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The Light at the End of the Tunnel

I have been blessed these past few months to be surrounded by amazing people.  There have been multiple times when I wanted to sit down and just throw in the towel.  These people didn’t let me.  They have all, in their own way, forced me to look at myself closer, to decide what is important to me, to focus on what light there is in every situation.  My oldest and I had a conversation today about how there is so much conversation about putting yourself first, do what makes you happy.  The general masses follow this to the tee.  They spend money they don’t have on toys they don’t need, on plastic surgery, on possessions and then go home to chaos.  Broken homes, high anxiety, no family bonds, fake friends.

As a Quaker, I believe that there is no single entity that is the god, but instead, there is a light.  That light is in everything.  Now don’t fret that I am going all mamsy pansy on you.  This is not anything more than a similar belief that some hold that there is good and evil in all of us.  This idea that there is a light in each of us came up in the conversation with Kat because it, in my opinion, should be a vital part of the conversation when you put yourself first.

There is great value in putting yourself first when it is coupled with the idea that you are tending your own light so that you can share it with the world.  Again not mamsy pansy but hear me out.  Things as trivial as spending a few hours with your teenage daughter and leaving the nitty gritty to your significant other for a bit is putting you first.  It is putting your want to go do something fun and get away from the daily grind before your responsibilities.  Unless you view it as spending quality one on one time with each of your children separately.  Meeting each of your children, friends, family members where they are for a few minutes.

Another example is in a relationship instead of putting your needs above theirs making all the needed arrangements to meet both of your needs.  Instead of begging for their undivided attention the second they walk in the door (with piles of dishes in the sink, no dinner ready, kids screaming, general chaos) spending the extra few minutes it takes to have everything ready for them to relax when they walk in.  I am not saying that you should be a good wifey and wait on him hand and foot.  This goes both ways including down to the kids.  If they want to go out and play then they should have followed all the steps to make sure that they are done their responsibilities first. In order to put yourself first, you need to create the space for it to happen.  Everyone needs to create the space. When you put yourself first without thought to how others are affected then you are creating space at the expense of someone else’s space.  Creating a black hole of sorts that collects things, people, and gives nothing back.  

Communication is another part of this.  Being clear with what you really dislike doing and what you really enjoy doing, what is expected of each person and what is less important to the greater good.  People think I’m crazy but I have charts everywhere in the house.  A chart for the before/after school routine, a weekly calendar, communications chart, needs list.  Then I have a multitude of binders.  My whole family thinks I have lost it.  BUT every morning I inevitably hear different voices yelling to the others, asking if they can check off that Bobby’s hair is brushed or if Lizzy has eaten breakfast.  They scramble to be the one to check things off.  When I ask have you … they start listing off the items they have completed.  They all look at the calendar before they ask who is cooking dinner tonight or which parent to ask if they can go play outside.  

These are all things that I need to be able to do me.  These are the things that make my life run smoothly.  Did everyone else like them in the beginning?  Hell no.  But they know see, or at least they tell me they do, how much easier everything goes if we share in the responsibilities so that we can all move on to putting ourselves first much faster.

Because of these lists, I can leave for the night and not come home to a chaotic mess that takes hours to put back together.  Because of these lists, Bob doesn’t need to recreate the wheel when it is his turn to be the parent because I am sick, working, just not home right now.  Because I did me because I made it clear that I needed this to be in place so that I am not anxious and so that I can breathe and function, there is a general sense of acceptance.  They roll their eyes, they giggle at me when I add a new chart but the chaos is almost non-existent.

As there always is, the reverse of this is that I also need to understand that when I am not here then Bob gets to put himself first.  So he takes the kids out to dinner instead of cooking, he lets them watch tv on a school night, he gets caught up in chasing them around the house, but he also reigns them in and sets them back on my system, cleans up after all of them and has the house ready for me to relax when I get home.

What I’m trying to say is that putting yourself first is great.  Putting yourself first while remembering that we are all sharing the same path, life, goals and that instead of stoking the fire behind our light with selfish intentions, we need to polish the globe that our light shines through so that we have more to give.  We need to become better people so that our light can be shared with someone whose light is flickering, someone who needs a light to set their sights on, be the light at the end of the tunnel that brings people hope.

