Tag Archives: rebuilding

The Alone Part and the Adventure Part

boxcarVivi and I went to the library today.  She chose seven books from The Boxcar Children series.

I never read these books when I was a kid.  Did you?  They were mentioned this week on The Writer’s Almanac:

The Boxcar Children series is the story of four orphans, Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny, who range in age from six to fourteen. Their parents die, and their grandfather is granted custody. But the children are afraid that he is a cruel old man, and so they run away and set up house in an abandoned boxcar, supporting themselves and living an independent life.

Gertrude Chandler Warner said that after it was published, many librarians objected to the story because they thought the children were having too much fun without any parental control. Warner said, “That is exactly why children like it!”

As we were driving home, I told Vivi, “You know, when those books came out, some people didn’t think kids should read them because they didn’t think it was right for children to read about kids who lived on their own and had fun adventures without any grown-ups around.”

I looked in the rearview mirror and she was gazing out the window, nonplussed.  I asked, “What do you think about that?”

“Well,” she said, “I don’t think about the alone part as much as I think about the adventure part.”

Huh.  That pretty much sums up the first three years of therapy for me.  When Fartbuster and I divorced, I spent at least a year staring at the alone part instead of at the adventure part.  

The Alone Part–that’s the part where you end up sitting on the edge of your bed and asking yourself, “How did I get HERE?” (to quote my friend, Heather).  The alone part is the part where you can’t breathe or sleep because your brain is hashing up every NEVER AGAIN and ALWAYS that it can lay hands on.  The alone part demands logic and reason and a really sound explanation.  The alone part asks, “WHY?”

The Adventure Part–that’s the part where you end up sitting on the edge of your bed and asking yourself, “What do I want to do today?”  The adventure part is the part where your whistle comes back and you get some jig in your giddy up.  The adventure part sleeps at night and dreams during the day.  The adventure part demands leaps and giggles and doesn’t care to explain itself.  The adventure part asks, “WHY NOT?”  

Hit the Road, Jacqueline!

I’ve got a bonus column over at Work It, Mom! today.  This one is about taking a trip by yourself, for yourself.  Here’s a sample:  

Whether you’re going on a big trip or a little jaunt, the important thing to remember is that you have the right to step out into the world and explore.  I’ve traveled on my own for years and I still get the jitters sometimes, but I get over it.  It’s worth it.  I repeat to myself, “Be not afraid.  Be not afraid.”  Then I go.  

 

Click on this vintage travel poster from my favorite destination to read more about it!

 

visit greece

Goals, Outcomes, and Daffodils

daffodils in snow

As I left my office yesterday afternoon to walk to the car, my heart was equal parts heavy and joyful.  Heavy for a friend whose life is in a tangle right now.  She’s sad and confused and overwhelmed.  I remember those sunless days in my own past and ache for her.  I know she’ll figure it out and find herself on the other side of this, but right now she has no place to rest.  The path ahead seems so long and dark and she’s having a hard time believing that she will find her way.

The other part of my heart was joyful, because yesterday I reached a goal I had set for myself a few months back.  February 4th marks the one year anniversary of Baddest Mother Ever.  I wanted to reach 100,000 page views on the site in that first year.  That happened yesterday!  Thank you so much for reading and sharing and building this community.  I feel great joy that I have stuck with this and it is growing.

These are the thoughts that were on my mind when I looked down into the snow and saw green shoots of daffodils peeking up into the frigid air.  Those shoots took me right back to a time in my life when I had no idea what my future would look like.  My birthday is in late October, right around the time you plant spring bulbs so that they can sleep through the winter and surprise you in the spring.  I got a big bag of daffodil bulbs from my mom for a birthday present about a month after Fartbuster came home with lipstick on his collar that first time.  I hadn’t told anyone about our situation because I was ashamed of my husband’s behavior.  One bright Sunday afternoon, I took my bag of bulbs and a trowel out to the backyard and started planting them around the pine trees and along the fence.  On my own and with time to think, my thoughts gravitated back to our marriage, my trust in him, and whether we would ever get back on track and feel normal again.  With each bulb that I tucked into the earth, I wondered, “Will I still be living here to see these come up in the spring?  Will I be married?  Will we make it?”

