Philosophy: We can only relish the calm if we’ve dared to revel in the chaos.
Ahh, self-care. So elusive for single moms, parents, people
in general. If you’re reading this and you’re about 22 with no commitments or
little dependents, heed this advice: relish all those quiet, empty seconds you
have to read or soak or shop alone.
I used to take it for granted, getting as much time as I wanted in the dairy case to pick out yogurt. Now, I sometimes surprise myself with what I bring home. I didn’t know Yoplait made a Dunkin Donuts flavor, but it’s in my fridge and I guess I bought it. If I get the time to try it before it expires, I’ll let you know if it’s any good.
The lady I used to see for counseling would tsk-tsk that. She was very much about inner-peace and harmony. Namaste. I am too. It’s just a luxury for me to be able to practice it right now.
The thing about self-care is that it’s like everything else.
If you wait for there to be time, there never will. You must make time.
I was cursed (blessed?) with a quite vintage-looking tanning
bed in my basement. When I moved into my house last November, I had plans of
getting rid of it, but I was single a few days after moving and then winter
came and then…it just stayed.
It works. Kind of. On its best day, I’d call it broke-down. Some of the bulbs are shot. I replaced the ones I could get to easily and gave it a try one day while Tyler was napping. It was every bit of the guilty pleasure I remembered it to be. It wasn’t quite stealing a plate, but then again, nothing is.
When I was younger and skin care/age spots/harmful rays/SPF
4000 wasn’t as much of a thing as it is now, I tanned all the time. It used to
make me feel good. It relieved a little anxiety back when all I had was a
Now that I have a boatload of anxiety, 20 minutes enclosed
in some ultra violet light with a Podcast and the white noise of a fan running
is just shy of Eden. Forget that the tanning bed is broke-down. It serves its
purpose just fiiine.
I’m certainly not promoting laying in the sun and I know all
the risks and hazards, and that tanning beds are no-good, very-bad killers. Guess
what? It doesn’t stop me. It’s just another one of my many vices.
I think part of the appeal is the process of making the time to get down there and use it. It’s a race against the clock and a challenge to rig everything just right so I can buy the maximum amount of time.
If Elise is playing Barbies in her room, I have at least 45 minutes. I get Jack comfy on the couch with his chocolate milk and set him up to watch his favorite police procedurals on YouTube. Tyler comes downstairs with me to his bassinet once he’s changed and fed.
It took me awhile, but I caught on to Tyler’s fascination
with mirrors, so I attached one to the hood of the bassinet. He jabbers to
himself if he doesn’t fall asleep. That buys me a good 15 minutes, if he’s
awake, before he starts winding up to cry.
Voila. Fifteen minutes of me-time. I only partially wonder what
the thud from upstairs was. There’s really very little anticipation of whether
the baby’s cooing is slowly turning into crying. Anymore, even if the dog barks,
it only takes me a minute or so to talk myself out of wondering if someone is
at the front door and whether it’s the UPS guy or a serial killer.
All-in-all, I get about five solid minutes of thoughtless
bliss. Maybe it’s more like three because without fail, I feel a hand reaching in
to tap my arm. I’d normally be startled, but I see two blue eyes staring back
at me through the gap. “Mommy…Sissy took my iPad.”
Two minutes. Two minutes of me-time is enough. Time to shut it all down. I throw on my robe, scoop Tyler up and when I hit the landing, right on cue… “Mommy…the dog drank Jack’s milk and threw up on the carpet. I tried to clean it up but we’re out of paper towels.”
Tyler’s cooing-turned-crying-bordering-on-screaming stops.
My shoulder gets warm. Spit up. I go for the paper towels, but…there are none.
A dish towel it is. What’s a little more laundry at this point?
The truth is, my “me time” is their time. My self-care is caring for them. That’s the sacrifice I make as a mom. If I’m forced to choose between them and me, I pick them every time.
One day, I’ll have
all the peace and quiet one person can stand and I’ll hate every minute of it.
It’s not that I don’t want a half hour every now and then, it’s just that
things rarely work out so I can take that time for myself. That’s just how it
is right now.
Maybe I’ll get rid of my broke-down tanning bed. Maybe I can make a few minutes to go the store alone this week. Maybe while I’m there I’ll get some sunscreen and call that self-care. Maybe I’ll remember the paper towels this time.
Philosophy: Blogging is trial, error, experimentation and development of more than a following; it’s development of your voice.
You’re reading this, so you know what this is. If you don’t, it’s a blog (short for weblog).
If you want to start one of your own, but don’t know where to begin, fear not. I didn’t either. I did a lot (and by a lot, I mean a ton) of research on blogging before I began.
