Moving Out and Moving On

We stood there awkwardly while a little boy danced around in the doorway, waiting for his parents to come solve the mystery of who these strangers were, standing on his new front porch.

My daughter and I looked at each other sheepishly as we heard faint commotion coming from inside the house and footsteps finally approaching.

“Hi!” I said as brightly as possible, with a jug of cider and box of donuts extended outward. “We’re your new neighbors from right next door!”

My higher-than-normal pitched voice and shiny demeanor were completely betraying my real feelings in this moment, but it wouldn’t be the first time, right? Here I was, trying to do the right thing.

You see, one of my dearest and best friends used to live in that house. She moved out a few months earlier, taking the next step in her life to join lives and households with her longtime boyfriend. And while I can only be happy for her and want every last single good thing for her in this world, let me be clear: I did not want her to move.

_____________________________________________________________________________

As weird fate would have it, she moved in 7 years ago on the exact day my ex-husband was moving out. And as the world inside my beloved home was crashing and burning down around me, I could not have known a whole new world was about to open up right next door to me.

She too, was a divorced single mom. She was strong and hilarious. Irreverent. Brave. Smart and spicy in all the best ways. Lots of PG-13 lingo and zero fucks to give. We loved her outrageously and she loved us back the exact same way. We became fast friends, and there was soon a well-worn path between our two homes. We laughed like crazy with our single-girl shenanigans. And we cried a lot, too. Broken marriages. Broken homes. Broken dreams. Some broken kids along the way. We battled mice and snakes and birds and flooded basements. And new boyfriends. Together. We would mow our lawns and have a beer after, with a continuous flow of never-ending girl chat.  You don’t make a lot of new “best” friends in your forties, and I had struck gold. I was living the grown up version of “when we get older we’ll live next door to each other…”

So the day she tenderly broke the news that she and her love were looking at houses, I fell apart. As time passed and they eventually found their new home, I struggled desperately to be happy for her, but one night, at the end of a very emotionally charged conversation, I finally blurted out through sobs, “I’m mad at you for leaving me.” (Cue abandonment issues!) And that was the truth. I was mad. I was sad. And I was grieving what would be the end of two soul friends living next door to each other. Her life was moving on in a way that mine was not. And I didn’t want it to be true.

Several weeks passed in a sad silence until one night, neither of us could take it anymore. We talked. We cried. We wept. For what we had. For what we would lose. And then we made plans for how we would adjust. And we have.

For a few months, her house sat empty, which was fine by me. If it was empty, I could almost pretend nothing had changed. I was dreading the day I would see unfamiliar new cars in the driveway and hear strange new voices echoing in the back yard. But now the day was here, which is how I ended up standing bravely on her old front porch with cider and donuts. I had cried in my car on the way home from work that day. I didn’t want new neighbors. I wanted her. And so going over there wasn’t even about them. It was about closure for me. Turning the page. Starting a new chapter.

It honestly wasn’t a great introduction. The husband was overly friendly and the wife, not so much. I texted my friend that night to let her know that my new neighbors were not going to be my new best friends. That much was clear.

But as I walked back across the lawn between our two houses, toward the home I love so much, I couldn’t help but exhale and smile to myself. I hadn’t really fixed anything and there was nothing I could change, but I figure you can stay sad and stuck or you can decide to show up with cider and donuts and move on.

Oh No She Didn’t…

women whispering

1953 Giclee Print by John French 

Recently another woman referred to me as fat. (Don’t click away now. I’m about to spill some serious tea.)

There I sat in my size 8 jeans with the waistband pressing gently against my stomach. I could feel my throat tighten up and tears pierce my eyes. I forced a deep breath and a long, unnatural exhale and started mentally running through all the defense mechanisms I know for a situation like this–But not before getting up to double-check the tag on my jeans. Surely if I were wearing a size 8, I couldn’t be categorized as fat.

Could I?

“This is completely ridiculous,” I told myself.

“Consider the source. This person is not your friend. Who cares what she thinks?”

“Jesus, hold my hoops ‘cuz I’m about to cut a bitch.”

“Did you feel fat BEFORE you heard this comment?”


