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The Love Project

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

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parenting

Dog Days of Single Parenting

I wake up most days promising to be a better parent. To try harder to enjoy the moments that “go too fast.” To slow down to a child’s pace. And like it. To not notice the cancerous piles of laundry and sticky substances that glisten on every surface of my home. To just be.

There’s nothing harder. Most days I fail. Most days I am screaming inside my head while watching her play or tripping over her toys or fielding her requests to watch her do this thing that’s so incredible that I have to WATCH RIGHT NOW, MOMMY. Most days I want to be anywhere but frozen in time with my child. And on every one of those days I hate myself when I finally put my head on the pillow and run the reel of the day back through my mind and think of all the ways I could’ve slowed down a little, appreciated her a little, been a little less bitchy and anxious for her go to sleep. Or grow up. And I promise myself I’ll do better when I wake up tomorrow.

Summertime brings a unique opportunity to renew feelings of being a child. The warm breezes, smells of burning charcoal, and sounds of squealing children delighting in just being alive remind me of those perfect moments you can only feel when you’re a kid. Waterlogged and red-eyed from too many pool hours. Sunburned and starving after playing on the beach all day. Full on hot dogs and sugary drinks. Afternoon naps in front of box fans on full blast. A time when being suspended in life felt good.

And so yesterday I lathered up my munchkin and myself in sunscreen, threw a few towels in a bag, and headed down to the place where the ocean meets the river nearby. I decided to let go and have some fun. God damn it. And, by some small miracle, I did.

Throwing rocks, it turns out, is amazing.

And then this happened. It was so ridiculous and so cute that I forgot for just a moment how boring parenting can be. And I saw my daughter as someone with a sense of humor and a playful spirit. And I felt like a kid, too. (And also, what’s cuter than chihuahuas swimming in place? Besides, maybe, my sweet girl holding one.)

Our kids can be our greatest teachers, can’t they?

That night I went to bed feeling like the victor of a tiny but monumental battle. I had been in the moment with my daughter – and myself – if just for a moment.

P.S. This is my new favorite writer and blogger. She’s not new to the world, but she’s new to me. Bless her messed up life and her open heart and gorgeous writing. This post made me feel like I was perfect in my skin. Do yourself a favor and read it now: Don’t Carpe Diem.

XXOO

Abz

Why you should embrace the mess

My tiny kitchen was overflowing with snacks and ingredients for the week. Coronas and wine bottles clanged around the fridge as things were constantly moved to make more room. Bags of coffee and corn chips lined the back splash. The counter tops seem to be giving birth to little clusters of cookie crumbs. My beach house, which usually contains only myself and my daughter, housed four extra women for the week. The vibe of a kid-free vacation (for them anyway) bounced and buzzed around this place like a pack of happy little bees.

The place stayed a wreck, to be sure. Wet towels hung all over the place. Trash cans filled up quickly. Sunglasses and keys and smart phones dotted every surface. There is a natural tendency to want to create order where there is none. And there was simply no order to be had in a house of grown women eating, showering and peeing generally on the same schedules. But I sank into it willingly. I am someone who craves structure (eh, hem…control freak), but I experience a new world of joy when I truly let go and enjoy a moment. There is never a way or a reason to organize a moment. It’s just happening as it should. Always, always.

My girlfriends and I laughed and cried and ate and drank all week. We layed on the beach, we told stories around the fire, we complained about things out of our control, we expressed love and gratitude for each other’s friendship. And just like they blew in here with grocery bags and blow up mattresses, they packed it all up and left. It was quiet. I forced myself to clean up and do some laundry and return emails to shift my energy back to the regular old life I lead. It’s like any moment we experience, extended or brief, beautiful or excruciating. It will always pass. And we are left with whatever we gave that moment.

As a kid we used to visit my uncle’s family in New Jersey. A big Italian family, lots of eating and drinking (and eating and drinking). One night we sat down to a big family dinner of spaghetti and homemade meatballs. I carefully lifted a massive, marinara-soaked meatball out of the bowl with a spoon and promptly dropped it on the antique lace tablecloth. I watched it splatter and spew sauce like a body hitting pavement, and I froze in that moment and begged time to undo itself. My uncle’s father, an old man with strained voice like Brando in The Godfather, turned to me. I was sure I’d be sleeping with the fish that night. But he said: “If you didn’t drop any food on the tablecloth, you’d never know anyone ate here.”

I have never, ever, ever forgotten that. It comes back to me when my child colors on the cover of a favorite book of mine or lovingly puts stickers all over a piece of furniture. I’m reminded of it when my sweet boyfriend pulls beers from his beach bag and puts them in my fridge along with half the sand on the southern Cali coast. And I remembered it again this week as I wandered through the spaces that were left when my friends went away. I picked up wet towels, I wiped down surfaces, I cleaned five different colors of hair out of my shower drain.

I was blessed to know, to really know, that these were all signs of people I love having been here.

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.

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