I didn’t create this post to over inform you and confuse you even more, so we’ll keep it simple.
First thing’s first.
Decide Your Niche
…and have a general idea of your audience. Once you do this, you’ll be better prepared to choose the right platform.
If you don’t know what you want to write about, but know that you want to write, take some time and figure out what your “thing” is. What do you talk about a lot? What do people ask you about? Is it cake decorating, woodworking, financial advice? What do you have a lot to say about? Whatever it is, begin with that.
My advice at deciding your niche – or what you want to write about – is to get moderately specific, but not too specific. It can be more than one thing, especially if those things relate.
I have a lot to say about my kids and writing. I also apply a lot of philosophy to those things. The Philosophy Mom was born. There are a lot of parenting blogs out there, but not many that apply philosophy. I got my topic and I made it more specific.
Right about here is where I suggest doing some surveillance. A little recon mission, if you will. Check out some other blogs in the niche you’re considering to see how they’re doing this and what they’re posting about. Don’t steal their ideas, but make note of what you like and don’t like about what you see.
Have Fun With Your Brand
Branding doesn’t have to be complicated, especially if you’re doing this for fun. Just think about how you want to present your content and stick to the images and colors that go best with it. Try to be consistent. This is how people will recognize you. I found it takes some time to create something in the way of a brand and settle into it.
Choose a platform
Your platform is where you’ll blog. I’m a die-hard WordPress fan. The structure is easy to navigate. The tools are easy to work with. It looks professional. It has a ton of themes to try. It’s free.
You can also upgrade to a paid version and get a customized URL. Your URL is your blog’s web address. It’s what you type into the internet browser to find your web page. A lot of other platforms require you to host your own blog (which is big money and can be a big headache) in order to get a custom address.
I tried self-hosting. It’s a lot of expense for slightly more freedom to create. WordPress.com is just as good for novice bloggers, in my opinion anyway.
Create Your Account
Go to WordPress.com and create your account. It’s that simple. You can literally begin blogging right away. Or, you can take this a step further and plan a little.
Choose a Theme
I always have fun messing with themes. Your theme is how your blog is laid out and how it looks. Different themes offer different components to work with.
Some are designed like magazines, some specialize in featuring writing content. Some are for showcasing pictures like a portfolio and some are designed for e-commerce. Just because it’s designed specifically for one type of blog doesn’t mean it can’t be used for something else.
WordPress.com has several free themes and premium (you pay for it) to choose from. Most of the elements inside of the theme can be customized. Download the one you like and try it out. If you don’t like certain options with one theme, you can always switch.
I made the mistake of initiating my blog with two posts ready to go. What I should have done, and what I recommend doing, is to have about 10 or so posts typed up and saved as drafts.
That way, you have a good head start on content and you can keep posting as you’re working on your next several posts. I was scrambling for awhile. My first post went live. I had my second scheduled to publish two days later and then I had nothing else ready to go.
You want to try to avoid long stretches between posting. The more you post well-written content, the better your blog will do. It’s all about consistency.
A post doesn’t go live to your page until you publish it. You can work on multiple projects at the same time and let them hang out until you’re ready. I take my free (I use that term loosely) nights and get a good majority of my posts written. I go back later and add photos , tags and edit grammar. I then schedule them to post on certain nights and they go live all by themselves without me having to do a thing.
Photos were always the single hardest part of blogging for next to actually writing the content…until I discovered a couple secrets.
You want your photos to be clear and professional looking. You can not steal them from the internet on Google images because that’s copyright infringement and that breaks the law.
If you’re not a photographer, and I am not, nor will I ever be, it’s really difficult to get decent pictures that enhance your writing.
I tried taking my own. Bleh. I tried forraging for free stock photos (those, you’re allowed to “steal” and use) but it took forever. Then I turned to the app store on my iphone. Jackpot.
I use 5 different apps for pictures , somewhat inter changeably. PhotoShop Express, WordSwag, HD Logo, Canva and Unsplash.
Here’s how I use them:
PhotoShop Express: I use this app when I take a quick picture with my phone that I then want to make into something semi-professional looking. There are filters to choose from. You can crop photos and mess with things like contrast, saturation, opacity and blur.
WordSwag: This is app is somewhat limited unless you pay for it and I did not. It has several free backgrounds to pick from and you can then add quote text. I’m embarrassed to say I always loved the way quotes looked on Instagram but never knew how people made them. This is how.
HD Logo: Also free – the version I use. This app creates logos. It has loads of background images, but it also offers several editing features as well as a huge selection of icons and borders. You can add text also.
