Sunday, June 12, 2016

Sweet Freedom

1985: 15 years old

Mom is taking my brothers to the movies? And, my sister is at a friend's house? Yes! Sweet freedom!

My mind quickly does inventory. There's ice cream in the freezer, that is, if no one eats it before they leave. We've got Footloose on VHS. I've got roughly two and a half hours all to myself. It's going to be a good night!

An hour later, everyone's gone but me and the cat. The house is quiet, but comfortable. I can feel myself relaxing in increments. I seem bigger, in a way, like I take up more space than I do when everyone's home. I can stretch out on the couch and not have a little brother sitting on my legs. I can talk on the phone and not have anyone listening in. I don't have to retreat into myself to feel a sense of privacy. It's all here, for the taking, right now. I can be loud. I can listen to whatever music I want to listen to. I can try on all of my sister's clothes and she'll never know!

2012: 43 years old

My husband is at work and my two older boys are at school. I dropped my youngest off at preschool and came home to an empty  house. I told myself over the summer that I'd use those two and a half hours productively every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I'd exercise. I'd clean. I'd write.

But, I find myself acting like I'm 15.

I have the whole house to myself. It's quiet, but comfortable. I eat leftover birthday cake without having to share. I watch whatever I want on TV. I've had enough Power Rangers, Curious George and Harry Potter to last me a lifetime. Game of Thrones looks good. Maybe I'll give that a try. There's no need to worry about the rating. 

I can sit on the couch without children pressing into my personal space. I dearly love them, but, man it's good to stretch out.

Editors note: This post was written 3 years ago and published for the first time tonight.

Code Brown: The Septic Back Up

"I didn't sign up for this," my handy and very sexy boyfriend said as he came out of the laundry room with a putty knife in his hand. He'd been using it to scrape linoleum glue off the floor. We had to rip the linoleum up after our septic tank backed up all over the floor. There are no words to describe the utter level of grossness I feel right now.

Actually, it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Every now and again, I hear people talking about so and so's septic backing up. It never happens to anyone you know directly. It's always the guy down the street from your work friend or the illusive Great Aunt Marge. Your mom remembers Marge from way back when, but the last time you met her, you were wearing diapers. People talk about septic back ups the way they do about rare diseases. It's done in whispers and a look heavenward with the hopes that the evil septic spirits will visit someone else, but not you. Dear God, not you! If you're Catholic, you quickly give the sign of the cross when the words "septic back up" are spoken. 

The laundry room floor and a small bit of carpet in our finished basement were sacrificed to the septic gods on this fine June Sunday. I was doing a load of laundry, went down to check it's progress, only to find what I thought was a washing machine malfunction. Upon closer inspection, I saw evidence that the problem was a bit more serious. Specifically, pieces of poo and toilet paper floating in an inch of standing water on the linoleum. My first thought was "how the heck am I going to get the laundry done?" I spent the next two hours in the laundromat while my handy boyfriend was at his parents' house installing a screen door. He got home before I did.

"Ok. We've got some issues here," he texted me as soon as he got home and surveyed the damage.

We made arrangements for the boys to spend the night at their dad's house. Then we started calling emergency plumbers. Call number one couldn't be here until tomorrow between 10:00 and 12:00. That's not good enough when the toilets won't flush. Call number two was very helpful, but he thought we might need our septic tank pumped and he didn't have the ability to do that. We struck gold with call number 3. He'd be here in an hour with equipment. He could pump and snake our main line, if needed.

The boyfriend and the two septic guys talked guy talk. I heard the f-bomb dropped a few times. By the time they left, I had working toilets, was a little poorer, and had gotten some advice on a long-time plumbing problem that we'll fix by moving our washer and dryer to another part of the basement. (Basically, the pipe the washer drains into is too small. It needs a 4-inch pipe, but only has the 2-inch pipe that was standard in the 1960s when my house was built.)

The septic work was pretty cheap as far as these things go. I'd braced myself for major work costing thousands of dollars. I was thinking about loans and the fact that I have a child starting college in a year. I was getting ready to check Pinterest for outhouse plans (who needs indoor plumbing anyway?), when the fabulous septic guys gave me the good news.

The septic problem is fixed and you don't have to re-mortgage your house!

