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! 🤪😂

Solo Mama: Eccentric Coping

Jumping ahead in my story (without even starting from the beginning), part of my summer included learning numerous coping strategies for dealing with several mental health diagnoses. Probably the hardest hitting issue has been anxiety. Every time I go in to see my prescribing nurse, I ask her if we can’t just medicate me out of anxiety attacks. She smiles kindly at me across her desk and reminds me that changing 40 some years of behavior overnight or through the use of medication alone is not realistic. Every time I’m disappointed to hear this. Total bummer. I actually have to use “coping skills.”

Having been in the criminal justice field for nearly 30 years and encountering mental illness more often than not, I’m very familiar with coping skills. I’ve even incorporated them into workshops, teaching and coaching I’ve done with clients. I can talk about them all day long and how great they are in staving off anxiety attacks, distracting, self care, managing emotion and anger, bla bla bla, but use them? Laugh out loud! Coping skills are kind of like exotic paper weights for me. They look nice but they are rarely used to hold paper in place, right?

I’ve spent hundreds of hours this year learning coping skills. Even with all these new skills, it takes effort to use them, and the sooner you use them, the better they work. This means I’ve also had to get better at understanding triggers and what can turn into a major anxiety episode for me. I’m not always good at figuring this out until I’m feeling full-on crazy and engaging in destructive behaviors. Sadly, when you are acting all crazy, your social opportunities and circles really shrink. This has mostly been self-imposed, but I’m sure there are a few people that I’ve scared the hell out of.

The coping skills I’ve landed on are definitely surprising to me. I’ve become really regular at the gym. While still balancing 4 jobs technically, I’ve found 3 mornings a week where I can drop the kids at school and run to the gym. While I haven’t acquired a beach body, I definitely feel better and I’ve rebuilt some muscle.

When I’m really starting to lose it, I turn on podcasts of Dave Ramsey taking calls from across the country about money decisions. When I was less anxious and maybe more mentally stable, I doubt I would have paid much attention to him (no offense to mentally stable people who enjoy him) but now as soon as I start to feel anxious I scramble for my headphones and Spotify – save me from myself, Dave! Not only do I enjoy listening to him chew out people for doing stupid things with their money, I’ve gained a lot of budgeting advice that I’m starting to use – um, like having a budget. He probably has no idea that there is a goofball out there who calms herself by listening to the debt-free scream interview every week.

Another surprising coping skill: Christian music. Anything else depresses me or stresses me out. The songs are always uplifting and positive and I guess that’s where I need to focus these days, with a lot of effort.

So, there’s a bit of self disclosure. Maybe some humor? I had no idea one’s mind could get so out of control. One day you are a bit moody, and the next day you are legitimately doing everything possible not to self destruct. And maintaining responsibility for two small children while praying you aren’t setting them up for a lifetime of their own therapy needs.

 

Solo Mama: Reconstructing Reality

I am sitting in an all-day departmental workshop focused on problem solving. The facilitator has everyone stand up in a circle and give their name, division and project update. My morning was off to a bad start. I was triggered by a text and am doing my best to manage my emotions. They go straight to my body and I’m feeling sharp pains in my neck, back. I can’t stand still anymore and start stretching my neck, my limbs, my back. Looking back, my public behavior has probably always been strange. On one hand, I seem to have no filter on what is socially acceptable and what is not, and on the other hand, I am painfully aware of each thought and word and how it will impact every single person in my presence.

After the introductions, the facilitator and my supervisor come over and tell me that while I am wearing a really cute outfit, I look like I’m not well and in severe pain. My boss suggests that I take the day off and if I feel really compelled to work at some point, I can do it at home. I go to my office, pack up my stuff and head out. My head feels compressed. Foggy but dense. Like too much matter is shoved over to one side of my brain and it needs to disperse or shift so that I can think more clearly. I get in the car and start to head home, resting my elbow on my window sill. My arm is pulsing. It’s my heartbeat. I decide I’m going to head to the store before going home so I can get some ibuprofen for the pain.

Once I arrive at the store and park, I think as I walk towards the new bright green facade entrance of Walmart, I’m about to enter Disneyworld. I have the choice of a thousand different comfort items in this store (besides ibuprofen) that I can purchase and take home to get me through the day. My thoughts race through their normal checkpoints – how much do I have in my bank account? Nothing too high in calories, sugar or fat. What would really make me feel good because today will be a bad day?

