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Once a Fortress, Always a Fortress

3 May

Certainty and security are never a commodity in a single mother’s life. Love and fatigue are our main resources. We live for our ability to love our children and the people who love them (and us, if possible), we love them endlessly. We strive, thanks to daily schedules that bring us to the end of the day breathless, and with an empty mind and weary heart. It is easy to receive our kindness, for we are full of empathy and compassion for anyone who has endured hardship. It is even possible to win our love. We’re used to caring for others. But it is nearly impossible to love us, fully. And even more difficult to gain our trust.

This is why, the single mother, is forever single. This sounds tragic, and maybe it is in a sense. But I don’t necessarily mean for it to be. We aren’t alone. We are surrounded by friends, family, and lovers, who care for us, help us out, listen to us, pick our little ones up from school if we’re tied up, or make love to us quietly, in the dark, after bed time. We have each other – other moms like us, who share the impossible bond of lonely togetherness, that I think only we can truly comprehend. And still, we are single. Even with boyfriends, or live-in partners. Even if we marry again.

The single mother’s heart is a fortress. It’s been penetrated and broken before, and it shall never be broken again. We will never again allow heartbreak to take us by surprise. We are prepared for any scenario, and we anticipate the worst. (We know that He is going to leave us, and we leave Him first.)

So in order to love us, to stick by us, it takes more than romance, more than companionship, more than terrific sex, more than love, more than trust. It takes endurance. It takes stubbornness. It takes a man who can bear never being given the benefit of the doubt. It takes a man who can tolerate the constant measuring and sizing up, the fear, the doubts, the half-truths, the “I love you – but”s. It takes a man who loves our hearts, along with the brick walls that surround them, walls made strong by the powerful forces of abandonment and betrayal.

It takes a man who has the patience to take apart that wall, slowly, carefully, not tearing it down, but cautiously dismantling it, one brick at a time, knowing that there is a chance that it will grow back in, like like a lizard’s tail, but wanting enough to try, hoping enough to succeed.

I am lucky to have found such a man.

And though, from time to time, I make an honest attempt to push him away, he surprises me with his acceptance of me and my story, and his willingness to take part in it.

 

 

 

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A Meaningful Narrative – The Challenges and Pleasures of Secular Parenting

3 Apr

My son is nearing four now, what an incredible age! When allowed to freely explore, ask questions, and wonder about life – this is an age of outstanding discoveries, of vital first impressions of the world, of discovering who is trustworthy, what is permitted, where one can go and where doors are shut.

I have two strong guidelines in my parenting, that have been guiding me from the day I brought my Boy back home from the hospital. Be authentic. Tell the truth. There is a lot more of course. I try to listen to him, I mean really listen, as much as I can. I try to set boundaries where they are necessary, I try to support his urges to be independent and guide him and be supportive, and not lose my patience and maintain composure, even if he throws a fit because his sunny-side-up is leaking and now he won’t eat it.

But I honestly believe, if I’m authentic, if Mom-Me, is not an entirely different person from Professional-Me, and Intellectual-Me, and Friend-Me, and Lover-Me, then I’m doing something right. So I tell my son about my day when I come back from school. He listens, and then he tells me about his day at preschool. I joke around with him, because I can be silly like that sometimes. I say I’m sorry when I make a mistake. And I tell him the truth, or a version of the truth that he can take in, when he asks me the big questions, when he wants to know how life begins and what happens when it ends.

Yes, he’s not even four yet. But my son has already asked if everyone dies, and if I’ll die one day. I couldn’t tell him some ridiculous story. A part of me wanted to go with the heaven-story. It’s a good one, really. It comforted me when I was younger. But I didn’t. I said we live forever in the hearts of those who love us. It’s a good narrative. It’s as close as I could get to where I really am vs the death thing. He accepted my narrative the way only four-year-olds can, absorbing it, inscribing it into his own narrative, into the truths that he will now grow up with.

Now he knows, because he asked and I answered, that the male and female bodies fit together perfectly, like two pieces of a puzzle, that the sperm and the egg yearn to unite and form a baby. That they have to wait for love, because only when a man and a woman love one another, can they unite to form life. He knows that I think it’s a miracle. And so he finds if miraculous as well. And it is, isn’t it? He is too young to feel confused about it. Too young to be weirded out. The narrative I chose to deliver has now become one more truth that he will measure future stories about sex, love and child bearing against.

