The Love Project

Learning how to love myself. One huge mistake at a time.



My mother, my daughter

I saw it in her face. It was the first time I saw that look, but it was as familiar to me as the sound of my own voice. She felt unloved, irrelevant, afraid that she didn’t matter to me. It was twisting up behind her eyes as they filled with tears. I asked her what was wrong and she tried to say something, but it caught in her throat. She choked on the words. She’s learning to swallow her pain, hold it back, keep it to herself because she won’t get what she needs if she asks for it. It was the first time I truly saw myself in my daughter.

I’m trying to figure out how to be a single-parent. I’ve been doing it for almost a year, but it still feels entirely new and I feel like a constant failure. (To be honest, I felt like this a lot when I wasn’t a single-parent, but now there just seems to be more weight on my short-comings.) I’ve had a boyfriend for the last six months, and it’s been tough to integrate him into my life with her. Not because of him. He’s a dad to three boys and incredibly easy-going and understanding. He’s a better parent than I am in his ability to be present with his kids.

What’s tough is watching her react to me with him. We aren’t overly affectionate in front of her, though we do kiss a little and hug. He never spends the night with her here (he barely spends the night when she’s not here, but that’s because I have deeply rooted intimacy issues, which I’ll tackle in another post). She talks about her dad a lot to him and clamors for my attention more, inserting herself right between us. She climbs in my lap when we’re eating, insists on sitting between us on the couch, and interrupts us constantly. Usually to talk about her dad.

It’s always an awkward dance between the three of us, and one that leaves me feeling drained and guilt-ridden. But this week things got raw. She pushed harder to get between us, which made me push back. She woke up in the middle of the night, climbed into bed with me and touched and poked me all night. I was so fed up with being harassed, I got in her bed to sleep. She just followed me into her room. By the end of the week, I was screaming at her in the kitchen at 6:00 AM because she wouldn’t fucking leave me alone. Every time I turn around, she’s there. I was feeling insane from exhaustion (emotional and physical) and trapped in this hell of just wanting a little something for myself and have that be ok with this little person who I have given everything to. Including staying in a marriage with her dad years beyond its expiration date.

What I saw in her face this week shook me to my core. It was me. It was 5-year-old me in my mother’s way as she was trying to find some freedom from the oppression of being a single mom. I can still taste that realization that I was an immovable obstacle to her happiness. By the time I was my daughter’s age, I knew so many things I shouldn’t have known. I knew I was a burden. I knew I was unsafe. I saw that creeping across her teary eyes this week when she kept pushing to get closer to me, looking for some spaces in me that still belonged to her. In that moment, I was both my mom and my daughter. I lived and relived all of that in the time it took me to wipe the tears off her cheek.

I saw my guru this week. (She’s trained as an energy psychologist, but she is also an intuitive who provides spiritual guidance, as well as practical advice for how to deal with this human condition. She has changed my life.) She told me that I was, in fact, avoiding spending focused time with my daughter because that’s what I had learned as a child. Somehow I already knew that, but when she told me, I came undone. She explained that’s why she is pushing back so hard, getting into bed with me, sitting between me and the boyfriend on the sofa. She gave me a plan of action, which includes regimented time with her at set times of the day (15 minutes right after day camp and a hour of play before dinner, bath, bed), as well as scheduled time that we are doing our own thing separately from each other.

Having time to yourself as a single-parent with one child, in particular, is a coveted experience, one we might cling to desperately and protect fiercely as the pressures of our obligations squeeze us. But my guru explained, and it’s really common sense, that kids can and should learn to play alone and respect boundaries. This is what will allow them to create their own as adults. And if she’s got all of me for designated times every day, she’ll be able to feel safety and comfort in her moments of scheduled solitude. And so will I.

I know there’s no formula for success with this stuff. Single-parent or otherwise. I felt grateful for having some guidance this week when I was experiencing so much pain about it. I think creating a plan is the best we can do and all we should expect for ourselves. And then we make mistakes and modify. And we can forgive ourselves. And our parents.

Wiggle Your Big Toe

Kill Bill is my favorite movie.  Followed closely by Kill Bill 2.  I’m not a Tarantino fan though.  I thought Pulp Fiction was kind of sophomoric and Reservoir Dogs was gratuitous.  But Kill Bill blew my mind and spoke to parts of me I didn’t even know I had.  I wasn’t a mom at the time, but something spoke to that yet-to-be-awakened primal caretaker beast that us females have growling quietly beneath our surface.  The inspiration to be that kind of single-minded, purposeful, unstoppable warrior has never left me.

That is not to say I have actually been a warrior in my life, I just continue to be inspired to be one.  Which is just code for saying I am scared and probably a little lazy and the path of a warrior would require energy and resolve – and right now I am super short on both of those things.  My husband of 14 years and I recently separated and I’m living in a new town with my daughter.  (He lives nearby because we decided neither of us could be far from her, though he and I have been on different planets for most, if not all, of our relationship.)  I feel raw and strange and empty and excited.  I make really, really bad decisions sometimes about how to handle the newness of this separation and the total quiet of my life when my kid is with him.  It is really, really, really quiet when she’s gone.  Sometimes I smoke and drink and trash my body with junk food and I feel like there’s no end to the poison dump I’ll endure just to not feel a morsel of space in me.  Sometimes I run on the beach and enjoy a good sweat and drink cucumber juice and cry in my kitchen freely.  Sometimes I look in the mirror and have no idea who is staring back.  Other times I look in the mirror and think she and I can take baby steps and fall and get up and take baby steps again.

I was pondering Kill Bill recently, thinking about the bad ass moments where she destroys bad guys under impossible circumstances.  And then I remembered the scene that was the most dramatic to me, the one that has stuck with me over all the others and one that means the most to me now.  When she wakes from her coma and drags herself to a car, still unable to use her lower half from being bed ridden for so long, she climbs in the back seat and stares at her feet.  She reflects on the awful things that have been done to her, what she’s going to do to the awful people who did them and the grand way in which she’s going to do it.  She looks at her legs, which are not working, and starts talking to her feet.  She channels all her energy into getting her muscles to work because without that basic step, without that happening first, she will be powerless to seek revenge.

“However,” she says, as she’s thinking of the retribution to come, “before satisfaction can be mine, first things first…wiggle your big toe.”  The screen shows her feet not moving, followed by her repeating the command.  Finally, her big toe moves and she smiles. “Hard part’s over,” she says.

Hard part’s over.  That is how I feel about making the decision to separate, making the decision to write this first blog post, making the decision not to smoke today.  They aren’t glamorous motions, not broad strokes or powerful gestures.  They are small steps, but those are perhaps the most important ones because they are the hardest.  They are quiet moments that no one sees, the struggle that is anonymous but monumental.  Uma Thurman in the back of a van talking to her feet. The pain that is small enough to fit right behind your eyes and in your chest, but large enough to swallow your world.

My notion of a warrior now is someone who understands that before they can slaughter hundreds of bad guys with a big sword, they must first wiggle their big toe.  I still don’t see myself as a warrior and perhaps it’s better if I don’t.  That way I will continue to strive to be one.  Anything that first puts us on the path is the most righteous gesture of all.

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