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Girls Night Out

This weekend I spent a good portion of the weekend with my 17-year-old daughter.  She requested my time and then followed through with coming to visit.  No, this is not another rant about what a great parent I am.  This will be a monologue on a little bit of how my anxiety almost ruined the weekend and how the baby steps are what makes the big things all that more important.

Anxiety is a massive issue that I face daily.  It corners me at the worst times and rarely lets me alone for very long.  There are multiple reasons for the anxiety.  Some of it stems from a childhood spent being fought over by my parents, both literally (I learned to duck at an early age) and figuratively (I went home from Christmas break from one school and back in Jan to a different school).  This instability caused me a great deal of uncertainty.  I held nothing sacred.  Making friends seems ridiculous when you have no idea how long you will actually be in the same school, club, or team as your peers. Joining school activities is meaningless when the chance you can’t finish the project/season is pretty high.  The intense sense of not existing has been ingrained in me for a very long time.  

The rest of my anxiety has compounded on this early introduction into hell.  Men that treat you like you are a commodity feels much more comfortable than choosing a partner that sees you.  A partner that puts you first and that gives you a say is devastating.  It is scary as hell to be seen when you have spent your whole life hiding.  

Now to relate this to this weekend.  Gab wanted to spend time doing something with me.  This puts me into overdrive because I don’t deserve to spend money on myself or my children.  I also need to be home accomplishing all the things that obviously no one else can do but me …. Dishes, cooking, cleaning, caring for the children … you know my job.  I don’t get a day off nor do I deserve help.

Now that I got that self-deprecating bullshit out of the way, let me state that they are all the thoughts that go through my head the second that Gab asks me to go do something with her.  What I actually said was that I would love to go do something with her.  Bob was home on time, had no issue taking care of the children, had plans for dinner, and gleefully kicked me in the ass as he shoved me out of the door.  He yelled at me when I started texting him, telling me that I was to be spending time with my daughter and not talking to him.  

This all makes me very uncomfortable.  I have to be present with my daughter.  I have to enjoy myself.  I have to be happy out in the big wide real world.  I have to leave behind my carefully constructed walls that I hide behind.  I can’t be consumed by running after a younger child or be desperately needed to find the matching sock in the bottom of the laundry basket.

I did go out with Gab.  I actually spent both Friday night and Saturday afternoon and evening with her.  We had a great time.  I spent money that wasn’t supposed to be used for bills.  We had no curfew.  Bob took care of the other kids, did the dishes, settled all the in fighting and never once called me to solve the problem, never once made me feel bad about choosing to spend time with one over all.  

It was a great weekend after I finally was able to let go of the discomfort of living in the real world and let go of the insanity that hurricanes through my head in a cyclone.

Be Thankful ….

For even the littlest things.  When you get a text from your teen aged daughter telling you she doesn’t have to work all weekend and then she asks if she can she come visit, you immediately say yes.  I talk about my children often.  Hopefully, through my stories, my relationship with them is evident.  I love my kids.  All million of them.  I love them each very differently.  

In my post titled Being Me, I talked about being a chameleon and how my view of that characteristic has changed recently.  Thankfully, I am looking at everything with a microscope recently.  My oldest daughter calling me at 8:30 am on a Sunday morning just to say hi and let me know she is still alive and kicking (a morbid joke we have in our family which I will explain later).  My next oldest texting Bob out of the blue to see if she can surprise me and take me out to the movies.  T14-year-old hanging out with the old fogies in the kitchen, dancing and smiling.  The sound of multiple “good night I love you”s coming from the upstairs.  

The piece of my life that I kept missing was the moment to really see what is right in front of me.  With the last monster, there was never a moment to breath.  Time was consumed with chaos and disaster relief efforts.  There was nothing left at the end of the night to give to anyone or anything.  Now Bob has slowed down my life so much there is nothing but time.  So I feel compelled to fill that time.  Only now I fill it with wedding planning, texting my kids, binge watching Netflix, taking deep breaths and lastly finding myself.  

