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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.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Stop Trying To Be A Manic Pixie Dream Girl And Be Your Own Muse

So I am more than a bit past the age of being a manic pixie dream girl. Those girls who are unfailingly cute and whimsical. But I cop to being a girly girl who sometimes trades in the currency of  being pleasing and adorable. Not easy to admit.

This morning I read this piece by Laurie Penny about having been a MPDG and had to admit to many of the traits myself. Mostly what stopped me in my tracks was this:

Men grow up expecting to be the hero of their own story. Women grow up expecting to be the supporting actress in somebody else's.

I had to admit to this.This is me. I came of age during the onset of the women's movement, but somehow I still find myself playing small.

See, the thing is, I have a super power. Want to know what it is? I see the potential in people and their dreams. I can see the company they want to start being hugely successful, the book they want to write being a best seller, and the cookies they make - the next Mrs. Field's! This has its upside, I am a great friend and cheerleader. I will back you one-hundred and fifty-percent. My weakness however has been when I do this with men. The more I champion their potential, the less I embrace my own.

This trope has led me to thinking if I loved a man enough he could become everything he is meant to be, he will be successful, be healthy, stop his self-destructive habits and, I had to face this reality - take care of me so i don't have to think about my own potential.

I have spent many years trying to fix men who I thought needed me. Whether it was to become more emotionally available, more open, more loving, to stop using alcohol and drugs to escape their pain...if I was doing my job well, they would be healed.  And we would be happy.

But the thing was, like so many women (and men too I am sure) I used them as a distraction from embracing my own power, always a little too afraid to really go after what I wanted and playing way too small for myself, but never for them. They would have the big career, the best-selling books, the muti-million dollar company, not me. It has always been too scary to go after what I want, it was safer to focus on them and their dreams instead of my own.

Now however, I am starting to think, why not me?

My only value isn't in being adorable and loving and working hard to please someone else. My value is far deeper and richer than my face and pleasing nature. At mid-life I feel like I am finally willing to stand up for myself and declare - I want more for myself, and I deserve it. I have worked very hard and it's time for me to take a deep breath and step into the light.

Maybe I will make more than the guy I am with, and that's okay. And maybe I will not let what I want take a back seat to his dreams, and maybe I will finally begin to see my own potential, just like I've always seen everyone elses. 

I am learning. I have now picked a guy who doesn't need to be fixed, and encourages me to swing for the fences. He never diminishes my dreams, and I am not making his my own. We are each others cheerleaders and champions, not an excuse to not do what we need to do for ourselves.

Perhaps I am finally ready to step into being the leading lady of my life rather than a supporting character in everyone elses . In some ways it feels a little late and I am angry at myself for it taking so long to stop being scared and giving all my best cheerleading away to others rather than encouraging myself.  But better late than never. It could be that the best relationship I could ever dream of is with myself, that person with all the potential I just happened to have forgotten about.


Sunday, June 30, 2013

In A Mommy War Nobody Wins

One of my pet peeves is how terrible women can be to each other. Almost nowhere is it more apparent than how we compete as mothers. From eying the lunches the other mom's make and what they are wearing, we judge, we snark and beat ourselves up for never being enough.

Headlines scream, "Body after baby!" and we look on  in awe as celebrities, seemingly overnight, are back in the minus-sized jeans looking rested and blissful. Occasionally a celeb will come forward and share their stories of post-baby depression, but for the most part we expect to pop babies out and snap back into shape pronto. And that is only the beginning. After that it is off to the races.

Through my own children's school years I witnessed women competing over getting to be room mother for their child's class, making the best costumes for Halloween and cupcakes for birthday parties. There was a never-ending gauntlet to run and never win. I endlessly compared myself to mothers I thought were doing it better, doing more and looking beautiful while doing it. I truly felt like I was never enough.

And this was before mommy blogs and Pinterest. In many ways I was lucky, my children, now all young adults, came of age in a somewhat less competitive time. The world pre-Internet was smaller and less intimidating. Now, there is no escaping how you're falling short. It's right there on your friend's Facebook pages, in the crafts you've pinned, and on the cover of US Magazine. You're not throwing a Game of Thrones themed party for your 12-year-old, and you're certainly not a millionaire mom-preneur rocking size 2 jeans while balancing a baby on one hip, and your vegan-friendly, uber-chic designer bag on the other. And as they grow the platforms for competition only gets worse.

I have been on both sides of the mommy war lines. Two of my children were super successful in high school, my daughter went to Wellesley College, and her brother had a great academic scholarship to Northeastern University. Both graduated and are self-sufficient and doing great, interesting, creative things with their lives.