Canva: Canva is my lifesaver when it comes to photos. It’s where I create all of my featured images, which is the image that’s used to accompany a blog post. They have every template for every social media platform you could think of, so the image size can be customized that way. I use the Blog Graphic template the most. Some graphics are premium, but you can still use them. They’re just watermarked with the app’s logo unless you pay. I search by whatever key word accompanies that post and edit the text to match my headline.
Unsplash: This one excited me the most. Also free, Unsplash has all those images you want to steal from Google, but can’t. Seriously. Search anything you could possibly think of and I guarantee a beautifully focused, precision photo will appear for you to use at will. It’s amazing. I use this the most for the images within the content of my posts.
All of these apps allow you to save the images you create to your camera roll. I email those photos as an attachment to myself and save it to my computer. Then, I upload it to my Media Library and insert them into the posts.
Links are easy. I try to link back to previous posts at least once in each new publication. I either mention something i previously blogged about or I in between paragraphs, I’ll add the name of a previous post.
To link, all you do is highlight as much content as you want to include in the hyperlink, click the icon that looks like a chain, type or paste into the box the website to which you’re linking and click “apply”.
As a rule of thumb, I always set my links to open in new windows. That way, my readers don’t have to arrow back through pages to get back to the original content.
This one is up to you, but I try to keep my content formatted in short bite-size clips rather than long, rambling paragraphs. It was hard for me to do at first because I had to throw some of the rules of grammar out. With practice, where to to break blocks of writing comes naturally.
It’s easier to read if the content is clipped and images are inserted into the body of the post. When readers see nothing but words, they tend to scroll right through without stopping to read anything.
Choose a few keywords that describe the post. Those are your tags. It’s a way of sorting and categorizing your content. For instance, this post will be tagged: blogging, writing, how-to, tips, photos, apps, WordPress.
Tags also come into play when considering your SEO or search engine optimazation.
SEO and Key Words
SEO is a whole post (or ten) on it’s own, but it basically it’s the process by which a website increases traffic or hits on their site. A lot of bloggers fall into the trap of concentrating too much on SEO and their content suffers because of it.
Key words have a lot to do with SEO and they focus too much on repeating the same words over and over just to get hits on their site from search engines. Don’t fall into this trap.
Last, and arguably most important, is sharing. If you’re thinking of blogging, you know about social media. Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter…Again, another post (or 20).
Some bloggers will tell you it’s more important to have one flavor of social media and forget the rest. Essentially, don’t spread yourself too thin. I have accounts with all of the above and I use them to share the links to my latest posts each time they publish. It’s how I began to drive traffic to my blog.
The most important thing about social media as it relates to this post, anyway, is to try to be consistent with your name and ENGAGE.
Consistency with your name is going to make it easier for your followers to find you. All but Twitter account is under The Philosophy Mom (that handle was already taken on Twitter, so look for me as @aristotlesattic). If your name is taken, try to keep it as close to possible to your blog’s name as you can.
ENGAGE ENGAGE ENGAGE. Engage. Don’t just post the link to your blog every so often. Follow people. Tag them. Ask questions to get a group discussion going. Share posts and pictures and links you find. and use hashtags to your benefit.
If my traffic is low and I want to drive it up, I’ll get on Twitter, search with a # and see what pops up first. That’s what’s trending. Then I’ll use that # and tweet something that relates to both that trend and my blog to start stirring up traffic.
Blogging is fun and it can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. It can serve the purpose of emptying your mind or informing about any number of things.
Like anything, it takes time to grow an audience and develop a voice. Just how much time depends on just how much you post and work at it.
Find your voice and use it. As a writer, I think your voice is a melting pot of whatever you read. How the things come out onto paper usually mimics the words you’ve read on paper, to some degree.
Finding your voice and developing your style is one of the hardest parts of writing and blogging is no exception. A lot of bloggers crank out content without paying attention to the quality of writing, and that’s a shame. The writing doesn’t have to be Shakespearean prose, but for heaven’s sake, it’s not a text message either.
Blogging is a lot of trial and error and experimentation. My impatience has driven me to the brink of quitting several times now, but the challenge of seeing just how far my words can take me keeps me coming back for more.
If you have questions over any of the specifics I didn’t mention here, drop me an email. We can try and err together.
I always dreamed of having a daughter that was a little
extension of me. Now that I do, I wish I could take some of the me out of her.
Even though she got my rigid perfectionism, she also got a lot of things I wish
I’d had at her age.
She keeps me grounded. Her eight-year-old logic astounds me
at times. Maybe that comes from pure childish innocence that we lose as adults.
If so, I think a little regression would do us all some good.