Going back to the title, be thankful for even the littlest things.  That feels wrong already.  It should be more along the lines of “Be thankful for everything”.  The idea that everything has a lesson has always been something that I believed.  However, there were many years that the lessons were profoundly difficult to survive.  These years pushed me into a corner that was not pretty.  Looking out from my cornered position all I saw was a bleakness that led right into the next astronomically monumental lesson and that into yet another insanely impossible lesson.  These lessons, I believed, made me stronger.  Gave me a tough exterior that provided me some minimal protection against the next even more difficult lesson.  What I didn’t see was that the lessons were getting harder and coming faster because I was not learning from them but instead, head down, pushing through, surviving them.  There was no thought put into my defenses, any longer, simply gut reaction.  It is true that learning to react is still learning but it is a response to a stimulus not a carefully negotiated plan of attack.  It is the id’s playing field.  When learning is occurring, the super ego is involved.  The need is not for survival but for bettering the self.  

Be thankful for everything used to me grinning and barely through the struggles to find the light at the end of the tunnel, now it is becoming the greater task of not squinting in the continual sunshine.  To be able to bask in the light long enough to see that the shade may be nearby but it is in no way where I live any longer.  This is not meant to be an I am holier than thou commentary.  Hopefully, reading about my life shows others that my way is not the right way, it was my way, but that each of us has the capability to achieve anything.  That there is light all around us and not at the end of the tunnel.  Take off the shades, slowly, and look around.  My progress was not overnight and is still each day a struggle to maintain.  There is no easy fix and absolutely no guarantees, but there is hope and so much to be thankful for.  

Not A Morning Person

Let me preface this whole thought with the fact that I am not a morning person.  There has never been a time in my life where the sun and I got along.  I live by the creed that I would much rather stay up till 4 am then get up at 4 am.  My teen years and my early twenties were spent pulling all nighters for multiple reasons, some school related, some work related, some just because and then finally mostly due to parenting such a large brood.  

Now onto the real topic of the thought today.  One of the major changes in my life over the last few months is that I need to be up and functional at what I feel is an insanely early time.  Bob leaves for work early most mornings.  This doesn’t require my attention necessarily but due to my high anxiety, I began waking up with him to make sure that he had everything he needed and to spend that extra few minutes close to him.  Some of you may be able to relate, some not so much.  The overwhelming fear that I have not done something that he needed of me was intense.  When I first started staying over with him, I was not in charge of the laundry.  This lead to there being some mornings when he needed to search for his work clothes.  I took this as a direct affront to my skills to care for him.  Now before judging me on my self-talk, understand that I have spent many, many years in a relationship where everything was my fault and that I was solely responsible for the care and management of everyone and everything in the household.  Waking up in the morning to him dealing with chaos upset me greatly, so I took over the laundry.  Then I woke up with him every morning to confirm that I had accomplished the laundry to his liking.  

I could go on and on describing all the anxiety that ran through my head like a hurricane every morning.  The chaos of trying to be two steps ahead of him so he had no needs or wants that were not already met.  I know that there is no way, in reality, for me to be able to do and be everything that he needs in this world.  My goal should have been to have a clean, organized, well run home so he can make his own choices easily.  Here is where the change of focus came for my anxiety.  Now every day I spend my time making the house and the family schedule more streamlined.  This leaves my choices wide open for his scrutiny.  I lay in bed at night and in the morning panicking about him disagreeing with my methods.

In short, my anxiety changed from not being able to care for him to not being able to care for him the way I see fit.  This is a subtle but extremely important differentiation.  The first is driven by the illogical preface that I can read his mind in order to care for him the way he wants me to.  The second is driven by my inability to trust him to tell me the truth if he disagrees with something I have chosen to do.  Both leave me in a puddle on the floor in fear.  I can’t possibly read his mind and at the same time I am still holding on to the ingrained fear that he is lying to me.  He can’t possibly be happy with me.  Oh and let me list the reasons why.  My body, my mind, my attitude…. The list goes on and on.  

The anxiety that runs rampant through my head feels like a hurricane that never moves on, but rather hits category 5 and remains stationary in the middle of my conscience.  