I settle on an 8-pack of Diet Pepsi, a box of hot chocolate packets for the kids for later, a bottle of ibuprofen, dark chocolate chips, and some keurig cups which I will use with my pumpkin spice almond milk creamer later. The compression in my head continues and seems to have spread down to my chest, my stomach is queasy. I am in a fog; drifting away and then returning to the present moment. Then experiencing both at the same time. I screw up all the instructions on the self check-out, in a split moment of clarity, remember to withdraw an extra $20 for the kids’ school Lego club enrollment, then leave the bill hanging out of the cash slot and start to walk away before the cashier calls my attention to it.

As I walk out to the car, I realize that I’ve had so many misconceptions about things like anxiety, depression, suicide, personality disorders, PTSD, and it’s almost comical. My experiences dealing with people at the absolute brink as they enter the justice system had me believing that these were all really outwardly dramatic, loud, extravagant displays of behavior. Personal experience has taught me that they are not. Which tells me that something is really going on and it is frightening. It is frightening to realize that your mind, the thing that regulates your intake and processing of external information, controls your output to the world, your reactions, responses, words, decisions, actions, emotions, behaviors, is broken somehow. And all you want to do is fix it. Give me medicine, give me therapy, give me God, give me mindfulness, give me skills, give me groups, give me information, give me some understanding. And then go away because I’m embarrassed that this has happened. My mind is broken and I need to know how to fix it and I don’t have much time because what if it breaks more?

This Solo Parent’s 10 Most Mundane Yet Creative Ways to Save Money

Ever wonder how I look so well put together and stress-free? No? Some of these are for real tips on saving money, folks! I don’t mess around 🤪

  1. Live in an undesirable neighborhood. We may know our neighborhood officers by name and may lose a few household or yard items occasionally, but did you know I have a super low mortgage in an unaffordable city and the best access to all the major highways in town? Every time a new store pops up, it’s a pawn shop or a check cashing store, not some cute coffee shop. I know some of the best drive through liquor stores in the metro area, and the parking lot of the abandoned strip mall makes a great place for riding bikes, as long as you keep an eye for cars cutting through to skip the light at the intersection. No cute coffee shop boutique yuppies are going to ever buy up property in my neighborhood, it’s a well-kept secret.
  2. Enroll in an automatic “round-up” savings account. I love this. Similar to the way the local grocery store cashier hits you up to round up by 13 cents to the nearest dollar to donate to a cause, some banks also offer this option to dump into a separate savings account. I’ve saved over $900 in 3 years. This doesn’t look as good typed out as it does in my bank account, but it’s $900 I definitely wouldn’t have saved for myself.
  3. Split sides at restaurants when you do eat out. I came across this fascinating practice when traveling to India over the years (prior to children – who can afford to travel with them?). I remember going to a small roadside restaurant with my former in-laws and watching my brother-in-law order soup “1 by 2” or “2 by 4.” I doubt any American server would clue into this lingo, but our portions are so huge here, ask for an extra plate or bowl and split it at your table. My Indian coworkers did this with their Starbucks every morning. Saved themselves a truckload of money.
  4. Have lots of low sodium canned soup on hand to resist the urge to eat out when you are too tired to cook. Our favorites are anything lentil.
  5. Don’t accept a dry squeeze as the end of a product! Cut open every bottle of any product (food, beauty, etc.) when you get towards the end and dig that sh*t out.
  6. Opt to gamble with driving a car old enough to be your great grandfather. Low or no car payments and the money you spend on repairs might not exceed what you’d pay on a new monthly car payment over a year’s time. The key word here is “might.” Try at your own risk.
  7. Enroll in something that is sent to your house for you to peruse and opt to purchase. I’ve seen people do this with makeup, athletic clothing and dog accessories. I do it with clothing. Some may argue this is not a way to save money. I think it has helped me. I receive a box of 5 clothing items every quarter. They always fit perfectly. I think it’s because everything is stretchy. I can try stuff on in my own home and send back what I don’t like. I have not gone clothes shopping outside my home in 2 years. Good riddance shopping! I hated you anyway.
  8. Order food from the grocery store online and pick it up. My brother and sister-in-law swear by this. I’ve tried it a few times. It prevents me from impulsively buying a bunch of stuff in the store.
  9. Use your exes’ phone numbers at the gas station to get the 10 cent gas discount they’ve racked up over this past month buying groceries. Just kidding. I’ve never done this.
  10. And just like it helps you lose weight, if you must eat out, because you are just too damn tired to create a meal, buy meals for your kids and pick off their plates (or out of their bags in our case). Then snack on popcorn, cuties, and cottage cheese when you get home.

Solo Parenting and 5 Secrets to Weight Loss

Just kidding.

