Grapes on the Vine

There are grapes on the vines in my yard. A month ago, social media reminded me I made jam last year. I’ve been telling myself to go out and pick them. Make jam again. This could be Christmas gifts… and so reasonably priced, when one has no money of their own.

This month the grapes are starting to wither. I still tell myself to go out and pick what is still good. Make jam for the home. But I still haven’t seemed to find the time.

School is overwhelming. There is a mountain of homework due in little more than 48 hours. The house is a mess. The 2 acres of lawn needs mowing, mostly with a push mower, because we are on a hill and the riding mower doesn’t actually have working brakes when you are on that hill. The kids have homework, one child seems to have ridiculous amounts, all the time now, that I’m wondering what they are actually doing in school.

There is a mass of mundane appointments to be made and went to… for the car, for the teeth, for the vaccines, for the education about vaccines.

Two days a week, drive kids 20 minutes to school, sit in the parking lot for another 20, drive an hour to school, 2 hours of classes, drive an hour home, scramble to cook something, eat and do homework in the two hours before picking up kids.Sit in the parking lot, make dinner, help with homework, fit in some laundry, clean up the kitchen, toothbrushing, stories, bedtime.

Get up at 6:00am and do it all again. I crossed out all the bitching. No one really wants to hear bitching, do they? We’re all busy. Some of us are so damn busy we don’t really have time to stop and just cry.

Parent teacher conferences coming up, hosting a birthday party this month, Halloween and costumes and make up and ….

Have you read that article about how we should stop glorifying busy? I may have read it wrong, but I don’t think anyone is glorifying being busy. I think a lot of people are being stretched so thin they are afraid they’re going to break. I think it is a cry out to the universe to LET UP ALREADY.

The hardest part isn’t the work or what I need to do. The hardest part is to feel I’m failing in every single thing I’m doing. I can’t give 100% to anything anymore. So the house and the yard get the bare minimum, my schooling gets as much as I can and the kids… I’m trying so hard to help them to get through this and succeed too.

I was hoping once we all settled into school, I’d be able to find some sort of part time work. But given my physical availability of 5 hours, 2 days a week in between commute time… But then I try to justify the hit the housework and homework will take. The less time to make appointments, do laundry, buy groceries… all in trade for 10-11 hours of retail or fast food work.

So I guess I’m still failing. Of course I just tell myself, it’ll get easier when I have an education and can work a real job. But will it? What can I possibly change in my life to make all this manageable? To make any room for joy or for fun?

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Back to School

We’re nearly done with our second week of school here and the transition has been hard.

At 10 and 7, the kids are experiencing their first year of school, ever. We’ve been a homeschooling family from the start. We’ve always been focused on learning through play, cultivating a love of learning and curiosity and delving deep into the subjects that catch our interest. I’m been privileged enough to watch this process and see my kids gain new skills and concepts easier than I ever did in a school setting.

If you’re wondering about the social aspect, we’ve been lucky enough to live in a county where there is a lot of support for homeschoolers and we’ve made many close friends through this adventure. There is a quality to the social part of homeschooling that I prefer. Real friendship that have time to grow, not the brief playground interactions. The inclusion of a wide range of ages. We have a good group of girls and boys, and there wasn’t a them versus us component.

My older child was looking forward to starting school, wanting to get some time away from his brother. The younger one was dreading it. Now that we are in week two, they’ve flipped positions. My younger guy is enjoying many parts of school. I think he’s doing well with the structure, and he doesn’t have time to get bored. The older one, well, he resents having his free time taken from him, and needing to follow someone else’s schedule. I am proud of him for finding some parts of school he likes, and I have high hopes for it getting better.

We’re lucky. There is a fantastic charter school nearby, and I know this change is easier in this setting that it would likely have been in our local public school. The drawback is that there is no busing, and I find myself driving an nearly an hour a day when I factor in getting out of that parking lot after drop off and pickup.