 

I have been working through this with my therapist.  She constantly reminds me to slow down and find the evidence.  The evidence to prove that whatever craziness I have allowed to consume my every waking moment is either based on facts or a creation of my very own.  Very rarely does the evidence prove my insanity right.  The last relationship I was in cost me my sanity for a long time.  The evidence was never consistent, never genuine, and always needed to be reevaluated.  With Bob, it is easier to make connections, healthy connections.  He gets out of bed every morning, easily finds his work clothes, never misses kissing me goodbye and always tells me he loves me.  Multiple repetitions of his pattern are evidence that they are true.  That he isn’t putting up with me or not happy with his surroundings.  He comes home every night at a decent time, eats dinner with the family, spends time with me and the kids, and makes sure that I am tucked in next to him every night.  Again more patterns that give evidence to his happiness and my ability to care for my family.  

This may sound backward.  He doesn’t make me happy, he doesn’t cause me to want to care for my family.  Instead, he fits into my wants and needs.  My patterns seem to make him feel safe and loved.   His patterns make me feel safe and loved.  Neither of us is changing to be something for the other one, instead, we are being ourselves and the other person is reaping the same benefit as we are.  Happiness is finding the person that fits into your pattern in a way that feels right to both of you.

Back to school at last

There have been few days that I have anticipated with as much enthusiasm as the famed first day of school.  Most years I have either eagerly sent most of the children in my home off to a glorious day away from me or packed everyone up in a blaze of glory and arrived at work with them.  Working in a school setting has been both a joy and a curse for me.  The oldest two girls left and I spent hours on end working and caring for the younger children still at home.  This did not afford me a break at all.  In fact, it took away the little assistance I did get from any older children helping around the house.

The past two years the youngest two have been home with me.  And by youngest I mean, now 10 and 14 years old.  I made the choice to enroll them in a cyber school.  How hard can it be I thought to my insane self.  And then it started.  There was crying, screaming, throwing of hard items, slamming of many doors and much worse.  That is not even to mention the absolutely marvelous behavior that my children exhibited.  Now, to be honest, it was not the worst decision I have ever made in my life.  It was reversible and relatively easily at that.

This year, for multiple reasons, all of them except the 14yr old have gone back to brick and mortar.  The first week I wanted to shoot myself, however this week there is a sense of order that I have not had in a very long time.  Some of it is residual from being with the man of my dreams but the last nudge came from the hours of peace and quiet.  

I have learned a significant amount about myself over the last few years, most of the biggest growth coming in the last year.  Through all the struggling to find me, I also found my kids again.  This is the first time that I can remember that all of my girls request my presence or at least reach out to me.  The oldest and I have had rocky teenage years.  Our relationship suffered long years of silence, multiple bouts of screaming matches, a few too many separations and has finally seemed to settle into a mutual respect for space and time.  I am not nor will I ever be a conventional mother.  My children call me at 3 am to talk, sometimes drunk other times sad or lonely.  They call to make plans to hang out with me.  I’m privileged enough to be friends with them on Facebook and Instagram including their Finstagram.  Their friends find it completely insane that I know that they drink, experiment with sex and drugs and that I’m fine with all of this.  

What they all don’t realize is that, as a parent, I had to make a choice.  I could alienate my children by pretending to be a perfect adult who knows what they are doing and who has never made a mistake or show them that growing up isn’t easy, that at 43 years old I still have panic attacks and still question myself.  They see that I’m open to any discussion that they want to have, no matter the topic.  I don’t judge nor do I decide.  I have a discussion.  They bring me their questions and I share with them my true experiences.  All the good and the bad and let them decide the best thing for themselves.  I can’t tell them who they are but by having these conversations with them, I get to learn who they are.  What they want out of life.  What they struggle with in the wee hours of the morning.  Which of their friends is going through a tough time.  I am the one that gets to be proud of the brave, strong and amazing women they are becoming.  Not for the beautiful facade they show to the world but because of the truth.  

How does this all go back to the first day of school?  Because sitting here in the silence of my home, I can just be.  I can know for sure that my children love me.  That no matter where they are in this world, they have the skills and support to have any firsts that they want.  First days at a new school, first day of college, first night in their first apartment, first love, first heartache, first moment they know they are perfect just as they are.

 

Being Me

Being me has always been an issue for me.  There is no me.  When I am with this person I am this version of myself, and this person this version of myself.  It’s akin to being a chameleon.  I have been accused my whole life of being a pleaser, a ghost of myself in order to seek attention.  This is not exactly true.