We're left with major clean up duties in the laundry room. Linoleum has been pulled up. Sexy boyfriend and I have scraped linoleum glue off the concrete. He's pulled down old, water-stained ceiling tiles (not stained by the septic back-up, but a leaky tub in the upstairs bathroom years ago)  and ripped off a piece of 1970s paneling just to see what's beneath it. A laundry room makeover was on our long-term list of home fix-it projects. With the septic back up of 2016, it's moved to the top of the list. If we're going to do a part of it, we're doing it all. That's the way he rolls.

Stay tuned for laundry room updates. Our goal: utter grossness will be transformed to the nicest room in the house. It'll no longer be a laundry room, but rather, it will be our half-bath with a good-sized storage closest.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Golden Hour

I wash my face and look in the mirror and there I am, staring back at myself. Still me. Still not special. Still not particularly good at anything. Still not beautiful. Still not who I dreamed of being when I was a little girl.

Of course, I count my blessings. I do every single day. My boys are at the top of the list, in no particular order. Then, Jay, the love of my life. I'm beyond lucky to have found this amazing man and my soul mate. Then, my home. I'm so proud of myself that I was able to refinance in my own name after the divorce. I love this house now for the first time, when I couldn't even muster like for it before. It was just where we lived. Now, it's mine and I love it.

The people that I love, I love deeply, so deeply, it goes beyond my being, out into the Universe, where I'm hoping they'll find it when they need it most in their lives. Years from now, when I'm dead and buried, I hope my boys will still be able to feel the love I left in everything I touched for them. It's in every lunch I packed, in every form I filled out signing them up for summer camp, or lacrosse, or Boy Scouts, in every night time kiss on a sleeping forehead, in every picture I took of their beautiful faces, and in countless other places, it's there. Loving them is the one thing I'm great at.

Everyday, the car takes me to work with talk radio, some tunes, or a book on CD keeping me company along the way. It all depends on what my mood is. Sometimes, nothing but silence will do. I shuffle papers, click around on the computer, type, balance petty cash, enter data, answer the phone, and talk in window and door jargon that, three years ago, wouldn't have meant anything to me had I overheard it in someone else's office.  Words like z-bar, casements, low-e, and countless others rattle out of my mouth like I've been dealing with them my whole life. Heck, I didn't even know the difference between a bay and a bow window! Now, I'm talking about mullion degrees and overall projection of bays. It's mildly interesting, until I drive home, listening to silence, the Top 5 at 5:00, Sean Hannity (God help me! I'm not a conservative, I'm just super fascinated by it all), or the traffic report.

Family time comes next. I used to call this the Witching Hour in my previous life, before divorce. It was a stressful time of day. Kids were crying and fighting. Homework was a struggle. There was dinner to cook and a mountain of dishes to do. Now, I call it the Golden Hour. Things are just better now. Sure, the kids still fight a bit, but the edges are softer. The harshness is gone. There are paper airplanes, card games, and chit chatting around the dinner table. The amazing boyfriend does the dishes. Then, I tuck the boys in bed and give them their nightly forehead kisses before I get ready to drift off myself.

I wash my face and look in the mirror. I'm not pretty. No one has ever accused me of being so. No one expect Jay. Maybe he's crazy or blind, I tell myself. Or maybe he's just awesome. Either way, I look in the mirror and I like what I see. A mom, a girlfriend, a woman with a life she loves.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

What You Think of Me Doesn't Matter

Confession: I've spent way too many hours of my life worrying and fretting over what other people thought of me. I've over-analyzed what I said or didn't say in social situations. Did I talk too much? Was I too quiet? I worried if I was wearing the right clothes or had the right hairstyle. Were my clothes cool enough? Did I look fat? Then, when I became a mother to three rambunctious boys, I worried that other moms wouldn't like me because one of my kids was misbehaving. I over-analyzed the boys' behaviors, too. Did he share enough? Did he say thank you? Oh my God! I think he forgot to say thank you!

The sad thing is, this list could go on. I used to major in over thinking and minor in low self-esteem.

I've done some amazing things in my life. Things that prove I'm a strong, capable, courageous woman. One of the most important was learning to let go of the fear of what others think of me.

That makes it sound easy.

