Ruminating is a Bad Idea

It’s been a while. I am working through all kinds of things, and that keeps me busy and also rather emotionally exhausted. A lesson that keeps presenting itself to me is that the only path toward joy is living in the present. This thought was confirmed on a podcast I listened to the other day which was about the difference between ruminating and working through something. Working through implies that there is progress made — to understand, to move on, to let go. Ruminating is just when you whoosh around in your head a thought or a worry or a memory and you feel deep feelings over it, but you are not working toward any resolution or discovery. I learned that bringing up a bad or sad memory actually causes your body to feel those feelings again, and that our physical bodies can suffer trauma over again. Ruminating is a bad idea, and it is a thing I am now actively trying to avoid.

Case in point: yoga last night. Sad, quiet piano music. This music ALWAYS makes me flash to a specific memory – I blogged about it right here. So I was going down that path again and I just said in my own head NO. No no no I will not go there. I do not need to go there, going there does not help me at all. The past is done and I cannot change it. I have overcome a lot, and I don’t need to ruminate over what was as if I can erase and re-do. I can’t have my brain in 2003 and expect to also be present for what’s happening in this present moment.

The fact that I turned off that memory last night is great progress for me. I feel like my excellent memory and propensity toward being overly sentimental can work against me in this struggle. I listen to Chelsea Handler’s podcast, and she has shared several times about how unsentimental she is and I do believe this gives her an easier ability to move on from things that don’t work for her. She said she rarely misses people she’s not with because she is so grounded in the present, for example. I am so easily triggered, and it’s like there is this scaffolding of memories inside of me and they all light up when I hear a song or smell a scent. It’s a little crazy-making sometimes. I am no longer ashamed of being a very sensitive person, but it does come with some drawbacks.

Luca, on the other hand, has a pretty weak memory. She does not remember half of what Pete and I remember (Pete’s memory is insanely acute), and I think in some ways, this protects her. It also allows her to have what I think is a very healthy outlook on life most of the time. One day, I was hugging the dogs and of course because I am me, I started to imagine how terrible it will be when one of them dies. Luca is like, “I don’t do that. I just enjoy them right now. I know they will die, and that makes right now even more special.” I don’t know where she got that (not from me) but I love it.

Moral of the story: we cannot change the past or control the pain that we are sure to experience in the future. We only have right now, and we should try to appreciate it as well as we are able. So I’m going to keep trying not to ruminate, trying to take Luca’s advice, and also take this advice:

The Happiness Lab

I just started listening to a new podcast, The Happiness Lab. I obviously recommend it! It’s about the science of happiness, and it’s honestly just what I needed lately to try and get my mind balanced. I have the competing issues of everything is terrible in the world AND I don’t want to fritter away my life when there is evidence all around that life is fleeting. It is hard for me to do the things I think will improve my physical, mental, or spiritual health. I am SO TIRED. Like most people, I work really hard and the thought of adding more to my life feels impossible. But what I’m learning in this podcast is that our brains trick us, and the things that we think will make us happy have been scientifically proven to do just the opposite.

Example: rich people are not happier than poor people, with the caveat that poor people who don’t have enough for basic needs (and I’d add a few luxuries so you can enjoy life) ARE much happier when they are not worrying 24/7 about money. I’ve been there and this is true. But rich people have their own set of problems, which actually doesn’t surprise me. I loved that the researchers on the pod tell us over and over what I have always thought: the main way people sustain happiness (or rather continually renew it) is by having good relationships with other people. Krista and I have talked about how our Monday night dance date (we do a dance workout together) lifts us up for a couple days! I was in a bad mood on Sunday for no good reason and then I invited Christy over and my entire day and mood was turned around. I am sure you have a million examples to reflect this theory.

The part that is counter-intuitive is what I learned about talking to strangers in public spaces. Basically, research shows that people who interact with others, say on public transit, report higher levels of happiness (and this is temporary, as is all happiness) immediately thereafter than those who put in their headphones and ignored everyone. But if you ask people what they want to do on the bus, it’s ignore everyone! Our brains tell is it’s better and will make us happier to isolate, but it’s not true. So I think this is worth studying and learning about and experimenting with because our brains lie, which is in itself a crazy thing to consider.

I bet you have a memory or two of a time when you had an encounter with a stranger that absolutely made your day. I know I do.

What I seem to be learning as I get older is pretty simple: Life is really hard, and will break your heart at every turn. But at the same time, wonderful things are happening if you look for them and allow yourself to experience them. So staying grounded in the present, dealing with issues as they come up (instead of avoiding/numbing), and enjoying life as it unfolds seems to me to be the way to get the most out of your life. I wish it was as easy as just writing it down here, but it’s not.