She helps me in ways she may never know, and sometimes, I
admit, I rely on her too much. She’s my extra set of hands in this single
mother life, and I always make sure she knows just how much I appreciate her.
Like a young me, she thinks she has all the answers. As much
as I can, I let her learn things for herself. It was hard to learn to choose my
battles, but sometimes, you just have to let them fall so they can learn how to
get back up.
One thing I have always told her was that I don’t know much,
but I’ll always tell her what I know for sure. For Elise and all our daughters,
this is what I know for sure:
I could not do what you do at your age. You’re brave and beautiful. You have stars in your eyes and flames in your heart and you don’t care who sees them.
Slamming your bedroom door will get you attention. It just won’t be the kind you want.
I know you’ll make fun of me and the music I listen to and the clothes I wear. It’s a rite of passage for daughters and moms. But, just remember, someday, your kids will do the same.
If you’re thinking of using hair dye of any kind, pay someone at a salon to do it and please, oh please, pick a natural color.
You have more courage than I do when it comes to singing and dancing. Don’t lose it.
You’ll swear there are days I don’t love you because I keep you from going somewhere or doing something you really want to. It will always be my job to protect you first.
On those days, you’ll tell me you hate me. You’ll think you do, but you don’t really mean it.
You don’t understand why your dad and I are divorced. Someday you might know the reasons, but I’ll pray you never learn the lessons first-hand.
If there’s a breath in me, I’ll worry about you.
Find other ways thank skimpy clothes to get people’s attention…like your mind.
You don’t have to be the loudest girl in the room to be heard.
Never underestimate a good bubble bath and a good French manicure.
It will always feel like yesterday I held you in my arms for the first time. No matter how old you are, how big you get, how far you go, I will still see you as my baby.
You’ll never know just how much I rely on you. You’ll never know how many times you kept me from being scared or losing my mind. The boys are the reason I have no choice but to be grounded, but you help me figure out to stay there.
You’re so good at doing some things I should be doing for you. One of these is understanding when I don’t always have enough hands or enough time.
On the days I have exceptional doubt about myself and my abilities to make anything good, one look at you proves I did something right somewhere to deserve to call you my little girl.
By no means am I an expert on relationships. I just have three year’s worth of real-world experience at co-parenting.
Co-parenting is hard to navigate at first. There are almost always hard feelings and open wounds to work around. It’s so easy to break up and distance yourself from the other person in order to heal. But kids are a lifetime commitment, so is handling their other parent.
Although it’s not easy to do, there are a few skills to master when it comes to dealing with this new version of a relationship.
Surrender some control right now. It might even feel good. No longer will you be able to have 24/7 control over what goes on at home when it comes to the kids. If they’re happy and safe, all is well.
They may not be eating exactly what you’d make them or wearing exactly what you’d put on them, but if they come back to you and they’re healthy, it’s all good.
Choosing Your Battles
If there are some things you can’t let go of, choose your battles. Certain things like how and when they take medicine is certainly a battle worth choosing. What kind of cereal they eat probably is not.
It means more to have a good working relationship with the other parent than to pick fights over trivial things. You have to talk. A lot. As hard as it is, removing feelings from the equation usually lends a better perspective. I hate confrontation, and, unless it’s something critical, I take a deep breath and let it go.
This one is tough. This one takes remembering the kids are always watching in order to master. Make it a point never to talk badly about the other parent or their family or anything that is important to the other parent in front of the kids.
I work hard at making myself indifferent when it comes to those things anyway, but if something strikes a nerve, I always side with their dad and try to explain his reasoning for doing what he’s doing.
Some day they will be old enough to make their own decisions and draw their own conclusions about him and his family and my own family and me. When that time comes, I don’t want them to form opinions shaded by my own hurt, anger or resentment.
I had to learn not to suck at this one and the single best way to do it is to remember one thing: it’s all about the kids. At first, it’s especially hard. There are so many things to say and ask that have nothing to do with the kids. Forget. Them.
In order to co-parent successfully and remove emotional ligatures (if that’s what you want to do), keep it all about the kids. Keep it strictly texting and email if need be. That way, there’s time to process questions and answers before saying something that will be regretted later.
But keep it all about the kids. If the other parent can’t seem to do that, it’s OK. Don’t respond to anything unless it’s regarding the kids and feel free to tell them up front that’s what you’ll be doing.
There’s an ebb and flow to this sometimes. The cuts will heal and small talk finds its way back. Something may happen and all you’ll talk about is the kids again. It’s ok. Doing this protects your sanity, which is especially crucial for co-parenting.
