What it’s Really Like to be a Single Parent

The other day I went to my doctor’s office for an appointment and was making small talk with the nurse. I told her about an upcoming solo vacation I was going on for a weekend, and the nurse asked me if I was taking my daughter. I told her no, she was with her dad that weekend.

“Oh,” she said. “So you can like get away and do things by yourself when she’s gone. Man, I wish I were divorced so I could get a break from my kids!”

🙆🏻‍♀️🤔😐

I thought of a couple sarcastic, semi humorous possible responses in my head, but chose not to verbally respond to her statement, knowing that it was probably more of a commentary of her sentiments about her own marriage and responsibilities, and less of a statement about divorce.

Because no one who has ever been divorced says stuff like that.

And what the nurse didn’t realize is what it’s REALLY like to be a single parent.

Preface: This is my perspective, based on a few different factors pertaining to my individual situation listed below.

    I am divorced and have my daughter alone about 75% of the time.
    For various reasons, I do not co-parent with her father. We have more of a “business relationship.”
    I do not have a partner in my home. It’s just me and my kid.

So in essence, I’m about to give you my take on single parenting from someone who is truly single parenting 75 % of the time to one child.

Here goes:

Single parenting is like living inside a computer that never turns off. There are many different tabs and programs open and only you can close them because you’re the one with the username and password and operating instructions. Oh, and the operating instructions are ones you have developed yourself based on your own experiences as a child except for you have to keep tweaking them as you realize your childhood and even your child is quite different than you. People may try to help you and sometimes you’re like oh my goodness, thank you for your help, YES, because your computer is so warmed up from running all the time, and you have all these different tabs open, like a tab for meals, clothing, homework, cleaning, extra curricular activities, one for trying to figure out tweens or toddlers, and not even mentioning the tabs for your own life.

In contrast, many homes with two involved parents have a computer they share. They exchange operating instructional notes. They both know how the computer works. And they can divide up the endless tabs and responsibilities. And sometimes one of them can say to the other, “I’m losing my patience with this kid we are trying to figure out. I need to walk away from the computer, so can you keep tabs on it while I go to the grocery store and get a mental break?”

But the single parent has to keep all the tabs open even when she or he wants a break. Any breaks taken from the computer are never, ever spontaneous. No one just randomly shows up at her door at the exact moment she needs a break. That doesn’t mean she or he never receives technical support to keep their computer up and running smoothly. But it does mean she is the only one responsible for running that computer. It is she who must make decisions and decide how to fix it most of the time.

It is the times when my child is most emotional that I feel the greatest responsibility of single parenting and running that computer. When she is devastated about a loss, or extremely excited or nervous about an upcoming event, or angry with me because she didn’t get her way, I feel her feelings and I hold space for her and I realize that THIS IS IT. I’m her emotional support and I have to be present. I have to help her process.

It is in those times that I sometimes literally fall to my knees and say, “Lord, lead me, because it’s just me and my heart leading this kid, and I don’t know what in the heck I’m doing. Give me wisdom and strength to bear this great responsibility.”

Here’s the thing, though: I cannot bear witness to the challenges of single parenting without bearing witnesses to the beauty in it.

I am no more proud of anything than I am of the work I do as a single parent. I am not doing it perfectly, but I am doing it. I know that there are times she wishes, as many children of divorced parents do, that her parents were not divorced. What she doesn’t know, and may never know, is that I fought very hard to save my marriage to the point that I had lost myself completely in another person.

However, I found myself as a mother when I had the freedom to be me. I found myself when my daughter was two years old, woke up vomiting in the middle of the night, and cried for me. I found myself when she was three years old and fell running at the pool and got a concussion, and I scooped her up off the ground and rushed her to the doctor. I found myself when I took her to a child psychologist at the age of four because I was so worried I had no idea what I was doing raising this strong willed, vibrant little girl. I found myself when she received straight As all year long and won an award, and I was the sole person there to support her. I found myself when she got in big trouble in first grade for throwing her shoe over the fence during recess and she went the rest of the school day wearing one shoe.

In a million and one ways, I FOUND myself due to parenting my daughter alone.

And while I do not wish the challenges that come with divorce or single parenting on anyone, I am grateful for the million and one ways that the experience of single parenting has forced me to find myself.

With great responsibility, also comes a great reward, if you are simply willing to find yourself in the midst of the hard stuff.

One decade ago today

One decade ago, I was lying in a hospital bed in great physical discomfort as I was birthing my daughter.

This day is sacred to me unlike no other. My child’s birth was my rebirth. For this reason, her birthday is even more special to me than my own. She woke me up to the possibility of a new life and a new way of being.

She ignited a fire in my heart that I followed: a fire which burned through

injustice,

darkness,

and fear.

