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 😉

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

#Write31Days (Even if you can’t #Write3Days)

31-graphic

I can’t believe we’re just a day away from October. Basically, Christmas is next week and then we’ll be saying goodbye to 2016 and welcoming 2017. What in the actual heck? But I’m saying all that to say, apparently I took the summer off from blogging. It wasn’t intentional, but it happened. Work. Kids. Life. Pool. Beach. Dating.  You understand. Writing just didn’t make the cut. But I miss it. And every October, I know what else is coming: (besides Christmas) The #Write31Days Challenge. It’s exactly what it sounds like it is- A challenge to write and post a blog every day for 31 days. (#HoldMe) Would I do it this year? Could I do it this year? Could I do it and be successful?

Every year, I have all the same fears and feelings.  I WANT to do it. But I’m afraid of failing. And like most of you, I don’t like to do things I don’t think I’ll succeed at. It’s kind of a sucky way to live- to have standards for yourself in certain areas that are so inflexible and unforgiving you’d rather not try at all than try and fail. (And yet in other areas, my behavior can best be described as unchaperoned toddler at a birthday party. I’m complicated. What can I say?)

If there’s one thing I do know, it’s that I am consistently inconsistent. But this year, there’s a new challenge within the #Write31Days Challenge: 31 Days of Five Minute Free Writes. WHAAAATTT? Write just 5 minutes every day from a schedule of writing prompts and post it. Five minutes. Every day. And then click “Publish”.  I [am pretty sure I] can handle this. A huge, beautiful thank you to my author and blogger friend of all things Creative and Free, Christina Hubbard, for sending along some encouragement in the form of a totally AMAZING and inspirational video from Ryan Leaks. Leaks chronicles his tryout experience for the NBA Phoenix Suns and what he learned from it. He uses the phrase “chasing failure” and the way chasing failure changes your perspective and the difference it makes in your attitude. Says Leaks, “Chasing failure took me further than chasing success ever did.” (Wow. Reread that y’all.)

Click HERE to watch Chasing Failure 

 

(Hey wait. DON’T skip the video! If you skipped it, go back! Seriously. It’s worth the 15 minutes.  Plus when I tweeted about it @RyanLeaks, he favorited my tweet. So now we’re basically BFFs.)

Over the years, many of you have told me you also love to write. That you’d love to start a blog. Or write a book. But you don’t really know where to start and you’re not sure you’re good enough or anyone would want to read what you write.

Would you consider participating in 31 Days of Five Minute Free Writes privately, as a possible jumping off point for more future writing, or just to give your writing muscles a little workout?

Maybe it’s not writing for you. Maybe you need to chase failure in another area of your life you’ve been afraid to explore. A hobby. A different job or career path. Making healthy lifestyle changes. Whatever it is, do it. Time will pass anyway and a year from now, you’ll wish you had already started.

Even for a commitment-phobe like me, I’m committed to 31 Days of Five Minute Free Writes. I’m sweating through my clothes as I type that. But I’ve already accepted that with only 5 minutes to churn something out, there will be pieces I hate and pieces I’m totally disappointed in and pieces I’m kind of embarrassed to publish, but that’s part of the the whole process. Perfectionism is the number one enemy of progress. For the #Write31Days Challenge, done is better than perfect.  I’ve also already accepted that I may miss a day or two and that’s cool. (It’s not like there are trophies or prize money or new dresses or beer involved. Seriously. Get a grip.)

My #Write31Days Challenge will not be posted to Facebook every day. Because that would be annoying. If you’d like to check them out, you’ll have to visit Write31Days.com where all the participating writers have linked up.

If you’re feeling inspired, let me know if you’re going to give this thing a try– or what it is in your life you need to start chasing failure for.

Here are the topics Christina has provided and I’ll be adding the live link to each topic day by day~

Day 1~ Walk                                                                           Day 8~ Muddle

Day 2~ Paint                                                                           Day 9~ Post-It

Day 3~ Wardrobe                                                                 Day 10~ Unknown

Day 4~ Brew                                                                          Day 11~ Thanks

Day 5~ Silence                                                                      Day 12~ Sky

Day 6~ You                                                                            Day 13~ Aware

Day 7~ Five Minute Friday Prompt                               Day 14~ Five Minute Friday Prompt


Day 15~ Move                                                                       Day 22~ Off

Day 16~ Little                                                                       Day 23~ Blowout

Day 17~ Study                                                                       Day 24~Global

Day 18~Neighbor                                                                 Day 25~ Sign

Day 19~Notice                                                                      Day 26~ Confront

Day 20~ Weekend                                                               Day 27~Bouquet

Day 21~Five Minute Friday Prompt                            Day 28~ Five Minute Friday Prompt

Day 29~ Date

Day 30~ Cut

Day 31~Only

 

Your Kids are Watching You. Man Up.

