How Does a Widowed and Divorced Single Mom Teach Her Kids About Love?

I always wondered how my kids would feel about their own love lives as they got older. Without a happy, healthy marriage model to watch and learn from, what would  be their takeaway? Will they want to get married some day? Are they jaded about love and relationships? Will they recognize and value real love when they see it and feel it?

And Valentine’s Day has always been a little bit like a litmus test in my own love life. After being widowed and divorced, I haven’t always loved love. And for a while, I kind of hated love. And then after I hated it, I felt cynical about it. I felt snarky and sarcastic. I felt just OVER the whole love thing. Been there. Done that. No thank you.

And then I felt nothing.

But this past year, I did it.

I opened the door.

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I let myself feel something.

And it turns out, feeling something was so much better than feeling  nothing.

And so this what my kids and I are learning, side by side:

Love is a good thing.

Love is good. Real love is good. It’s sweet and tender and kind and fun. It’s taken me a long time to feel this way again. To really believe it. To look at love, to think of love, to hear about love– and feel loving towards it. To want it. To accept it. To embrace it. To smile about it. To stop being afraid of it and pushing it away. Real, true love is a good thing. Love doesn’t stink. Love doesn’t suck. I had to consciously stop playing that record in my head. Relationships that feel like that are not love– they’re something– but they’re not love. Real love is a good thing.

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You know what love is by the way it feels.

Love feels good. When my kids see that I’m peaceful. That I’m happy. That I laugh and smile a lot in my own love relationship, they understand: Love feels good.

And that’s  important.

But they also learn what real love feels like through my relationship with them.

When we have deep conversations about important life stuff and they feel heard and understood, they’re learning what love feels like. When they’re having a rough day and I take time to comfort them and be “in it” with them, they’re learning what love feels like. When I’m   one of us is crabby and short and tired, and we backtrack to apologize and make things right between us, this is what love feels like.

When their feelings are validated and there’s space for them to be who they are and feel what they feel. When we share goofy stories and inside jokes and text funny things to each other. When they get “just because” gifts. When we have dinner together and everyone shares the “Happy and Crappy” from their day.  When they catch my eye during a school concert or sporting event and know I am cheering them on. When we sit in my bed together and quietly read, side by side. When everything goes right or wrong or both, and we are with each other through it all, they’re learning what love feels like.

This is what love feels like. All of it.

I’m no longer going to underestimate my ability to teach my kids about love. I’m no longer going to feel shame that somehow a widowed, divorced single mom can’t successfully teach her kids to fully know and recognize healthy love. I’m not going to feel insecure about it. I don’t buy it. I don’t believe it.

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But I do believe in love.

I do.

And if a widowed and divorced single mom can believe in love, her kids can too.

 

 

 

 

 

Life Requires Time and Space

Green Lake

I get choked up every time. Every. Single. Time. There is something about a morning walk or run through the tiny little park not far from my house. The sunrise reflecting off the water. The stillness of this tiny little corner of the world. The way the trees and branches hang out over the jagged little shoreline. And the dock. The lone, long dock looking like a pathway to somewhere else. Anywhere but here.

How many, many times I have sat on that dock wishing I were anywhere but here.

But not this morning.

This morning, I still got choked up. But this morning it was in gratitude. Gratefulness. I sat on that dock thankful that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be in life. Not because everything is perfect. I have finally learned perfection is not the goal nor is it possible.

But everything is okay. 

Better than okay. But in the very least, okay.

And what I’m learning now is life requires time and space. Kind of like the old adage, ‘Time heals all wounds’, but different. I’m not sure I believe time heals all wounds. But what I do believe is time and space help things change shape. Time and space give life a chance to sort things out. Time and space allow things to breathe a little and work themselves out.

A thousand times I’ve walked through this same little park.

I walked through it as a pregnant teenager, not sure how I would ever manage a baby at such a young age. Then I watched that same baby grow up and play baseball on those  diamonds. And now he’s 23.

I walked through that park as a young widow. I cried my heart and soul out on that dock. I could’ve filled Green Lake with those tears. I had no idea what life would look like or how I would go on. But I did.

Time and space.

I walked through that park and sat on that dock worried about my girl. How she would navigate some of the challenges thrown her way. In the next few months she’ll go to prom, get her license, graduate from high school and head to college.

Time and space.

I sat on that dock after my sister experienced several absolutely devastating miscarriages, begging God to please fix this somehow and give her healthy babies. Now they’re 2 and 4.

Time and space.

I ran through that park and collapsed on that dock during the toughest battles of my marriage, grieving everything I thought my life would be and wasn’t.

Time and space.

I sat there for 5 minutes this morning. Just to say thank you. Just to remind myself of all the times I didn’t know how things would ever be okay. And now they are. I know they won’t stay okay forever. I know there will be a lifetime of running through that park and sitting on that dock, wondering how things will turn out. But now I will take a deep breath. I will remind myself that time and space help life change shape.