I can tell you some things I’ve found that help, though. The main big one is surrounding yourself with people who love you and support you in trying to live a more thoughtful, present life. I can’t tell you how much this has helped me and motivated me! My sisters are always there to listen, and we share gratitude lists often which is another way of reminding your own brain that you’ve got some good stuff going on. Miles is also so amazing at cheering me up and on and being supportive when I try to make changes. I think it’s also really important to dedicate time each day to self-care. I KNOW this feels impossible sometimes. But even 15 minutes to crochet helps me regenerate and adds to my reserves. It’s really nice to have things to look forward to, so I put everything on my Google calendar, even small things like a friend coming over. When I feel yucky, I can look back at the calendar like a diary and remember those events and it cheers me up a little. MAKE PLANS. Then you have things to look forward to, and that makes the bad days a tad easier.

I’ve been trying to say YES more. Not to things I don’t want to do, but to things I want to do but sometimes decline because my energy is low. When it’s Wednesday afternoon when I already feel like it should be Friday, I can’t imagine having energy to socialize on Saturday. Does that make sense? But I’m saying YES now and my weekends are fuller but I admit I’m happier that way. Christy says we can sleep when we’re dead. Lol.

Do you feel like your new life since the pandemic has taught you new lessons? What are they?

What the Cell

I truly believe that our bodies hold things, that our bodies are intelligent beyond the organ that is our brain. I have witnessed this so many times in myself, especially with regards to grief and trauma. Sometimes my brain doesn’t remember which anniversaries are coming up, but my body always does. I’ll feel unusually melancholy, and then I’ll realize a sad anniversary is coming up and then my feelings make more sense. I have written several times here about the release that happens for me when I’m participating in physical movement and how many times I’ve cried accidentally during yoga. It’s a thing and it’s real.

The theme I’ve set out for myself for this year is trying to BE more present and making a conscious effort to LIVE in the present. This is a tall order for a person who lives so much in my own head, which is just sort of my default setting. I’ve been practicing redirecting my own thoughts and trying to stay present instead of going down the black hole of memories. There is nothing wrong with memories, but what I do is leap frog from one to another and before you know it I have brought myself to a place that’s not productive or joyful.

I think I learned some big lessons due to COVID and also the death of my dad. I don’t want to squander the time I have here on this planet, and I’ve been trying to say YES to things that are fun (and that I can do safely with the current COVID protocols). I’ve also been trying to reclaim what’s mine, and sometimes that’s a place or a memory or a song. A dear friend of mine shared recently the lengths she went to attempt to protect me from having my heart broken when we were younger, and it got me thinking about my own fragility at that time (talk about black hole, I’m not going there right now). I realized that for most of my life, I’ve lived from a place of fear and wanting/needing to be protected. I’m not there anymore, and that has allowed me to do this reclaiming that I mentioned.

So, with all this in mind, I decided to listen to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. Which is just a record. But it was Paul’s favorite and I haven’t listened to it in 15+ years. In fact, I avoid it. I just decided that I needed to hear it and see what happened so I could stop being afraid of it. I put it on in the car where I could be alone with whatever happened and headed home from work. It brought me equal measure of pleasure and sadness, kind of at the same time. It reminded me of who I used to be, when I thought I didn’t deserve to be loved because I was defective, and the love I accepted as good enough when it never was. I thought of laying awake in Paul’s parent’s house on Beach and hearing the foghorns and being overwhelmed by a sadness I didn’t understand. I also remembered the laser light show at the Academy of Science that used that record as the soundtrack, and being there with another person who decided he didn’t want me in his life — a dear friend, Serge. I realized that even when you know that you (and your kids) might be better off with some people out of your life, rejection still leaves a scar that is tough to heal.

I cried an ugly cry for this other Karen who no longer exists, for my kids who will never know their dad or that side of their family, and for present Karen, who still feels like an imposter sometimes, even though all the evidence proves that she’s worthy.

As I came around the corner to my house, I thought I’d sit in the car and finish crying so I didn’t subject anybody to my grief. But when I got there, I found Miles sitting in his car (not crying) and thought I better pull myself together and get on with things. By the time I got out, Miles was standing next to me and I burst into tears again. I did not have the words to explain what I was feeling right then, so I told him I was okay and he hugged me and we went inside. I took about 5 seconds for both of my kids to notice something was amiss despite my attempts to be chipper. I told Pete that I was just overwhelmed. Luca felt the vibe without hearing any of that conversation and asked me what she missed and then hugged me when I blurted, “I’ve been crying.” Calen also asked me if I was okay as our paths crossed in the kitchen. How amazing is that? I am literally surrounded by people who want to make sure I’m okay, and who verify I’m worthy.