This is especially true if you have an exceptionally nosy 8-year-old. You may not even need to ask questions. You may get all kinds of information. Most of it is little half-truths.
Kids hear things. They have great imaginations. They also spill every secret you tell them. Those are things worth remembering. If there’s a question about what’s going on at the other parent’s house that seems like something you should know (and not from your 8-year-old), ask. That’s why it’s important to keep communication open and working.
Doing this also lets the other parent know what the kids are focusing on and how they’re interpreting what’s going on around them.
Remembering the Other Parent
Just because your relationship with them ended, does not mean your children’s did. If the other parent is willing and capable of being a co-parent, try to be grateful that your children have someone else in their lives to love them. There’s no such thing as too much love.
I always try to get small gifts for the kids to give their dad for Christmas, birthdays and Father’s Day. Not only do they want to have something to give him that they can’t go get all by themselves yet, but it shows them I still care that he’s their dad.
I know this is easy to write and easy to read and really hard to do. I know every situation is different. Some parents are better off not being in their kid’s lives period. That makes for an only-parent situation (I’m also intimately familiar with this one) and that’s a whole post in itself.
But if you’re fortunate enough to have a co-parent who’s willing and able to do their share, I hope some of these skills help get you through the tough times. There will be more ahead for all of us.
No one said it would be fair or easy, but we’re all in it together.
Philosophy: No matter what acronym he’s diagnosed with, at the end of our very long days, he’s still my Jack.
Oppositional Defiant Disorder looks like Jack. It looks like a pink octopus stuck to my kitchen ceiling. There are no distinguishing physical characteristics that make him markedly different from any other 6 year old boy. What makes him different is his sheer will to oppose. It’s an iron will.
He is short in stature and has trouble gaining weight, but that’s why his pediatrician referred us to the endocrine specialist. They also referred us to the genetic specialist. An intervention specialist referred us to the psychiatric doctor who, in turn, referred us to the Autism clinic as well as the neuro-developmental specialist. So many specialists, so many referrals, so few answers.
In an effort to neutralize ADHD, which one specialist diagnosed while another did not, he was prescribed an amphetamine. He was also prescribed a low dose of an adult blood pressure medication to help with his outbursts and anger. The jury is still out on whether they work.
Symptoms? Behaviors? Yes.
Anger, aggression, irritability, inability to focus or sit still, uncooperative, defiant, hostile toward authority, restlessness, impulsivity, obsessiveness, compulsions…to name a few.
All of the symptoms present at one time or another; sometimes in tandem. Hostility phases out, but obsessiveness takes its place. If you have the unique experience of sitting down with a medical professional and trying to explain behaviors or to bubble in the referral paperwork next to “Always, Often, Sometimes, Never”, you can understand the difficulty and frustration.
It’s not easy to verbalize what goes on at home because I’m often flying by the seat of my pants when we’re in the midst of a full-blown, psychedelic tantrum. All I know for sure is that I tried every last single solitary bit of discipline I could, and none of it works. None. Of. It.
That much, at least, convinces me this is a disorder (or one of several) and it’s somewhat out of my control.
What drove us to seek professional help was kindergarten.
Jack took great joy in poking, hitting, pinching, swearing, blurting out words, making disruptive noises, taking things and hiding them, taking things and breaking them, tearing books, etching desks, lying about behavior, refusing to do work, cutting things into itty bitty pieces, throwing food and name-calling. I’m sure there was more, but that’s all I’m aware of. In his first year of school, he went to the principal’s office three times (again, that I’m aware of).
We tried two different counselors. He refused to speak. He didn’t utter one peep in six visits.
Enter: the intervention specialist and psychiatric referral.
If I thought I was the only mom whose child exhibited these kinds of behaviors, I would shut up and chalk it up to bad parenting. But, I know that I’m not the only mom. Of course kids defy their parents. It’s what they do, but this is a whole different animal.
When I tell Jack not to do something, I’ve learned the hard way that thing is precisely what he’ll do, and he’ll do it as he looks me right in the eye. That’s oppositional defiance.
“Jack, I”ll give you the ‘squishy’, but just keep it off of the ceiling or you’ll lose it for good.” He gave me eye contact, a grin and an immediate shot straight to the ceiling.
The more angry I am, the happier he gets. Ignoring it won’t work either. Ignoring his behavior only leads to repetition of it to get my attention. Most of the time, I get the added bonus of shrill noises to accompany the repetition. The more irritating the noise, the better.
Time-outs beg for destruction and more noise. Anything he can possibly pound on or break while he’s sitting there is fair game. The time I tried spanking, when I was at the tail end of my rope, he responded by laughing and asking me to do it again because it was “fun”.
