Just to be with Her

I haven’t written in a while. There are many reasons why, but it boils down to being busy as hell. Honestly, I’d like to write something life-changing or poetic or remotely inspiring, but I don’t have it in me at the moment. I’m tired. I’m weary. My brain is clusterfucked with the monumental to-do lists and the triple checking and the living, breathing, enduring of every day life. Sometimes I think I have OCD but it manifests in sleepless nights, acid reflux, and irritability.

I spent half the summer with my 8 year old step-daughter. I don’t really like children, but I LOVE her. I love her more than I ever thought I could love another person beyond my husband and parents. I don’t even love my brother as much as I love this child. Blondie and I were very much in the establishing rapport phase of our relationship when she came to our home in early June; but by the end of the month, we were buddies, sleepover mates, and swimming partners. Her voice, her laugh, her soulful blue eyes, and her ridiculous tan…so many things to love and cherish about her. The shitty part is that I only get 8 weeks a year with her. Before long she’ll be too big for piggy back rides and bedtime stories. I just want to press pause on her development so that she stays this sweet little blonde tornado who loves to shower my home in Barbies and pink.

Parenting totally fucks with your selfishness…or at least it should. In one phone call last year, I went from knowing there was this tiny child 2,000 miles away to literally holding and laughing with her. She went from abstract concept to actual human in one conversation. One decision. Now, all my conversations somehow involve her, my calendar year revolves around her flights to and from our house, and my office is now her bedroom. Nothing is the same. And I could tell you that it’s the greatest decision I’ve ever made (it is…) but….parenting is difficult. Talking to and relating to her is as easy as breathing, but there’s all this extra shit that many people don’t take into account: Co-parenting with her mom, custody arrangements, court documents, and that constant worry for her safety. When will it stop???? Life was so much easier before all of this. But was it as rewarding? I have no idea. I was content before when it was just me and her dad; and now, I’m in this mental and emotional state of agitation and it just never fucking leaves me. It’s like a leach attached to my heart, sucking all of my ideas and thoughts and feelings and redirecting them from me to her. I don’t like it. Can’t I just go back? Parenting is a conscious choice every moment of every day. I’ll never be able to go back and start over without the knowledge of her existence.

In the last few months, I’ve learned that contrary to popular opinion, your children don’t have to love you back. They don’t even have to like you. Just like building any relationship, love and respect and trust are cultivated over time. I’d like to think I’ve earned all three in the months I’ve spent getting to know my step-daughter. We have a good relationship and I’m thankful. I just wish the entire situation was…easier. Not the fatigue or the other selfish bits, but the process of parenting a child when there’s 2,000 miles of distance separating us. I wish it was out of sight, out of mind but I’m not that great at compartmentalizing anymore. And Blondie needs to know that someone out there loves her, makes wishes on stars for her, and would cross oceans and planetary systems, just to be with her.

Alice in the Real World

Ann B. Davis, who played Alice on The Brady Bunch, passed away over the weekend. I was reading an article about her and was moved by her words: “I’m convinced we all have a God-shaped space in us, and until we fill that space with God, we’ll never know what it is to be whole.” Davis was part of an Episcopalian community. I feel as though we are spiritual creatures in many ways. I also think this is applicable whether you believe in God or another spiritual deity. Sometimes we find ourselves the most complete when the spiritual space inside of us is filled with something beautiful.

More than ever, I see how Buddha, Mohammed, the Holy Saints, Pope Francis, Tupac, Mother Theresa, Johnny Cash, and other philanthropists have served to guide people in their quest for beauty, peace, and wholeness. I have Buddhas, rosaries, saints and other memorabilia all around my house in respect to the great leaders of this life…and the next.

We all have a deeper sense of self, an essence that desires to be integrated with a world much larger than ourselves. And I know what it feels like to have a spiritual void. It’s unnerving and lonely. We are relational creatures and our ability to empathize extends beyond conversations, birthday parties, and picnics in the park. It’s the exchange of spiritual energies while drowning in grief or when giving birth to a child. It’s soul connection. It doesn’t necessarily matter who or what we connect with, as long as we’re engaging in a collaborative relationship where we feel complete. The fulfillment is beautiful.

 

Thanks for all the great lessons, Alice.