Yesterday was a bad day. It didn’t start out that way, but at some point in the afternoon, it slid sideways.  Kid issues, pain from a jacked up back, the death of someone we know- by dinner time, I was done. DONE. I felt irritable and sad and just off.

And boy did my kids feel it.

I was short. Impatient. Annoyed. Quiet. They’re not used to that version of me- at least not anymore- and it was awful. By the time we sat down to eat, there was silence. And so on top of everything else, Mom Guilt over the atmosphere I had created was washing over me heavily. After dinner, I laid down with a heating pad on my back and texted each kid an apology.

tired-mom

jaznajalil.com Things Mums Do…

That might sound lame, but that is definitely how we handle some things around here and it works for us. Sometimes it’s a little easier to say exactly how we feel when it’s not face to face. Plus, everyone scattered after dinner, no doubt, to escape me.

My kids were forgiving and gracious and understanding and I’m grateful. And as I went to bed early to put us all out of our misery, I promised myself, “I’ll do better tomorrow.”

Here’s the thing: It’s not that there’s no room for us as parents to be human; of course there is. Actually, it’s important that our kids see us feeling and see us working through some of our stuff  (when it’s appropriate), but it was impressed upon me for the millionth time: My mood and attitude sets the tone for everyone- and it’s not a job I take lightly.

If I’m happy, they feel it and they’re happy, too. If I’m sad, they feel it and they’re concerned.  If I’m mad, they feel it and they don’t like it. If I’m worried, they feel it and it makes them anxious. If I’m overwhelmed with gratitude, they see it and they take note. When I’m proud of them, they stand a little taller, work a little harder.

You get the point. And I know you see it in your own house.

Man, that’s a lot of power. And a LOT of responsibility.

40656a85a26b8dce5dc9c1defff8e150

girlsandcoffee.tumblr.com

And so when I woke up this morning, I knew I needed to regroup before the day got underway.  I made coffee, wrote in my gratitude journal, prayed for myself, for them, for all of us on this journey together. I looked over some meditations to strengthen and encourage myself and basically re-center myself in goodness and positivity. And it worked. I woke the youngest and as we sat at the table while she ate breakfast, we talked and laughed the way we always do and I knew she was relieved I was feeling better today.

So I want to tell all the other Mamas and Daddies out there today: Regroup. Do whatever it takes. Make whatever changes you need to, big or little. Get counseling. Get medication. Get time away. Get a hobby.

Your kids need the best and brightest version of yourself.

They need you to man up. They need you to find a way to push through the bullshit of life like a champ. They’re watching you and taking their cues from you. And they’re modeling much of their own behavior after YOU.

There is no excuse. There is honestly no excuse. My back still hurts. Today will bring the usual crap any day brings. But the sun is shining and today’s a new day. I’m here and I’m ready and so are they. Let’s do this.

04a3c893c0369642e514ea4169c4558f

madamesouffle.blogspot.com

 

Taking the Long View

images-73

One of my kids recently had to do something really hard. They had to go make something right that they had kind of screwed up. This is no easy feat, no matter how old you are. Making a mistake is so much easier than making amends. But making amends is so powerful. So much better. So freeing.

And so as my kid was going out the door to go do this thing– and just DREADING it, I looked them in the eye and said, “You are GOOD. YOU. Are. A good, good soul. You’ve got this.”

And then I cried at my desk. Tears of gratitude. Tears of compassion and humility and overwhelming love. Motherhood, personhood, is so raw and exhausting at times.

And what I’m learning right now is that it takes decades to build a person. Decades.

We expect so very much from ourselves and from our kids. And yes, it’s good to have standards and expectations; of course we should. But our character, our true selves, our best selves, our real selves…those things are built over a lifetime. An entire lifetime. And yet we expect things from each other that we just haven’t had the time and life experience to develop.