My schooling has been great, although it’s leaving me with some feelings of uncertainty about the direction I’m going. I have a web class this semester that I really enjoy, and already have much of the knowledge about it. I’m starting to wonder if I should be pursuing a Web Development certificate instead of Technical Communications. This could add another semester or two to my projected plan, and unfortunately, I’m in an emergency, finish school now and make money situation.

Technical Writing 2 is a challenging class. I’m enjoying it, but I’m finding myself needing more time for homework. And that’s the big change this fall. Time. For the first time, I’m finding I just don’t have enough of it. I want to write about that too, likely in the next post.

Consent

I’ve long had this rule with the kids.

You don’t have to hug or kiss anyone if you don’t want to.

Sounds simple, right? And for the most part, my family has been pretty great about it, knowing that a sincerely given form of affection was more meaningful than a forced one. Some even opted to offer high-fives and fist bumps, which I always appreciated.

With this I hoped to get across two things – one, that their body is their own and they get to choose who to share it with. And two – everyone else has the same right to their own body and choice.

When I contrast this with my own life, I realize I never really got this lesson. I’m sure I was obligated to hug visiting relatives because those adults feelings would be oh so hurt if I didn’t. Think about that. A child now has to be responsible for an adults neediness for physical affection because they cannot deal with their feelings?

This only grew as I got older. Bartering with people who had a romantic interest in me… it wasn’t enough to say no, I felt I had to offer the consolation prize of a chaste kiss, or hugs. Sometimes more, to ensure the person didn’t feel hurt by my lack of attraction.

I wonder if this contributed to my worst decision. Giving someone a chance because they were “nice” or a “good person”. Confusing my lack of attraction for a shallowness that could be a character flaw in me.

This isn’t to say the relationship was all bad. Companionship, friendship…. and really, as in other relationships, the sex didn’t cost me much (that I thought). Sex for someone else was by and large the way my sexual life had gone. This would have worked out fine if the relationship had come to an end in a more peaceful way, a few years out.

But marriage and babies complicates matters. And after babies… well, I changed. I really changed. I had lives dependent on me, for real. And being the one to support another grown adult’s self image, self esteem, and to feelings of depression with sex… well, it seemed ridiculous. And when it came down to it, this wasn’t a relationship where we had a sexual connection that was an expression of love.

I spent a lot of years giving it my best shot. Reading the articles. Blaming my lack of interest on babies and nursing. Finally believing I was just a broken person and I need to make a plan to just initiate sex once a week and never turn it down if asked for. Yea, that ultimately didn’t work.

Even after it was clear that this relationship was ultimately doing more harm than good for us, and I needed to plan a way out, sexual activity was still the bartering chip… the thing that I couldn’t say no to, lest I completely destroy the other’s self esteem, their ability to behave rationally, and eventually, it was supposed to prevent their outburst of rage, breaking things around the house and finally, assaulting me.

After the separation, I thought I would escape the responsibility of managing his emotions. I assumed kindness, civility and a passion to co-parent successfully would be enough. I was brought back to reality with this mandate – “treat me with affection or I’ll shut down”.

Even at this point, living in separate residences, I feel like he is making his “parenting time” contingent on my happy, supportive presence.

If I want a break from solo parenting, if I feel like I shouldn’t be in the position of “supervisor of visitation”, I have to weigh the fear of another rage,  him choosing to see his kids less, or outpourings of sorrow about how alone and unattractive he is. How attractive suicide is.

We talk a lot about consent these days, but it mostly revolves around the topic of rape. I also feel there could be a lot of talk about the subtle manipulations and obligations we build into relationships. How they breed an unhealthy co-dependence, and place the expectations of maintaining our mental health and pursuit of happiness on other people and not ourselves.

Only One Regret

It happens so often it has become cliche. Marriages not lasting and a person who has spent the marriage taking care of children and home needing a career to support themselves and the children.

If I had one regret, it would be that I didn’t pursue schooling when I initially got laid off, from a career I wasn’t very good at. If I had it all to do again, I’d pursued a path in technical writing, with creative writing tucked in here and there.

