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 and the Resolutions Carried Over From 2019

New Year’s resolutions seem to be a dying fad. This year so far, a few people have mentioned them, but mostly in the context of avid exercisers complaining about their gyms filling up for a couple of months. In place of resolutions, the thing I’ve heard most is “I’m so glad 2019 is over, 2020 has to be a better year.” This seems to be the up and coming outlook; I’m hearing it more and more over the past couple of years.

I always face each year with “meh” – last year wasn’t the worst, I can’t imagine this year will be better or worse. I don’t place any hope in a great new year, simply because as years go, they all have their really high and really low points and everything in between. Most of what I would call “resolutions,” I started resolving to do the last few months of 2019.

I started using my Bible app more – thank you to a network of app users who have each imparted some insight about how to use it. Clearly I’m not upping my technology game in the new year. I think the most useful part of the app is that it pushes out notifications when my friends on the app are doing something. My technology savvy did not allow me to figure out how to shut these down, or maybe God intervened because He wanted to talk to me. I’m about to take my second drink when “Samantha just started a new reading plan!” I’m ready to cuss someone out over text when “Keisha just created a verse image!” I’m drowning in self-pity about being solo mama and up pops “Fred completed his Bible Plan! Say Congrats!” Thanks, God. Yeah. I hear you.

I lost my 15 pounds well before the new year, and changed my eating habits to keep them off (5 months strong!). Over this next year, I’m hoping to introduce what the experts call “exercise” into this program. I learned late last year that we have free access to one of our division’s gyms and it’s pretty decent. All I need to do is drive 10 minutes west, change my clothes and hop on a machine. Those things are proving to be giant barriers for me. I’m not sure if it’s the drive or the effort it takes to change my clothes. Maybe I just can’t stand that it’s free and I’d rather pay $30/month for something I will never use.

I started doing more stuff with my kids intentionally over the past few months. Like, not just letting stuff happen around us (“Look how that iPad just jumped into your hands!”), but actually going out and trying new experiences. We tried cross country skiing a couple of weeks ago as part of a weekend getaway we took together. This weekend, I went to a range and shot arrows with my son and his friend. I’ve developed new friendships with my kids’ friends’ moms which has allowed me to spend time socializing with other adults. We have some things coming up over spring break which are sure to rock the kids’ worlds so we’ve been planning for that.

Finally, about a month ago, I began the never-ending, backbreaking task of starting to clean out my house. A little at a time. I constantly tell the kids that we need to downsize and move to a townhome so that I don’t have to kill myself every summer trying to keep up with the yard. They get sad and say they want a house with a yard. I ask them to help me, they don’t (my daughter will do it for money), and the vicious cycle starts all over. It is probably all just idle threats though unless I plan to move to Missouri, since I could never afford another home in Colorado. That said, I’ve really gotten into keeping track of money with a budgeting app. Thank God for apps. What did we do before we had apps?

So, keeping my expectations realistic, I’m expecting 2020 to be a decent year. On the path to continuous improvement as myself, mom, employee, friend, sibling and daughter. Happy decent new year to 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?”

Watching Them Grow (and loving it)

A friend recently asked me what my favorite part of parenting is (don’t end a sentence in a preposition). I told her that it was watching the kids grow up into their own unique little personalities. When they were small, it felt like they were tiny extensions of me. Now they feel separate and different, with only hints of traits that have been passed down from my side of the family.

I am in a constant state between wanting to banish them to their rooms forever and laughing until I cry because of something they just said or did. Noah getting into my “Hot Guys and Baby Animals” book and reading it and summarizing it for me (“Momma, it’s basically about guys and their pets. But one guy was totally naked in a park. You couldn’t see his privates though.”). Neelah yelling at me at the park “Look momma, Noah can pole dance!” as my son jumps onto a pole and swings down it with his legs in the splits (I have watched the video of this several times and never stop laughing). Both of them binge watching My Little Pony and Beyblade together on Netflix. Volunteering with Noah’s improv class at school and watching these amazing little people catch on to clever comedy and perform some decent sketches. Neelah asking me last week what the word “sexy” means and I told her it meant “cute.” For the past week, she has been telling everyone they are sexy and describing other kids as such. I finally decided that I had to come clean. I told her that “sexy” means you want to have sex with someone. She still doesn’t know what that means but she has stopped calling me and other kids sexy. Whew.

All of it blows my mind. I am constantly in a state of “Wow! I can’t believe they are so cool and they live with me!” For the longest time I had them convinced that they had come out of my butt and we had always marveled about how people so wonderful could come out of my butt. Again, I had to come clean with that too.