You wanna hear what’s really incredible? On my Facebook memories today, what came up is an entry that is sort of vague, but I know it was the day that Pete and I went to say goodbye to Paul, three years ago. Three years ago YESTERDAY. I knew the anniversary of his death was coming up, but I didn’t realize that yesterday, the day I was so filled with deep sadness, was the anniversary of us saying goodbye to him.

I think even when you have a much happier life than you thought possible, wonderful children and friends, and a partner who exceeds what you could have ever imagined in terms of being kind, loving, and supportive (and a bunch of other great qualities as well), grief still pops up and must be dealt with. We have to let go over and over. Maybe forever. Being rejected is never fun, and when your kids are involved, it hurts extra. But I am done living in a place of fear and fragility. I think the only way I can start making peace with some of the events of my past is to face them, sort them, and put them where they belong in my brain and body. I need to find a way to co-habitate with those events and memories so their pull on my present is less and less. Avoiding them doesn’t work, but putting the past at the forefront of your present life is also a really bad idea.

On top of all that, I sent my kids back to school today, full time for the first time in 18 months. Luca is a senior. I can’t believe we’re here, now. When I think of what we three have been through, I feel mostly proud and grateful and hopeful for what’s to come.

Re-entry

this is the Pete I took to Frontierland

Hello. I went to in-person yoga for the first time in 18 months last night and it was strange. I realized that my “before” life and my “after” life are very different as I changed jobs and never really went back to my old office at all. So everything is different — places and people I interact with on a daily basis are not the same as in the before times. But the yoga studio is the same, and it was sort of the first time I found myself in a spot I haven’t been to in such a long time with all these changes behind me. In the quiet space of yin yoga, I was hit with the enormity of how much my life has changed since February 2020. It was overwhelming, to say the least.

I was determined not to cry (I know crying is normal. But you guys don’t understand how often I cry. It is embarrassing. It is just how I am and I actually can’t help it but, geeze) and of course I did cry. I cried in the reclining pose and then I cried in pigeon pose and I had to supress my sniffles because I didn’t want the people around me to think I was sick. The thing is, I haven’t moved my body much lately — it’s complicated, but I have a hard time staying motivated and my new job is sort of kicking my ass (it’s fine, I’m just still learning and it’s mentally taxing) and when I get home, I just want to eat and crochet and go to sleep. Not exercising is not good for me, and for me especially being in touch with my physical body promotes my mental well-being. I’m a dancer for god’s sake. I KNOW that people store trauma in their bodies, and when we move around, the trauma can be partially released and it feels good but it can also hurt and make us cry, you know?

I am also really in a headspace of trying to be in the present and stop mentally going over and over events of the past. This has become a theme of my year. While I don’t think anyone would accuse me of LIVING in the past, I do find myself unhealthily pre-occupied with events of the past to the point that I am often in a fog of melancholy, which I really don’t need any more of! So I’m trying to let go let go let go. Some smart person on Instagram (Brene? I’m not sure) said that we have to let go of the same person multiple times, for example. So I’m making it a daily practice to let go of people and events that are not bringing value or joy to my life.

The truth is I don’t really know how to do this except to try to direct my mind in positive ways. During yoga, what made me cry was this memory of taking Pete to a park in Pacifica called Frontierland. This was like the Disneyland of local parks when we lived on the Peninsula, and we actually had Pete’s 3rd birthday party there. I don’t know why I thought of this or why it made me cry. Sigh. I have mentioned before that some of my lowest times in my struggle with depression were when my kids were little, and I think that might be the crux of the matter here. That I am challenged to let go of the “ideal” childhood that I wish I could have given them. Luca will be 18 next year. I have done my best, but it has been far from ideal, and when I think of my mental state when they were small, I feel really sad and guilty. I feel like I was unable to enjoy it, that I squandered it somehow and I can never get those years back. It’s depressing, but being stuck there does me no good and does my children no good either. It is in the past and there’s no reclaiming or redoing. It’s done.

I am also finding myself feeling extra awkward in social situations which is comical because I am ALWAYS awkward in social situations. Like I could barely talk to the yoga instructor (I don’t know her yet) and when she touched me during class to make an adjustment, I felt like screaming STOP TOUCHING ME! But I didn’t, so maybe I’m not as terrible as I think, haha.

I think I am always craving some continuity in life that actually doesn’t exist. That I want life to be linear and clean and knowable, but it’s actually just the opposite. I think the pandemic put us all into a suvival mode where the notion of “thriving” seemed to go by the wayside. I can’t think of a time recently where I felt that I was thriving. My kids are not thriving. What do you think “thriving” even means now? Because problems are always going to come up. Maybe thriving is knowing you have the ability to deal with whatever comes your way and still find joy in the present, despite whatever else is going on in your life.

