All The Love In My Life

This morning shortly after arriving to work I became fixated on something my 8-year old made for me when he was in preschool. To think that that was just over 3 years ago is bizarre. On the one hand it feels like just yesterday. But on the other it’s as though it were so long ago. Who I was then, where I was, what I was doing was completely different. And in that time my son has grown in so many of his own brilliant ways most assuredly.

heart

What the message reminds me of is a lesson I have found myself sharing with my son over and over and over again. Because yes, there are times when I’ll catch him feeling sorry for himself; he feels he’s been cheated out of something that someone else got and he didn’t. And what I’ll tell him is how important it is to focus on what he has instead of what he hasn’t got. It’s amazing to watch those little wheels turning inside his head as a shift in perspective begins to take place on his face and in the way he proceeds with his life. He moves on. He gets over it. He learns to appreciate what he already has instead of clinging to feelings of jealousy and insecurity. He remembers the love in his life.  (And the ice cream I just treated him to perhaps!)

There is something for me to take away from this, too. How often have I pined away for a love that couldn’t be reciprocated? How often have I wallowed in sorrow, loneliness, and discontent?  Or wondered why other people get to fall in love and live happily ever after and I don’t?  All the while forgetting–even deliberately–that I am already surrounded by so much love in my life.  And who am I to expect more than what is already given me?

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Rules For Entering: A Mother’s Reflection On Matters Of The Heart

This morning before leaving for work I was struck by the sign on my 8-year old son’s bedroom door.  It was a list of “rules” for entering which you can see here:

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I thought it was a fine list of rules; he doesn’t seem to request anything of his bedroom guests that is too unreasonable.  Asking permission to enter, being kind, respecting his personal space, as well as his feelings and the times when he just needs to be alone… all good things.  What I was most intrigued by was the warning he attached below them: if you break the rules, you’re out.  No wavering, no mending, no talking about the problem. It’s a very move-along-and-don’t-let-the-door-hit-ya-on-the-way-out sort of mentality; Nihilist, even, black-and-white.  Fear ridden.  Destructive rather than constructive.

So while I was standing there reading the sign and having these thoughts I wondered, is that what my son has learned?  He’s seen me go through three relationships with men I invited into our home and our family yet who are no longer around, outside of his own father.  The other two just… disappeared.  Why?  Because they broke the rules, I guess.  And what were my rules?  Well, very similar to junior’s, actually:

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Seriously.  I asked for a donut.  Where the fuck is it?!  Right???  I think we all feel that way sometimes, or at least I have.  I just find it very interesting to see that feeling reflected here in my son’s rules for entering his room, his world, his life.  Poignant, symbolic, yes?  What I don’t know is how much of that is learned and how much of it is a natural part of being human and wanting to feel safe and cared for.  I guess if anyone regardless of their current situation or circumstances growing up can say that they would ask the same of anyone entering their haven, then we can all agree that these rules belong on every door to every heart.

Unfortunately, written within those rules there is nothing to be said of loving for the sake of loving; giving when you don’t want to give; learning what that feels like in the end.  Even though it’s challenging, there is no implication in such demands that believing the pain of loving without guarantee or restitution is worth it; there is no resolve to lead with love despite the fear of getting burned.

What do we do not only for the other person, but for ourselves when we allow someone in even when they’ve hurt us… upset us… didn’t deliver what we asked for?  I’m 34-years old and I’m still figuring this out; I suppose I can’t expect my 2nd grader to really grasp it yet.  But as his mother, his teacher, his guide, I see it as my job and my privilege to show him the power of love, forgiveness, and working through differences, even when someone we trusted enough to welcome into our lives has hurt us, gone against the rules.  We would all want someone to show up at our door bearing donuts, chocolate, and ice cream.  It’s just that, not all days are like that.  Some days it’s a pile of smelly trash, baggage you don’t care to deal with, and horse shit.