And somehow, even if it takes a year, or two, or ten, everything’s going to be okay.

Making Space for Love

FullSizeRender (2)Today’s blog is a re-post from earlier this year, in honor of the baby who inspired it. She’s 13 today. A gorgeously fresh 13.  She was a baby I wasn’t sure I was ready for after so much loss. Baby Number 3. And then when she finally got here, I am overheard on the video–my voice hoarse and strained from labor–in total disbelief: “It’s a GIRL? A GIRL??” What? All along I had thought her to be a boy. I sort of thought I wanted a boy. But instead, she turned out to be everything I didn’t know I wanted. My joy baby. She is all the best parts of me, only better. Her wit, her style, her humor, her sarcasm. She makes me laugh hard, every single day. I can’t believe she’s 13 today, but it’s hard to be sad because she just keeps becoming more magical…right before my eyes.

And as I’m typing this, said child literally just came in my room, looked at herself in the mirror, declared, “I am a mini you.” Smiled, and walked out. I should be so lucky.

Happy Birthday, Smush. Thanks for making life so fun.


I should’ve been resting, but everyone knows a hospital is no place for rest. My brand new pink tiny bundle of joy lay tightly swaddled beside me in the clear acrylic nursery crib. And even though I most certainly did feel all of the sweet and tender feelings a new mom is supposed to, there was something else roiling inside I wasn’t expecting:

Fear.

Fear of not having enough love for 3 kids.

Fear of there not being enough of me to go around.

Fear of my two older kids being cheated out of getting their needs met.

Fear of just not enough.

And that was it. Between the exhaustion and post-pregnancy hormones, the tears started falling and wouldn’t stop. I lie there in the dark with my hours-old baby girl and sobbed, knowing sleep wouldn’t come until I understood how it was all going to work.

And in the middle of the night, in my WAY overly emotional state, I remember thinking I had discovered the keys to the kingdom: We’re created with an infinite capacity to love. And when new people — babies we birth and babies we adopt, step-children and new family members, new friends and lovers and neighbors and co-workers, fellow travelers who were previous strangers — somehow make their way into our lives,

Our hearts expand and we make space for more love.

That’s it.

There’s no competition.

It’s not a tight squeeze or an ill fit or a just barely made it.

There’s no shortage or rationing.

We’re all in.

There’s room for everybody.

Our hearts expand and love makes space.

How small-minded and silly to think maybe my heart wouldn’t be big enough and strong enough and soft enough to love all three of my babies at once; To think there was a limit to my heart’s capacity.

But to be honest, I didn’t just think this way about babies.  I thought this about the rest of my love life, too. At one time or another, we’ve all experienced a love that made us feel as though this were it– we never would or could feel love like this again. And maybe we didn’t want to. (Widowed and divorced over here…remember?)

But wouldn’t that be so sad? To think love was so limited and exclusive? (A year ago, I would’ve said no. That’s not sad. That’s awesome. Love can go fly a kite or play in traffic.) Yet I realize everyday now that over the course of a lifetime filled with hundreds and thousands of people and experiences on our journey’s way, our hearts expand and love makes space. We have the ability to love an infinite number of people with infinite types of love. We never run out. The well never runs dry. Somehow, there is an indeclinable source.

I know, I know, I know. This from the same girl who, a year ago, wasn’t sure she still believed in love. This from the same girl who, last Valentine’s Day, declared herself her OWN Valentine. But as life (and love) would have it, this past year the people around me, both old and new, poured more love into my life than I ever would’ve imagined. And in spite of my weathered and worn out rose-colored glasses and snarky commentaries on love, my heart expanded and love made space.

And so Happy Valentine’s Day to you. I hope you can look back on this past year of your life too, and see just how much love is all around you–just how much space there is for love. And the good news is, there’s still room for more.

This is Why We Tell Our Stories

images-18Not long ago I received a call from a good friend in total distress. A young woman he knows had lost her husband suddenly and tragically. He didn’t know what to do or how to handle it. He was shaken and looking for direction. Knowing I had walked this road before, he called me first. With tears in my eyes, my heart was already silently breaking for what I knew lay ahead for this girl. I gave him some advice and then choked out the words I sort of dreaded to say: “When are the calling hours? I’ll go see her.”


 

Flashback to December 31, 1998: I have just been gifted with the American Flag from the United States Army on behalf of a grateful nation for my husband’s military service. With my little boy by my side, I am walking down the aisle of the church. I have just sat through my husband’s funeral service. I am numb, but not so numb that I don’t feel slightly annoyed and frustrated when someone pulls me to the side and says there’s someone I should meet. Seriously? Who could I possibly need to meet right now? Whoever it is, surely there is a better time than this. But then I see her. A child standing on either side of her, half-smiles cloaking their mild embarrassment and it’s as if I already know.