Transition

Hello! I have some things to say, and I admit I’ve been reluctant to share it publicly because at the root of it, it is not my story but my child Luca’s story. So I am going to try to just write about my part of it. Someone I respect suggested I should write about it as a means of hopefully helping other people with my part of the story, and that gave me the courage to sit here and try to do just that. Luca has given me persmission to talk about this openly as well.

About a month ago, Luca came out as trans. She had told me a couple weeks prior that she was thinking of this, and was trying out she/her pronouns with her friends. Her friends were all very supportive, and I am also supportive of Luca being whoever she is. I hope in everything that I say from this point forward, that it is embedded in my words and that I am never suggesting otherwise; my support for Luca is absolute and complete. Even as I struggle to understand and integrate this into my brain and heart, I will ALWAYS support Luca 100%.

I have tried hard to be an ally of the LGBTQ+ community for a long time, and over the years, I have attempted to educate myself more and more as the information became readily available to me. I am also lucky to have another trans member of my extended family, and being present for her transition has been extremely educational and beautiful for me to be a part of. But when it is your own child, it’s kind of a mindfuck. I don’t know how else to say it. My mind was blown open, and I struggled to make sense of it initially. I can be woke AF, but I still grew up where people barely spoke of being gay, and I have a bunch of internal biases and sets of standards that my brain defaults to.

People used to use the metaphors for loss with me when describing coming to terms with Pete’s autism diagnosis. I never liked that very much, as it implied I had lost something — people would say I had lost my “dream” of what Pete could be had he been neurotypical. This rubbed me the wrong way because there is no neurotypical Pete. Pete is autistic and his autism is a huge part of what makes him who he is. I find the hardest part of being a parent of an austistic young man is that the world is not set up for him. It’s outside forces that make life more difficult than had he been neurotypical. I have nothing to mourn. Pete is quite literally one of the best people I have ever known, and I can confidently say that the world is better with him in it.

I bring this up here because I found myself in a similar headspace; not idential, but similar. Luca identifying as trans does not at all change the essence of Luca. Luca is and remains the same person she has always been. As she explores her true gender identity, she can become her authentic self. There is no not trans Luca, just like there is no not autistic Pete. Pete was autistic before his diagnosis, and Luca was trans before coming out. We now have more information, that is all.

How this is very different is that I knew Pete had developmental delays as a baby, and here I have been thinking Luca was a boy for 17 1/2 years. I think that’s where the mindfuck part comes in. Luca herself was unclear on her gender identity for a long time, so I could not have really known, either, any sooner than I did. I mention this because a couple of people have implied that I should have known sooner (and that maybe they DID know, which is impossible for them to know a thing Luca didn’t even know), and this implication upset me a lot. It upsets me I think because I adore Luca and we are very close, and I try to know both of my kids very well. I think my gut reaction to this implication hurt me, too, because I am afraid that I overlooked something that should have been an indicator a long time ago, and had I known, I could have helped Luca with this earlier in her life. So the implication hit me in an already vulnerable spot.

What’s great about Luca being 17 is that she can answer all my questions and help to educate me on these matters, both the specific matters relating to Luca as an individual and the general matters on understanding the gender spectrum. Luca enthusiastically helps me to understand all I need to know, and is so open and brave. This makes me feel very lucky! My brain defaults are going to have to change, and I know this will be for the better. I am a work in progress here, and honestly, each day it gets a little bit easier. I am determined to follow Luca’s lead, and let this unfold in the way that she sees fit. I am here to love and support and learn.

Probably the best compliment I ever got on my parenting came from Luca during this time. She told me that she was not hurt or harmed by seeing photos from the past (as I know some trans people are) because I never made her be a certain way, never made her wear certain clothes or have certain haircuts, and I defended her when people took issue with any way she presented herself. This means everything to me, and helps me get grounded when I am worried that I will fall short in parenting her now. Maybe if I keep doing what I’ve been doing, it will be okay.

I want to tell you one more thing Luca said. Besides knowing that the people who live in our house and our extended family would not have a problem with her being trans, she also knew that our close friend group, my community of friends, would support her as well. Even with this knowledge, it was still hard for her to come out. Coming out is hard, it takes courage. Please always be gentle to anyone who comes out to you.

In true Luca fashion, she wants no fanfare or overt celebration. She wants people to simply know: Luca is trans, and uses she/her pronouns. She will not be changing her name.

[I doubt I even have to say this, but the protector in me feels the need to be explicit: if you have any problem or issue with the trans community, please unfriend/unfollow/go away.]

