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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Making Friends with Change

As I sit writing this, there is a Christmas tree in the corner of the room. And on that tree is not one of my ornaments. The ornaments I’ve collected for 37 years. They, along with all the rest of my belongings have been in storage for a year.

I am wary of change. I’ve always liked things to be safe...predictable. Years ago I sat in a pew at First Parish Brewster and listened to Jim Robinson tell us - change is your friend and tried to believe that.

I clung to those words as I went through more changes than I can count. Divorce, children leaving for college, my parents deaths, breakups, loss of friendships, and job changes. For someone who has feared change as much as I have, I’ve been through a boatload of it.

So you may wonder,  why are all my things in storage?

Last year I sold my house. The house I’d lived in for 18 years. It was a house my former husband and I had built. I’d picked out every tile, light fixture and color. Even though it was too much for me financially and physically I clung to it. After so many changes, so many losses, this home was the only security I had. But with my back to the wall I took a leap of faith and sold it.

I will spare you the details of the awful, protracted and acrimonious real estate deal I went through, but suffice it to say, my fantasy of handing over my lovely home to someone who was wonderful and would love it the way I did, and having some security was dispelled. But I let go.  

Faith is what gets you through change. It is what allowed me to put one foot in front of another and keep going even when that felt impossible.

I have moved three times since January. I have not been able to find a year-round rental, and it’s been a struggle. After moving in with my boyfriend into his winter rental last January, I was positive by summer I’d find something. I didn’t. Thankfully, one of my dearest friends took us in for those eight weeks we had to leave. During that time she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and she and I both immediately knew that’s why I was there.

That’s the thing about change, it often isn’t until you’re in the middle of it, or slightly on the other side of it that you see the why. It’s having faith in knowing you don’t have to know, it’s trusting that maybe there’s a reason, and that change will lead you to a better more interesting place.

My marriage ended so I could grow into the person I was supposed to become. My son’s descent into and recovery from heroin addiction made me a better person. A stronger, more compassionate, less judgmental person. Selling my house and not having my things has made me see how little they really matter. It’s friendships, family and love that matter, not stuff.

It may be that despite myself I have begun to make friends with change, to be less afraid of it. I will still often try to avoid it, but I’ve learned a new motto, something I learned from the world of improv. When life throws me an opportunity to do something that challenges me, that scares me, instead of running away I have learned to say yes, please, and I have to say, my life has become much richer, fun, and interesting because of it.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Just A Little Lie

I was asked to write a story about a lie to read at an event. This is the one I recalled from my childhood. I hope you enjoy it!

I was an unusual child. A bit more worrisome, a bit more sensitive, never quite like everyone else. I always spent a lot of time alone amusing myself like I’m sure everyone did, by playing library with my dolls and stuffed animals.

I was scared of the life size doll who lived in the back of my closet, monsters under my bed and the dark.

I may have been a scardy cat, but I never lied. except the time I peed in a box in my closet when I was four, because, well, why not? After discovering the evidence my mom told me, quite sternly that we had been going to do something special that afternoon, but because of what I had done we weren’t She died five years ago having never told me what that special something was. The not knowing still haunts me.

With a history of not lying, and pretty much being a good girl to the enth degree, I set off for my first day of first grade. My outfit had been carefully planned - a smocked, plaid dress, new Mary Janes, ankle socks and a brand new super poofy petticoat that crinkled when I walked. I was a vision of five-year-old splendor.

What I now realize is I was so focused on how adorable my outfit was I failed to realize that once we got to school, me in my super cute outfit, that my Mom would be leaving. Leaving as in, I’d be alone with complete strangers. What was she thinking?!

I’d gone to a private kindergarten, but that was kid’s play compared to real school. This was the big time - more kids! Recess! Desks! All day long! Well, I would be walking home for lunch with my brother, but I was essentially being thrown out into the world for up to three hours at a time. I panicked. My brother was long gone into the super secret world known as  fifth grade. I was abandoned, alone - except for my teacher and 20 other kids. But for all intents and purposes I was totally alone.

Before class the teacher had us go out on the playground to get some fresh air and get acquainted. Alright, this could be good. A little hopscotch, a little jump rope. I could totally do this. I killed at jump rope.

But the thing was, no one came over to me to ask me to play. I stood there alone, too shy (or as I later discovered many self-help books later) introverted to approach anyone, and no one was seeking me out.

So, in a moment of what I now realize is pretty genius thinking, I did the only thing my five-almost six-year-old brain could think of. I grabbed my eye and started to cry. A teacher came running over, understandably concerned and asked me what was wrong.

“I have a piece of glass in my eye!” I wailed.Where this idea came from I have no idea, but looking back I think, well played little Candy.
Soon I was surrounded by all sorts of teachers, and the principal. What I could not comprehend at the time was that my father was their boss. A newly minted wunderkind superintendent brought in to fix an ailing school system. And here they were - first day of school and they had broken his only daughter. My mother was immediately summoned.