This woman. This stranger with whom I was prepared to be annoyed with, warmly grasps my hands in hers and tells me how sorry she is for my loss. And that she understands. That she knows this pain. A few years back, she lost her husband too. And honestly, after that, I don’t remember another word she said. But it doesn’t matter. Because in that very brief meeting that could not have been more than two minutes long, this is what my brain processed: “She survived this. She lived through this. Her kids are standing next to her. They are here. They are alive. They seem okay. One of them is even smiling. They survived. They are here. I am not alone. I may live through this. My children may be okay someday. We might recover. We might make it.”

To this day, I don’t know who that woman was. I never saw her again. I don’t know if I said thank you or just nodded my head or cried or what. But I know this– in the middle of my absolute hurricane of shock, grief and despair, a total stranger came to see me for two tiny minutes and do something extraordinary: Plant a seed. Give me strength.  Show me that I was not pioneering this road; That there were those who had gone before me and survived. It was barely perceptible that day, but it was there: Hope. Possibility. A future. I would look back on that meeting for years to come. When the way seemed too dark and too hard to navigate, I would think of her and remind myself, “People survive this.”


 

And so I hung up the phone with my friend and made plans to attend the wake, if only for a few minutes. Because this girl needed to see me. She needed to know what I already knew. There are those who have gone before us to pave the way and report back about giants in the land and roadblocks in the way. About the cracks where the light will shine through and the spaces where it is so dark you cannot see. But that there is a way through. That there is hope. And this is why we tell our stories.

What is it in your life? What part of your journey does another weary and wandering traveler need to hear? Have you run a marathon? Lost the last ten pounds? Finished your college education? Started your own business? Found freedom from an addiction? Learned to live with a chronic illness? Every single one of us has something we have made it through— and the proof is that we’re still here.

There’s healing in the telling and there’s hope in the listening. Tell your story. Because someone needs to hear it.

 

 

 

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Happy Valentine’s Day to Me

c35c4cf30946a35730c72186c17dda09Let me start by saying right away that this is not an endorsement for the single life. Or divorce. I’m not a “Love Stinks” kinda girl. So relax. I’ll talk about all of that another day. But not today.

Today is about love.

And for the first time in about 13 years or so, I’ve decided that today is about me. I am alone. Alone, as in, I don’t have a Valentine. I’m not part of a couple. And please, my Evangelical friends, please don’t say Jesus is my Valentine. Or husband. Or any of those other well-meaning but weird things that get tossed around.  I have some friends in my circle who hate this holiday. And depending on what your normal V-Day experience usually is, I totally get why any man OR woman WOULD hate it– but honestly, as I was thinking about its impending arrival this year, I’m happy to say, I feel fine. I feel better than fine. I feel good. I feel happy. I feel peaceful. Because the truth is, I think I’ve found the one. And it’s me.

I think I’m the one. And so far, it’s really working out.

Having been both widowed and divorced within the past 15 years…let’s just say there aren’t a lot of Hallmark cards that fit. And somewhere along the way, within these difficult years of survival, I lost myself. I became perhaps overly engrossed in my roles of perfect mother and perfect wife (so I thought) and lost my identity. I take responsibility for this. Nobody DID this to me but me, and nobody is responsible for changing this but me. And that’s exactly what I’m doing now. I’m creating and designing a life that I love. And along the way, I have fallen in love with myself again and the things I love to do. Things I forgot about. Things that feed my soul and spark my brain and light my fire. I’m dating myself.  And honestly? I am amazing company. I’m smart. I’m interesting. I’m fun. Sometimes we read, we run, we shop. We work on projects around the house. We lunch. We go to dinner. We have a beer. We catch a movie. That’s right. Just me and myself.

And instead of feeling lonely, I feel alive.

There’s so much love in my life that has nothing to do with being part of a couple. Today and every day is about loving my  kids, my parents and the other friends and family I’m surrounded by. In spite of my experiences, I’m still totally a love kinda girl– I got cards. I got flowers. I got chocolate (including some ah-mazing chocolate covered bacon. Swoon.) I feel totally spoiled–not by lovers–just people who love me. And there are a lot. And that doesn’t just make for a Happy Valentine’s Day-that makes for a happy life. And the best part of the love I have in my life now is that it’s constant. It’s not just about a feel-good (or crappy) holiday. The Valentines in my life loved me yesterday and they will love me tomorrow and today just happens to be another day that we spoil each other.

Look around your life today and see all the love. It’s not a loveless day just because you’re not part of a couple.  Look in the mirror and admire yourself. Rediscover yourself. Whether you love this day or hate it, I bet you actually don’t have to look that far to find love.  I’m looking in the mirror today –and I’m completely smitten.

How do YOU feel about Valentine’s Day, love bugs?