Mountain Gorilla

I think that perhaps the hardest part of breaking up with someone you put all your faith in–so much so that you trusted you could invite them into your children’s lives and into their home–is the feeling of having failed. I let not only him down, I let myself down and most importantly, I let my kids down. It’s hard to hold your head up high when you feel ashamed for being deserted. I guess that means I’m assuming blame but how else am I to interpret his leaving?

Maybe it’s the fact of having kids that I expected him to be more careful, but it’s also the reason that I should have been more cautious. It’s hard to trust yourself to trust another when I keep making choices that end up hurting not just me, but the two most important people in my life.

Every time I am around other families…or really just, breathing… it is a reminder that I am a single mom failing at love and life.  There is an indescribable sense of shame and embarrassment in this, even with all of the single parents out there.  There is shame in being naive enough to allow someone to convince you that they’re strong enough to make it through the tough times with you; that to them you are worth it.  There is embarrassment in admitting to the world that none of this is so.

What ended our relationship was nothing that couldn’t be worked out… Had he kept in mind any of my redeeming qualities. I certainly was able to recall his, despite doing things at times that made him feel like nothing more than a whipping horse. While he didn’t hesitate to share those feelings with the world, I guess he forgot to include all of the small, day to day things I did do and say to remind him of his worth: Extending gratitude and words of praise; offering up back and belly rubs; watching movies and shows that were of interest to him; having conversations about things I knew nothing about, but were important to him; and just generally doing things to express warmth and love, kindness and consideration…

But… We see what we choose to see. And to quote one of my favorite songs of all time since it has become a theme in my life: “you don’t…see…me.”

**Just an interesting fact about the song from which it came, 3 Libras, Maynard James Keenan had this to say in the liner notes of the song: “Up until the mid twentieth century the mountain gorilla was considered a myth. Oddly enough, a legend not unlike Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster. The chance of actually seeing/experiencing this elusive shadow was as likely as finding one’s soulmate. Rare. Precious. Even once discovered they seemed unapproachable. The only way to get close to this magnificent creature was to become empathetic. Abandon all pretense and preconceptions. To bare an open throat. To collapse into the arms of vulnerability. All but extinct, these beings/moments are threatened by the black hearted. The cold and oblivious. The empty eyed profit seekers that overlook these Rare. Precious.”

I am that rare and precious being, seen only for what frightens people away.  They are the black hearted…cold…oblivious.

 

The Monster At The End Of This Blog

In “The Monster At The End Of This Book Starring Lovable, Furry Old Grover” (from Sesame Street), a Little Golden Book I remember reading as a child and now read to my kids, the audience is begged not to turn any pages because Grover is terrified at the thought of there being a big, scary monster waiting on the last page. (I usually do my best Grover impression when reading this book to my kids, which I think I’ve nailed.) Besides warning us to stay away, Grover tries everything to keep that monster from rearing its ugly head. However, from building walls to tying pages together, nothing seems to keep the pages from being turned and what Grover finally realizes is that the monster he’s been so afraid of (spoiler alert!)… is him. That’s when he abandons his fear as he comes face to face with the only monster in sight–lovable, furry old Grover. Then he admits embarrassment after having caused so much commotion simply due to an extrinsic fear that no one but him could understand.

As a child I too was terrified of the possibility of monsters hiding under my bed or in my closet. But as an adult, the only monster I’m afraid of… is me.

I have been a monster. I admit to doing things to intentionally hurt others. A few of those things I can brush off as simply being part of growing up and learning how to process through my emotions. But other things, bigger things, more consequential things I have done as a mother to my kids.

