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Posted on March 18, 2019

Sane Single Parenthood

When I dreamt of growing up and having children, my dream was not to end up as a single parent. If you’d asked me about being a single parent all those years ago, that would have been the nightmare version of my Happily Ever After. 

The Reality of ‘Now’

Fast forward to Now. Not the ‘Now’ I always thought I would inhabit, but the reality of what my ‘Now’ currently is. 

I have a 16-year-old high school junior living with me (that’s a whole can of hormone and female drama driven worms), as well as my newly minted 23-year-old son, who is doing his best to discover who he is as all his boyhood friends choose to step into marriage and seemingly leave him behind.

My soon-to-be 26-year-old daughter has graduated from BYU and found herself a wonderful job. She is, and always has, set her own pace for life. She has made a number of sacrifices to get herself to where she’s at now, and I am so proud of her. At this point, the only thing I would wish for her is that she cut herself some slack. But I guess the ability to recognize the need for self-kindness comes with age. So, despite the fact I can still see myself in my 20’s, I must have come a long way, because I am aware that self-kindness is a tremendous gift. Not only to yourself, but to absolutely everyone who depends on you.

My oldest daughter is married to a hardworking man, who will soon graduate his residency program and become an official doctor. They have both worked hard for this achievement, and to add more adventure to the year, she is soon to deliver their fourth child. In fact, by the time you read this, she will most likely have done just that, and I am over the moon. Being a grandmother means that ALL those stupid things my mother told me, now make sense. And you know what, my mom was pretty darn smart. 

Hindsight is beyond amazing! The path to get to my mother’s THERE, from my THEN, has been treacherous and at times a little (okay, a Lot) frightening, But-I-Made-It!       

Since my mother passed away 12 years ago, leaving me bereft of her wisdom and insight, I must imagine the THERE I now get to set as a goal. She was an insanely wonderful woman, and I do not use the word ‘insane’ lightly. 

She taught me that one person’s sanity is another person’s insanity; just as one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. So, the only way we can truly go insane, is to hold ourselves to a standard of other people’s expectations. 

Have you ever done this? 

I know I have, and that’s why I am no longer married and why I can truthfully say, “Thank Heaven for tender mercies.”

            I lived most of my adult life knowing that I wasn’t measuring up to the invisible standard I knew my ex held for me. Though he never ‘said’ as much, it was abundantly clear that he was not satisfied. I would work harder, do more, speak less… well, I’m sure you get the picture. No matter what I did, it was never right, never enough. 

            But all of that no longer matters, because I-Made-It-. I am here, at this end of the rainbow. My pot-of-gold was the treasure of discovering that I am stronger than my younger self could ever have imagined, and that makes me pretty darn proud.

Staying on the Boardwalks

    So, after a twenty-five-year marriage, I am now five and a half years post-divorce. In the beginning, when it became tempting to take my shoes off and walk through the fields of my past, I did my best to stay on the boardwalks I constructed. To be sure, there are bogs, quagmires and sinkholes a plenty, but as those are not the scenic wonders I wanted to revisit, I stayed on my boardwalks.

Yellowstone is a Natural Wonder and draws visitors from all over the world, but it can pose a great threat to those who wander off the safety of the prescribed paths. Stay on the boardwalks, and you can safely wander as you soak up a landscape that can be seen nowhere else on earth. Just as Yellowstone is a singular creation, so am I; so are you.

By not allowing myself to get caught up in revisiting stinky pitfalls already traversed, I was able to safely, and sanely, view the beauty of my past.

My friends, despite whatever destruction you feel you have been through, there is always beauty as well. It may take distance and time to reveal these treasures, but rest assured they are there, just waiting to be discovered.

Like unpretentious, externally unattractive geodes, our beauty lies within. Give us a good ‘crack’, and voila! Insane beauty glimmers and sparkles when exposed to the light. That smile your child gave you that brightened your whole day. The dandelions they picked for you because they thought the flowers were pretty. (One man’s weed, is a child’s beauty) Oh, those beautiful, wonderful memories- it matters not how abundant they are, what matters is that you allow yourself to see those that are yours.

The Hunt

One thing I did when my children were young was host a neighborhood Easter Egg Hunt. I had taken my then, three young children to a community Egg Hunt only to be hugely disappointed. Despite arriving, baskets in hand, ahead of the scheduled start time, there had been so many children, the organizers started the hunt early. By the time we arrived there was nothing left. My children’s disappointment broke my heart, and I vowed that would never happen again.

The next year I organized my own neighborhood for an egg hunt. It went so well, I did it again the following year, but added old-fashioned games to the mix. The potato-sack race, balancing eggs on a spoon while racing to the finish line, the egg toss and more became a neighborhood standard for 18 consecutive years. Toward the end of my run, some of the kids that had come, started bringing their own children. I cannot describe how happy that made me!  