The truth is, it wasn't. I had many false starts before I actually got the hang of it.  One of these false starts brought my self-esteem to a rock-scraping bottom that eventually lead to my success. I earned every victory, big or small, along the way. This is why what you think of me doesn't matter.

I was sure I was laying a sturdy foundation of self-esteem when my oldest was in second grade. Sadly, I was fully immersed in a seventh-grade mentality simmering on top of a pile of crumbling bricks. My then seven-year-old son had participated in a musical event at our local elementary school called a Lip Sync. The main idea was that groups of kids consisting of anywhere from 2 to 15 or so would pick out a song and pretend to sing along to it. There were amateur dance routines and costumes involved, too.

It's supposed to be fun for the kids, which is code for it being a competition to determine who the best moms in the world are. The entire thing was planned, choreographed, and costumed by the moms of each group of children, most of whom would probably have enjoyed it more if the moms weren't involved.

So anyway, oldest son participated in grades K-3 because I was pretty sure he had to if he was ever going to have any friends in high school. Hey, if you don't get in with the in crowd in Kindergarten, you're screwed in 12th grade, right?

Because all of us moms worked so hard at rehearsals, we mutually decided we needed a mom's night out to celebrate after the main event. It was scheduled, marked on calendars, and was greatly anticipated. Or, at least it was by me. The night of our outing drew near and rumors of a humongous snow storm began to circulate. Everyone got nervous and squeamish about driving, so it was agreed that we would postpone. A group e-mail would be sent out when the powers that be rescheduled.

Life went on. I was eagerly awaiting the e-mail. Like most moms of three young children, I needed a night out with friends like I needed air to breathe. Life was stressful at home. I hadn't admitted my marriage was failing at that point, but I had three kids and a husband who didn't do much to help around the house. A few hours away with other mothers - people who could appreciate how hard it is to wrangle three kids and mountains of laundry - would have been amazing. I waited and waited, but the e-mail never came.

A month or so later, I ran into a husband of one of the moms in the group at a Cub Scout event.

"Why are you here?" he asked innocently.

I was confused. 'It's a pack meeting," I said, wondering what was wrong with him. I had seen him at every pack meeting for the past two years.

"You're really dedicated to scouts," he answered. "My wife went out with the girls from Lip Sync tonight. I would have thought you would have gone, too."

I've never been able to hide my emotions, so I can only imagine what my face looked like. I honestly didn't know what to say. "I wasn't invited," I mumbled and walked away, to look for my little Cub Scout so we could go home before I started crying.

I couldn't imagine why I wasn't invited. I considered these women my friends. To be honest, none of them were my best friends, but I'd only lived in this town for a couple of years and I was struggling to make friends. Everyone seemed to have a group they belonged to, but me. I thought I was finally making some headway. I went through every possibility of who in the group didn't like me and why. I picked one that I thought was the culprit and decided to hate her. I don't think I so much as said hello to this woman for years afterwards.

It took hindsight for me to realize that no one in the group disliked me, they simply hadn't thought of me. Truly, I think that's worse.

I'd rather be hated than not thought of at all.

I wish I could say that I didn't cry over this. But, I did. Hard. And more than once. I actually withdrew and said screw it for a long while. Who needs friends, anyway? I threw myself into being a mom even more than I already had.

Then, I started building up my self esteem. I focused on what I was good at and relishing in all the fantastic, amazing things in my life. I started writing. I found some friends in the neighborhood to go for walks with, each of us pushing baby strollers and chit chatting about our stay-at-home mom lifestyles. I was caring less and less about what others thought of me.

A few years later, the divorce shattered what was left of my insecurities. I found I was standing on that solid foundation, after all.

Truthfully, I'm not sure what came first. Was it my self-esteem? Or was it the divorce? I think I couldn't have gotten separated and divorced if my self-esteem hadn't improved significantly. By the time I asked for the separation, I already knew I was a capable woman with a support network. It wouldn't have happened before because I was looking for the approval of others too much.

If I could go back in time and change events so that I got an invitation to that mom's night out, would I?

No. Absolutely  not. I grew so much from that experience. It brought the need to work on my self-esteem front and center. It taught me to count my blessings and stop looking for outside approval. It taught me to stop chasing friendships, especially where none existed.