The year following my ex-husband’s affair, during the bullshit that is the divorce process, I was a total mess. The anguish I went through was at the expense of my children so no one else could see that I was slowly unraveling. I’d scream and yell at them for no reason. Or at least, no reason good enough to make them feel so bad. I began spanking my son which is something I told myself I’d never do. He was 3-years old at the time, so melt downs and tantrums were inevitable, but not something I was equipped to handle. I’d grab him off the floor and carry/drag him to his room, sometimes plopping him down with no concern to hurting him, and then slam the door. I would yell in his face and on one occasion I slapped him (not with all my might, but that’s not the point). How traumatizing must this have been for him.  And his sister, just a stander-by, probably hating me for treating her brother that way. I hated myself for the same reason. Going through a divorce, feeling rejected and terrified and angry after my husband abandoned our marriage to start a family with another woman, on top of dealing with a tantruming toddler was just too much for me. I had become a monster.

But then things seemed to level off. My son got older and I moved on. I found love again. I found peace. But I’ve never gotten over the guilt of those days; those vital, young and impressionable days. The days I should have been reassuring my kids that although things were changing at a rapid pace (new home, new family, new siblings and live-in mother-type figure) I would always be there to comfort and love them. Not terrify and vilify them.

When I was going through counseling years later, I was asked why I hold on to feelings of guilt. I couldn’t answer except to say that I was hoping the guilt would be enough to prevent me from acting that way ever again. But that’s not how guilt works. Making someone feel bad doesn’t lessen the likelihood that they’ll repeat a behavior. In order for any change to take place there must be forgiveness. There must be an openness and willingness to accept our humanity, not resist it. We are all human and we are all capable of doing some pretty horrible things.

What I was encouraged to see is that guilt is a tool used to control. Through shame we seek to regulate the pain we and others feel. We award blame distinguishing one as right and one as wrong. I have historically blamed myself for every rejection I’ve ever faced. It seems I have a strong threshold for pain. If it weren’t for me, in other words, I’d be able to find someone to share my life with. In my head, I am always an outsider; always the unwanted one; inherently flawed. Rejection is my biggest fear and fear will bring out the monster in any of us.

When I acted like a monster to my kids, fear was at the root of all my destructive behavior. I was afraid of failing as a single mom. I was afraid I would never be able to offer my children the kind of family I have always wanted for myself. I was afraid no one loved me and no one ever could. If my husband who I had known more than half my life could just up and leave, what’s to stop someone else from doing the same?

People like myself strive to be perfect, aim to please, try to be everything to everyone. But faking perfection is friggin exhausting. And when we fall off some imaginary pedestal we look for others to blame so that for at least a moment we don’t have to face ourselves.

I’ve spent my life building walls and tying chains around my heart. Except now I’m willing to abandon my fear and start facing myself. I’m ready to stop pointing fingers and accept responsibility. It’s time to forgive myself so that I can teach my children to embrace themselves, imperfections and all.

Love is a tool used to scare monsters away. And I am surrounded by it. A week ago I was walking my son into his school. We were holding hands and preparing to say our farewells. “Who’s the best mommy?” he repeats out loud with a huge cheesy grin on his face. He thinks it’s me, regardless of all the ways I’ve hurt and frightened him. And that will always be enough to keep the monster at bay.

I Think I’m Alone Now

When you step out to face that creature, you will step out alone.”
–White Queen to Alice

Perhaps one of the main reasons my mom never left my dad is because she was afraid to be alone. After all, being alone can be…terrifying.  Especially if you have kids.  Because then, not only do you experience the threat of loneliness that often accompanies solitaries, but you also bear primarily all the responsibility in taking care of your children, entertaining them, educating and guiding them, and looking after their emotional needs. That’s scary!! Even for two people. But many a single parent have been successful at doing it alone. And now I’m one of them. I’m proving to my mother, to anyone petrified of braving parenthood on their own, that it can in fact be done. AND that a person doesn’t (shouldn’t) have to be defined by their relationships, especially if those relationships require a loss of self.