I don’t know. Did I? I’m normally a pretty secure person. There isn’t much you can say about me that I don’t already own.  And as an almost 47 year-old woman, I know what I bring to the table and what I don’t. But what I also know? This whole weight thing is tricky. It’s like a house of cards.  Truthfully,  I’ve never felt better. I lift. I spin. I run. I walk. I drink green smoothies for breakfast and eat salads for lunch. I drink beer. And wine (medicinally, of course) And I eat a little junk too,  because a girl’s gotta live.  I’m pretty much doing everything I know to do at this age to keep shit tight.

And someone was still saying it’s clearly not enough. FML.

So after my mental review, I did what any other woman would do and called my BFF.

“Am I fat?”, I asked with a small, strained voice.


Later that same week, I asked another girlfriend if she was looking forward to her upcoming vacation. She hesitated. “Not really,” she said quietly.

“What?? Why not?” I asked.

“Because I hate the way I look and feel right now. My weight hasn’t been this high in a while and I’m afraid to even try on my summer clothes. I know we’ll be eating out a lot and around a lot of food and drinking and family and the whole thing will just be hard.”

She wanted to cry. But so did I. For almost every woman I know, our weight rules our lives. If only the energy we spent on worrying about it burned calories, we’d be all set. It’s practically criminal. Imagine the things we could do and accomplish if thinking about our weight didn’t take up so much space?

vintage weight pic

Photo cred to Seeker Intimates 

Maybe this seems like a tired topic, but the reason it’s so well-worn is because we still haven’t figured it out yet. Not only for ourselves, but apparently relative to other women, as well. It’s incredibly draining for almost every woman I know to find a “resting place” in our minds and our bodies where we finally feel peaceful in our own skin. I’ve pretty much found mine. Most days. Except when someone refers to me as fat, I guess.

The other hurtful part of this comment though? I just didn’t realize women were still doing this to eachother. I’m no saint, but it’s just not in my wheelhouse to call another woman… well really anything, much less fat. And I never forget my daughters are watching me. And listening, too. Even if I thought it, I’m still not going to say it. I’m a big believer that people are doing the best they can and overweight people, especially,  know WELL BEFORE anyone says a word, that they’re overweight. They’ve already been much harder on themselves than you could EVER be.  Why would you ever add insult to injury and hurt someone that way?

At the end of the day, I don’t actually think I’m fat. Really, I’m just glad she didn’t call me mean. Or ignorant. Or jealous.  Or a bully. Because I’ll take fat over those names any day of the week.

[mic. drop.]

 

 

Does It Ever Get Easier? [Spoiler: No]

nicole

Photo Cred: Harper’s Bazaar 2012

A young single mom recently asked me if this gig ever gets easier. You know, the momming by yourself? I was alone in my bed, drinking wine and eating Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and laughed out loud. Poor sweet thing. She might be thinking since my squad is a lot older than hers, I’m on easy street now. But alas. It doesn’t quite work that way.

My short answer? It doesn’t get easier. You get tougher.

And while nothing feels better than being an invincible, badass woman and single mom, holy smokes–shit ain’t easy.

But here’s the long answer:

The past few years have been some of my toughest mom years yet. When they’re younger, the physical exhaustion is greater than the mental exhaustion. But as they get older, it’s the mental load of single-momming that weighs the heaviest.

School stuff. Grades. Projects. Health issues. Health insurance. Driving. Cars. Car insurance. Friend problems. Boyfriend problems. Broken hearts. SATs. College visits. College decisions. Financial aid. Teach them life skills. Teach them coping skills. Teach them math. Proof read papers. Quiz them on vocab. Teach them morals. Teach them boundaries. Teach them about relationships. Teach them about God. Religion. Tolerance. Safety.

But also, have fun. Be cheerful. Be happy. Be breezy. Make memories. Create a warm home environment that reminds them we’re a family. A whole, loving, family.

By yourself.

With your job. And your house. And all the other life stuff that comes with being a grown up. (By the way, look good. Stay in shape. Eat well. Don’t age.)

In Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed says this of single moms, “She has to be her best self more often than it’s reasonable for any human to be.” 

There is no luxury of passing the baton or tag-teaming it. There is no whispering fears in the dark of night.

“What will we do if….?”

“How should we handle…?”

“I’m scared.”

There is no space for being too tired. Too spent. Too done with the day. The week. The month. Life. They need me. And they need to know that I am here and I am present and accessible and theirs. No matter what happens. No matter what we face. And happily so.