“How does the baby come out?” He asked.

“A woman body is amazing,” I said with wonder. “It widens for the baby to come out from between her legs. They in narrows again.”

“Really? It can do that?”

“Yes,” I answered. “Isn’t it amazing?”

 

 

 

Every Day is a Different Kind of I Miss You

24 Jul

I haven’t written in a while. Not really sure why, I just wasn’t in the mood and decided not to force it until the moment returned when I felt that I wanted to write.

A lot has happened. I’ve finished the school year, with the end of the year show and goodbyes to my 6th graders, who will start Junior High in September. I received a shitload of validation, and a few gifts. I got time off – summer vacation. It got fucking hot and my AC began working overtime.

I went to Barcelona with D and spent 4 intensive days together. I learned a lot about us and where I wanted us to go. I confronted D about wanting to take our relationship to the next level: Meeting the kids. I listened as he explained why he wasn’t ready. I adopted a dog and learned what it is to truly love your pet. I had a huge fight with BD about custody stuff. I helped E pick out curtains for her new place to which she is moving with her husband and son, two hours drive away, after having been neighbors for the last 18 months.

Finally, this morning, I cleared out The Drawer. The one where all my old jewelry and makeup and knickknacks are. I found my wedding band, and engagement ring, and all those earrings M had bought me at various fairs she’d happened to stop by throughout the 15 years in which we were friends.

A lot of stuff happened – and she was gone the whole time. She was gone when I made her cinnamon pancakes and they came out perfect and my son ate four. She was gone when I bought “happy pills” for our friends in Barcelona. She was gone when I ate the most delicious octopus salad in the world last night.

Every time something happens to me, she still gone. She is always gone, and she will be gone forever. I can’t tell her about BD being an idiot. I miss her getting angry at him and cursing. I can’t introduce her to Charlie, our dog. She would have loved him. She would have given him a silly nickname. She would have mentioned him and asked about him every time we’d speak, completely acknowledging that he is a part of our family now.

I can’t consult with her about D and what I should do. I bet she would have thought I should break up with him, and I’d discredit her opinion, maybe even get offended and refrain from telling her stuff about him, until a couple of months later when I’d tell her how I felt and then we’d be OK.

No more dirty chai lattes in funny mugs. No more arguments or offences. No more compassion and patient, silent listening. No more funny faces to cheer me up when I’m down. I could cry now because it’s unfair she died, but I feel like I’m done with the WHY???? Now it’s just a quiet kind of sadness. A sort of constant regret. I regret that she’s gone. I wish I had been closer to her. I wish I’d made more time to be with her, especially after she became sick. I wish I could tell her how fucking horribly absent she is from my life.

 

 

Home Away from Home

6 Jun

There was a place in my childhood and adolescence, where I felt truly safe and happy, where I could be myself and feel acceptance, where there were boundaries and I knew I was cared for, where I could let go and be a child, allowing myself to experience all those things that allow you to learn about yourself as you grow up and become the person you need to become. That place was summer camp.

Every now and again in my life I am reminded of those powerfully condensed summers, in which friendships were formed, secret crushes flourished, conversations about the meaning of life were conducted in the wee hours of the night, often under the stars, sometimes with a guitar playing in the background, where the cool girls would hang out, in their cut-collared T-shirts, exposing their bra straps, with that summer’s newly transitioned ex-geeky hottie, his arm muscles flexed as he strummed his guitar, was playing his Oasis and his hotel california as his entourage sang along. Was there an afterlife? Would there be peace in the middle east? Would I ever have my first kiss and would it be with A?

In the mornings, waking up early and rushing to get dressed and brush teeth and get to prayer on time, then breakfast in the dining hall and a meeting with our counselors, and then the things we needed to do, efforts made to change the world, truly believing in our power to better it. Hot afternoons in the swimming pool, set amongst the pine trees, harboring rowdy half-developed teens as well as frogs that croaked beside us as we swam.