Sisters

The pandemic took so much from us. I say that as a very lucky person, a person who did not lose any close friends or family members to COVID. The past year and a half is like a blur to me, and I have a hard time remembering when events happened as they seem both close by and far away at the same time. It’s weird, and I assume it’s a thing that we will be collectively dealing with for some time now. You know, the before times vs. the pandemic and beyond.

For me, the greatest sadness was what my own children missed out on. They both handled it well, I think, without a lot of complaining or trying to reneg on the protocols we decided would work for our family. I know it impacted their mental health, and when I think about the fact that Luca’s entire junior year, aside from a few hours a week for about 6 weeks, took place inside our house, I feel queasy. Luca is finally meeting up with friends again, and I am so happy about this. Everyone is vaccinated! They still meet outside or in small groups of only vaccinated individuals. Anyway, it’s a start that does my heart good.

One relationship that I believe was improved during COVID is the one with my sisters. I have always had close ties to both of them, but truthfully we are very different from one another and have not always agreed with each other on all things. Please know that despite any differences, I know for a fact either of my sisters would come running if ever I needed them at any time in my life. But sometimes my actual relationships with them were not as satsifying as I wished they could be, and I would venture they would say the same about their relationships with me. We are human after all, and we tend to get stuck in patterns or ways of thinking in interacting with one another. In truth, we are not stagnant and we have all grown and changed. I think we are now at a beautiful place where we are able to witness and celebrate each others’ growth and change and release any specific roles we thought we had to fill in our family dynamic. We are more free, and this has allowed our relationships to get stronger and more authentic.

We started weekly Zoom calls early on in the pandemic as a way to stay sane. I looked forward to this call every week, and during the extreme isolation parts of the pandemic, it was my only true contact with adult women that felt meaningful. Over time, we were disclosing more and more with one another, sometimes whispering and checking to make sure our family members were not within earshot, sometimes even typing in the chat window instead of speaking. It is HARD to not have a break from the people in your house (and again, I am SURE my own family wanted a break from me, too). These meetings became a little respite from the endless isolation and drudgery of sameness in my week. We even opened Christmas presents together over Zoom. It felt so good to have this connection to two people who have known me longer than anyone.

When our dad took a bad turn at the beginning of the year, our contact increased exponentially. Chris landed in California in early February and we were spending time together in real life again. Despite the sadness that engulfed us, we laughed and reminisced a lot, and I am so grateful we could be together during such a hard time. When Chris was getting ready to head back to Colorado, we promised each other that we would not let years go by without being together — all 3 of us. Life is too short to not be with the people you love. Our dad’s death and the pandemic taught us that lesson.

Because of the physical distance between me and most of my family, I have developed an amazing group of friends that are like family to me. Now that my sister relationships are so strong again, I feel doubly blessed. I feel some restoration of the safety net that I lost when my mom died. I know that I am supported from all sides, and I hope my sisters know that I would do anything in the world for them and their kids, too. That “big family” thing I talked about in my last blog is actually alive and well when we are all together.

We were actually all together over this past weekend! And while you might expect me to say that the best part about it was being reunited with my sisters, I have to admit that the part that brought me unexpected and deep joy was seeing my kids with their cousins, looking like no time had passed since they had last spent time together. It was like all the jumbled pieces of our lives clicked in together to make a perfect picture of what family can be. I only wish it could have lasted longer, but I had to get back to work today! Still, I am not going to lament. I will see my sisters and hopefully my nieces and nephews again soon. We also got a bonus visit from Gary and Robbie yesterday!

Thanks to Miles for this great picture!

I guess I just wanted to share my gratitude and happiness. I am working so hard at being fully present for my own life, and I really feel that I achieved that this past weekend. One of the best moments for me was when Luca turned to me and said, “Our family is so great. My friends say that they have family members they don’t like, who are mean or super conservative, but we have none of that.”

I almost forgot! Chris got us necklaces that are like those old-school friendship necklaces… when all three pieces are together, they form a heart. They read “big,” “middle,” and “little.” Here is my “middle” piece:

Forever the middle sister 🙂

Life is What You Make It

art by Luca Dito

Yesterday marks the 15 year anniversary of when I decided to leave my marriage. It seems both so far from my present self and also strangely close, as I can remember the details vividly of that day and exactly how I felt. It is not a place I allow myself to go mentally so much anymore, and I’ve decided it’s not a subconscious attempt to bury it either. It’s more that I’ve discovered that I can live too much in the past in my head, and tag my very identity on events of the past when it would be healthier for me to focus my attention on the many good things in my current life and finding ways to file away hard times in their proper place in my history.