It’s not that I don’t have a super supportive family and boyfriend and friends. I do. And I could not be more grateful. Their intense love and support for both me and my kids is a total game-changer. But the buck still stops with me. There is still an aloneness to single-parenting that rests squarely on my shoulders. 

I have to make it okay. Every single day, I have to make it okay. That is my job. And my commitment to giving my kids the lightest part of the mental load runs deep.

“We will figure it out.”

“What’s coming will come and we’ll meet it when it does.”

“I’m not worried about it. We’ve got this.”

These are my mantras. There are no alternatives. If anyone is going to lose sleep under this roof, it’s going to be me. There is a constant drive to make their lives feel whole. Safe. Steady. Happy.


If it sounds like I’m complaining, I’m not. If it sounds like a cry for sympathy it’s not. Raising these three kids? It’s the Magnum Opus of my life. It’s also really f*cking hard. And not (necessarily) because they’re hard kids. But because life is hard and there’s something about parenting alone that is lonely. Every misstep and mistake follows a trail leading back to me. But also every triumph. And there’s been lots of both.

I’ll never get over the wonder I feel for each one of them. These magical people they are turning out to be; But I can’t get over the amazement for who I’ve turned out to be, either.

I did it. I’m doing it. We’re doing it together.

I am trying to sell my kids the world. I want them to believe along with me that life is good. This world is tough. Life can be absolutely brutal, but it’s still a good place to be.

This life, right here with them, is exactly where I want to be.

“Any decent realtor, walking you through a real shithole, chirps on about good bones: This place could be beautiful, right? You could make this place beautiful.”                    [Good Bones, by Maggie Smith]

I have made this place beautiful. And so far, I think they’re buying what I’m selling.

36177218_10217068013760442_1613919027594264576_n

If you’re new around here and curious about the backstory to my single momming, grab a glass of wine or cup of tea and your own bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, settle in, and read  THIS post about becoming a widow at 26, or THIS post about divorce. Yes that’s right. Widowed and Divorce. All that and a bag of Cheetos 😉

Thank God For the Mice

I’ve got mice. Well, correction I HAD mice. A few weeks ago I could no longer pretend I wasn’t hearing scritch- scratching in the attic. And listen, I know pretending NOT to hear it is NOT exactly the best way to deal, but sometimes this is just what we do. The scritch- scratching would come and go and I sort of just kept hoping it would go and stay gone.

But no. It wouldn’t. And I knew it was time to either burn down my house or call for help.

mice

Side story: I have woods behind my house. I’m surrounded by wildlife, of which I’ve always fondly said, “I love nature. I just don’t like it near me.” So this isn’t the first time I’ve had mice. And I’ve honestly TRIED to handle the job myself, but I just can’t. I’m a pretty tough chica, but I have literally cried hysterically and talked myself through emptying mousetraps by saying things like, “You’ve been divorced! You’ve broken bones! You’ve been on Match.com! You can do this! You’ve done a lot of scary things! That mouse is dead! This is not scary!” But somehow, this powerful pep talking has not worked.

So I called an exterminator to take care of the problem. Jeff has been great. He’s super brave. Every time he goes up in my attic, I ask him if he’s scared. Or I ask him if he’s grossed out. And he always says things like, “No.”or “This is my job.” So, he’s been great.

But last week, after he was down in my basement catching mice and setting traps and doing his job, he came upstairs and said, “You have a big problem down there.”

Jeff. Don’t leave me cryin’ in the club.

This is not a phrase a homeowner wants to hear. Ever.

It turns out, when he was moving insulation around and doing his thing, he found some wet and rotted wood.

Awesome. So not only did I have mice, I needed to get my handyman in there, STAT.

(There’s nothing super STAT about Handyman Joe. He is EXACTLY like having Joe Pesci at my house doing chores. Every last thing about him. But he calls me Julie Girl, which I secretly love, so we’re basically best friends now.)


Later that night, when Boyfriend Erik, not to be confused with Exterminator Jeff  or Handyman Joe (or Tree-Trimmer Guy who sends flowers after he does a job here) and I were at the gym, I was recounting the nightmare of my day and whining about all of the homeowner issues I was facing. When I was finished, he looked at me and said, “Well thank God for the mice.”

IMG_3419

Thank God for the mice? Wait, what?