Of course, it’s only in hindsight that I realize this. In that time and place, I didn’t have the experience or knowledge to know  I could even do that. Also, at that time, I found myself immersed in the idea of having a baby, attachment parenting and a family.

When I was younger, I formed the idea that I wasn’t pretty enough for a man to just take care of me so I needed be able to support myself. In fact, I’m pretty sure this was simply told to me. The sentiment was in the right place, but I didn’t hang on to the important part of the message.

When my husband agreed to have children, agreed to support me as a stay at home mom, he did so for the wrong reasons, expecting I would change and our relationship would change. But also, never vocalizing these expectations of change to me.

After children, of course, the relationship did change. There was a helpless infant who needed me for life and nourishment. There was a role I absolutely loved being in and threw myself into headlong. It brought me joy and fulfillment (and still does). My husband changed too. He felt displaced. He felt trapped. Having a child did not inject passion into our marriage. But he still felt it was was owed to him.

In hindsight, I can see our relationship was guaranteed to fail.

What I really regret is marrying someone who did not speak up for themselves. Someone who did not want to have children but did not advocate that decision for himself. I suppose I regret my personality being so strong that he wouldn’t (or couldn’t) but his foot down.

I also regret being in a relationship where we couldn’t be completely honest about the important stuff. Isn’t that Marriage 101? Honesty is the most important part. Without that, you may as well stamp destined to fail on that marriage certificate.

Funny thing is, I’m starting to believe I shouldn’t have married ever… or at least not until I turned 40. But that is not quite right. It’s the experience I’ve been through that gives me perspective, not simply aging. Perhaps the truth is, not all of us are meant to be in one relationship until we die. Maybe it’s the being in relationships, the learning, the changing, the growing, that makes us better at other relationships. Makes us better at being people. Makes us more thoughtful and understanding.

Lesson learned: Do not completely depend on another person to support you financially, thinking there are not any hidden costs you make be unable to pay.

Lesson learned: Success in relationships doesn’t necessarily equal being there until one of you dies. There is a lot of value in living life and having a multitude of life experiences.

Coloring Easter Eggs

This morning I started it out right, with a cup of coffee and Facebook. My feed is filled with instructions for dying your Easter eggs… naturally.

This year I’m on a budget. I didn’t even buy the traditional Paas egg coloring kit this year. So as soon as I spotted 1 pint of blueberries as a possible ingredient for 1 color of egg dye, I decided to grab the box of food coloring sitting on the pantry shelf.

Ok, the package is two years old and I know full well Red 40 is the devil… but… It’s here and I’ve got the boiling water and vinegar to go with it.

It’s not like the kids are going to eat the shells. Heck, they probably won’t even eat the deviled eggs I make with these for Easter dinner.

 

 

They look just as pretty as any other eggs we have colored. And the kids had just as much fun.

The Move

Reluctant to pay for a moving truck, we loaded two cars and kids to drive the hour away to the apartment where my husband would sign the lease. We would be helping him move some of his stuff in.

The sun was shining and the day was cold, as a Michigan March can be. I didn’t know what to expect. Tears, maybe. A realization that their Papa wasn’t going to be living with them anymore. Questions.

But what actually happened was more like this. Two kids and their parents, talking about how nice the apartment was. Helping to open doors and operate elevators, assembling a chair and filling the toilet paper hanger. Envisioning plans to come and spend the night. Hearing about how their Papa would be back to our house, to be there while I was in school and an additional night or two. After, we all went for lunch. We had a great time, to tell the truth.

We dropped Papa off, knowing he’d be back the next day. There is more to move and the internet for working is not set up yet. That will happen this coming week.

That night we watched a movie and went to bed too late. No tears, no questions. Happy for their Papa. Excited for him.

I talked to my husband later. We agreed that it was for the best that we were all together for this step. I know there is still pain. Still sadness. But I’m grateful we seem to be doing our best with the children.