Shabbat. Getting ready and dressing up, feeling elated, excited to end prayer by greeting everyone and, traditionally, kissing on the cheek. Would he come greet me? Would he kiss me on the cheek?  Shabbat dinner was always deliciously noisy and fun, with our counselors singing at the top of their lungs when the meal was over, and everyone excitedly participating, sometimes even standing on chairs or drumming on the tables. There was no curfew on Friday night, as long as you made it to prayer in the morning, and we’d lay down on the grass outside, looking at the stars, sharing secrets and talking about who and what we wanted to be.

Condensed. Three weeks a year where I wasn’t constantly being scorned by my father, where I wasn’t in charge of mothering my younger sisters, picking them up from daycare, making them lunch, and later on seeing that they did their homework, arguing and trying unsuccessfully to discipline them when they misbehaved. I loved my sisters to pieces. I would have died for them. But then, everything was so dramatic when I was a hormone stricken teenager, learning to constantly be critical of myself, to be ashamed, and eventually to truly hate myself.

I didn’t hate myself in camp, though. I liked myself. I felt smart and funny. I was able to let go of my worry about my appearance. I felt competent and brave. I sang solo one time in front of 300 people. I dared to befriend the boys I had a crush on. I learned then so much of what I know now and implement every single day into my work with children, into my parenting, and into my constant introspection.

I’m not religious anymore. I don’t even believe in god. But I believe in the good intentions of people. I believe in people’s ability to change things that seem unchangeable. I believe in my own personal ability to cope with anything that comes my way. I believe I’m awesome. I believe I deserve to be loved and shown affection and appreciated. And even though it took me years to implement these beliefs into my life, it all started when I was 13 at summer camp.

Tomato Paste Math

22 May

tomato paste

I love grocery shopping with my boy. This probably has to do with the fact that I love food and cooking, but also because almost a year ago, when he turned two, I realized I could actually get stuff done around the house, if I only stopped trying to keep him busy while I cleaned, cooked and set the table, and instead included him in all these activities. Since then, cooking together has become a ritual, and grocery shopping one of our favorite activities.

He sits in the shopping cart, and as we shop I tell him stories about where all food comes from. How the bread is made of wheat, and the strawberry yogurt he loves so much is made of milk that we get from cows and strawberries. That the pasta we buy is imported from Italy, but the tomatoes we use to make the sauce grow locally. I give him tasks: “Sweetie can you please pick out three beautiful zucchinis for me and put them in the bag?” And responsibility: “You are in charge of eggs. We can’t forget to buy eggs so when you see the eggs you have to remind me, OK?”

Yesterday, as we were shopping I noticed a sale on tomato paste. Six containers for a special price. They were small plastic containers, connected at the top in pairs and in fours. “OK honey, we need to get six of these. Let me see… Here, six!” I said and I handed him a pair.

He looked at them and laughed. “That’s not six! One, two.”

“Oh my, you’re right. Let me try again.” And I handed him four. “Six!” I said.

He seemed convinced this time, but he counted: “One, two, three… four! Mommy it’s four. It’s not six!”

“Oh no, what are we going to do?” I asked sadly, holding the pair in one hand and the four containers in the other. “We need six.” I brought my hands closer together. “And we only have four and two.”

He looked and the containers. Without saying anything else he began to count: “One, two, three, four, five, six! Mommy there are six!”

“Oh my, you’re right! Together there are six! Four and two are six!”

And that’s how my son got his first addition lesson ever at the supermarket.

“Those Ritalin Kids”

21 May

Yesterday afternoon there was a party at my son’s daycare. The theme was a farm, and it was super fun, from songs and old McDonald, to milking a cow, and petting a goat. The party ended with a huge inflatable castle that the children jumped on with joy. It was loud and exhausting and took place in the aftenoon, by which time I had only limited energy left. It also happened to take place on one of those workdays that just sucks all around, not to mention I was premenstrual as hell. But I kept it together, and I enjoyed seeing my child participate in the activities, raise his hand and wait his turn (and he’s not even three yet!) By the time the jumping began, I sat down on a little stool, staring into mid air, glad the day was almost over.