Never Settle for the Easy Answer

Sometimes I really hate church. I hate the stupid songs. I hate the forced greeting time (introvert nightmare). And I hate going when I’m not sure what I believe in. The best thing aging has done for me is being able to CHOOSE whether to go to church. I grew up in a Southern Baptist church…I was every stereotype imaginable. My family was at church every Sunday (for BOTH AM/PM services) and Wednesday. My dad managed the audio/visual systems, my mom cleaned the building, and both parents occasionally taught Sunday School classes. All of the church holiday celebrations were held at my house. The pastor drove me to school for first through fourth grade. In the summer, I sat in the wooden chairs, memorized Bible verses, put on cheesy musicals…I did it all. Even the lame-ass, punitive purity retreats (none of those purity balls though…that’s a special level of fucked up). I also have a BS in Christian Studies that I haven’t used since I graduated in 2007.

When you’re young, you don’t know much about theology beyond the salvation mantra and the debate of right/wrong. You learn about sin and forgiveness. But there’s so much more to Christianity and the Bible that no one tells you…and what’s worse, you’re not encouraged to question anything. You’re just supposed to accept it as absolute truth. To question is to doubt and doubt is almost always viewed as a sin…and therefore wrong. 

When I went through my divorce, I sort of cast myself out of everything related to church… After all, it was CHRISTIANS who told me I was being disobedient by wanting to divorce my ex-husband…and then told me to go back to him after he committed adultery…which is A SIN. Seriously, does the Bible exist for you to pick and choose who to screw over? The message of love has been replaced by a message of manipulation. There’s actually a song that says, “they will know we are Christians by our love…” and when I hear it now, I laugh. The media portrays Christians as these hate-spewing, assholes and some are, but not all. I have tons and tons of friends who are pastors, church leaders, church attenders, and all out (non-asshole) Jesus freaks. Sometimes I feel lonely or left out because I’ve moved on and now focus my time on other things. I skip over articles or Facebook posts related to church or God, especially those chain letter types that say “Share if you love Jesus” (cause if you don’t, you’ll burn in hell with bottles of whiskey and all the members of Pantera). I literally flee from church talk, or anything related to Christian spirituality. It’s like I have an aversion that runs deep into my soul. I don’t know if I’ll always feel like this but the separation from church and all things (bullshit) Christianity have given me a renewed perspective. I don’t feel guilty about my lack of participation. In fact, it’s a divorce I support, knowing I’ve come out stronger on the other side.

I digress.

I have spent the last four years doubting and questioning everything. I can choose church or religion without fear of the wrath of God. I can think for myself and decide what’s worth believing in, investing in, or dismissing. Rest assured, I never, ever settle for the easy answer. For me, the freedom from church is an opportunity to seek new avenues of worship, love, and hope…something I feel I’ve lost in the ruckus of mainstream religion. Sometimes you just need to walk away to find out where you belong. 

 

The Alternative Mom

Mother’s Day is a difficult holiday for many people. I share in the discomfort of those who live on the edge of parenthood. If you’ve followed my blog, you’ve read my rants about not wanting children, apart from my seven year old step-daughter who lives 2,000 miles away; but that wasn’t always my perspective. A decade ago, I was newly married (to someone else) and daydreaming about becoming a mother. I spent pretty much my entire early adolescence babysitting and helping parents with their children, so much so that even my friends in middle school told me I’d be a good mom. My dad called me “mother hen”…because mothering was an instinctual behavior. But when the time came to actually try to conceive, it took me four years, only to miscarry in the first ten weeks. It was disappointing to say the least.

But in the years since my divorce and remarriage, parenting has taken on a new meaning. I’m more keenly aware that it’s a lifelong commitment…which I don’t think everyone realizes. Some people approach procreation like it’s as trivial and temporary as purchasing a new car. But now I realize how much work goes into raising children. No breaks, no vacations, no fucking sleep, even less money. Until either you or the child passes to the next life. Parenting=investment.

Needless to say, it shocked a lot of people when I wasn’t jumping the gun to get pregnant after I remarried. Even the conversations my husband and I have had about adding to our family have been more to please others’ expectations, because isn’t it written somewhere that as soon as you get married, you’re supposed to have tons of fat children (even more so if you’re over 30, which we basically are)? Thanks, but I think I’d like to have tons of uninterrupted sex first.