There was a time I literally threw my hands up in surrender. My white flag was flying and I actually laughed. And you know what? He laughed too. And he stopped.
Against all the medical advice and books by people whose names have an alphabet after them, I literally just gave in and let it go. And it stopped. Mind you, it didn’t stop forever, but once I quit trying so hard to push back, so did Jack.
I put all of the charts, stickers, redirection, loss of privileges to the side. For the time-being. I turned to plain and simple reasoning. No threat I ever made or punishment I enforced ever got his attention anyway. What gets his attention is my attention to him.
All I do is take the time to tell him exactly what he did and ask why. Most of the time he doesn’t have a reason and I believe that’s truly the case.
He doesn’t know why he does what he does. But if he knows I’m aware and I’m paying attention, he becomes eager to please and the negative behavior becomes almost non existent.
This is only what worked for me when nothing else worked. In fact, it didn’t work at all until Jack was able and willing to listen to me without interrupting or blowing up. And this probably won’t work forever. That’s the beauty of ODD/ADHD/OCD. It keeps you on your toes.
All these acronyms are taking the place of my little boy. ODD, ADHD, OCD. They’re easy to get wrapped up in and to forget that what I have at the end of every outburst is still my Jack. Whatever else may be associated with him in the way of a disorder, he’s still my Jack.
What he is isn’t symptoms. Those are secondary. What he is, is kind, lovable, thoughtful, imaginative, eager, creative, funny, innovative.
Philosophy: When snips and snails and puppy dog tails turn into a one-man wrecking crew, all you can do is hold your breath and batten down the hatches.
Part of being an only-child-single-boy-mom is learning wreckage.
I had no brothers (or sisters), so not only do I notunderstand sibling rivalry, I had to learn to mother boys. This was tough forme.
Growing up, I was shy, quiet and into books. Sports didn’t interest me until I ran track and cross country much later, and even then, Ichose the most solitary form of athletics there is.
I still hate dirt. Chaos, noise and disorganization drove me crazy. Then along came Jack.
Jack spent 9 days in the NICU when he was born. Meconium,intubation, seizures and the night he was born, I checked myself out of thematernity ward to follow my 5-pound preemie on his first car ride; in anambulance.
He pulled through. Other than following his own growth-curve, he can see, speak and walk on his own (we weren’t so sure thatwould happen) and he’s all boy.
He runs everywhere. He’s fascinated with wheels, motors and guns. He’s loud, oh so very loud. While he has an odd propensity for cleaning things, he’s almost always covered in something sticky and dirty himself, though.
Tyler is laid back. More so than Jack at three months old, but his appetite is more like that of a full-grown man. Jack can’t wait for the day Tyler can walk and talk and he can have a partner in crime. I can wait. I certainly can wait.
Most of the time, I wonder where Elise is in the house. Since she needs me less and less, she disappears for long stretches and plays in her room or reads and I actually have to go looking for her.
That is not the case with boys. I always know exactly where Jack is. If he’s not following at my heels asking questions, I just have to listen to where the noise is coming from.
The big booms that make me think the second floor is caving in is him rearranging his closet. The slamming from the kitchen means it’s snack time. The bing-bing-bing that drives me mad means he left the refrigerator open. Again. Yelling means he’s trying to get into Elise’s room and Lord help me, when I hear the toilet flush, I still hope against hope nothing went down that wasn’t supposed to.
It’s when there’s silence that I go looking. In the past, silence led me to open paint cans, a couch full of Fruity Pebbles, Sharpie down the walls and sponges in the toilet. Silence is not golden. Silence means Trouble.
If silence doesn’t mean trouble, it means Jack is with his dad. Even with Tyler’s baby noises, the house is so quiet when the kids leave. There are times, I admit, when things are extra wild, that I count the hours in my head until I can get a break from the one-woman show that is my life.
I can’t wait for the plate-spinning act to be over. But the minute they leave, the silence almost eats me alive and I miss them down to my bones. I have Tyler. He occupies me, but as any parent of more than one kid knows, you love them equally and you love them equally for different reasons, in different ways. None of the three can fill the gaps of the others when they’re not there.
When the noise gets to me now, I think about the silence that follows and it stops bothering me. Soon enough the noise won’t be strewn toys and slamming cupboards, it’ll be the sound of crashing cars and breaking hearts and packing for college.
It’ll be wreckage of a different kind; a more mature kind and that kind hits harder and hurts more. That kind is harder to clean up and I don’t think I’ll ever be ready for it.
That leaves me in the here and now with all the mud and moonbeams. It leaves me in the midst of ramshackle forts and piles of laundry; a funnel cloud of full-decibel noise that never stops.