I have no secrets to weight loss. In fact, these secrets can likely lead to weight gain.

  1. Be broke enough that when you take your kids out to eat, you can’t afford a meal for yourself.
  2. Cut gluten out of your diet when you’ve made so many sandwiches for school lunches you can’t stand the smell of bread.
  3. Co-sleep with your children and as they grow, stretch yourself into so many unnatural positions that your body burns calories as it reels in pain from awkward sleeping poses.
  4. Pay $30 a month for a gym membership that you don’t use. The stress from paying needlessly for something burns a few calories a month.
  5. Balance out the effects of extra cortisol generated by lack of sleep with a minimum of two fully caffeinated coffees per day, one for breakfast and one for lunch.

 

Solo Parenting and the Date

I went on a date recently. Nice guy. Employed, close in age, legally divorced (bonus), lives within 10 miles of me, has hair, can fix cars (also a bonus), has two young children, drives a Jeep and loves hockey. Did I say nice guy already?

As the evening wore on, I found myself trying to imagine what it would take to get to know someone. A lot of money in babysitting hours. Negotiating time to communicate when my only free time is really a small slice between 8:30 and 9 pm. Thinking up interesting conversation topics and thought provoking questions when I can’t even remember my name and where I may be sitting at any given moment. How trapped I felt when said date filled in awkward silence with “so, is there anything else you’d like to know about me?”

Guiltily, I was thinking, “No. This is the first chance I’ve had in weeks to eat without someone sitting in my lap or asking me a thousand questions or demanding a fork. I’d appreciate it if you would just shut up and let me enjoy my food.”

Instead I said, “ummm…..hmmmm….that’s a good question. I’m not sure….”

Awful response. I have to admit, I’ve been a convenience dater for the past decade. Which explains my track record of law enforcement and corrections personnel and lawyers. I’m too wiped to go anywhere to meet anyone, so I’ve been dating based on accessibility – people who work nearby at my job. Dating people in my field of work doesn’t lend itself necessarily to engaging with healthy mindsets. We’re all pretty much dysfunctional, cynical, suspicious and distrustful to some extent. The benefits are proximity and commonality. Coffee and lunches make it easy to get to know someone without paying for a sitter, and a common language and understanding of someone’s day without even having to ask, as well as some interesting and sometimes humorous material about the human condition just make getting to know someone that much easier. I’ve needed to expand the pool of candidates for some time, and this was one of my first attempts.

“The Date” aka Nice Guy said he was interested in pursuing something long term and getting to know me, in particular. He had a lot of nice things to say based on our limited conversation and exposure. At another time in my life, I may have jumped at the chance, especially since he was empathetic and could relate to having two small children (albeit only 50% for him). I’ve found that adding the fact that I’m 100% mother with two elementary-aged children to my online dating profile cuts down visits to my profile and messages from potential dates by 99.98%. Single men are just not interested in a woman who doesn’t have 3-4 days a week to go have some adult fun. Men can be so shallow.

I thought about what Nice Guy said for a couple days. Then I gave him a call and expressed that I just couldn’t afford to date and probably didn’t even have time if I could afford it. After all, I’m working an almost full-time job and have 3 part time jobs. I’ve given up the fantasy of a 4th part-time job – that of dating blog writer. There are lots of freelance opportunities out there for people who want to write about their online dating experiences. We are all voyeurs.

There you have it. My advice to myself? Quit while you’re ahead.

The Light and Fluffy Pre-Holiday Recap

Hey blog. It has been awhile. So much has happened over the past 3 months and instead of happily chatting about it to the world, I’ve decided that large chunks of the time period should just be swept under the rug. Not too much damage done, thankfully, but maybe enough to close out 2017. Let’s do a quick and light recap.

The Tinder Trap: There is actually a lot of material here, as to be expected with an online dating app. Suffice to say I escaped with only a few minor cuts and scrapes, a potential lifelong friend, and another acquaintance whom I enjoyed meeting enough to agree to Facebook friendship for the time being.

The Unexpected Father Meeting: Running into my daughter’s father by chance in a public place, with her in tow. This could have been REALLY awkward. My daughter and her father have never met, until last week. I felt that a meeting like this had the potential to implode, like in Back to the Future when Michael J. Fox traveled back in time and befriended his father in high school and was trying to facilitate the romance of his father with his mother, without vomiting. I watched my daughter and her father together, chatting like old pals, old pals who had the exact same eyes. She only knows him as “Momma’s friend,” but for a chance meeting that could have been disastrous, it was actually very pleasant and peaceful. For those of you who are wondering, there was no miraculous father/daughter reunification, but I’ve been at peace with his absence for awhile now, and so that’s ok.