As for the loneliness, it’s very real. Especially when you’re still in love. But at the same time, I enjoy being alone. I’m good at it. I’m used to it. Growing up I always felt isolated from my family. My older brother who once offered to protect me from bullies grew to resent me and became a bully himself. Maybe because I had friends and got good grades and he didn’t. Or because our dad mostly left me alone while my brother suffered constant berating.  Repression has a way of bringing out the worst in us. He used to barge into my room while I was undressing.  At first I dismissed it as coincidence, but I got wise to him quick; he was doing it on purpose. I felt so uncomfortable in my own home, my own room even. I learned that no where and no one was safe. I couldn’t change my clothes or use the bathroom without fear of him peeking in to get a look at me. I learned where I had to stand to undress while blocking the door and staying clear of any cracks he could peep through. (And it’s just now occurring to me–his nick name for me when I was a teen oddly became ‘peep’. I thought it was endearing at the time. Now it’s horrifyingly derisive.) Suffice to say, I was never close with my brother.  

In fact, I’ve always felt disparate from everyone in my family. Their perception and expectations of me were never in accordance with who I felt I was inside. So naturally, I learned how to isolate myself as I painfully tried fitting into their mold of me. It was either that or risk being rejected having revealed my true thoughts and feelings, desires and interests; having failed to be who I was “supposed” to be.

My dad was never around (he worked 2nd shift, how convenient). And even when he was, he wasn’t at all available. He isolated himself (one of few things my father taught me to do). My mother was the only source of love I knew but I felt the threat of its revocation whenever I attempted to be myself in front of her. Whether it was listening to Madonna, inviting a black boy to our house, piercing my nose, or being friends with a lesbian, my mother who promised to love me unconditionally in one breath, threatened to disown me in another if I so happened to step outside the lines of what she deemed appropriate, acceptable behavior. I’ll love you IF isn’t unconditional love.

Consequently, I quickly learned that being alone was preferred to being with others. Because when I’m alone with myself then and only then do I really feel free to be myself without the threat of rejection and without the need to conform. I can do what I want when I want. I can associate with whomever I wish. I can listen to any music I like. And no one has to know. Some people are meant to be alone. I suppose, maybe, I’m one of them. And the sooner I accept this, the better off I’ll be. Looking for something (someone) that isn’t there brings nothing but heartache.

And anyway, far too many people try escaping their fear of being alone by investing themselves in a relationship at all times; it is as if they are afraid of themselves. Because being alone teaches you about yourself. Being alone allows a fresh perspective of the world and your place in it because it finally becomes possible to look at everything through your eyes, not someone else’s. Being alone enables you to examine your wishes for your life and motivates you to get going because there is no one holding you back and no one to blame when your accomplishments don’t meet your expectations. I know I don’t want to hold anyone else back or be a burden to someone. I suppose this is a fear I have about not being alone.

I always felt that being part of a family was a huge burden to my dad. He never wanted to be bothered. He preferred to watch TV or nap. These two activities normally went hand in hand as he would lye in his recliner watching TV intermittently between snoozes. If he wasn’t doing that he was out sleeping with other women (apparently). Or in the garage tinkering around. Or getting ready for his next fishing trip which seemed to occur every weekend (just to ensure he wasn’t home I suppose). When childcare would fall through or for whatever reason my dad would have to watch me unexpectedly, he’d be terribly frustrated if it interfered with his fishing plans.  Rather than cancel his trip, he’d take me with him. And I hated it. I wasn’t allowed to talk and I wasn’t allowed to move. Heaven forbid I spook the fish! Once he took me ice fishing in the middle of winter, which was torturous because it was FREEZING. But I didn’t have a choice. It was all about him. It was never about me. Or family. Getting him to come along for family gatherings has not always been an easy task for my mother either. Not to mention, he couldn’t be troubled to be there for my mom when she was in labor with me.

If withholding his love wasn’t enough to clue us in, then withholding his time and interest in our lives was certainly a lesson in how I am nothing but a burden to him and, I began to translate, to others as well.

Makes it hard to speak up about things when you’re worried you’ll “spook” or upset someone by having thoughts, feelings, opinions, needs. Makes it hard to feel anything but better off alone.