It’s all part of being a boy mom and if it means I get to ride the river with these two, I’ll gladly float with all the wreckage.
Philosophy: Steal the damn plates. Steal them every time.
I love thrift stores and old things. That’s how my Etsy shop came about. Racks and shelves of things, none of which are the same, each with its own past and story.
I have to slow down and spend time looking and rummaging. The thrill of the hunt. I get very excited when I find exactly what I want, not knowing when I walk in the door just what that might be, but hopeful there’s a chance at something that fits perfectly, or I haven’t seen in years.
I was hurrying through Goodwill after I dropped off some clothes last week (Tyler wasn’t in a bargain-hunting mood), looking for some Harlan Coban books I hadn’t read yet. Some of my favorite authors, I found by looking for books at thrift stores. “What the heck…” turned into the enormous book collection I have in my back room.
Across from the books are all the wares. There they were, in all their glory. Fiesta salt and pepper shakers. I grabbed them. Serendipity. Salt and pepper shakers aren’t my thing. My best friend collects them. She also collects Fiesta dishes. This collection began when we were about 17.
Chi-Chi’s was a Mexican restaurant by our mall. We were
cool. We could drive to the mall by ourselves, so we did; the way
seventeen-year-olds do all kinds of things just because they can. We ended up
at Chi-Chi’s and Chi-Chi’s used Fiesta dishes.
One or two of said dishes may or may not have ended up in
our take-home containers, and so, not only was a collection born, but also an
eighteen-year long challenge. Although we’ve been out to eat hundreds of times
together since then, the conditions aren’t always right for swiping a small
dish or silverware. Quite frankly, a lot of times, we don’t even want what they’re
using, but who can resist a Fiesta dish?
Mine was orange. If memory serves, Kelly got yellow. That dish is in my mom’s cupboard to this day. When I use it, I think of the silent look we still give each other when one of us slips a particularly nice ramekin into our Styrofoam box.
It makes me smile. It makes me remember the white lies that
come with being 17 and how we just tried to have fun without hurting anyone.
That was the kind of fun that sticks. Those memories are solid.
Those memories, I recall in the split second before I stop Jack from applying stickers to his window in the car or before I punish Elise for carving her name into the back of her bedroom door. I also committed sins that didn’t hurt anyone as a kid. I still do. It’s part of claiming space in the world, in a way.
Sometimes I realize I’m saying no to the kids more than yes. It’s my standard response to almost any question they ask because the question is already predetermined in my mind to be some outrageous request. That’s not fair to them.
Even though I despise slime with every fiber of my being, I begrudgingly give in and let them make it. For some reason, Jack can’t find anything unless he dumps every toy out of every bin in his room. He asks first and my answer was always no, but now I let him – on the condition he picks it up. It’s his choice, then, and sometimes that makes him change his mind.
(To be sure, some requests definitely are outrageous. Jack insisted for awhile on going "RIGHT NOW" to go get a "REAL" dirt bike. That was a great big "NO". )
The memories of the stolen plates are what I think of when I give in and let the kids be kids. The memories of the stolen plates are what give me ideas to do things every once in awhile that surprise them and even me; things that are just the right amount of reckless.
My own dad once took me out to the cemetery in his truck. I was about 13. He didn’t tell me where we were going and I was very confused. He got out, told me to switch sides and he let me drive all by myself for awhile. I will never forget that. I owe those same memories to my kids. Out-of-the-blue adventures that even they, in their wildest dreams, wouldn’t think to ask about.
Is it wrong to drive at 13 and take dishes? Probably. A felony? Nope. These stolen souvenirs of the last years of my childhood are worth every Hail Mary and day in jail.
If I had that magical chance to go back in time and give myself advice with 20/20, I’d still tell me to steal the damn plates. Steal them every time.
Philosophy: Sometimes you have to try quitting before you quit trying.
You just gotta know when to fold ‘em. That is, of course, courtesy of Kenny Rogers, which, I’m not too proud to say I’ve heard a time or two thousand. My love for Kenny comes straight from my dad’s old vinyl records.
Speaking of my dad, he didn’t raise a quitter. He tells me this often. He always knows exactly when I need to hear that straight from him, too.
I knew during my freshman year at Kent State that I wanted to major in philosophy. I had huge plans of being a professor surrounded by books or graduating at the top of my law school class and opening an office (also surrounded by books). But…well…life.
Philosophy sustained and interested me, but what always
fascinated me was death. Of course, death is part of philosophy, but I’m
talking about funerals and science.
I happened to listen to Three Minutes That Will Change Your Life by Alan Watts when I was between the anchor of marriage and the freedom of divorce and it compelled me to think about what I would really love to do if money were no object.