Skincare and dog care: My businesses are right about where I can manage them at the moment. I would love for both to grow, but my bandwidth this time of year is severely limited by my insecurities around providing great holiday experiences for my children and keeping up with the craziness as a single mom. I am thrilled to have great clients in both areas of work, and a wonderful business partner on the skincare side with whom I’ve reconnected with after almost 20 years. I’m looking forward to some quality time with her in Las Vegas at the end of January, while she is there for work and I’m taking advantage of $70 airfare to catch up with her in person. I’m confident the new year will bring some fabulous experiences and the opportunity to meet and work with many more cool people! I’m so thankful I dived into these side businesses.

Self care: In early summer, I joined a belly dancing class at the local rec center. We just wrapped up our last session for the year. Through this class, I met many amazing women, in particular, two very special ones, and I’m looking forward to continuing to learn and practice this beautiful art form with good friends who are authentic, loving and fun.

And finally, bah humbug: I’m not a fan of this time of year. I know there are many who are not, for so many different reasons. It’s the time of year when being on your own with two children feels like a giant pimple on the end of your nose that is angry and red, and refuses to be fully realized so you can just pop it and be done with it. Just to be able to pop that sucker, so the pus can ooze out, the swelling can go down, and you can feel some relief. Graphic, I know, but this is how I feel being a single parent during the holidays. This will be the first year since 1991 that I will not exchange gifts with some form of a significant other. After several goes of scratching out invisible numbers on the couch beside me, I’ve concluded that it has been 26 years. I’m really looking forward to the handmade items that my kids brought home from school today and were begging me to open. It appears that they are ornaments and have to be opened prior to Christmas, but I’m holding out as long as I can.

Microblog Monday: 5 Life Changing Reasons!

One of the things that’s freaking me out right now is how much I LOVE having side businesses. I’m hoping one day that I can just become a master of side businesses and a full-time employee of none. Now if I can just get the American healthcare system to play nice with me.

Five life-changing perks for me:

1. UNCONDITIONAL LOVE FEEDS MY SPIRIT!!

Who doesn’t love dogs? There are probably a few people, but through Rover, I get to experience a wide variety of dog personalities which has busted dog breed stereotypes for me. I also get to meet new people, use my business to help my kids learn about respecting animals and being responsible, and get to cuddle with the cuddlers (as I learned from Smoke, not every dog likes to be cuddled).

2. GREAT SKIN AND NEW FRIENDS!!!

I’ve felt like dead woman walking since I had my kids. With R+F, my skin has completely transformed from when I started using it 3 months ago. I love sharing this experience with people. I also have had the unexpected pleasure of reconnecting with friends and acquaintances I have not spoken to in ages and the support and positivity of the women I’ve met in this business is second to none.

3. CONFIDENCE BOOST!

With both of my side gigs, I’ve started to step out of my shell and consequently have gained more confidence and stressed less about what people are thinking of me.

4. 9-5 KILLS MY SOUL!!

I’ve realized how much I appreciate the diversity and energy of having more than one stream of income. I’ve known I’m not a typical 9-5 girl my entire life (ask my co-workers how well I stick to schedules – ugh). Mixing up my day job with other types of work has really boosted my mood – despite some occasional exhaustion from staying up too late because I can’t stop working once the kids are in bed.

5. MY KIDS ARE FEELING IT!!!

Largely because I’m a more positive human being. My daughter has quickly picked up on my entrepreneurial spirit and loves creating things to sell to people. It’s hard to sell things on the curb in my neighborhood, so she’s finishing up some ladybug garden rocks that she wants me to post soon. My son loves helping me create videos for my business. Ultimately, I want them to learn that anything worth doing is worth doing well and that their solo parent (with the help of God, family and good friends!) can carry the day to provide a home that they can thrive in.

 

5 Things I Love About Summer!

The title of this blog is meant to come across as positive, exciting and bursting with infectious happy energy! Here is what I’m really thinking about summer right now: I’m tired of living sans air conditioning. The average temperature in my home runs about 85 degrees in the early evening. I swore up and down that this would be the summer of the cooling system installation extravaganza. After obtaining a few estimates that I can’t really afford without taking a loan and discovering that many HVAC companies are booked out at least a few weeks, I’ve decided that this might be the summer where I leisurely explored the idea of installing a cooling system and decided to put it off another year.