I tried to bury my fear and sadness with the bulbs.  I committed to a goal–I would be in that house in the spring to watch these flowers bloom.

Well, I reached my goal–I was in that house in the spring when the daffodils bloomed, but Fartbuster wasn’t there.  My marriage was gone.  That’s the difference between a goal and an outcome.  A goal is a milestone along the path.  An outcome is the result of all those goals…with a measure of dumb luck thrown in.  So yes, I reached my goal of seeing the daffodils bloom, but the outcome wasn’t what I had imagined.  Simply achieving the goal didn’t predict the outcome.

We don’t always get to control the outcome.  We control the goals.  I planted the daffodils at just the right depth and I added bone meal.  I tucked them into the warming red dirt and I covered them with a layer of pine straw.  But that’s as far as I could influence the outcome.  Floods or freezes or insects could have taken it from there and the outcome would have been out of my hands.  Same thing with my marriage to Fartbuster.  My goals, like going to counseling and working on my own self, were reached.  Instead of saving my marriage, I saved my self.

So if you’re walking briskly through the cold wind, with your chin tucked to your chest, look around for that little shoot of green.  That daffodil has something to tell you.

Moving On

After Richard died and left our house to me in his will, many people assumed that I would be selling it.  As one friend put it, “It will be easier for you to move on with your life if you’re not still in this place.”

I didn’t want to give up our house.  Yes, it was too big for just me.  Yes, it was a lot to maintain on my own.  Yes, every corner and crook held a memory of our time together there.  But I didn’t want to give up my house.  One blazing hot July afternoon, I came home to an HVAC unit that had been struck by lightning, a green pool, and a leak in the basement.  I stomped around cussing and pouring chemicals and mopping and panicking.  I didn’t want to let myself start crying because I wasn’t sure how I would stop.  I remember glaring up at the brick face of the house as I turned the hose on and shaking my fist at it.  To be so huge, it was hugely empty–just me and three dachshunds.  That night, as I watched the Atlanta news and ate my dinner all alone in the den, the anchor introduced a story about kids who needed to be adopted.  Three siblings who hoped to stay together.  It’s hard to find a house with that much empty space–but I had one.  A part of my wretched heart opened up at that story because it dawned on me that maybe the house would give me options down the road that I wouldn’t have otherwise.  Like any gift, my house held possibilities.

kids

One of the dearest things about Richard’s gift to me is that he knew how much owning a home meant to me.  He had grown up with a home–his parents lived in the same house from the time he was in elementary school until after he was out of college.  He loved the little yellow house so much that he was furious when the next owners cut down “his” azaleas.  My childhood memories were scattered over several places–the trailer in Greenville, the brown house in Hollonville, the old plantation house, the tin-roofed house on the Circle.  By the time I was an adult, neither my mom nor my dad lived in a place where I had ever had a room of my own.  I didn’t have a childhood home to go back to.  Fartbuster and I had bought a house together, but it never felt like a place to put down roots.  I didn’t know any of my neighbors there…or my husband, for that matter.  When we divorced, I felt like I was being forced into the decision to sell.  I rented two more places on my own before Richard and I bought our house.  After he left it to me, I had a place I would never have to leave unless it was my choice.  So I chose to stay.

Within five years, all the bedrooms were full with three siblings.  Not those sweet kids from the evening news–my kids.  Yesterday, two of them and I were playing in the backyard when I witnessed something that taught me a new lesson about moving on.