Yes. Thank God for the mice.  If it weren’t for the mice, Exterminator Jeff never would’ve moved the insulation and uncovered the rotted wood. The rotted wood is already a big problem– but at least now it can be corrected by Handyman Joe. Had it not been found at all, it could’ve been DISASTROUS.

So in a weird way– a REALLY weird way– thank God for the mice. (It hurts to even write that. I am nuts.)

I keep thinking about what other “mice” I might have in my life–problems and circumstances I’m only seeing from one perspective; things that might actually have value and purpose beyond the surface. I’m trying to view irritating matters as potential mice and use them for growth and change and goodness. I’m looking for silver linings a little more carefully. (Big points for Boyfriend Erik here…)

I know. I know. It’s practically sickening– all of the positivity around this joint. But it’s either that, or burn the place down, and I kinda love it here. Mice and all.

 

Somehow, Sunday Always Comes

It’s around noon on Easter Sunday. I’m at my kitchen table with a Bloody Mary waiting for my beloved Carrot Souffle to come out of the oven. In an hour or so, I’ll be sitting around my parents’ dining room table, blessed to still have both my mom and dad. My brother and his wife will be there, and happily, this year I’ll be joined by my son, my youngest daughter and my boyfriend (which still always feels weird to say at the age of 45…) My older daughter is in another state with her grandma, having her own Easter.

IMG_3328

I’ve been thinking all morning about the ways my parents’ dining room table has changed over the past 20 years or so. About the way it is different every year, every holiday. I’m thinking of all the times there were both empty seats and a full kids table. All the memories. The silent tears and heartaches around the table. The laughs. The new life. The new people who have only passed through and those who have stayed.  At some point or another, almost all of us were either widowed, divorced, or sat there with and without our kids. We’ve mourned spouses, grandparents, and kids and babies who should be here.

It’s amazing to me. Life is amazing to me. The way families and relationships and life changes over the years. There are years I sat at that table afraid to speak or I would cry. Years I drank a little too much so I didn’t have to think about being the lone single person there, with or without my kids.  Life is just so fragile and so beautiful and I see it so clearly around the dining room table.

I don’t know what Easter means to you, but on this Easter Sunday, I think about how Sunday always comes. Historically speaking, Good Friday was the darkest day in human history. And Saturday– the time and space between Friday and Sunday– seemed dark. So very dark. Sad. Quiet. Hopeless. And as if it would last forever.

But Sunday came. It did. Somehow, Sunday always comes. Even when it’s hard. Even when it’s not how we ever pictured it, Sunday comes. And in its own way, it is new and beautiful and it is okay. I feel grateful today. Sunday is here. It is hardly what I pictured. But there will be eating and drinking and laughing and celebrating. It is sunny and new and somehow, it’s still going to be beautiful.

You Don’t Have to Love Christmas {And other truths about December}

tangled xmas lights

It’s the most… complicated time of the year. For plenty of people I know, Christmas time, the holidays, New Year’s… They can be a tidal wave of emotion, reflection, regret and just plain sadness.

The toughest things I’ve ever been through have almost all happened in the month of December. A baby on the 23rd when I was just the tiny age of 19. The loss of my first husband in a car accident on December 28th when we were both just 26. (Only to bury him on New Year’s Eve. If you’re really feeling festive, you can read more about that here  or here. ) And then the final undoing of my second marriage on the darkest Christmas Eve in my history, when we finally could not un-ring the bell.

And all of this among a few other losses and if-onlys and what-ifs.

But enough about me.  There is a pressure to love December and Christmas and all things holly jolly like no other time of year.  You can say you hate summer or the 4th of July or Labor Day, but what kind of a jerk doesn’t like Christmas?  There’s a shame attached to it that’s unmistakable.  Months in advance we’re impressed with how we’re supposed to feel about the holidays. There’s an anticipation that begins around Halloween and doesn’t relent until the final carol has been sung. You’re supposed to be happy. You’re supposed to feel joy. You’re supposed to feel lighthearted and whimsical and ready to party and celebrate and exchange food and gifts and time and affection. So when you don’t feel all these things, the only reasonable conclusion is that there must be something wrong with you.