I’m sure on sight my mother knew the truth, but back in her arms everything felt okay once again. We walked home, me still insisting my eye hurt. She played along, rinsing it with some water, putting a  warm compress - her answer for everything - on it. I had some graham crackers and thought, okay, day one was done. But no, after lunch she took me back.

I ended up falling in love with my teacher, Miss Kennedy, the prettiest teacher ever. I was not the only one to fall for her however, one month into the school year she got married and left. My father was never able to secure another full time teacher for our class and we ended up with 22 substitutes over the school year. You can rightfully assume I didn’t handle all those changes very well, but I never pretended to have glass in my eye again.  From that day on I took a far more dignified approach - crying in a stall in the girl’s bathroom. A coping strategy I still  to this day find quite effective.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Next New Thing

I recently upended my life. On purpose. And now I'm thinking, now what?

I decided last fall to sell my home of 17 years, which, as such a decision will, set forth a cascade of emotions, and more work than I ever could have expected. But now it's over. I've moved and I am feeling a little...lost.

We are not defined by our four walls, but they are the nest that holds us. The launching pad we thrust ourselves out into the world from. When the nest is gone, we lose a little bit of our sense of self.

Freed of a ridiculous amount of financial stress I feel like I can breathe again, And being a good student of years of therapy, and a life coach myself, I am practicing a lot of self-care, a term I must admit makes me cringe just a little. But I am taking care of myself. I joined a gym and go everyday, and am taking yoga three times a week. I am trying hard to put body and soul back together one downward facing dog at a time.

While most of my belongings are in storage while I figure out a longer term plan, I was smart enough to bring pieces of home with me. I am sleeping in my own bed, making bread dough in my Kitchen-Aid mixer, putting my feet up on my coffee table, and of course, snuggling with my cats. I am also living with a man who loves me very much, and whom I love. It's all good. I am supported, loved and healthy. So why do I feel so insecure? At times so scared?

It's because I've stepped out of my comfort zone, and that's always scary. It's the same part of us that stays in a relationship that isn't working because at least it's familiar. Even though I had an almost constant stomach ache over worrying about money, I was in MY house where I felt safe. I'm thinking this is an amended definition of insanity - continuing to do something that is incredibly stressful because to think of doing something else is way too scary.

I truly don't know what's next and it's the most exciting and frightening thing ever. I don't know where I'm living come July, but I have faith that it will all work out. I know it will. I have a writing partner I adore who challenges and inspires me to do more and to dream big.

Maybe that's the big takeaway - allowing myself to dream again. To shake off the shackles of servitude to a piece of property. My children are all grown and successfully living their lives and I can, for the first time since becoming a mom at 21, just think about what I want to do next.

The unknown is kind of a scary place for a control freak. I'm trying to make friends with it, and little by little I am. I have my moments where I miss my home so much it hurts, but when I remember the reality, that it was a very one-sided relationship, it helps. We needed to break up. It was time. And now there's a lot of room for all sorts of new things to bubble to the surface and I can't wait to see what's next. I think.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Tweaking (not twerking) a New Version of Yourself

Things have been a little less than wonderful lately, and I haven't exactly been graceful about it. Job and money stress have gotten the best of me. Thankfully I have a saint of a boyfriend who's listened to me, hugged me when I've been crying and not fled.

And, thank goodness I have a writing partner who reminded me of some very important realities. Like telling myself and others that I'm cloaked in failure and a loser were not exactly going to help me, and darn it, aren't true.

My fake sister, is a smart cookie. She pointed out that for each of us our default setting is optimism. We're both people who believe in what we are doing and are hard wired for happiness. I just forgot it for a minute. Okay, more than a minute.

The metaphorical kick in the pants turned it around. Everything is the same - I'm still looking for more work, and my bank account isn't too flush, but what changed is my attitude about it. I remembered that like attracts like and if I want good things that's what I need to focus on. When you're throwing around words like "failure," and "loser," and "broke" they impact your actions and view of the world. It also impacts how the world sees you.

"The Secret" gave kind of a bad rap to the law of attraction, and it's a shame because there is a great deal of truth to it. Think of going through your day with a smile versus a grimace and  see what comes your way.

It's not always easy to stay on the path. That's where a good friend/fake sister come in handy. It's easy to get discouraged. Life can be very hard. We can't control everything, but we can control what we say to ourselves and our reaction to adversity. Sure we're going to go through times when we feel like everything is falling apart, we're human. But if we're really lucky we have people around us who love us enough to remind us, it's all okay. And it's only going to get better.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Everyone Needs A Buddy

I was talking to my writing partner the other day about relationships because, well, we always have to talk before we get down to working.Susan and I are fake sisters in a fake advice column... yeah, it's kind of complicated. I love having a buddy to write with because most of my writing projects and hours are spent  alone. It is a joy to have someone wonderful to bounce things off of and inspire me to be better than I am alone.