 

0a58ece506c058ecdcc318b09fb15578

Rialto’s Drift (USA) by Patrick Marson Ong

As a mom, this moves me deeply and challenges me to see my children in a different light. I expect so much of them. Self awareness and emotional intelligence are a high priority for me personally, but at 43, I’m just barely there. And it’s hard, conscious work all the time. I’m not sure how I can possibly expect the people in my house who have the distinct disadvantage of less time and less life experience (and let’s be honest- less therapy) to be even close to that.

So I’m learning to take the long view. Nobody needs to be perfect right now. Or tomorrow. Or next week. (Or quite frankly, next month or next year. Mercy.) Nobody needs to get it all right, right now. We need to keep stumbling forward. Making tiny strides and picking each other up with lots of empathy towards how hard it is to grow up and adult. Lots of forgiveness. Lots of grace. Lots of Love. Lots of acceptance. Lots of quiet conversations about who we are and who we want to be and if our actions today are helping us get there.  Lots of laughter at ourselves and with each other as we’re  trying to figure it all out. Over decades. Over a lifetime.

Because here’s the thing about the short view: It’s incomplete. It’s underdeveloped. It doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s unfair. It’s unforgiving. It’s unrealistic. It’s impossible. It’s an exercise in frustration– with ourselves and with each other. It’s harsh and uninformed.

It’s true the longview takes a long time– a lifetime– But since that’s all we’ve got, I’m going to stick around for it because I can see in the distance it’s going to be beautiful.

images-72

“I Can Do Anything Good”

YT_JessicaAffirmation_zpsd13132e3

American Poet and Novelist Charles Bukowski once said, “What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.”

You guys.

I have sucked. Hard.

Since an accident one month ago in which I broke my right collarbone and left wrist, I have been the world’s worst fire-walker-througher.

I actually think I would’ve done a much better job literally walking through fire, as opposed to this long drawn out suck fest. Charles Bukowski sort of sounds like a jerk.

I have been totally insufferable. Frustrated. Aggravated. Irritated. Sad. Angry.

I’ve done more apologizing in the past 30 days than maybe the past 30 years.

Sorry.

Sorry for being such a bitch.

Sorry I’m so grouchy.

Sorry I said that.

Sorry my life has taken over yours.

Sorry. I know I’m impossible.

Sorry.

These don’t include the other obvious list of Sorrys. As in, the ‘Sorry you have to bathe/dress/wipe/feed/situate/drive/shop for/do every last thing for me’ variety.

I’m sorry to say pain brought out the worst in me.

And the crying. Sweet Jesus on a bicycle. The crying. Crying about pain. About the loss of autonomy. About my hair and everyone’s complete inability to do it even remotely close to the way I do it. (See? See how ugly I’m acting??) Crying about MY inability to do ANYTHING.

I wish I could say something inspirational. I wish I could tell you about all the valuable ways I’ve redeemed these helpless hours.

I got nothin’.

Actually, that’s not entirely true.

I got through it.

I’m getting through it.

Scandal, Season 4. Facebook. Instagram. Pinterest. Twitter. Online shopping. Staring into space trying to remember how awesome my life was pre-accident. Practicing my fake smile and drug-induced nod when people remind me of all the possible silver linings. Staring at my mom and shaking my head in disbelief as I ask for the millionth time, ‘Can you freaking believe this? No, really. Can you believe this actually happened?’ (She can’t, by the way. She really can’t.)

The good news is, I’m starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel. I’m holding my own coffee cup and managing a little mascara and getting pretty darn adaptive– with my right side, anyway. Sounds super impressive, right?


But a few days ago, after giving up on Charles Bukowski, I stumbled upon a blog called Real Life.Truthfully. This girl. Bless her heart. She’s just trying to make her way– she’s had a lot of high highs and low lows. She knows how to do hard things and weather hard times. And as I read her work, I felt inspired. She recently wrote about how sometimes the difficulties of life require time and space to see that maybe everything’s going to be okay after all.  And I could feel that. She wrote about totally effing up her life so many different times, in so many different ways– but that she keeps just trying to be brave and show up,even when she’s not sure how the whole thing is going to turn out. She talks about God. And grace. And kindness. About being surrounded by so much love and goodness in her life and how its carried her through.

And there’s this theme. This beautiful, multi-colored thread running through all of her work. About trying to press on. Not giving up. Even when it’s messy and hard and it seems like everything is just…wrong. About going one step farther even when you are positive you just can’t.

And somehow, after reading through it all, I felt encouraged. And inspired. And strengthened. I may not be very good at walking through this fire, but I think I’m going to make it after all.

[ Hey Jessica! Thanks for the pep talk! See it here. ]