I have been searching for me for the last several months.  Since Bob has entered the center stage I have altered myself to fit this new life we have together.  When we were just friends drinking beer on the porch I was one version of myself, now that we are playing house together I need to be another ghost of myself.  This is not a lie.  This is not a ploy to make him love me more.  He loves both parts of me.  This is me adapting to my requirements.  There is nothing wrong with this.  Watching my children, who are watching my transformation with keen eyes, I have seen that even with my own children I am different ghosts of myself.  This unsettled me at first.  I was uncomfortable with seeing myself as a person who can’t even be authentic with my own children, but then I saw it.   The golden ticket to take away from this is that each of my children is distinctly different from each other, they have been raised with me meeting them where they are.  Not forcing them to be someone who they aren’t in order to spend time with their mother.  This has allowed each of them to grow and explore their own wants and needs.  The biggest portion of this that matters is that they feel confident in talking to me on their terms, talking to me about absolutely anything that is bothering them or that they are trying to work out.  I know exactly how to calm each of them and which of them can be best put to which task.  Knowing them this way has allowed us all to work together as a unit that has accomplished amazing steps.  We have been through a lot.  Together.  As ourselves.

This knowing people is how I have survived this long flying under the radar.  This is also why I have no true friends.  People come into my life.  They reveal what they need from me and I graciously provide it.  Then they grow past me or simply move on to some new stage of life and leave me where we met.  They don’t look back and search for me because they no longer need what I provided.  I just fade away.  I am not unique.

This bothered me for many years.  I felt untrue.  I felt like there was something wrong with me that I was so easily walked away from.  That some how I was less of a person if I wasn’t unique.  The recent introspect that has brought me around on this is my relationship with Bob.  I am not conforming to what he wants.  I am falling into a role.  I am doing this to make his life better, happier.  But it is not without return.  I can read, I’ve returned to writing, my children see a calmer me, they have laughter in their life.

I need structure.  I need a man who can set me in the direction of my goals and push me to reach them.  I need a family that has space to be themselves.  I need Bob.

He doesn’t give me a list to do but knowing him as well as I do, I know what will make him calmer.  What will ease his distress?  What causes laughter to erupt from his belly? What gives him peaceful moments with the children and myself.  This could be seen as me pleasing him, giving into him, bending to his will.  Except he doesn’t ask any of this of me, never requires anything of me.  He is extremely pleased with me, or at least he says he is, but it is in no way dependent upon me fulfilling any specific void in his life.

We are both still healing from past chaos.  This love that we found is respectful of those scars and open gashes.  They are looked at and examined not ignored or brushed under the table.  He allows me to feel seen.  I feel heard.  Not silenced, not shushed.  He meets me where I am and joins me in my moment instead of forcing me to meet him in order to be acknowledged.  I hope this is how my children feel about my relationship with them.  I hope that they raise their children the same way.  I hope that my new step-children can settle into this new way of being.  This new calm we have created.

Concrete Shoes on the Moon

Today Mia pushed past a fear of hers.  She rode on the public bus and survived.  This sounds like a small feet, but to her it is the equivalent of walking on the moon in concrete boots.  She did the whole panic thing, sweaty palms, hyper-focusing on her phone, tapping like a fiend on her leg.  To me it was amusing.  My dis-associative disorder comes in handy when people close to me are in distress.  I know how that sounds.  It sounds like I am a bad parent, it woos people into believing that I have no feelings for people or that I have little sympathy for others.  It is actually quite different.  I see everything from an analytical point of view.  An unemotional one which allows me to step back and take in the whole situation.

Mia has many of the same traits as I do in this aspect.  She has a tendency to step out of the situation and not be present.  In the heat of the moment, she goes into superwoman mood.  Put her into any situation that she needs to accomplish a goal and she excels, but put her into a spot where she can’t focus on the outside and instead must be present and accountable to herself and she falls apart.  This makes me nervous.  It makes me pause and reflect on the things I have passed along to my children unintentionally.

My oldest daughter, Kat, whom I have written about before, turned out ok.  Well, let me rephrase that, holding her life against the new mirror which I have discovered, she is better off than me but not all that main stream.  Which means that I have accomplished my goal.