I was sharing with a friend recently about how I still had “baby fever” when I was going through my divorce, and for a couple years after as well. I had what people refer to as a biological urge to have another child, and it bothered me quite a bit for about 3 years. I knew I would not have another child, and I was mostly okay with this considering my circumstances at the time, but this internal urge persisted until I turned 40. I realized one day it was just gone, and I was relieved to not have to grapple with that anymore. I surely had my hands full with the two children I already had, especially as a single mom. I have no regrets now about not having more children.

What I do continue to struggle with, though, are feelings of rage and perhaps self-pity regarding the fact that I had to raise these children alone, with very little financial support (he did pay child support for a while) from their father. There was ZERO emotional support for either child, EVER, even when he was seeing them. So it’s always been just me. Now that’s not to say that we as a family were not supported, because we were and we absolutely still are very much supported by my family, our close friend circle, and even at times by the greater community here in Castro Valley. But I feel pretty certain there is no replacement for having another adult in the world who truly loves your children as much as you do. If you think I’m misguided, I hope you’ll call me out. I just know that despite all this support, for which I am so grateful and speak of often, there are times when I feel utterly alone in my parenting role.

When I was growing up, I was around family a lot. We don’t have much of an extended family since my parents were both only children, but we always had what you’d consider traditional holiday dinners and festivities with both sets of our parents. You’d put on an outfit because Gary’s mom and brother were coming over, or we’d go to my grandparent’s house for photos in front of the Christmas tree. It was a thing, you know? Because my mom died before I had kids, this looked a lot different for me and for us. After the divorce, it got even smaller, and for a while I’d drive out to Gilroy to my dad’s for some holidays. Eventually when Miles came into our lives, we opted out of Gilroy generally because Calen has a mom nearby and he’d be splitting holidays between her and us. Over time, holidays turned into just us, and nobody even puts on an outifit anymore.

This is not how I imagined my life. I sometimes muse on this other life I’d have had if my mom had lived. That event changed everything, I think. I also think everyone in my mom’s part of the family has done the best they could, and did what they had to do to survive the aftermath of losing the most important and central person in all of our lives. She was the CENTER of everything. Being a mom is like that, and for me, since my dad was not good at fulfulling the needs I had as a daughter, losing her made me feel like the big family life I had enjoyed was over.

I think it’s good to assess your life and to think about your past hopes. Sometimes dreams are worth revisiting, and I think that people should carve out a life that works for them and makes them happy to the best of their ability. I think that sometimes we are too preoccupied with societal expectations of how life should look, and in doing that, we forget to be grateful for what our actual lives are like. I am working on this! I am unsure now if my past dreams were just part of what I was used to and thus wanted to replicate with my own kids. I always wonder if my kids will look back at their childhood with fondness. Will they feel sad when they think about events of the past? I hope not, but I mostly hope that if they are sad, they also know that on most days, I was really doing the best I could and always put their needs first (and I don’t mean that in a martyrish way. I mean that in that I was trying to give them a good life).

This has been a crazy year, pandemic aside. My dad is gone and I don’t think I’ve even begun to fully grieve. I lost my job and then got a new one in 7 weeks’ time, for which I am very grateful. My children are growning and changing and becoming who they are meant to be right before my eyes. It can be scary, but I am committed to standing beside them and celebrating their growth. I feel huge changes within myself, deep down in the very core of my soul. It is really overwhelming! I do a lot of crying. But I am not going to let the past get in the way of my future anymore.

Life doesn’t often turn out the way you think it should, or even the way you wanted it to, in my experience. But it can still be amazing. I am officially opening myself up to life as it is unfolding in the present, and am going to try to live in it, right here.

Nothing Stays

I’ve written before, in other places, about how in parenting I mostly have looked forward instead of backwards. I was never super into the tiny baby period, and having a child with developmental delays really helped me to have a deep appreciation for moving on and reaching milestones. Advances mostly felt more sweet than bittersweet. I thought I had it all figured out and that I was somehow a little more evolved than others. Ha. As usual, when I think a thing and feel super smug or confident in in, the universe snaps back to teach me a well-deserved lesson.

My children are no longer children. They are now 20 and 17 and very much their own people. Staying at home with them for the past 15 months was hard but also wonderful, and I feel that I got to know them even better and love them even more. Yes, we all got sick of one another from time to time. Pandemic life wasn’t super fun a lot of the time and we all kind of rotated in and out of having dips in our mental health. But I still appreciate the time and am grateful that as we come out of isolation, we all still like each other.

This extreme togetherness has had some negative effects for me as well. I find myself unhealthily obssessed with my offspring now, and have a hard time being away from them. I realized today on my drive in to work that part of this might be some PTSD from the pandemic itself, in addition to some helicopter-leaning parenting that I do want to nip in the bud. A lot has happened, just over the past few months for me, and I am in a constant state of processing it and trying to make sense of my life now.