You can look for your self worth in others until the oceans dry up. You can take any little wisp of approval and use it to puff yourself up for the hour or the day, but after the smoke drifts away, you're going to be an empty shell again, searching around for that next hit to make you feel good. The only way to break the cycle is to build yourself up, one brick at a time, from the inside out. It's hard work, but it's the only way and you are so worth it.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Learning to Love Again

Remember when I wrote my "Welcome Back" post and said I still had a lot of anger and resentment toward my ex? Well, it turns out it's really hard to write a blog post without that negative baggage creeping in. I tried a week ago to write about how I love my home now that it's clutter free and minor home repairs are getting done, but it just ended up being a ginormous bitch fest about how little he did when he lived here. See, there it creeps again, like a bad vine that just won't die no matter how much weed killer you use on it.

So, instead of being a Negative Nellie, I'm going to try hard to take a different, positive train of thought and let that blossom onto the digital page in front of me.

The boys and I had a great weekend. It was truly stupendous, super awesome, and amazing. A part of our weekend was lots of time spent with my boyfriend, who's also stupendous, super awesome, and amazing. This isn't really a new relationship anymore. We've been together for over a year. We met after the separation was already underway, least anyone think there was anything untoward going on. Likewise, we didn't start dating for about 9 months after that. We've been together ever since.

No - he's doesn't live here, yet. That's on the horizon, but we're taking things slowly. He's here for dinner most nights and hangs out with us on the weekends. It's utterly amazing to me every day that he so easily and willingly pitches in. He thinks nothing of cleaning up the kitchen after dinner and even making dinner. He knows his way around a kitchen and doesn't expect me to do it all. He understands completely when I've got homework to do with the kids, laundry to fold and put away, and other chores to do. He has no problem helping. Ever. This truly blows my mind.

He's as good with a toolbox as he is with kitchen utensils and he's taught me and the boys how to do some basic, minor household repairs, like patching holes in drywall. We've gotten some things fixed around here that had been broken or in disrepair for a long, long time. The best part is, it's been a team effort. Not only have we patched walls in the hallway, but we've repainted each bedroom door and all the trim, and now my teenage son is finishing up painting the walls. It looks amazing and changes the whole tone of the house.

It's spring and when the weather gets warmer, my thoughts generally turn to what I can plant in the ground. I go on a spree of yard work, which culminates with a modest veggie garden sprouting in my backyard. Some years it's a great success, some years not so much. My amazing boyfriend jumped right on the bandwagon with me this year and built two new garden boxes, one at waist height for my lettuces and radishes. He also fixed my broken-down clothesline and built a platform for his grill. Did I mention he was handy? As I gazed at him in awe, thanking him with tears of joy, he simply said, "This wasn't anything special. It's what normal people do when they love someone." That just made me tear up even more. I'm being treated like a normal human being. There are no words for how this makes me feel.

For the first time in fourteen years, this place actually feels like home.  For the first time in about twenty years I actually feel appreciated and loved. For the first time in my whole life, I actually feel like I deserve to have good things happen to me. It's a nice feeling. It's certainly one that I will never take for granted. As I look at all the flowers blooming around here, I think the weeds are no problem after all.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Welcome Back!!!

As I type this first blog post in almost two years, I'm noticing how strange it seems to be back. I didn't expect that! It's like time has dissolved and I'm sitting at my kitchen table, kids home from school, trying to plan dinner, and get in as much writing as I can before the late afternoon/evening rush starts, just like I did before the divorce and the full-time job cast my writing fancies to the very bottom of my to-do list. Truthfully, they didn't even make the list most of the time.

Lately, though, my fingers have been itching to dance across the keyboard again. There are few things I like better than to feel and hear my hands typing out my thoughts onto the screen in front of me. There's something comforting about it.  And, I can't deny how therapeutic it is. My mind can whirl so fast sometimes, its a wonder I don't spin away into the clouds. Writing calms the craziness right down.

I kept a personal journal for much of that time. A writer has got to write, after all. I made some lengthy entries in that thing, too. Good thing there's no max word count in Microsoft Word. I was truly feeling the need to keep things very personal and close to me in that time period as I processed all the changes in my life. In fact, I even made this blog private and locked it down so it wouldn't show up in search engines and only I could view it. Not that I did. I was moving on from my previous life and just wanted to put everything behind me.