When I met my husband, he wasn’t connected to his daughter due to the substantial distance and the fact that she was being parented by her mother and her soon-to-be stepfather. Her paternal needs were being met. Last year, his daughter’s needs changed and it became vital that we step in to help build a permanent relationship with her, despite the distance and difficulties. Since then, we’ve visited her and she’s visited us, and we’re planning for her to stay with us for a month this summer. I went from wife to parent in one phone call. There’s a bedroom full of Little Mermaid toys and a closet full of tiny human clothes in our apartment. I’ve been organizing day camps and social outings and making schedules. It’s surreal. If you saw her face, you’d know why it’s all worth it.

Some people don’t understand though. They wonder why my husband and I have chosen to be airport parents, why we’ve given up passports and husband/wife-only dreams and even the idea of bearing more children. I have an easy answer—because each one of those activities takes away from the possibility of affording airfare for her visits or doing fun things while she’s here. It cuts in on her provisions and I’ve been told kids like to eat, at least twice a day…or maybe I’m getting them confused with pets. 

I do a lot of work for a child that isn’t even mine. (That’s another long story.) She’ll never be mine. Even her mom thanks me for “mothering her baby.” It’s sort of an awkward place to be…in that limbo between not wanting more children but also wanting the ONE child that will never truly be mine. On Mother’s Day, I feel trapped in the space in between. Mother’s Day is typically celebrated for moms parenting children they bore from their bodies or children they adopted. But what about the step-moms…the alternative moms who only see their kids for a few days every three months? Those for whom the “mother” label feels like a misnomer? If my husband and I never have children together, he’ll still always be a father, but I’ll always be on the edge of motherhood. I’ll still be parenting someone else’s baby, mothering someone else’s daughter. I’ll still be the alternative mom.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z0st_flVPeg

Sometimes We Squander, Sometimes We Cherish

I’m in the last three weeks of my 20’s. Where did the time go? Each week, I attend a Buddhist meditation group where I sit in a circle and try to maintain focus on anything but cheeseburgers, season 2 of Arrow, and paying my bills on time. It’s supposed to be an hour of concentration and attention on the breath or a mantra, but it usually ends up being an hour of reflection. Thinking for the sake of thinking…and remembering. 

I’m truly apprehensive about turning 30, as I’m sure many people are when they reach a specific age milestone. I wonder what this new decade will hold. I hope to god it includes a stable income, a job I don’t hate, and a passion that makes all the struggle and effort worth it. I’m thankful to have another age bracket to experience, even if it does come with more grey hair and wrinkles around my eyes.

In my pondering of the last ten years, I wonder if I’ve wasted most of it. I spent 8 years of my 20’s married, 5 of them to the wrong person. My 20’s were full of mistakes…bad theology, terrible ideology, broken hearts, judgment, ignorance, and lies. At the same time, it brought forth a new understanding of what it means to love others despite my worry or fear that I wouldn’t be good at it. It also gave me the purest of friendships and a love of a man who brings ultimate joy and peace to my life.

Sometimes I think maybe I should have been more brave, traveled the world, learned a new language, or at least followed through on my plan to learn the violin by age 25. Would I still be the same person had I done all of those things in my 20’s or would it have changed my outcome? 

And who knows, perhaps the reason it didn’t happen then is because it’s supposed to happen now, or I’m supposed to make peace with it never happening at all.

At the end of my meditation class, the facilitator always gives us a Buddhist blessing. The last line is, “take heed not to squander your lives.” I know it means we should take every moment and seize it…but sometimes I think the greatest lessons are learned by squandering opportunities. In those moments, we recognize that we missed out on something beautiful or beneficial and we make a conscious effort to not do it again. It motivates us to do better or be better. To reconcile what we have lost and make plans for things to discover. To cherish the moments in between. 

