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A pledge to my 40 year old self

Categories: Tentative Steps

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I turned 30 this weekend, quietly and without fanfare. Rather than the laughing, sparkling gathering I had imagined, full of lovely friends and wonderful food and witty, heartfelt toasts, I spent the weekend at home with a feverish child and a cat who nibbled on my birthday bouquet then promptly vomited all over the kitchen floor. It was nothing like I had imagined it would be; but then again, nothing ever has been.

Ten years ago I was married with an infant daughter. We had recently purchased our first home, a nondescript beige box perched at the top of a ridge, overlooking a fertile farming valley. In the mornings, when our baby girl woke early with bright eyes and an enormous gummy smile, I’d dress her for the day and gaze out the window at the green pastures far below. I tried to imagine who she would grow up to be and I would picture her childhood that was stretched out before us, ripe with potential. The possibility of divorce, of single parenthood, never once occurred to me. I had no idea that within five years her father and I would no longer live together, that I would struggle to make a life on my own for her and her little sister.

Not only did my 20s turn out completely differently than I had expected, the “surprises” that decade brought were so thoroughly catastrophic that the woman who emerged from them would be wholly unrecognizable to the one who held that little baby and watched the tiny dots of cows grazing far below. So what, then, can I expect from this next decade? It may be safer to avoid this topic altogether.

Rather than set expectations, or even imagine the details of the next ten years, I have decided to make a pledge to the woman I will be at 40. I know that whoever she is, she will be stronger and wiser and much, much sexier than the woman I am today, and I know it will take some serious living to become her. So for the next ten years, with her in mind, I pledge to do the following:

I will be more forgiving of my failures. I know that these very failures are what will ultimately make me strong. As Leonard Cohen says, “There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

I will actively seek peace. Peace in my community, peace in my workplace, peace in my home, and peace within myself. Remember what the poet Rumi says: “What you seek is seeking you.”

I will not fight the changes. But I will also remember these wise words from the lionhearted Maya Angelou: “I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.”

I will love. In my words I will love, in my actions I will love, in my decisions I will love and in my thoughts (the most difficult of all) I will love. And when this is so difficult to do that it seems impossible to go on, I will remember what Anne Lamott’s Jesuit friend Tom says: “Left foot, right foot, left foot, breathe.” And then, “Right foot, left foot, right foot, breathe.”

Ten years from now, when I look back at the woman who wrote this piece, I know I will love her more than I do today. I will see that she was bravely forging ahead, tackling life with dignity and grace, even though it felt like stumbling at the time. I trust in my capacity to grow and evolve, and I trust in the woman I will become. I just have to make sure I give her room to show up.

Swimming across synapses

Categories: Fighting the Stereotype, Sleepless in the Board Room, Tentative Steps

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I have a new part-time gig, doing some editing from home, for some lovely colleagues. It’s not full-time, but I am grateful for the work. The girls and I are always desperate for warm clothes and groceries and oil to heat the house as the weather grows chilly. Every fall, I wonder how we will squeak by, make it through another New England winter. Every dollar helps. Mucho.

But I am freaking out, certain I will somehow blow this good thing. I don’t feel lucky, as a rule. Grateful, yes, but rarely lucky anymore. I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the next handbasket to hell to come trucking by with my name on it in blinking neon.

Be good, brain, I keep saying to myself. BE GOOD. LEARN THINGS. YOU CAN STILL DO IT.

Can I? it replies, concerned. You may have me confused with another brain.

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December 23, 2011

Categories: Fighting the Stereotype, Tentative Steps

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I wake up to Today, December 23, 2011:

Bed: A folded red-striped shirt, under my pillow. Mounds of blankets. The quiet. The calm. A swollen, painful right foot. What happened to the foot, I cannot tell you.

Downstairs: Keurig coffee maker—single servings. More quiet. Dogs waiting patiently to go out. Boxes piled high, waiting to be wrapped. Wrapping paper and gift tags. The tree, decorated for two weeks already, shining. Two cats, no kids—not until tomorrow. More laundry. Emails to answer. Training to complete, online. Shrink-wrapped windows, undone by teenage cat claws.

Outside: Gray, damp. Carpet of wet leaves. Dark bare branches overhead. Some wind, but still, the quiet surprises me.

I wrap gifts. I email. I elevate and ice my foot while I look at photographs and send greetings on Facebook. Do I think about yesterday, the day before, the day before that? I do, of course. But I have become accustomed this house, myself in this house, without the girls, without company. I do fine, now. I try, sometimes, to imagine it’s always been like this, just like this.
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The right moment

Categories: Fighting the Stereotype, Tentative Steps

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I knew she would come. Just a matter of time—the right moment, a baby girl—and I would let the last of the baby clothes go.

Ruth Alice, welcome to the world. We hope you like the sunhats, especially.

My younger daughter helps me sort through the onesies, the coveralls, the tiny dresses, worn soft from many washings.

“I sort of remember this one,” she says, holding up a yellow floral romper that she could not, possibly, recall wearing.

But a memory of her older sister, at three months old, comes to mind. I recall my relief—after the fourth or fifth diaper change of whichever anymorning it was of all the anymornings—that this particular flowered romper was clean and ready to go. I remember fitting her pale, newly chubby legs into the garment. I lay her back on the changing pad to watch her, content, kicking idly, the summer sun diffusing through her cream curtains.