54c3695ddf074f7040abcc5cec3b12c8

But the truth is, holiday depression is a real thing and more people feel this way than are willing to admit. For so many, the dramatic emphasis on love, cheer and goodwill only reflects the lack of it in their own lives. Any other time of year, we know how to deal–but December’s over the top expectations have us staring a little too hard and long at all the spaces in our lives that fall short and feel empty.

Just think of the Grinch or Ebenezer Scrooge– both infamous for their dislike of December 25th.  (Although  truthfully, the Grinch never really hated Christmas. He hated people, which is fair.)

If you want cold hard facts, one North American survey reports that 45% of Americans dread the holiday season.  Ouch. Pass the eggnog.

Here’s the good news: December is just another month. The end of one year and the beginning of a new one bringing brand new chances and opportunities for peace and happiness. And although it seems to loom for weeks, Christmas is only one single day. If it turns out to be a good one, hooray for you! But if it ends up going off the rails, clock out early, crawl into bed and wake up renewed on the 26th and move on with your life.

You don’t have to love December. You don’t have to love Christmas. You don’t have to be or do or feel a certain way. About anything. Ever. It doesn’t make you a bad person, a sad person, or a less-than person. It makes you a real person.  And there’s nothing better than being real about yourself, where you’re truly at in life and how things are actually going. If you’re not feeling strong enough to celebrate and socialize, don’t feel bad about telling the people around you, “Thanks, but I’m just not up for that right now.” With no apologies. On the flip side, sometimes getting out of your own head and being with people is exactly what you need if your sadness has you turned a little too far internally.

But the best part? You get to choose.


This is my happiest December in decades. For the first time in a long time, I don’t feel the heaviness I’m usually carrying this time of year. I’m wildly in love with someone who pursues my happiness like it’s his job.  I feel peaceful and grateful and actually, a little bit Christmas-y. But I never forget about my friends who are not. And I still don’t love December or Christmas. Accepting that and not judging myself for it has been, well, a gift.

Cheers to January, friends. We’re almost there.

The Year My Hydrangea Bloomed {And the Unexpected Miracles from Letting Go}

Nothing.

Not a single bloom or bud. Lush greenery, sure. But still empty. For nearly fifteen summers I have watched my Hydrangea remain flowerless. Oh sure, occasionally I did a little research trying to figure out why it Would. Not. Bloom. But still, nothing. A few times I think I sprinkled coffee grounds around the roots. Added Lime to the soil. Over-watered. Under-watered. (Mostly under-watered, if you know me.) All to no avail.

And each year, as the summer came to a close and the hot summer days gave way to fall, I would cut it back with a big heavy sigh. “Why won’t you bloom?”,  I would think.  “Where are your flowers?” All these years… not even one.

And then this past fall, whether in neglect or laziness or weariness, I left it alone. It was the first time in years I didn’t cut it back. “Nothing I do matters anyway– stay the way you are. Fine. Whatever.” {Yes, dear readers, she even has a complicated relationship with her plants. }

I had pretty much given up. I didn’t understand. Every plant around it blooms. All the other flowers are thriving– but not this one.

And so I accepted it. This plant doesn’t bloom. It just…doesn’t.

 


 

Except this year.

It did.

Big, fluffy, full, bright pink flowers.

And it didn’t almost bloom, or barely bloom. My Hydrangea is COVERED in flowers. It’s almost unrecognizable. It’s so lavish and bright and alive. It’s actually bigger and better than ever.

img_1269


And it got me thinking about other “Hydrangeas” in my life; Spaces I’ve sort of given up on after exhausting years of trying to force change, trying to control, trying to fit into my idea of the way things should be. Things I actually don’t even hope for or dream about anymore. Things I’ve just painfully come to accept: This is how it is. And certainly, that’s okay; There’s so much peace in the quiet acceptance of how things just are.

I accepted my  flowerless Hydrangea. I wasn’t going to dig it up or get rid of it or replace it. But I still always knew it was SUPPOSED to be flowering and wasn’t. And so all these years later, when I saw those luscious, vibrant blooms, I cried.

And I thought to myself,

We must let life surprise us. We must hold things so loosely and sometimes just let them be. We must graciously let go of things we so desperately want to change and then watch the natural unfolding that happens with our release.

It is not lost on me- the irony. The irony that the year I left it alone– the year I didn’t prune it or search for answers or try to somehow “trick” it into flowering, it did. I had been trying to force it for years and when I finally let it go, it bloomed.

img_1268