Why did I do an egg hunt for 18 years? Because it kept me sane, and in touch with the child in me that was trying desperately not to be lost to a world of adult disappointment. (You know what! Until writing these words, I had not admitted that truth to myself, nor really understood how desperately I needed that egg hunt- Wow)

The parents all knew that I would be hiding eggs in the wee-early hours Easter morning, but I still got such a thrill skulking the neighborhood in my dark garb as I hid the candy-filled treasures. It reminded me so much of playing spy with my best friend when I was young.

A supreme test of my ninja skills came one Easter when there happened to be a lunar eclipse. I was crouched behind a couple of garbage cans near a fence, and the neighbors came out to stand on the corner and view the heavenly wonder.

Drat!

There I was, stuck behind garbage cans as I willed these inconvenient (but lovely) people back into the cozy warmth of their home so that I could continue my escapade. Amazingly, they somehow escaped the force of my will and continued to stand, wrapped in their blankets, and gaze at the fading night time orb. “Well,” I said to myself, “I can’t be stuck here forever.” So, I dared move from the garbage cans to the edge of the fence and you know what- they didn’t see me. It was amazing. To be so close to these star-gazers and remain anonymous was actually empowering. With stealth, I managed to hide a couple of eggs before they finally moved indoors. To this day I don’t believe they ever knew that I was there.

{Choosing to gain perspective from the shadows can be empowering, while allowing yourself to be relegated to the ranks of the unknown by others, is debilitating.

To be unseen is one thing.

To remain unseen, another.

You do not have to let others be in charge of that choice.}

Coded Windows

As my children got older, I took up a hobby that I had always wanted to do, I learned stained-glass. I love the sound of the cutter as it scores the glass. I love fitting my hand-cut pieces into a pattern of my own design. A design ripe with hidden meaning.

I encoded messages to myself in the glass windows I made and hung in my home. Messages of hope and overcoming, of strength and personal power. Like the magnificent stained-glass windows of a great cathedral, my windows fed me when I needed sustenance.

Sometimes I would sit in my front room and simply watch the glass as it transitioned with the angle and intensity of the sunlight behind it. The colors were brilliant, yet soft, and somehow the glass sang to me. (It still does.) Again, reminding me of my child self.

I grew up in an area where my church had been built in the 1800’s. It had an incredible domed center in the ceiling, with multiple layers of decorative trim painted in various colors rimming the main chapel. Hand carved pews, a hand carved pulpit, and half circle choir loft with carved lattice-work to conceal the organ pipes made the stained-glass windows all the more beautiful. I can’t tell you a single word that was uttered from the pulpit, but I can tell you how lost I became in the beauty of that room. I could almost believe that while I sat in those pews, I was part of something heavenly. Maybe that’s why I love stained-glass so much as an adult? Through it I am connected to childhood faith and innocence. To a time when all good things were yet to come.   

Sadly, since my divorce, I’ve not been able to work on my glass like I did before. Working three jobs to keep things going hasn’t left me with much spare time or energy at the end of the day. I come home about 6:30, crash for about five minutes and then comes my least favorite part of the day, thinking about what to make for dinner. I’m a fair cook, and might enjoy the process a little more if I had time to devote to it. But when I get home, I just want it all to be done. Or better yet, have my own chef. One who knows what I like to eat and has a tasty meal all ready for me when I walk through the door. I’ll even do the dishes afterward! I just don’t want to have to cook.

Cereal sounds good, right? Or a nice peanut butter and jelly sandwich?

A New Spark

As my children have gotten older and I find my life more my own, I have gravitated back to something that I always loved to do, write. I remember, it was about the time I was in junior high that I started to keep the things I wrote. About thirteen years ago I set out to write a book. I know thirteen years sounds like a long time to still be working on the same project, but when you count years taken off to make it through the demise of my marriage, recover from a complicated hysterectomy that occurred mere days prior to the final divorce mediation, and ensuing malaise, the fact I finally finished it and am now in the process of editing is amazing; at least it is to me.

In fact, it was the thought of completing my book, my legacy, that helped bring my spark back. I LOVE books. I love holding them in my hands and diving into the stories that others have imagined into life.

I wanted to be one of them, the mighty few who have changed the world through the written word. To my amazement, as I’ve become involved in writing groups and attended writer’s conferences, I have discovered that behind the mighty few, stand a horde of creative, imaginative future authors, such as myself.

As a final edit to my book, I am taking it to my fellow writers in the groups I attend, and boy, have I learned a lot. We have Young Adult writers, Fantasy/Fiction, Historical Fiction and even Steam Punk. Coming from such varied viewpoints, critiques can be… interesting.

I’ve had to grow a thick skin and not take offense to things they say. After all, they don’t mean to say that my baby (my book) is ugly, has too much hair or a head too large for its body- No. My fellow writers are simply offering an honest appraisal of something I brought To Them.

It serves no one to be thin-skinned and take offense when none is meant. “Why aren’t you dating yet?” Is not to be interpreted as, “What’s wrong with me?”