It was the end of the party, and most of the younger children had already gone home. The older boys were still going nuts on the inflatable castle, jumping, crashing and screaming with joy, when the teacher said it was time to get off. One of the mothers then said, jokingly: “You can fold up the castle with the kids in it. The ones that are still jumping are the ones whose parents wouldn’t care anyway.” Another mother heared this and laughed and added “Those ritalin kids.”

Now, I am a fairly cynical person, and I can take a joke. Really, I can even take a hollocaust joke every now and then, and I’m Jewish. But having a person who does not even know me, joke at the expense of my son was too much. I know I was overly sensitive, but I was so insulted I couldn’t let this sentence out of my mind for the entire evening, and here I am blogging about it.

First of all, it’s ignorant and stupid. Three year old boys on an inflatable castle are not supposed to behave any differently than how those children behaved. They are supposed to be happy, jump and scream, that is the whole point of the activity. Secondly, even if it were a group of hyperactive three year olds, who the hell are you to joke about how their mothers feel about them and how much they care. Thirdly, as a teacher, I have met children who really needed medication to overcome attention disorders, who were much happier as a result. It is rare. And those kids are ten, not three. Really, ritalin and other medications are SO overused, it makes me angry that people talk about it so lightly. Lastly, uhhhh I could just keep talking forever about how ignorant, stupid and disrespectful what that mother said was, but it’ll do me no good.

I should have told her off, I would have felt better. But since I didn’t, I’ll do the second best thing and write it down, so I can stop thinking about it. Oh, and thank god my boy has a mother who knows better.

Letting Go of Disclaimer Girl

4 Apr

When BD and I were together, for ten years, unmarried and without children, people would delicately pose the question: So… Are you thinking about marriage? And I’d say, oh sure, but no need to rush. We don’t want to get married right now.  And later on, oh yes, we’re getting married but don’t get your hopes up for kids anytime soon. We’re not at all ready yet.

It was a lie. I was ready for marriage when we were together for four years, and were travelling through South America. I was 23. And I fantasized secretly about him popping the question on one of those magical deserted beaches in Brazil, with the little crabs popping out of their holes in the sand and running around sideways.

Once I even said something like one day we can come back here for our honeymoon. He could have shrugged it off, but instead he got really upset. What do you have to go ruin everything for? It was one of the only fights we ever had in our 13 year long relationship.

After that, I learned that some things were better left unsaid. That patience was a virtue. That like my mother, it was my duty to make sure that the man in my life was happy, because that was the secret of long lasting relationships. It was. BD and I could have probably continued on our merry road of quiet content, if it hadn’t been for my desire, that could no longer be suppressed to become a parent. I pushed him into marriage, and he rose to the occasion. And then I pushed him into having a child. We’d been together for 12 years. I was turning 31. I told him stories about biological clocks and how these things took time. And I got pregnant ridiculously fast. Like my body had all these eggs lining up throughout my life, waiting for anything that loosely resembled sperm to impregnate them. I’m pretty sure even porn could have knocked me up, my body was so ready for a baby. A week after the first time we had unprotected sex, my breasts were sore and I was nauseous as fuck.

I used to be Disclaimer Girl. The one who could never accept 100% fulfilment. Happiness came with a warning: “Don’t get your hopes up to high.” It came with a but. Without warnings, without buts people could get disappointed. How’s the new job? Oh you know, it’s great, but who knows how long I’ll be there. They’re not doing so well financially, they’re constantly laying people off. Oh that’s a lovely dress! What, this old thing? I’ve had it for years. I bought it on sale. It makes my butt look big doesn’t it? But yeah, I guess it works. It was a mediocreness of emotions. It restricted how high I could go, but it also protected me.

That changed when I first peed on that stick and saw those two little pink lines. I could not restrain my happiness. I couldn’t put a disclaimer on that. No buts when it came to my love for that tiny fertilized egg that would soon enough become my son. BD was not as thrilled. He was highly protective of me, as always, made sure I ate all the right things and didn’t do any heavy lifting. He did all the right things but he did them with a stiffness. He was freaking his shit out.