It’s strange to sit and process where their personalities come from. Differing from most families, I have no idea what personality traits have been passed down to Noah from his father’s side and from Neelah’s side, my knowledge is limited. Noah has amazing patience and the ability to quickly and successfully regulate his emotions when he is upset or angry or sad. That didn’t come from me. Neelah has an amazing sense of style, sweats a lot, and is grumpy about 90% of the time and those traits did not come from me. I always wonder what it would have been like to know their fathers and be able to say “oh yeah, that’s from your side of the family” or “he/she is definitely your child.”

In any case, I am pretty sure that anyone with kids reading this knows to some extent what I’m talking about. If you haven’t thought about it, stop and do so. It really helps you appreciate them as a wonderful gift. I promise. 🙂

what a difference 18 months makes

My kids are so close in age I typically don’t see one as older than the other. My son has not really ever taken on the role of “big brother” and my daughter is already a boss, which transcends the age factor. In years past, snow days have really stressed me out because it meant hanging out with two uncivilized trolls who were in a constant state of war. Today though, I felt different. I’ve felt different for the past few months. I don’t know if I’m closer to a miracle concoction of psychotropic meds or maybe I’m mellowing out with age. Who knows. I was excited to pick those kiddos up directly from school and not from after school care. Literally, the conversation went like this:

Me: I’m so excited to spend the afternoon with you guys! I have one more report to review and then we can have some fun!

Son: Why did you pick us up so early? I was having fun at school.

Daughter: Oh Momma I’m so excited! I want to play in the snow! (To her brother) You can shovel like you always wanted to!

Son: I don’t want to go outside.

Me: Ok, yes, we can play in the snow. And then I was thinking maybe an indoor activity at home? A movie?

Son: I want to play on my ipad.

The conversation left me wondering when my son had turned 12 years old. Recalculating from his birth year, I realized he was still only 9. But with a pre-teen attitude. It has been a good year for him. He was assigned a mentor from church through a program called Fathers in the Field, which has been a fabulous opportunity and match for him. Sometimes I’m not a fully believing woman, but I’d say God sent this guy to our doorstep (literally because he can’t pass our doorstep, he has to stay outside – they have really strict boundaries and rules which I also appreciate). My son has also had a stellar soccer season with another great positive male role model – his coach. Between my family members, his coach and mentor father, my son is in a pretty solid place.

My daughter, on the other hand, her mentor is ta-da! Yours truly! She has asked me several times for her own mentor (or “womanter” as she calls it, believing that the “men” in mentor identifies the mentor to be male) and doesn’t seem too thrilled when I tell her it is me. Me, the one who had to ask her teacher how to show more empathy when my daughter comes home and talks about how this or that friend doesn’t want to be her friend anymore or said something mean about her or looked at her in a bad way. My question for this teacher: “Well, I mean, what do I say when she says this stuff is happening to her at school? I always tell her that it’s not about her, that those little girls may be suffering from some self esteem issues and are projecting onto her?” (Thumbs up, momma! Sure, this might make sense to a 40-year old). Fortunately, my daughter’s teacher has some (extensive) experience with second graders and was able to pass along some age appropriate questions and teaching moments when these things happen.

Most days, I’m just thrilled that I’ve managed to keep my kids alive, safe from devastation, and keep a roof over their heads. But I don’t want to jinx myself so I will just leave that there. These are giant wins though. I should be proud of myself. Parenting is brutal. If you are reading this and are also a parent, hats off to you. You have very little time to yourself, are continually exhausted, tossed about on waves of self-loathing and feelings of inadequacy, can barely spell your name (especially if you are over the age of 45 with young children), and are a freaking superstar.

 

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. ðŸĪ—

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

Solo Mama: Defixating on a Fixation

I was checking in with a friend who has a young daughter who struggles with mental healthiness. He mentioned this thing about her fixations and how much energy she puts into trying to get certain parts of her life to improve. She refuses to give up, even when she is failing, and has essentially become obsessed with righting parts of her life to the point that it is debilitating her.

As he spoke these words, it was like part of the conversation was spoken into the dense, foggy part of my brain and when he mentioned her fixation, the fog cleared and I clung to his words. Yes, yes. That’s it. Part of all this has been the fixation. There are a couple parts of my life that I’ve become unnaturally obsessed with. Not necessarily the people who tie into the fixation, likely, it could be anyone, but the fixation itself. Two major fixations jump out at me. I have not been able to extract myself from them and the harder I try to get them right, the more things fall apart.

My therapist asked me recently “What if you were to let go of these things?” Not storm away, burn bridges, hurt people, but to simply let them go free. One of the issues I can’t really let go, but in a sense I guess I could let the fixation go. But how? I sat with her words for a week. If I let these issues go, I would be failing. In part, these issues were the impetus, the trigger, that got me here. If I let them go, I’d be admitting defeat. I’d be saying that I was unable to overcome them, to conquer them, to show them that there is nothing that I can’t do. To show them that my own mind will not stand in the way of me succeeding. I had invested so much time, in one case, years and years of energy. Months, hours, minutes, seconds. Hundreds of thousands of seconds. Obsessed, triggered, consumed, to the point that when my mind is spinning on these issues, I can’t hear, I can’t feel, I’m not even sure if my eyes are functioning and I can see. I’m not aware of anything going on outside of me.