My Other Life

I’ve suffered from relentless violent nightmares since I was a child. No amount of therapy or journaling has reduced the torment. Sometimes I’m afraid to go to sleep, uncertain of what scene awaits me. I dream of storms, tornadoes, oceans, stairs, elevators, heights, hills, airplanes, and people attempting to kill me in many agonizing methods. I feel pain when dreaming, to the point I wake up exhausted and sore. It’s a life I have no control over. I feel helpless and victimized by my own subconscious. Very seldom am I ever able to awaken myself out of a nightmare once I recognize it’s not reality. PTSD for a REM cycle every damn night. I’m like that 80’s song by Heart:

These dreams go on when I close my eyes
Every second of the night I live another life
These dreams that sleep when it’s cold outside
Every moment I’m awake the further I’m away

Why can’t I be normal and dream of a shirtless Jared Leto in the mountains somewhere?? Why must I be forced to endure hours and hours of freaky violent shit? I’d love nothing more than to reach inside my head and remove whatever brain tissue that controls dreaming (as long as I can still daydream about Jared Leto).

Today I’ve been absolutely useless because the tension from last night’s horror story has left my muscles cramped and seizing up my neck and in my shoulders. For the love of God, someone bring me an Adavan and a sippy cup of vodka. Why can’t I turn off the nightmares? Am I so driven by fear when I’m awake that it follows me like a demon into the core of my psyche, only to reveal itself as soon as my eyes close…when I’m weak and powerless? Even as I type these words, I wonder what I’ll encounter tonight. Please be Jared Leto, please be Jared Leto, please be Jared Leto.

The Next Life

246932_10151689972415991_878948270_nMy paternal grandfather has had heart failure for over ten years. He’s a strong man. For most of my life, he was emotionally reserved, almost keeping us at a distance. We all know he loves his wife and children and grandchildren, he just wasn’t very vocal about it until about five or six years ago. I still remember the first time he told me he loved me after a long phone call…I was in my mid-twenties. I was overjoyed by those three little words.

And now here he is, nearly 84 years old, and he’s dying…slowly, painfully at home. It’s one of those moments when I wish people had the right to die with dignity, that we could choose the right time to pass into the next life when our earthly bodies fail us. My grandmother is constantly at his side…unable to leave him. He doesn’t eat, he doesn’t get out of bed. He won’t let most of the family see him. I’m trying to decide if I want to or if I can see him…to say that goodbye that’s already gripping my heart. I know it’s time. I know what’s left of this life is coming to a close for him and I find myself wishing I’d spent more afternoons sitting under the large trees in his backyard having conversations.

And now every time my mom calls, I wonder if it’s to tell me he’s dead. It’s a horrible feeling. Almost as horrible as the phone calls you get where someone tells you someone else you love has died. There’s no way to be truly prepared for it. There’s not way to escape that chasm that forms in your chest. Even now, my heart hurts just thinking about it. My dad has nightmares about it and cries when he tries to tell me…because he knows the time is near. I feel like we’re holding our breath…waiting.

I’ve stopped praying for God to heal my Papa. Now I simply pray for God to ease Papa’s pain, grant him dignity…and please be merciful as he passes from this life into the next.

Fraud, Extortion, and Other Good Habits

I was recently asked to do calligraphy work on wedding invitations for a family friend. Have I ever done calligraphy? Nope. Can I learn? With the help of the internet, I can learn how to row a boat while speaking Japanese. Here’s hoping Mr. Google doesn’t let me down. Am I perpetuating a fraud? Maybe, but I’m desperate for income and sometimes it means stretching the limits on my “professional artistic ability.” It also involves spending way more time on projects that I’m barely getting paid for. I feel guilty for extorting money…which is probably why I’m poor. Everyone but the trusty 1% is pretty much starving or working shitty jobs to avoid starving or cleaning up after a natural disaster or preparing for the next disaster. And the strain on our incomes and the demands of our bill collectors makes us do things we’d never really imagine. I’m not quite to the desperation of John Q, but I get where he’s coming from. Eventually we encounter than we can handle (despite the adage that God never gives us more than we can bear) and we snap. We yell, we cheat, we steal, we lie, we grossly exaggerate, etc. …all in the name of survival. 

For now, my morals outweigh my urge to hurt or insult my fellow humans but I wonder if a day will come when I care much less… My resolve will disappear and I’ll be left as a shadow.

That said, I’m a believer in hope and often cling to it when I’m hungry and tired of eating ramen and hot dogs. So far, hope hasn’t let me down, but it’s come pretty damn close. I worry that eventually the hope will run out. And then what? Fraud and extortion could be the least of my worries.