The changes were monumental. As I said, I got divorced. One of the reasons I didn't want to blog through that is because I wanted to protect the kids. I had so much anger and resentment toward my ex that I spewed all over the pages of my private journal. I didn't want any of it to creep into my public writing for the kids to view at any point in their lives. I still have a lot of anger and resentment, but it's simmered down to a point now where I can keep it from bleeding out all over the keyboard.

One thing I learned (among many) is that when you are going through a difficult life change, like a divorce, you don't have to explain yourself or your reasons to anyone unless you want to. People just don't understand each other's personal stories. It's easy to get defensive about your choices when people throw things at you about trying counseling (we did), just learning to let things go (I had for 15 years - it wasn't working for me anymore), or staying together for the kids (it's actually not good for kids to grow up in a house with miserable parents). So, I withdrew and only talked about it with a few, close friends and family.

When I look back over that time, I can't believe how far we've come. Not just me, but the kids, too! They are so much happier. Both of their parents are happier and it shows in them. My house is actually pretty close to being clutter free and I finally have relief from all the anxiety the clutter caused me. It's almost comical that I had this whole blog about cleaning up the clutter and, truthfully, it wasn't even my clutter. I was trying to manage someone else's mess and it took a serious toll on me.

It's great to be back. I may stick around for awhile or I may make a fresh start on a new blog. Either way, I've got to keep writing.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Climbing a Steep Learning Curve

The transition to a full-time working-out-of-the-house mom isn't smooth. But, I LOVE it. I'm glad to shake the mommy-brain cobwebs out. I was more than ready for this.

My job isn't glamorous, strenuous, or difficult, but there's something about it I love. Maybe it's the chance to meet new people and learn new things. Or maybe it's the mental break I get while driving to and from work 5 days a week. Or maybe it's the pay check. Truly, I think it's all of the above.

What I'm doing at my new job is answering phones, scheduling sales appointments and service calls, paperwork, filing, and figuring out the somewhat antiquated and always quirky computer system at a window company. That's right - the company I work for sells and installs windows. I told you it wasn't glamorous. Still, I've learned more about windows in the last few months than I've ever known in my life. And, there's lots more to learn.

The awesome thing is I work with a great bunch of people. They're down to earth and friendly. I've never worked anywhere quite like this, actually.  If I put a swear jar on my desk (and if they used it - lol), we'd make some lucky charity very happy around Christmastime. Yet, I've seen these young twenty or thirty-something guys on the crew drop everything to drive to an elderly customers home to help them with their windows.

Transitioning to not being at home to take care of everything has been the most difficult part of going back to work. The first few weeks, I was exhausted and stressed. It didn't help that the first two babysitters I hired quit. I'm fortunate to have a couple of very good friends and neighbors who filled in while I found someone else. (Thanks Tracy and Kristin!). The new babysitter is working out wonderfully. She'll be with us through the summer months until the boys are all back in school full time.

My family's diet has taken a major blow in the last few months, too. I've been going for convenience way more than I ever have in my life as a parent. We've been eating boxed mac & cheese, PB&J, hamburgers, hotdogs, and pizza a lot. It's about survival, you know? I just needed to get through each day with everyone fed and in bed by the time the sun went down. The tide is turning, though. I've got big plans for my crock pot this week.   

One thing I've managed to keep up is running. In fact, I'm putting some serious miles on my sneakers (eight miles today!). I'm hitting the pavement at about 5:30 in the morning. I've learned to mostly love the early hour, though I'm not sure that will still be true in January. For now, I'm out and back before the kids' eyelids start to flutter open.  

I've missed writing so much! I tried to keep up with my writing duties at Holidays Central and MomRecipes, but I had to resign. It was just too much. It became a source of stress and dread, which is not what I ever want to feel about writing. I want to explore other writing outlets eventually, but for now, I'm going to stick with my personal journal and occasional updates here. I've kept up my journal, which, if you're a writer, you'll understand. It's a must to type and get the thoughts out. 

I'm sure my readership here has dropped significantly since I last updated. That's okay! I hope some of my old readers will drop by to say hi, though! Let me know what's going on in your life!