Are they stuffing it down? A storm that will come later? Or are they as tired of the tension and fighting as we are?

I’ve told them I’m here to listen or talk more times than I can count. They know. There are a lot of hugs and a lot of snuggles going on, just as it always has been.

Hindsight has given me so much insight into what is wrong with my marriage. I’m hoping in a few years time, I’ll have some hindsight telling me we really did do our very best, and see it apparent in the kids.

He’s Leaving Home

Boxes are accumulating. Dishes. Towels. A new bed. Next weekend a lease will be signed for an apartment over an hour away.

It’s the most painful part of this situation. Our kids will no longer have both parents in one home.

We’ll make justifications, as I imagine most participants of divorce do.

“It’s better for them not to witness all the fighting.”

“It’s better for them to have two happy parents, separate, than two miserable parents, together.”

And this may be true. But my husband has been good father (for the most part), just as I have been a good mother (for the most part).

What I do know, is that his mental stability is seriously affected with our living under the same roof, and that his moving out will improve that. For me to expect him to stay and co-parent in the same house with me would be a selfish request, even if it was for the kids. It could also be a foolish request, as the children have witnessed worse than simple arguments, when things get bad.

But I’m afraid of his pain. The pain he’ll feel by not having the kids everyday. Sure, the break will be nice. He’ll be able to relax without being bombarded with requests. But that will soon fade and their relationship will change. Oh, I hope space will allow it to change for the better. I hope he’ll find he can be his best version with them.

But part of me fears the loneliness will break his heart. Break it even more than the end of our marriage has. I fear he’ll forget just how much his kids need him.

Finding a Job, Finding Happiness

As a 41 year old stay at home mother, who has been out of the work force for 12 years, the prospect of jumping back in and actually making any real money is pretty scary.

Making enough to house, feed and cloth myself and two children… well that seems impossible.

I never went to college. My sole experience with higher education was Beauty College, and I left that career path to become phone support for our local internet service provider when I found out I could get a boost in pay and much better benefits.

With my previous experience, I had optimistic hopes of being able to enter the “work from home customer support” avenue and began sending out my resume. Nothing came of it, and this left me feeling more hopeless than before.

Further education was a must and the faster (and cheaper), the better.

I enrolled in a local community college, although I wasn’t sure what I would pursue, because the hurdle of the entrance test and orientation was something I wanted to get past to be ready for my next step.

Nothing puts you on the career decision making path quite like possible financial demise, so I got to investigating all sorts of potential jobs. Nursing, Massage Therapy, Physical Therapy, Medical Assisting, Dental Hygienist and more. My process was first to figure out where to go school, how much it would cost and how long it would take. Next, I’d look at job outlook and growth and typical salaries in the area. Finally, I would read message boards where people in school or in the field talked about their work and the pros and cons.

After quite a bit of this (often at night, in the light of my phone screen), I thought I narrowed it down to Massage Therapy. I interviewed a friend in the field for more information and scheduled a tour a local school to get more of a feel for the idea.

The day before my tour, I stumbled across a certificate program for Technical Communications being offered at the community college I had enrolled in a few months prior. A certificate program costing far less than an Associates degree, only requiring 4 semesters, where the classes would allow me to continue homeschooling.

My last few years in the workforce had me spending a large part of my time creating and updating process and procedure documentation for our technical group and other departments. This was actually the part of my job I had loved, and would be excited to enter back into. Feeling a certificate and a brush up on the basic information would help give me that push back in, I quickly finished my orientation and got signed up for my first class.

A few weeks into the first semester and I love it. I love writing. I love strengthening my skills and practicing writing with a direct end goal in mind. One night a week for 3 hours works really well with our schedule too.

There are drawbacks as well. When my husband is feeling off, he seems resentful of needing to watch the kids an additional night a week. He sees I enjoy going to school and I know he wishes he were pursuing something he would enjoy. I think he also dislikes knowing that I am doing this to get out, even though he wants me out.

 

Mid-Life Crisis

Mid-Life Crisis.