“Oh, come on. Creating a dating profile isn’t that bad.” Is not be interpreted as, “You’re a coward. Move out of the 80’s and get with the rest of the world.”

Others, our friends or family, may say things that come across as hurtful or uncaring; but I’ve come to understand that most of the time they really do mean well. They say what they do because they care.

Diving into the Depths

With time and distance from hurt, I’ve been able to honor the fact that my marriage and divorce taught me a great deal. I have a much thicker skin than I used to, and for that I am grateful. It means I have a wet-suit of sorts, to wear when I choose to step from the safety of my boardwalks and dive into my own depths. Now, diving into your depths is Not something you want to be doing before you are ready, that’s why you build boardwalks. So little by little, you can venture into your past and see the truth of it. Not the version built by hurt feelings, disappointment, or even abuse; but the news-reel version. The film they used to show before the main feature. The synopsis version of the battles that were raging, your battles, the ones that are old news. That could be old news, if you would let them be.

When you can reach the point of viewing your news-reels without feeling the need to rage against how unfair life is, ‘then’ you can don your wetsuit.

Why? You may ask.

Because only you can dive into your own depths and reclaim the lost parts of yourself. Only you can recognize and recover the treasure that has been lost. Perhaps you lost your faith. Whether it be faith in others, or faith in yourself. Maybe you no longer trust yourself. You think that if you step into another relationship, you’ll just end up in a different frying pan over another fire.

Will you?

If you have not taken time to get to know yourself, then yes, perhaps you will.

I used to be afraid of that very thing, but you know what? I’m not anymore, because I know beyond a shadow of doubt, that I am Not the same person I used to be. I’ve grown. I’m different. And after all, isn’t growth what life is all about? Things that never change become stagnant and no longer able to support life. So, let your storms rage. Let your home fields flood. Let all that no longer serves you be washed away. It’s okay to look like a kitten pulled from a flood. There is absolutely no shame in being scarred. Scars simply mean that you’ve been brave enough to show up and participate in your own life.

Every warrior is scarred. And warriors know there is never a single battle, rather, a series of battles and skirmishes with peace in between. Peace- Can you truly appreciate its reprieve if you have never known the conflict and clamor of battle?

The perfect quote to illustrate this came from a very unexpected source. I love it when I find a treasure in a movie, book or television show. A nugget of wisdom that comes out of the blue and speaks to the exact moment you are in. One such treasure was discovered in the 2002 Sandra Bullock/ Hugh Grant movie, Two Weeks Notice. In one scene, Sandra’s character is upset and talking to her friend. The friend quotes a yogi, I cannot remember the name, but the quote remained with me.

“Only that which is the other, brings us fully unto ourselves.”

Think about it. It is through experiencing the things we do not want, that we come to fully understand and embrace that which we do want.

Finding Sanity

Contrast- in the arts it is a must. In literature, every hero needs a villain to vanquish. Every painting has shadows that guide your eye to the light and songs have both bass and treble notes.

Call it what you will, contrast, opposition, experience… life.

I wrote something a while ago that I think fits this moment. It’s pretty much a conversation I was having with myself, but recording these conversations is how I stay sane.

I see you;
standing to the side,
thinking that if you simply let life slip by,
you will not get hurt.
There will be no pain,
Oh, dear one,
how wrong you are.
Pain is the foundation of joy.
Through pain you learn to value contrast.
The brightest lights can only be appreciated
when shadows guide your eye to them.
Without shadows, you could not even look at them
for light would blend with light\
becoming harsh, blinding.
The sidelines are for those who choose
merely to exist.
Pain is for those brave enough to live.
Dear one, what is your choice?
To go with the flow?
Or be the bank that shapes the course of the river?  

How grateful I am to have reached the point where I see and appreciate the wisdom of my mother’s personal insanity. She was the ‘loon’ who would take their shoes off and run out in the rain. She was the ‘nut’ who would go through a grocery store check out line with a single cherry, just to see the look on the cashier’s face when she asked, “How much?” At co-ed sleepovers, she was the ‘screwy’ leader caught in the middle of a group of girls who snuck into the boy’s tent to put makeup on the sleeping mannequins.

Despite my mother’s zest for life, she was not without her own scars. Her father committed suicide at age 32. My mom was the product of a single parent home, raised in the 40’s and 50’s when my grandmother was told that if she would just remarry and stay at home where a woman should be, her kids would be better off. My mom endured three miscarriages and a major surgery every year for the first ten years of my life, including a hysterectomy at age 26. My mother walked through the doors of the psych-ward in the hospital after having broken down upon hearing the news she would need yet another surgery. My sweet mom battled stage 4 lung cancer, never having smoked a day in her life, and made it almost three years before succumbing to the effects of radiation poisoning from her treatments. My mother was the strongest person I have ever known.

She taught me that though there are times you must flow with what life brings, you never lose the power to shape the course you travel. And sometimes the only way to stay sane, is to embrace your own personal brand of insanity.   

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