A big theme that has come out of my thinking is that embracing change is essential to my happiness. I am generally not afraid of change — you hear of people who never change anything and get panicky when inevitable changes in life occur. I don’t think that describes me exactly, but I do have this other thought pattern I’ve had since childhood where I want the people in my life to all be Forever People. I have a really hard time with relationships changing, even when they are not working for me or in need of an overhaul. I don’t like thinking about the lack of continuity (that’s how my brain sees it) of having person in your life and then they are not, and along with their exit goes all the memories you shared. I know this is not rational. I can keep whatever memories I want to, but sometimes all they do is make me sad – when that relationship is done. This is why I had such a giant meltdown at some point (time means nothing to me now) about Paul and all my Paul memories. Like, I can hardly entertain them because it reminds me of the fact that my relationship with him was not a forever one. I think as I observe my kids growing and evolving, I somehow mentally fall into a thinking pattern that’s alerting me that I might lose them, too. That they also might not be my Forever People.

I do realize that this is most likely all tied to my own mortality. I want to allow change to happen and to roll with it. I want to KNOW that change is natural and normal. I want to enjoy it better. This all comes back to what I started saying about my kids. They are not kids anymore, and they are changing in lots of ways that are exciting and difficult for me. I have always wanted to be a parent who supports my children unconditionally, and I think I am still succeeding at that, but I am absolutely shocked at how much I am longing for a simpler time when I was making all the decisions for them. I never thought I’d say that or feel this way. Any feeling of “control” that I’ve ever had with regards to them is vanishing quickly, and it’s now time for me to step back and allow them to become the people they are meant to be. I am surprised that this is much harder than it seems. Intellectually, I know this is right and just, and it’s what I have always known I would do as a parent. In practice, it’s a challenge.

Part of the closeness during the pandemic is that I lost myself a little, I think. Working from home, cooking all our meals, trapped in the house for so many months, I fell into my “mom” role fiercly. Dealing with their school stuff and mental health issues, I reverted back to how things were when they were little and they needed me for everything. I am not blaming them; they were for the most part really easy in terms of being decent people and not trying to do anything that would endanger our family with regards to COVID. They suffered, too, though, by being isolated from their peers for months on end. I am sure if they had it in them to write a blog post about their experience, they might also share that they felt a little lost.

When I’m in a quiet place, the smart voice that does sometimes emerge from my manic thoughts is telling me that the answer to my angst is to become more of myself, and to let my kids become more of themselves. I need more space for me, for the me that is also a mom but not soley a mom. I’m having such a hard time being away from them, though, but I think the answer to that is to continue to build up my strength in being away from them. I need to build on the knowledge that they are not static, and neither am I. When you really love someone, you give them the space to change and grow over and over again. You cannot expect your relationship to be any one thing because we are not any one thing. Sometimes I go back and read what I have written a few months ago or a couple years ago, and I swear I don’t even recognize myself. I am always changing. So are you. So are the people we brought into the world.

I don’t mean to get super cheesy or philosophical on you, but this reminds me of a quote that I have been thinking of and I will close in sharing it with you:

Your children are not your children.

They are sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you.

And thought they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which

you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the make upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness.

For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He also loves the bow that is stable.

  • Kahlil Gabrin

I have lost my job.

During this whole pandemic, everytime someone would ask me how I’m doing, I’d usually reply with some variation of “I hate it but I’m so grateful to be gainfully employed still, and to be able to work safely from home.” It is hard to feel justified complaining when so may people around me (and all around the world) were suffering so much. At least I was not suffering financially. Well, I found out on Wednesday that due to a reorg at my company, my job role was being elimintated. This came as a huge shock to me — not because I think I’m special — but because I know that my role is essential in our two-person HR team in the US. Also, I was the top performer on my team when we did performance reviews in January (this includes the rest of our global team in India). I even got a bonus. So yes, I was shocked to learn I’d been eliminated. My boss fought for me and lost, and I bear her no ill whatsoever. We were a great team, and this is the saddest part for me — that I no longer get to work for her.

About a year and a half ago I had written here about how I was looking for a new job. I even had a couple offers and was a “finalist” in a job I really wanted but did not get. Job searching is exhausting and demoralizing, so at that time, I decided to quit looking for a few months and regroup. Then the pandemic hit and as I said above, I was just happy to have a job. A few months into the pandemic my boss was hired, and then everything changed for me. I was still not super excited about the company as a whole, but my day-to-day improved dramatically and I was able to learn from and work with a really amazing woman. I am so grateful for this experience.

