farther away from feeling good about me.

Before you start wondering, I’ve only had two drinks tonight, and that was hours ago…

So, if I’ve committed to writing, and there’s no pressure to bring any wisdom or humor or great story telling to my posts, I can safely wrestle with this idea and I don’t have to convince anyone reading that I’m sober (but I am).

It has really been on my mind a lot. Loving me. Barf. I can’t say it without my stomach turning. Let’s just start by saying “being kind to myself.”

It’s probably because I’m on what a woman in my therapy/skills group cohort refers to as the “rope bridge.” Picture yourself standing over a canyon on a rope bridge. You’ve come halfway across, but the other side is still a bit farther. It doesn’t make any sense to go back from where you came. The bridge is shaky, unsteady, uncertain. The side you’re headed to looks good. You want to make it there, you don’t want to backtrack. But there are still several steps you need to take to make it there, to get on solid footing. Have you been there?

That’s where I’m at. Right in the middle. Everything is still pretty wobbly and tentative. Okay days and rough days.

Keep going. Don’t look back. Don’t look down. Don’t even look ahead. Just be where you are at. 🤗

Reset

It has been more than 6 months since I last posted. At least that’s what my blog account says. It isn’t keeping tabs on dozens of post starts and scraps. Striving to find balance between the meaningful and the overshare, the dismally humorous and the downright depressing.

I’ve been pretty absent in any authentic way, notably in my work and social interactions. Inauthenticity just doesn’t make for good writing, especially when you can’t connect your mind and soul. I’ve thought about trying to regurgitate months of YouTube meditations and motivational speeches on gratitude, letting go of anxiety and unhealthy connections, building self confidence, stopping overthinking, finding peace and calm, inducing deep sleep, relaxing, reducing stress, letting go of fear, attracting abundance and on and on, with some application of lessons learned. Writing posts are also a great way to connect with the outside world, to find common ground, to give voice to struggles that others are just too darn smart to make public.

So I’m going to start here, and make posting a gift to myself. Self care. Because if I don’t start somewhere, I will never start. Maybe writing can expedite healing. xoxo

Solo Mama: What Happens When You Let Go of Your Destructive Nature?

Oh. My. Goodness. I’m reminded of the song that has a line that goes “you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” Who was that? Who cares. I’m old and I don’t have space in my memory banks.

It was this summer as I was in the shower, crying, that I realized that my harmful coping skills were gone. The negative self talk about me and anyone who had hurt me. Murderous, slaughtering, blistering language that overlooks the humanity of me and others and dehumanizes, devalues, in order for me to accept myself and my situation. The thoughts wouldn’t come. The words wouldn’t come. Spewing rage. Didn’t come.

There I was left standing, without an angry word or malicious thought, water rushing over me, scorching my body because my protective skin, my shielding strategies, were all gone. I felt raw. All I had left was, when someone hurts you, tell them what they did and how it made you feel. Use “I” language. Don’t assume anything. Give people the benefit of the doubt. When you are hurting or anxious, check your toolbox for your new tools. Breathe. Distract yourself. Fully participate in an activity. Describe. Ground. Tap. Affirm. Self care. Text a friend. Call the crisis line. The problem is that I am new to this tools. They are like picking up a power saw, which I’m not super comfortable with, and using it as a way to a more positive, healthier outcome. I might lose a finger or an arm in the process.

Having kids doesn’t lend itself to the luxury of time to practice using your new tools. It’s awkward and clumsy and the frustration of trying to find a quiet space physically and mentally often exacerbates my anxiety. Then, not only am I dealing with the pain and anxiety of some other situation, I’m also the lousy parent who checks out to fumble around with a coping skill that is foreign and seemingly less effective than just a rush of thoughts and words to describe the latest asshat I’ve interacted with or me regarding something stupid I’ve said or done.

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” I have NEVER been good at that. Hence the therapy and the medications and the tools and the constant push to grow through this. Often I’m encouraged to “give it to God,” or “pray about it.” I appreciate the sentiments and the effort to reach out with this, but DONE. Check. I’ve done that. Doing that. It doesn’t flip a switch and make everything better and I think God’s on the same page there. It’s pretty explicitly stated in stories and accounts throughout the Bible. Still have to engage those awkward new tools and counteract destructive old strategies. XOXO