Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Window Dressing and Framing Life

I never realized the distinction between living alone and living as a single mom.  That there is a difference between taking care of your family in a single parent household…and taking care of yourself as a single individual.

This week, my boys have been with their dad.  Having been divorced nearly a year, this was the longest stretch of time I’ve spent away from them post-divorce…and believe it or not, the longest amount of time I’ve spent by myself in my entire life.

That’s quite a statement to make at nearly 50, having previously been a single mom for ten years in what feels like a lifetime ago.

And in that other lifetime, I found purpose and meaning in life…or rather my survival instincts kicked in because I had another person to worry about and who was counting on me for everything.

That purpose followed me through a return trip to college to finish my degree, and me following my dreams of becoming a writer, and move from a job to a career. 

On that journey, I discovered a lot about myself, believed I was completely whole, and still hold the belief that after being single for ten years, I was ready to try again in a relationship.  What I now know is that self awareness does not guarantee the readiness of the other person.  You only see what they see within themselves.  And sometimes that window…that framing…well, it’s simply not enough. 

Fast forward to another lifetime, a different set of circumstances, and I find myself in a single parent household again.  The first time around, I found my purpose through focusing on raising a one-year-old alone.  And it was good…so good.  But now that I am a single parent again with my two younger boys, I see now that I, too, had my own limits in who I saw within myself…a window that was framed around a comfort in knowing what my life looked like for the immediate future.  Then a bridge to what I believed was a new beginning, expanding family…and again a path to parenting and if you can imagine, dreams of being a stay-at-home mom or at the most, a part-time working mom.  That was the plan.  Of course, that plan re-set about a thousand times.  Life rarely accommodates even the best of plans and more often than not, will throw something completely unexpected in for good measure.

The first “unexpected” life moment was finding out that what I took for granted in being able to conceive a child was no longer a guarantee at my “advanced maternal age" (still makes me cringe – you’d think being older and wiser would come with a better classification than old eggs and irregular cycles). 

And during the early years of my second marriage, I was so focused on having more children before time ran out, I didn’t spend enough time focusing on questions like, “Will this marriage last?” or “Who is this person I married and what happened to the one I was engaged to?” 

And the truth is that life is so intricate and connected that even if I could go back and answer those questions, I can’t honestly say my path would have changed that much.  Because two unbelievably incredible people came to be as a result of a choice that overall turned out to be a path I would turn away from. 

My well thought out journey, the one I was determined to walk no matter the cost, ultimately brought me to a level of awareness about myself…and after 50 years of life, my window expanded and finally opened wide to reveal something I’d only seen glimpses of before.

It didn’t happen all at once (though every step of the way I resisted change, insisted I had reached the final level and no more learnings were to be gleaned).  I was really focused on finally breaking free and making a change, and then once the ship was righted, fighting to keep everyone on board and afloat.  I had little time to consider what my new normal or reality looked like…in fact, when asked or pushed, I hid my head in the sand, hoping the waves would magically transform a pristine and new beach into a picture of what my new future could be.

Still ever focused on my purpose as a mom, my reconstruction period has had more to do with breathing life back into our new family situation and other struggles than taking a good look at myself and what this means for my future.

Then it happened.  Something I would normally consider the most ordinary of circumstances…a chance for my boys to spend more time with their dad during summer break…and me left feeling completely astounded and awakened inside.

First and foremost, my take on motherhood is that it’s a lifetime role.  It never ends.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.  That said, finally reaching a point where I didn’t just flirt with solitude for a few moments in time, I have completely embraced it.  And while I have no further clarity on my longer-term plans, I now see that it’s less about planning and more about feeling and being.

A few hours alone always left me feeling like I had just enough time to keep my head above water and regroup, but not enough time to relax and disconnect from “mommy mode”.  Then came the overnight or close to 24-hour reprieves.  For the first few months, I saved that time for going out and socializing.  I had somehow convinced myself that staying home when my kids were gone was not an option.  It was a wasted opportunity and life would pass me by if I didn’t stay among the living. 

What I failed to realize was that I am the living!  My lifetime of self-imposed and at times societal expectations I accepted as the norm…well, they were just stupid.  I was stuck in some warped expectations of how I should be spending my time.
So I embraced my home with a new fervor and moved every stick of furniture until I found my new perfect comfy spot in what used to be a formal living room that was never used.  Still, I didn’t get it.  I spent a lot of time writing about how I finally got it…but it was a pause…a glimpse…and then back to my purpose…parenting and motherhood. 

But this week, spending day after day in my own skin so to speak…it created a completely new and untapped place for me to explore.  A place I’ve sworn more times than I can count, that I had already visited and become a seasoned resident.  But I was wrong.  That window flew open and I finally looked at a future point and time when I will not be raising children.  And what I can finally see, and importantly feel, is more than a glimpse of my life with a purpose beyond survival and parenting.  And I like it.

Having had my two younger boys later in life, I think I have the unique perspective of looking at both an empty nest and future retirement at the same time.  Some might call that a sort of mid-life crisis.  But from where I’m standing, it’s the first time in my life I haven’t felt like something is on fire and needs to be extinguished.

No, this is a time for me to stop thinking and start looking at life from within myself.  I like to be original, but I can’t take credit for this last thought.  Someone once told me I needed to throw out the rulebook.  There are no rules or expectations.  The first time I heard this, I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around it.  But it was good advice.  And I have to agree that chucking it all and starting from scratch is the only way to manage (or rather avoid) a mid-life crisis.  I stand corrected, enlightened, and with a little more perspective than I started with. 


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