The very idea of “moving on” is an illusion.  We put together our lives not by moving away from the past, but by integrating the past into the present and the future, regardless of where we might be.

bluebirdI’ve told the story before about the bluebird who appeared at our backyard wedding (A Tuesday Kind of Miracle).  Well, yesterday, as I sat in the sun and watched Vivi and Carlos playing in her wagon, a pair of bluebirds flitted out of the forsythia bushes on the far side of  the yard.  I thought I was seeing things.  One perched on the fence down by the river–in the exact spot where the wedding bluebird had sat almost nine years ago.  As I was marveling at the beauty of the bluebird–and the memory I associate with them–Carlos caught my eye and chirped, “Hello, Mommy!”  Time collapsed in my backyard as my son stood in the same place Richard and I had stood to say our vows, and called me by my new name.  Mommy.

If I had sold this house and moved in to a new place, I would have missed that moment.  I would have missed seeing my Now blend so seamlessly with my Then.  As I sat there being happy, it dawned on me that that is what HOME is–being somewhere long enough that stories have time to come back around.

Fartbuster’s Worst Fear

ordinaryAbout a week after Fartbuster and I separated, he came by the house one night so we could talk.  It had been a rough day for me.  I had spent the afternoon at a funeral for the husband of a coworker.  He had died too young after a grueling dose of stomach cancer.  During the service, I stared at my wedding ring (I hadn’t told anyone that we were living apart yet) and wondered what would become of my life, who would cry for me.  That evening, I was overwrought and wrung out and completely used up–so what BETTER time to hash things out with my wayward husband?  

So there we met, leaning against the counters in our kitchen.  My kitchen.  The kitchen.  Whatever.  And Fartbuster was telling me all about the book he was reading–Hermann Hesse’s “The Glass Bead Game.”  In great detail.  Greeeeeeaaaat detail.  Exhaustive detail. I’m leaning against the counter and listening to him go on and on about this esoteric novel that he probably read because no one else wanted to and it’s as if I finally SEE him for who he really is–someone who thinks he’ll be OK as long as he’s smart.  Someone who thinks he’s really special because he’s smart.  Someone who desperately needs a pat on the head as he hears, “Gosh, you’re smart!”  That had been my job for ten years.  

The Glass Bead Game is about the life of a young man who has been raised to be a member of the intellectual elite who goes on a quest to understand other forms of living.  So it got Fartbuster thinking about Who He Wanted to Be.  (And as a sidenote:  remember that Who He WAS at this juncture was a barely employed man with a pregnant girlfriend that his patient and confused wife didn’t know about.)  

Finally, he finishes going on about the book.  He looks over at me and asks, “What’s your biggest fear in life?’

I considered it for a few moments and reflected back on how I had spent my emotional afternoon.  “I think my biggest fear is not being loved.  If I woke up in the morning and couldn’t think of anyone who gave a shit about me–that would be my worst nightmare.”  

He nodded without saying anything.  

“What’s yours?” I asked from my side of our kitchen.

He scrunched up his mouth, rubbed his beard and proclaimed, “Being ordinary.  Y’know–wife, kids, house in the suburbs and a job.”  

I stared at the pattern in the linoleum to give him time to elaborate.  He added, “I want to do something bigger than that, something important.”  

Our suburban kitchen ticked with the quiet that hung between us.  In our time together, even though I read books just as fancy as the ones he read, I had always been the more practical of the two of us.  I like a good Nobel Prize winner myself, but I also believe in paying the light bill.  And that part of me had about had enough of making a life with Peter Pan.

“You call that ‘ordinary,’ but I went to a funeral today for one of the most ordinary men you’d ever care to meet.  Husband, father, grandfather.  Truck driver.  House in the country.  Watched Nascar.  Went to church on Sunday.  He was also 15 years sober and helped a lot of other people fight that battle.  He was loved deeply and irreplaceable to his wife and daughter.  He was funny.  He was kind.  A hundred people stood out there in the sunshine this afternoon and mourned the fact that he had passed.  Just an ordinary guy.”  

Fartbuster shrugged and I didn’t push it.  