I remember the old feeling, a feeling that is far more elusive now: this is the meaning of bountiful.

“Don’t cry, Mommy,” my younger daughter says, fetching me from a time when and where she was not, as sometimes I am certain she was sent to do, again and again. “I’m sure I loved it then.”


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Home-less

Categories: Best Practices, Fighting the Stereotype, Hoping for Love, Tentative Steps

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My mind staggers, trying to wake itself. I blink again and again and try to catch my breath. Again, I find myself sifting reality from dream rubble.

Another nightmare.

Enough, already, Mind.

*****

“What’s the worst nightmare you ever had?” S asks me the other night, at bedtime.

I contemplate her question. “That a hard one. I used to dream over and over of losing people I loved, chasing after them in dreams—”

I stop myself.

She gives me a quizzical look. “And?”

“The worst nightmares are when you wake up and realize that it’s already happened. That the people you love are already long gone.”

She nods. This seems to make sense to her.

*****

I would have told you there was no way in hell he and I could have become strangers like we are. He is long gone, in every way.

*****

Now my nightmares are without hope that I will catch up to anyone. In my dreams, I don’t bother to go looking for help, for the people I think should be there.

The latest nightmares: I am completely on my own, searching for a home. I am not homeless, but I am without home. I have something less than home: home-less.
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Something missing

Categories: Fighting the Stereotype, Hoping for Love, Tentative Steps

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Melancholy and I have maintained an uneasy truce, for a few months.

Then, yesterday, just like that—it edged a foot through the door.

All at once it washed over me. The familiar sense of missing…what?

Someone, something. I’m so familiar with missing what came before, I no longer recall exactly what it is that is gone.

*****

Yesterday: He has dropped off the girls’ autumn coats and jackets, unexpectedly. I hear his voice in the hall, hesitant, calling to us. When are we? For a moment, I forget, can’t say. Could be ten years ago. Could be today. Is today.

The girls run to him. “Daddy!”

I measure my steps carefully. I walk to him. I accept the bundle of pink and purple and magenta warmth. We speak politely, as we often do, for a few minutes. Then he must leave.

“Goodbye, Love,” he says to one daughter, kissing her head. I envy her, although I instantly deny the emotion, stamp it out. I struggle to recall if he ever called me this: “Love.” I was Sweetpea, Petunia, Honey. Wasn’t I?

It matters not a bit, not now.

This is what I marvel at over and over again: that something that mattered so much once can shift, transform, dissolve—then matter not at all.
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The show goes on

Categories: Fighting the Stereotype, Tentative Steps

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Rehearsals for the play are moving along at a brisk clip. The play goes up in mid-October. The last time I was onstage, I was in NYC. I was newly pregnant with my first (and didn’t know it). Having kids put the temporary kibosh on acting, but I always suspected I’d go back to it. I couldn’t have guessed then that it would take me a decade to return to something I love so much. Motherhood—ah, it’s funny that way, isn’t it? One year stretches into three, three stretches into five, five to ten. Stretch marks, it seems, are not just for skin. When children arrive on the scene, time has a funny way of stretching as well, and leaving its marks.

I am rusty. Not as rusty as I’d worried I’d be, but rusty nonetheless. Memorizing lines is a trickier feat than it used to be. So is the physical comedy—two rehearsals ago, while slaying an imaginary crocodile, I also slew my poor lower back, and wound up in bed, drooling and passed out from naproxen and muscle relaxants.

I am mother; hear me snore.
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Vacation’s all I never wanted

Categories: Fighting the Stereotype, Missing Parent, Tentative Steps

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Vacationing with kids is a daunting enough prospect with two parents on hand. Single parenthood pretty much rules out a vacation feeling like an actual vacation whatsoever. I am okay with this. I am a pragmatist, people, not a pessimist. I like to remind myself to keep my expectations low. Totally works for me. Last year, I pulled it off without completely losing my mind, and this year, I betcha I can do it again.

Consider your average continental U.S. beach vacation. Okay, so I am considering the average continental U.S. beach vacation, done dirty and dirt cheap. You can think about other things. La la la la la you can’t hear me.

It wasn’t always so purty or easy, even with two fairly calm, sturdy adults to drag the four hundred pounds of beach gear two miles to the beach, only to listen to the kids whining about how they like the motel pool better because the ocean is too “squishy.”
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Loose ends

Categories: Fighting the Stereotype, Tentative Steps

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The hardest part of this becoming

real, of fighting tooth-and-nail to

see and to be seen? There will

never be answers, clear endings,

agreed-upon statements of fact.

We leave that to the friends, no

longer so mutual.
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Don’t ask, don’t tell: dating post-divorce

Categories: Fighting the Stereotype, Hoping for Love, Tentative Steps

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My ex and I have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding our dating lives post-divorce.

It is not a policy that we discussed beforehand. It is not a policy that we discuss now. It simply is. At some point, it seems like it’s got to change. But for now, for better or for worse, this is where we are.

The girls, of course, carry information back and forth like pollinating bees. I know which names they have mentioned to him; I know which names they have mentioned to me. They speculate as much as I do. I can see them working it out in their heads: their parents will be with other people. Some grownup friends are just friends; some are friends with potential to become much more to Mommy and Daddy.
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