As we were discussing the book we're working on we knew we wanted a chapter on relationships. She said before she got married someone said to her that marriage should be a sanctuary. "Everyone needs a buddy," she said.

That stuck with me. She's right. We do all need a buddy.

Since my divorce, 15 years ago, I have spent much of that time on my own without a special buddy.For a long time I didn't want anyone, I was all good being alone. I was never all alone, I had my kids, mom, brother, but not a guy. None of the men I dated felt like they were my buddy, that special person who is there for whatever comes up. I didn't always like it, but like Gretchen trying to make "fetch" happen in "Mean Girls," you can't make someone into a buddy if they're not into it.

I should back up here and define what I mean by buddy. In this instance what I mean is that person who's there for you through thick and thin. That person, who when you throw yourself on your bed in tears, the result of a mix of hormones and  overwhelm, clutching your cat (this is a purely hypothetical by the way and totally did not happen last night) hugs you, and tells you everything is going to be okay.A buddy.

Having a buddy doesn't fix everything, but it makes life a little bit easier and comfortable. It took me a long time to find someone buddy-worthy, and I like it. He signs up for things like accompanying me to a work-related cocktail party I know he'd rather miss, but he knows I'm shy and hate going alone. A true buddy does that. And I'm his buddy too... I'm in the audience at many events he's playing at and there to listen and give a good bucking up when needed. Buddies.

There's nothing that tells me that I need a husband, or that I need to be a wife, but I do need a buddy. I went without one for a very long time and now that I have it, I see how vital it is. Independence is great. I'm glad I spent a lot of time on my own, but after rescuing myself for many years, it's good to have back up. We all need backup. We all need a buddy.

Monday, July 22, 2013

On Being a Fatherless Daughter

Last night I watched "Oprah's Lifeclass" on Daddyless Daughters. As I watched and listened to these women talk about what it was like for them to grow up without a father I realized I have never had a friend who had the same experience I did. I've had friends whose dad's died when they were kids, but it's different when your dad leaves and has little to nothing to do with you for your entire life.

My father left when I was in second grade. No one said anything, he was just gone. My mother, brother and I moved, she went back to teaching and no one talked about it. I thought he was on a long business trip until one day I heard the word "divorce" when my mom was talking on the phone.

For a while he came to visit, but after a while it stopped. In high school I began to visit him once in a while, but it was never good. He'd drink too much. and he was so critical it was hardly satisfying. My father, in his brief forays into my life was obsessed with what I looked like. As long as I was thin and pretty I was lovable.
When daughters don't have a father they don't have a man who has set the standard for how they should be treated and what to expect from a man. We don't have a yardstick and inner confidence to know what we deserve so we don't always make good choices.

Girls like me who grew up without a father often either build walls and not let anyone in, or so desperate to be loved we settle for much less than we deserve. I have done both.

I married very young because I desperately wanted to create the safety of the family I never had. I worried my husband would leave and held on so tight he had no choice but to leave. And that was when I began to grow up and heal.

When the worst thing you think could happen to you - again - happens and you survive, it is empowering. When I was married I suffered from a debilitating panic disorder, when my marriage ended I got better. I think I thought if I was helpless he wouldn't leave, but he did. I let go of that because I no longer needed it.

I can't say I've been stellar in all my choices in relationships since my divorce. I am a natural born fixer, and a pleaser. It's easy for women like me to tolerate behaviors we shouldn't because it's hard to ask for what we need, because if you're not perfect they will leave. That's hard to say. So I will say it again. I have spent my life worrying that if I'm not perfect I will be left.

But the great thing is, you can heal, you can change, and you can make better choices. After years of not speaking up, of being treated in ways that were not worthy of just how wonderful I am, I made a conscious decision to choose differently. And when I redefined what I wanted and needed, I changed, and I chose differently.

When my father died almost six years ago I had not seen him in 30 years. We exchanged some letters and phone calls in his later years, and I was able to forgive him. That said, I didn't want to see him, and I am at peace with my choice.

I debated long and hard about whether to post this, almost deleted it, but in the end decided that it's important for woman, especially mid-lifers like me, who maybe grew up feeling like alone in this to know, you're not alone. And just because you didn't have a dad doesn't mean you're not lovable or worthy. As soon as you can really get that, and love yourself you will be able to let a man (or woman) get close to you and really love you and not build walls or worry all the time that they're going to leave too, because you will know that you are whole and wonderful. No matter who comes or goes, you are perfectly perfect, just as you are.