I hate that that phrase. I hear it, condescension around the edges, much like one says “teenage angst” or “pre-teen drama”.

They’ll say what you’re going through is just a phase. You’ll come to your senses and act like a normal adult again (and hopefully soon). After the new sports car is purchased. After the affair. Career change. Weight loss. Face lift. They’ll tell you you are just trying to recapture your youth.

Some people would say my mid-life crisis started the summer of my 39th year. When I dove into a 3 month long fitness and meal plan that enabled me to lose 25-30 lbs. I see it in a different way. While viewing some recent video of myself, I was stunned at how different I looked. How the extra weight I had kept on since my second child was born affected my face. How I did not love what I saw. So it became important. At 39, I found I now had something I didn’t have in my younger years. The strength and determination to set a goal and do the work I needed to to reach that goal.

Those same people would say I was experiencing a mid-life crisis, when, the following summer, I trained for and ran my first 5K. I had never ran before in my life. I think I got a little caught up in seeing friends completing 5K’s and I wanted to challenge myself. Proving to myself I could accomplish a fitness goal the previous year made me confident that if I wanted it bad enough, I could make it happen. I also really wanted that cool shirt that came along with the Fall 5K (so I ran that one too).

There was something more to these years. There was a serious looking back on the choices I had made in my life, looking at where I was now, and honestly asking myself, where did I want to be in the future? In this respect, I’d like to rename mid-life crisis to mid-life evaluation.

The idea that we can make a decision a decade or more in the past, and assume that decision will always be what we want or need until we’re no longer living is downright naive.

Actually, I want to say crazy….. but I’m not sure that is the case for everyone. Looking back, I think I was involved in a perfect storm of isolation, fear, and inexperience that led me to make a decision about “forever” that I wasn’t really prepared to make. I also think we were two different people in two different relationships, even if it was with each other.

Sixteen years later, I caught a glimpse of everything that was missing in my relationship. A confirmation of where it started and why it was what it was now. So I had to take an even harder look at where I was, and where I was going to go. Was I going to continue to be the person my husband expected me to be, that I never really was? An expectation that continuously crushed his ego and heart and left me feeling guilty and miserable? Or was I going to finally acknowledge what was missing, what was always missing in our relationship?

If you marry someone hoping they’re going to change, who is the monster? The person who expects you to change, or you, because you didn’t change into who they wanted you to be?

Forgiving Yourself

What is the meaning or goal of life?

Once I thought it was navigating through my life without developing any major drug addiction or becoming homeless to arrive in bed at old age to die in my sleep.

Later, I believed it was modeling and raising children with the tools to be kind, curious and creative. To be people who would live better than I and be fun to hang out with as adults, too.

More recently, I decided it was gaining the ability to see all humans as the same as ourselves. To let the dividing lines of gender, race, religion, country, politics, lifestyle, etc. fall away and to acknowledge, we are all one.

That last one I still believe. This year, I’ve gained another.

Forgiving ourselves and others, for simply being human.

I think it starts with our parents. Often they are like gods to us, adult, always making the right decisions. Until one day, you realize they actually didn’t have all the answers. They made (and make) plenty of mistakes. You learn to trust that they did the best they could with the knowledge that they had.

I know. I know you feel there are exceptions. That there are unforgivable actions. That very well may be, but then I look at the actions people take when they are under extreme stress. Postpartum depression, heck, any kind of depression or mental illness. It’s still human. It may be we can never really know the struggle someone had right before making any choice. We cannot even assume every human has the same level of impulse control as any other.

It’s human to feel unable to forgive, but know, the forgiveness is more for you. A way for you to let go of the hate, the pain. Sometimes, a way for you to let go of that person, and prevent them from ever having a large effect on your life again. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to let that person in your life on their terms. Only on yours.

What I find important, today, is to forgive myself. I’ve been unable to make some people happy. I’ve been unable to prevent some people from feeling pain. I have to forgive myself. I choose myself. I choose my children.