When the shock gave way to fear, all I could think about is insurance. Being unemployed is temporary, I know this, but the worry of being uninsured (or having my kids be uninsured) is terrifying. I am grateful that President Biden is mandating for companies to pay COBRA in full for employees who have been laid off, so we are covered for the next several months. My wonderful friends are already sending me leads, helping me spruce up my resume, and providing emotional support. My logical mind knows I will be okay. I’m trying to squelch the panic that keeps igniting within me in these horrible waves every hour or so. I know I can handle this. Everything is going to be okay. I keep saying that, over and over.

I know reframing this as an opportunity is the best approach to have, and in moments of great clarity and confidence (which are rare), I feel strongly that there are better choices in my future and I will find them. Like the title of my favorite self-help book, I am going to Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway. I mean, honestly, what choice to I have?

I also feel kind of angry, but I don’t want to write about it here right now. My smart friend, Carrie, has always told me that I have to look out for myself professionally because no one else will. Companies are going to do what’s best for their bottom line. I should not be surprised that my loyalty and hard work were not part of the consideration when deciding whom to let go.

I want to be a person who believes that things happen for a reason. I am not that person. I think that sometimes life is hard and scary and disappointing and that we have to rise to whatever is thrown at us as best we can. That is my plan. Please feel free to comment if you know any great companies, especially ones headed by women, that are hiring for HR or admin type work. Or if you want to give me a pep talk or any job hunting tips as I am open to advice and words of wisdom.

Remembering

It’s been a while. I am still in kind of a funk, and the funk is not helped by the fact that yesterday was the anniversary of my mom’s death. 21 years. It feels crazy to think that both of my parents are gone. The sadness will never go away. I know this. I am lucky I usually have things to focus on that distract me from this hard truth.

The passing of our father has caused my sisters and me to delve deeply into our own pasts, our childhood… it brings up questions with no answers. We are surprised by our memories sometimes – one sister remembers things that the others don’t, or each sister has her own interpretation of events from the past. We feel sad about many things, like most people probably do I’d imagine. The saddest for me is that my mom never knew my kids, and vice versa. You read constantly about how positive grandparent relationships are to children, and my kids did not get a whole lot of that from either side of their family.

We, my sisters and I, did. My dad’s parents lived about 5 minutes from us for most of our lives, and they were doting and sort of obsessed with us. Well, my grandma was anyway. Grandma Marie was the ultimate grandma. She would sit for hours watching us do shows for her. She was endlessly entertained by us, and never asked for us to hurry up so she could do something else. She let us wear all her clothes, even the fancy ones (ie. fox stole!) and her high heel shoes. She was a tiny little person, so everything kinda fit us when we were little. Spending the night there (especially if you somehow scored a solo trip) was an evening of luxury. You could count on making pizza and bread for dinner, having a bath with bubbles (!), and then sleeping in the big bed next to Grandma Marie. Breakfast in bed was optional the next morning. I always remember feeling sort of like crying when it was time to go home.

Summers were the best because we could go swimming in the pool at the clubhouse. My grandparents lived in a mobile home park for senior citizens. I know sometimes mobile home parks get a bad rap, but this place was magical to us. Our grandmparents had lots of friends there, and we knew them all (and some of their grandkids). The clubhouse had a piano and an organ that we could mess around with, and the women’s restroom had one of those furry chairs with a metal back like some sort of fancy Hollywood’s starlet’s dressing room. Also, there was a soda machine where you could get Welch’s Grape. This is where we learned how to play shuffleboard! Children were allowed to swim only until 2:00 PM, at which time we’d go back to my grandparent’s house for lunch and Guiding Light. We’d change out of our wet suits and compare suntan lines in the giant, mirrored closet in Grandma’s room. We might then have a few games of Yahtzee; Grandpa Al was nearby in his chair reading and smoking, but he was ready if we needed advice on a move.

It breaks me inside that my own children had exactly none of this. I know there’s nothing I could do to make it different, and I know that they have aunties and uncles and cousins, which I did not have. They don’t know what they’re missing, but I know. My mom was not as whimsical as Grandma Marie, but she was fun and I know she would have make traditions and experiences and memories that my children would have cherished.

I feel like I have so many people to miss now. I try to feel lucky that I had them at all, that I loved them (and was loved by them) so much that their absence causes me such grief.

Stacey is scanning a bunch of family pictures for us, and they are beautiful and exciting. We love the pictures of our grandparents a lot.

While we love seeing those really old photos, this one is my favorite of the bunch:

I don’t know who took it, but it’s a gorgeous shot and captures the spirit of Grandma Marie so well. I would like to reach in and give her a hug.