My oldest son didn't go to college. He became a heroin addict. It's hard to feel like you've won the mom war when your child becomes a junkie. I learned the hard way to know who your real friends are, and how toxic and hurtful judgment can be.

I've had to admit to myself that had I only had my two younger children it would have been easy to judge other parents whose children dropped out of school, or had addiction issues. When faced with the issue myself I was humbled. I now knew there were no guarantees of perfect children, no matter what sugar-free, additive free cereal you bought them.

Parenting is hard, and it's also a bit of a crap shoot. Most of us are truly trying our best, even if it doesn't look that way to you. At a certain point we eventually realize (hopefully) that we have little control over what choices our kids make.  We can guide them as best we can, love them and be there to help find a different school, heal after a loss, or heaven forbid, find a rehab center.

What we really need is support, and perspective. We need to know in the long-run, baby Isabelle walking at nine months doesn't meant she's going to be more successful that Coco who is taking her own sweet time. And we need to be kind to each other, which starts with being kinder to ourselves.

Of course I blamed myself when my son was an addict. But it wasn't my fault, anymore than my daughter going to the same college as Hilary Clinton was my achievement. I also can't take credit for my son's long-term sobriety either, but I can be proud of the fact that I never gave up on any of them.

We need to stop being a culture of compare and contrast. Our insides will never compare to the outsides we see staring back from the magazine racks, or the moms we really don't know who we see at gymnastics. The next time you find yourself resenting the woman in front of you getting coffee because she looks so pulled together while you've got on yoga pants and tank top, take a minute to realize she's got her stuff too, and she may be thinking, "wow, I wish I had her thighs, I never go to the gym, I suck." We are all in it together. Stop judging what everyone else is doing, and most of all stop judging yourself.


Sunday, May 26, 2013

I Want A Boyfriend, Not a Husband

Yesterday I read a beautiful piece in the Modern Love section of the New York Times by the incredible Augusten Burroughs about his recent marriage to his boyfriend. It is long overdue that anyone who wants to get married should be able to do so. I am thrilled that finally it has become legal for all who desire to make that commitment. I however am not one of those people.

I was married, Once. For twenty years. When I got married, at 20, I was thrilled. The marriage produced three incredible chidren and it was good, until it wasn't.

I believe marriage is wonderful for those who wish to do it, and think it's certainly desirable for those who have children. The security of knowing mom and dad are married is important. But for me, post-small child raising, it is not something I need or want.

The thing is, at this point in my life, I don't want a husband. I like having a boyfriend and want to keep it that way.

I like that we choose to be together. And if we decide to not be together it is between us and not dueling lawyers. I like that he still romances me and puts effort into our relationship. I like that he takes me to dinner and movies. I like planning a nice dinner to make for him and making an effort to look pretty. I like that I still want to shave my legs every day and look nice for him. I like not taking each other for granted. I like treating each other with kindness - no sniping allowed. My boyfriend doesn't snap at me. If he did, he wouldn't be my boyfriend anymore. And I don't nag him. We treat each other with kindness.

He is someone who is there for me, I know would do anything for me, and vice versa. But I think that marriage changes a relationship when it goes from a choice to a given. Knowing that person is legally obligated to be there changes it. I think marriage can be (but doesn't have to be) a bit of a buzz kill.

The thing is, marriage brings no guarantee of fidelity, love or kindness within the relationship. I often think that once you know your freedom is gone it makes it less appealing than being there by choice, not legality.

I like being free to make my own (often poor) financial choices, shopping choices (see bad financial choices) and doing what I want. Of course I factor in my boyfriend and am, I think, a considerate and thoughtful partner, as is he. We just don't tell each other what to do. Within our commitment to one another is an inherent freedom to pursue our own interests, friendships and work, but within that we treat each other with respect and thoughtfulness.

On a recent night out as we walked down Commercial St in Provincetown, MA he looked down at my feet and purely out of curiosity asked, "Is that a different pair of boots?"  To which I smiled and replied, "Yes, and that is why I'm never getting married again."  He looked confused. I went on to explain, when you're married you often need to defend purchases, explaining why you own three different pairs of black boots, need another guitar or whatever you decide you want or need. My money, my rules. His money, his rules. Problem solved.

I am so happy that Augusten Burroughs, and so many people are thrilled to be married. I fully expect backlash for this and for people to expound on all the positives and practicalities that being legally married brings. To those I say, good for you! Mazel Tov and all wonderful blessings to you! But I plan to stay happily loving the person I am with in un-wedded bliss. Having a boyfriend works for me. Having a husband didn't.