Before having children, I swore that I would parenting like my dad.  My dad, while growing up, was less like a father and more like a friend.  At the time I had mixed emotions about it.  I wanted a parent that was involved.  My mom worked a million hours and tried her hardest to put a roof over our head and food on our table.  My dad did not work, did not pay child support, did not provide a roof or food for us.  What my dad did do was show up for everything.  He ran me to all of my activities, was involved in my Girl Scout troop, later on dropped me off at the train station for Senior Skip Day, drove me both to and from college every weekend.  He was the first one that I called the day that I got my first tattoo, my first piercing, when I was too drunk to drive, when the man of my dreams broke my heart, when I was depressed or anxious or down right suicidal.  My dad never missed a single emotion in my life.

I am hoping that I am that parent for my kids.  As well as the one who helps put a roof over their heads and food in their bellies.  When my oldest were young I succeeded at this but not in a healthy way.  I left their dad when they were 4 and 2.  I pretty much immediately moved in with my second husband.  They got lost in the shuffle quickly.  I was the one who was the absent parent but at the same time the most prevalent one.  i was at every doctors appointment, all the field trips, there to wake them and changed the majority of the diapers.  I worked 80 hours a week, took 18 credits at the local college, helped raise an additional 3 young children part time and bore 2 more.  I am exhausted just writing it, nonetheless living it.  I also lost a baby in this time frame.  Their life was chaotic and angry and full of aggression.  The relationship that I had with my second husband was not a quiet one.  The police were involved and so was my family.

Through all of that, they bounded stronger to No 2 than to me.  This made sense to me at the time.  They spent more time with him having fun.  My time was forced and required.  They also felt the strain on the money end if I took off to do something with them.  The fights were horrendous and frequent.  They oldest became the hand off.  Whatever baby I was holding would be thrust at her amid screams to “Run!”.  This was not how I wanted to live but I felt trapped and unable to alter the course I had chosen years before.

When I finally left him, it was in typical blown up fashion.  There was cops, my parents, a PFA and Children and Youth involved.  I was made out to be the bad person and I of course made yet another rash decision.  We jumped from the frying pan into the fire, right into HIS arms.

During our stint with Him, I lost both my older girls multiple times.  Not through legal means but because they chose not to come visit me anymore.  Part of me was relieved.  It hurt the core of my being to not have them with me, to have them blatantly tell him I wasn’t worthy of being called their mother, but at the same time a good portion of me knew they were at least no longer in the line of fire.  He had special venom just for them.  The poison that he spat at them was the same that had been spewed over him, his whole life.  They were better than Him, had a much brighter future and because of that He needed to make sure they never succeeded.  It was his special pleasure to bring everyone around him down to the level he believed that he was, to never allow the light to shine into our family, even when there was plenty of it to go around He just couldn’t fathom that there was any at all.  He could look at a piece of gold and convince himself that it was Fool’s Gold.

Leaving Him started to bring back my girls.  Started to show them that I was done with not being loved.  Done shutting out the world so that I could sit in the middle of the anger that I was convinced I deserved.  They are still angry, hurt and feel like I am a dollar short and a day late, but I have been friended on their Finstagram accounts, asked to go get tattoos with them, messaged at 3 am when they were not only sad but happy too.  I am finally becoming that parent.  The one that I wanted to be all along.  The one that rides that line, not friend but not parent.  I hate to seem cliche and hear me out before judging, but they are raised all ready.  They can provide for themselves, have good moral character, know the difference between choice and peer pressure, and now they are looking for refining.  They are looking for the reassurance at 3 am that no matter what they are going through at that moment that it is indeed the most important thing to someone.  To know that their choices are acceptable and that if they have that feeling in the pit of their stomach someone is there to help sort it out.  If I judge, if I parent then the drug question is answered by a 20 yr-old, the birth control hidden and the date rape never avoided.  They are ridiculed by their friends for sharing with me.  I see the humor in their smiles when they say that I’d rather know than receive the dreaded call at 2 am and be blind sided.

The concrete boots that Mia felt this morning didn’t alter the course of my plans.  Instead it strengthened the relationship between her and I.  She saw that her fear was not cuddled, not fanned, not ignored, but instead acknowledged and respectfully dismissed.  She survived just like the two before her.

The concrete boots seem less scary when you walk in them next to someone who knows what they feel like.