If I could drop everything and be anything I wanted, what would it be? A funeral director. I had always wanted to own a funeral home. While it sounds creepy and weird, it fascinated me.
When I had my temporary lapse in sanity, just prior to my second marriage, I enrolled in the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science online. I loved it. I loved the classes, I loved the feeling of working toward something I never thought I would do. I loved arranging places to intern part-time on the weekends.
Then I woke up early one morning (literally) alone and pregnant. Not only did I realize I couldn’t financially afford to stay in school and care for three kids, I couldn’t afford the time it would take away from them to have to intern and be called out in the middle of the night.
I quit three quarters of the way through a term. Didn’t even
see it through until the grading period ended. I quit.
I thought I would be too embarrassed to admit that to everyone who started asking how school was, but the truth goes a long way. My money and time were going to be needed somewhere else and there was nothing wrong with that.
In that sense, I wasn’t quitting anything. I was just rerouting.
Yes, I’m still a mortuary science school drop-out. But if there’s anything that sounds cooler than mortuary science school, it’s adding drop-out to the end of it.
Philosophy: “You better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone…” – Bob Dylan
Motherhood – especially single-motherhood – is a brave art, indeed. If raising a child takes a village, I’d like to know why I feel like I need a metropolis.
Then again, I do know why I feel that way. Enter: my impossible expectations. Yes, perfectionism. When I became a mom, I was going to be the perfect balance of imperfect. I sat in college, pre-motherhood and logically, I knew perfect was impossible, but man oh man, I was going to nail being a mom.
Elise was born in June 2011. Jack followed in February 2013.
My marriage destructed piece by piece the way a rocket ship disassembles when
it heads for the moon. After a 2016 dissolution, I lost equal parts of my mind
and inhibitions, got remarried for 68 days and had Tyler in May. That marriage
also destructed, but it was one big explosion…more like the Challenger than
So, here I am. Eight years later. Three kids. Two failed
marriages. Not what I had in mind when I set out to be perfectly imperfect, yet
here we are, living despite it all.
Elise mastered pitting one parent against the other very
early on, so most everything that leaves her pretty little lips has to be
cross-checked between her dad and me. She’s too smart for her own good and at
times, her eight-year-old logic trumps my well-thought reasoning, without
All 36 pounds of Jack is spitfire, comedian and aspiring
policeman. He’s hyper and spirited and knows how to drop a swear word in the
proper context just when I least expect it. He’s almost always in some form of
uniform, complete with duty belt and toy gun. When I’m too tired to argue, he
even wears this to bed. Choose your battles and all that.
And sweet Tyler, my lunchbox baby, just wants to nurse and take it all in. While I share Elise and Jack 50/50 with their dad, I get Tyler all to myself, courtesy of an ugly mistress whose name is Addiction.
Sure, I had resentment. At first. I was on my own trying to figure it all out. Then I learned how to cut-in with a paint brush and use power tools and mow grass (even though Jack had to show me where the gas cap was) and maintain an in-ground pool and juggle bills and schedules and doctor’s appointments.
I also learned what an overwhelming responsibility it is to
care for three kids and a house. Oh, and a dog…and we can’t forget the guinea
pig. I spent a lot of guilty time worrying if I was keeping the kids happy
enough. I already felt at least half responsible for landing them in a broken
home. They didn’t ask for that. Was there enough of me left after working
full-time and doing all these things to keep us going?
That worry was misplaced, though. It’s not about happiness. It’s about wholeness. If I do the work of motherhood correctly, my kids won’t always be happy. Happiness is a side effect of wholeness. So is anger and disappointment. So, the question becomes: is what I’m doing making them whole? And, I think it is.
I forget what it’s like to be little. I forgot what it’s like to see every little thing for the first time and what it’s like to get excited for Christmas and winning a goldfish at the fair. So, I remind myself to get down to their level, to acknowledge their fears without dismissing them. It’s up to me to try to teach them the right time and way to clean messes, disagree, apologize, make chocolate milk, paint fingernails, tie shoes.
My parents deserve to be canonized as saints. They help whenever and wherever they can. So do my friends and co-workers. They’re my village. There aren’t enough jewels in the world for their crowns.
It took a lot for me to start writing again. Then I thought about who I would be if I didn’t show Elise, Jack and Tyler that it’s ok to chase after the things they enjoy, that it’s ok to try things that seem too big and see where they take them and that in order to grow and change, they have to dive in and start because the time will never be just right.
I hope you keep reading. I hope my words hit you somewhere and stick. We’ve only just begun.