Well, if you’ve been reading here for a while, you know how the story turned out.  I don’t talk much about how and where Fartbuster is today, but let me assure you…

  1. Wife
  2. Kid
  3. Job
  4. House in the suburbs

Thank my lucky stars that I got out of that marriage with my self intact, if somewhat tattered.  I became a person I loved, then I found someone to love.  Then I did it all again and again and again.  My life keeps getting bigger since that time.  

365050.TIF

I found this quote about ordinariness and love.  Reading it makes me feel a bit smug, because not too many years after Fartbuster placed me in the “ordinary” column, I went to Paris on my own and I found Oscar Wilde’s tombstone.  I put on my brightest red lipstick and I kissed the memorial, leaving my mark.  It was one of those moments when I looked back across what my life had become, back to that night in our kitchen.  Ordinary?  Hardly.  Loved?  Certainly.  

In the words of Mr. Wilde:   “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.”  

wilde

The Journey

I know some of you are being brave and bold RIGHT NOW.  You are saving your own lives.  Bravery doesn’t always come in historic gestures.  You might be starting a new job like Karen.  Getting your own place like Annabel.  Finishing up that first semester of college like Auburn.  Fighting for your life like Kristina.  Mothering an infant like Jackie.  Finding your way in the dark like…you know who you are.   Choosing to live another sober day.  Choosing to live.

Choose to live, again, today.  Save the only life you can save.  

Here’s some advice from Mary Oliver.

journey

“I” Statements

This morning, I was razzle-frack-a-lackin around (remember the sound Fred Flintstone made when he grumble cussed?) while I got dressed.  There’s this… situation…in my life where I have to bite my tongue, shut up, suck it up and let it go.  Y’know, what we grownups call “a Tuesday.”  The situation is causing me some uncomfortable moments because I’ve spent 12 years in therapy trying to learn to speak up and now I’m practicing the shut up.  It all seems so counterproductive.  

WARNING:  Here comes some language.  Good old fashioned Olde English.  If you don’t like cussing… I suggest you squint until you scroll down to the picture.  

I first started talking to a therapist when Fartbuster and I were splitting up.  After 10 years of keeping the world OK for him, I had surrendered my voice.  Not only did I not speak up for myself, it never dawned on me that I should speak up for myself.  Or that I might have been allowed to expect something out of our relationship.  I bit my tongue.  I shut up.  I sucked it up.  I tried really really hard to let it go.  And that never really took 100% so…therapy YAY!  The first thing my therapist asked was, “So what do you want to learn how to do?”  

Without even thinking, I blurted:  “I want to learn how to say “Fuck you!” if that’s what I’m thinking.”  

She laughed and said, “Oh, we’re going to get along just fine.  I kind of have a reputation for teaching women how to do that!”  It was a solid match.  We’ve made great strides.  If you don’t believe me, well FUCK YOU.  

During that first year of sessions, we worked on me finding my voice as I separated from Fartbuster.  One session right before the holidays, I told my therapist that I was anxious about the people I would be seeing.  This whole speaking up for myself thing was fresh and it was starting to feel a little shaky.  She thought it would be beneficial to practice some of the things I could say to protect myself in uncomfortable situations.  

She asked, “So what is it you REALLY want to say to this person?”  

I snorted.  “What I really want to say is ‘Shut the fuck up.'”  

“True, but they won’t be able to hear something that aggressive.  How about a more polite way to convey that same message?”

 I considered an alternative.  “How about ‘Soooooomebody needs… to shut the fuck up!'”  I wiggled my eyebrows and smirked.  

It was her turn to snort.  “OK, OK.  How about you try expressing this as an ‘I’ statement?”

“Oh!  I think somebody needs to shut the fuck up!”  

Nailed it.  

Maybe that’s why it’s been 12 years?  

My Capstone Project From 12 Years on the Couch.

My Capstone Project From 12 Years on the Couch.

So the razzle-frackin continues, even though Tuesday is in the books.  The only I-statement I can come up with today is “I feel like punching you in the throat when you breathe.  I would like you to shut the fuck up.”  

What’s your I-statement for today?  Share it in the comments!