How do you defixate on a fixation? I can distract my mind for only so long – as they say in my group therapy – fully participate so that my mind is completely in the present moment and can’t focus on the fixation. Moving away from the unhealthy distractions (men, alcohol, negative self-talk) toward the healthy: podcasts, music, side work, budgeting, readings on mindfulness, playing cards with the kids, cooking a favorite recipe, facilitating a workshop, church, learning about a new topic at work. I move from thing to thing, trying to fully participate and defixate. Realizing that I can’t succeed if I continue to fixate. Letting go is necessary, essential, healthy. Working on the how…

Hi God, It’s Me, Crazy Solo Mama

Hi God. I’ve known you since I was little and I probably haven’t skipped a year of church since I was born, including in my adult life. I’ve read so many books about you and traveled the world and talked about you with hundreds of people to learn more about you and how others interact with you. I’ve seen you through the eyes of Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and other faiths. I’ve seen you through the eyes of people who don’t believe in you, have set you aside, or have thrown you out. You could say I have really wanted to learn about you intellectually because I need to know as much as I can about something when I care about it.

I’m pretty sure you’ve been there in some capacity most of my life. When it comes to the principles and laws of religion, I screw up all the time. I don’t really fit in with people who go to church every Sunday, but I still go.  By traditional standards, I’m sinning constantly. Every day. But I can usually still feel you nearby, and despite some of the really stupid or horrifying things I do, you trail behind me, walk ahead of me, and track alongside me, picking up the fragments of my life and others’ whom I hurt or betray or neglect.

Sometimes, when people judge me in your name, or tell me I need you, or that I’m not following you right, I’m a little taken aback. I think inside my head “Hey! I’m on that team too! Team GOD! Aren’t we all out here messing up every day, but trying to do better?”

This summer, for the first time in my life, I felt like you disappeared. Footprints style, but there were never a set of two footprints, only one. Maybe you were carrying me all the way? Maybe my feet didn’t touch the ground at all? I don’t know. I even admitted to a police officer, from the behind the partition in his car, that it felt like you had gone away. That dumb officer told me that he thought you had put him in my life that night and I felt like kicking him. Maybe, maybe not.

I told my therapist that I was going to stop talking to you until I got my shit together. She told me to talk with you more, that you want to hear from me anytime, all the time, even when my shit’s not together. That seems counterintuitive and it’s hard to do because every time I go to do it, all I can think about is how awful I am. The other people I know who talk about you all the time seem really pious and well mannered. Not me. Now, when I’m driving to work in my car, I have to yell at you otherwise I won’t talk to you. “Damn it God! Today! I know I’m supposed to be talking to you and I need you to hang out with me and be close because I’m about to fuck up in a million ways! I NEED YOU!”

2018. God, people have said you are timeless. I’m tired of keeping track of the years by the number of the year. It doesn’t matter to you, so why should I do things that way? When I checked, it has been 736,993 days since January 1, 0001. Though this is probably not accurate, maybe it would be healthier to keep track of the days rather than the years. Then I can’t just write off a whole year as miserable, or hard. Kind of like George Constanza and “Festivus for the rest of us!” I’m boycotting years and skipping New Years!

So, God, hey! from the crazy lady. Keep sending me signs that you are nearby, because shit, I need all the help I can get. Here’s to day number 736,994.

Solo Mama: When You Are Not Trying Hard Enough

I’m just curious. Has anyone out there been involved with some type of “system” in life – justice, education, employment assistance, public assistance, mental health , child welfare, religious, medical (health) care – and are told by someone “inside” the “system” that you are just not trying hard enough? You are not trying hard enough to be a whole, healthy, ideal, productive citizen of this community.

For the first time in my life where I feel like a lot hangs in the balance, I was told by someone “inside” the “system” as a beneficiary, recipient, consumer, user of services, whatever, that I’m not trying hard enough.

Let’s count up the hours in the week that I have dedicated to trying hard enough on this particular issue: 8 hours of group or individual time and at least 5-7 hours of personal time to study each week plus numerous hours of launching coping skills which fail half the time. That’s on top of soccer, swimming, dance, school, work, dog sitting, budgeting so I can pay a shit ton of money to “un-crazy” myself, consulting and caring for two young children who need to be bathed, fed, helped with homework, LOVED, etc.

I’m just not trying hard enough. Really?

If you work in any kind of “system,” please choose your words carefully when meeting with your students, consumers, clients, patients, offenders, residents, whatever you may call them in your line of work.

Are there some cognitive distortions going on in this post? Rationalizing? Justifications? Maybe! But I need my moment. Go screw yourself, system! End of rant! ðŸĪŠðŸ˜‚