Why not? I’ve met some really interesting HVAC guys and a whiney electrician, increased my knowledge of heating and cooling systems exponentially, spent quite a bit of time getting to know my fuse box, and received plenty of bad news about the issues that an old home presents when installing anything major that requires electricity. I can give you the rundown about the options that are available nowadays when it comes to cooling your home and tell you why you should never use a present day GFI testing thingy to check ungrounded GFI outlets in an old home.

Move on, you say. Let’s talk about why summer is so great. Here are the 5 things I love about this summer.

  1. I get to spend one whole day a week hanging out with my children! Through this experience I’ve learned that being an SAHM is probably not the ideal way to go for me, but I wouldn’t trade our Tuesdays for anything. Even when they involve hours and hours of bickering, hearing the word “Momma” a mind-numbing amount of times, and turning down hundreds of requests per day regarding TV, iPad, and iPhone usage.
  2. Above-mentioned children have learned to swim! When we do go to the pool, we don’t have to spend a lot of time in the wading pool where the water is suspiciously warm all the time and toddlers in swim diapers splash and squeal all around you.
  3. Crime seems to have slowed down this summer in our neighborhood! While data shows our area as the most popular place in town for our police force to hang out, our immediate surroundings have remained relatively quiet (knock on wood). 
  4. It is too hot to use the oven in my house which limits our diet to only items that can be eaten straight out of the fridge and prepared on the stove top or in the toaster! Add in picky eaters and the only things I really need to keep readily available are bread, peanut butter, jelly, and cheese and turkey slices. 
  5. Homemade cold brew coffee. With vanilla almond creamer. 

As you can see, the upcoming school year and fall will likely be greeted with some long faces and heavy hearts. Despite the high temps in the house, we’ve managed to have one of the better summers in recent history.

Dog Days of Summer

I just googled this to find out what it really means as the phrase has become relevant to our current situation. As I type this, I’m watching a large, hairy, German Shepard lounging across my pleather love seat, chewing on her leg.

Ms. Naughty Pants, not her real name, is staying with us for two weeks. She has 11 nights left to be exact. She has by far been the most trying dog we’ve watched so far as part of our new pet sitting business. While her ears are the biggest part of her body, she doesn’t use them for listening. They are more for show, perched on the top of her head, always swiveling.

Physically, she reminds me of someone who may have a drug problem; thin, always scratching, and kind of anxious and jumpy, sometimes leaping off the ground several feet in the air to avoid a rock or a wrapper on the sidewalk. When I tell her to do something she doesn’t want to do, like to get off my bed or stop chewing on my daughter’s head, she talks back to me. Argues, really. The first time she did this, I responded. Like engaging a teenager who is trying to reason with me about why she should have an extra half hour on her phone. She would debate with me, at times matching my tone, and other times, escalating the argument by yelping at me or sending me a low growl. Now, I just give her “the look” and she usually turns around and storms off, only to return moments later to start all over again.

She is constantly trying to escape from my home and she tracks my daughter like a large rabbit she is trying to take out. When the kids are getting ready for school or for bed, or eating dinner, I have to tie her up in the kitchen so they can have a few moments to collect themselves. When she is tied up, her personality changes. She relaxes, stretches out across the floor and stares at us quietly as we move around. It’s almost like having the run of my tiny house boggles her mind. I really hope she settles in soon, otherwise it is going to be a long two weeks.

A few months ago, I learned about this business from a coworker. Kind of like a dog (and cat) bed and breakfast. The idea was appealing. I had run up several thousand dollars in veterinary bills trying to save our Whippet and since we have been living pretty much paycheck to paycheck, I haven’t had any extra money to put towards bills beyond the minimum monthly payment. Taking care of other people’s dogs while they are traveling seemed like a fitting way to restore our finances.

So here we are. My son, who loves most animals without thinking, and my daughter, who fears most animals other than bugs and worms, promoting ourselves on the website Rover.com as a one-dog family who treats our customers’ pets as if they are our own.

We’ve been pretty lucky so far, even with Ms. Naughty Pants, and after a day or two, our guest usually fits right in. We send tons of pictures and updates via the website so the dog’s family can see what they are doing during his or her stay. When it is time for him or her to leave, we have already grown attached and I feel a little anxious when I realize we may never see each dog again. All of the owners we’ve met have been exceptionally nice as well.

I am currently thinking through creative ways to attract more clients so we can keep a somewhat steady stream of guests. I’m thrilled that we happen to have a great yard and not very fancy furnishings. And since the large, illegal marijuana grow next door shut down this month, we no longer have guard pitbulls chained to the front of our neighbor’s house, which have be distracting for our canine guests. But that is another story for another time….