When I was three months pregnant he started talking about going abroad for work. He would be gone for three months, weeks 22-35. It was a great opportunity for him. It could mean more money and a secure future for us both, well, us three. I didn’t think twice. I wanted him to go. Because I believed with all my heart that he would return a changed man. He would be excited about becoming a father. He’d rise to the occasion.

How’s the pregnancy? Amazing. I’m sick as hell and alone. But I love it. I wasn’t lying. I hated the nausea and constant puke fest. But I was excited for a life that I was going to have, soon, if I was patient. Wow, you’re so wonderful to let your husband go abroad for so long when you’re pregnant. I didn’t think I was being wonderful. I didn’t think it was my right to tell him not to go. I didn’t want him to go. But that’s because I wanted him to not want to go. I wanted him to want to stay with me. But since he didn’t, what was the point of forcing him to stay?

Three months past and I got used to doing things on my own. Useful experience for later on. Then he was back, in body at least. He worked crazy hours. I barely saw him. He was there for the birth, and I have to give him credit, he was 100% present there. But shortly after the birth he went back to being a workaholic. Staying late at the office, leaving bath time and bedtime to me. Apologizing over the phone. Saying things like, I’m here with the gang, we had a long day and decided to get a beer. That’s OK right? I can leave if you want. Knowing that I would never tell him to leave his friends and come home. Because, even though I was responsible for a new person in my life, it was still my job to keep my husband happy. If he could find balance, if he was not too overwhelmed, if I could somehow make it so that this was not too hard for him, than he’d rise to the occasion. He’d be the father I knew he could be. He’d love me like he was supposed to.

It was around that time that he stopped wearing his wedding band. It was around that time that when I told him I loved him, he stopped saying it back. And quickly after, he was gone.

How’s motherhood? They asked. Amazing. I’d answer. I’m happier than I’ve ever been.

And that wasn’t a lie either. I was happy. I had always wanted to be a mother. So even though I was dead tired, even when my Boy was sick and I was taking care of him all by myself, I quickly learned that there was a difference between easy and good. My new life wasn’t easy, for sure. But it was meaningful. It was important. And that made it good.

So there were no more buts. Not when it came to my family of two. We were one complete unit and we could listen to Led Zeppelin and dance around the house and love one other to the moon and back without a single disclaimer. It was safe to give him my all.

It was harder to implement my no buts policy to other aspects of my life. Oh I like my job, sure, but I don’t really know where it’s going. I mean, I am signing that five year contract, but it doesn’t mean I’ll stay. I can always back out of it. I like this apartment. It’s easy for me to stay here. Sure, it used to be ours. There are some rough memories there, but it’s OK. Yes, I really Iike this guy, I might even love him, but it has no future. We don’t want the same things. It’s good for now. The sex is amazing. Anyway, I’m not going to be careless this time, I’m not going to get too attached. 

Objectively speaking, some utterly crappy stuff has happened to me when I’ve let down my guard. I allowed myself to believe BD and I would be together forever and raise our beautiful son together, and he left. I allowed myself to believe M was going to get better. She didn’t. It is very difficult for me to simply believe that things will be good. To be happy with no buts. To relish the moment without preparing myself for tomorrow’s disappointment.

BUT, and this is an important BUT. I’m trying to change that. I know that at the end of the day it is my choice. I can choose now, to put disclaimers before every aspect of my life and make sure that I never get hurt so badly again. It makes sense, for someone like me to do that. Or I can fall blindly in love with my life. I can love my new home, I can trust that preschool will be good for my Boy, I can decide to love my job and embrace its difficulties. And if I want to, I know that I can also love this man, whom I introduced as my boyfriend to my sisters and friends on Thursday, and felt my chest burst with excitement. I do love him, but there are still about 10,000 gigantic disclaimers there. His girls. My boy. They need to be protected. They can’t be let down twice. And there’s the other thing. That it’s easier to believe that love is never forever. It always ends at some point. And so, merging lives is, by definition a bad idea. Better to keep things simple.

Thursday night I threw a birthday party and he came. We got plastered and danced and he met my friends. It made me want, for a moment, to forget about buts and to just love him. And I have this picture now, that my sister took of us that I look at and think… What if? And that thought excites me and scares the crap out of me. But I think it’s healthy for me to allow myself to think it.

So I do.