That Helpless, Angry Feeling

Three weeks ago, my sister-in-law’s 24 year old brother died. There are still many questions about his death and the level of unresolved tension grows higher with each passing moment. He had been sick since birth, by all means should not have survived en-utero or childhood or adolescence…you get the idea. There were many times when family members held their breaths wondering if he would survive.

And then one day, his step-dad came home and found him unconscious in his bed. There was an empty bottle of pills, blood in the bathroom, and blood coming from his mouth. No one knows what his last moments were like. Hopefully he was at peace, resting in his bed, and unafraid.

Now the journey begins for those left behind. My poor sister-in-law and her family are deep in the throws of grief. They want to push through it so that it’s over as soon as possible. The pain, the despair, the lack of sleep, the vanishing appetite. The never-ending void in the center of the chest that aches constantly. Is there a prayer or routine that makes it easier? Is there a book or a mantra or anything to make the hurt disappear?

As for the rest of us, we’re victims of helplessness. We want desperately to help ease the pain, heal the wound. We say trite expressions, offer prayers, cook meals, hold hands, and sit in silence just hoping something, anything provides a moment of relief. It just pisses me off…all of it. I’m angry that I can’t do anything substantial to remove this burden. The hardest part of being human is grieving for the ones we love. We never ‘get over it’…we just simply learn to live differently.

I have grieved but nothing like this. Grief is as unique as sunrises and sunsets. Every person embraces it differently and it’s impossible to create a unified heal-all method for this shitty, unfair process. We have to face the fact that ultimately, there’s nothing we can do to abate the pain other than showing love. Love in any form and every form for as long as it takes. In time, they’ll learn to walk and breathe again and our helpless, angry feeling will begin to subside. 

Free Hugs

I’m currently sitting in my recliner under a blanket with my trusty laptop across my legs. Not that the description matters, but perhaps it will allow you to step into the space I’m in as you read the words I’m thinking, saying, and typing. I’m also writing a research paper…which is the universe’s way of taking every profound notion I have and making it tedious as hell, to the point I’m willing to give up all future aspirations of brilliance. I’d rather be boring than have to cultivate a 15-page paper on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. And we wonder why procrastination exists. 

My research paper (because I know you, dear reader, are so interested) is over the use of mandalas in psychotherapy. At least I’m not analyzing Freud…that’s the only upside after days of research and writing. God help me when I have to initiate the thesis project. I’m getting off topic… One of the books I read was about art and spirituality. The two have always been mutually exclusive for me. When I create art, I connect with the divine… One particular chapter was called “Loving Body is Embracing Spirit.” I haven’t read the chapter so everything I’m about to say may in fact be redundant. I was too distracted by the title to peruse its contents. That, friends, is what’s known as a “disclaimer.”

Anyway, in reading the title, I started thinking about what it means to love one’s body and embrace spirit. For those who believe that there is a Divine Spirit in this world, in the heavens, and everywhere in between, there’s also the knowledge of the Divine Spirit within us. I wondered what that looks like, the Spirit rolling around inside me with all my quirky traits, horrible thoughts, and last night’s Firefly Vodka. Even beyond that, I wondered if all of the talents and gifts I possess are empowered by this Spirit dwelling within. There are so many elements about myself that I love and hate, or at the very least, wish were better. But in “hating” these elements, am I rejecting this Spirit? Do I dismiss this Spirit when I dismiss the beauty of my body because it doesn’t meet the standards of anorexic Calvin Klein models or that dipshit CEO from Abercrombie & Bitch?

Loving oneself doesn’t mean you have to walk around wearing a shirt that says “I kick ass” unless of course, you want to. It just means accepting who you are, in your entirety. If you do believe that there’s some divine essence dwelling around you and in you, and if you believe that this same entity has imbued you with certain traits…in loving yourself, you embrace the spirit. 

Kind of makes me want to give myself a hug. Or at the very least, walk around hugging people I know (and don’t know), for the sake of accepting others and their inner spirit.  

Oh and if you’re interested, the book I referenced is called “Spirituality and Art Therapy” by Mimi Farrelly-Hansen (Ed.)