I took the ashes from this fire and buried them. I built walls to prevent me from veering off the path. I knew the new pathway I was creating required a significant commitment to growth, courage, and love–both for myself and for my child. I knew it was going to be hard, but that the reward would be great.

I am not being dramatic when I say Aliana saved my life. That statement is both a beautiful and ugly truth for me. It’s beautiful because it was because of my love for her that I took responsibility for my life. It is ugly because no child should have to enter the world, bearing a burden of such consequence.

The world of domestic violence is a dark one. People who live in it experience warped realities and emotional and physical trauma. There were three things that saved me: my love for my daughter, getting professional help, and about two people who knew my story and never gave up on me. Those two people told me everyday that I was strong and smart and that they believed in my capacity to do hard things. They reminded me of who I was when I forgot.

But if I hadn’t had that trifecta–I may not have left.

I feel that I am one of the lucky ones. Some people live their whole lives in an abusive relationship. Some get out, but they never heal or understand how they got there in the first place. They continue to repeat the patterns or form new addictions.

When you decide to take the pathway to healing, you will discover that it is simultaneously incredible and also brutal. You must be willing to be ripped open and dissected and put back together. Not everyone is willing. But I do believe everyone is able if they allow it to happen.

But they must really allow it to happen. All the beauty and all the terror– to allow it to wash over them, as Rilke says.

Today, people sometimes write to me and ask me for advice about how to help a friend or family member who is experiencing abuse and what I usually tell them is this:

  • Listen
  • Affirm their feelings
  • Accept their decisions
  • Set boundaries when necessary
  • Encourage the victim to get professional help
  • Acknowledge that leaving is very hard but it is the only way their children will know the love of a parent who has the capacity to love with her whole heart.

I am not a therapist nor do I know if the advice I just gave is the best or not. But I do know that conquering an abusive relationship is similar to conquering an addiction. That’s because all these crazy neural pathways are formed in your brain during trauma bonding. Research it. It’s a real thing. Stockholm Syndrome and stuff.

But if you actually DO it–if one actually leaves the abuse, the amazing thing is how quickly one can heal when you

  • Take responsibility for showing up in your life
  • Allow justice to be served by setting boundaries like you’ve never known before.

I am so lucky. I am so grateful. I will never ever EVER stop feeling grateful for my trifecta: my daughter, the professional help I received, and my two people who believed in me nearly a decade ago.

But it all started with my daughter. With me looking into her eyes and me saying to her, “I don’t want you to live like this.”

Beauty and truth. It’s what’s being served in our home, one decade later.

I love you, Aliana.

For the People Who Care the Maximum Amount

This one is for the people who care the maximum amount. Those of us who care about others, what others are thinking, if we offended others, suffer from social anxiety, perfectionists in our relationships, etc. If the aforementioned describes you, lend me your ears.

Many years ago, an incident happened with a friend, that I felt was a betrayal. Others perceived it as a miscommunication. I wanted to give the person the benefit of the doubt, so I communicated to her that a boundary had been crossed in our relationship, and I then restated my boundary (which happened to involve my child).

My friend said, “No problem, I understand. This will not happen again.” So, I carried on in the friendship until, one day, she became very angry with me about the boundary I had expressed and it was stated to me by both her and members of her family, that my boundary was unrealistic.

I spent a night agonizing over this. Was it unrealistic? Was I wrong? Was I… being stubborn 😳?

You see, I had spent most of my life, believing that people who could not come to an agreement on things were exhibiting pride and/or were operating purely from their egos. I didn’t want to be a person who was so caught up in “my beliefs” that I couldn’t compromise.

Until one night I was talking to my friend Melanie about this incident, and she said something profound:

“This is one situation where you can’t budge. It’s beneath your dignity to do so.”

“Dignity?? Like, what does that even mean??” I asked her. (I mean, I knew the word “dignity,” but its meaning felt so foreign to me in this context that I needed to hear an explanation.)

“You know… dignity. Like, you’re worthy of respect.”

“Dignity. Okay. My dignity,” I slowly said, taking it all in.

Within that particular moment, what I was beginning to realize was this: my boundary that had been violated was an extension of my values. So I just couldn’t bend–or I would break and be compromising WHO I was. I would be compromising my self worth–what I value, who I am, and my dignity.

And here’s the thing–for some people, this wouldn’t have been a big deal. But for me, it was. Because I’m wired to care THE MAXIMUM AMOUNT about my relationships. Like, on a continuum of caring about other people, where zero is literally “IDGAF” (don’t google that, Mom) and ten is “I really want people to be happy with me and not hurt their feelings,” I’m pretty much a 12. While saying no to others may come easily to some, it does NOT come easily to me.

And this situation was a hard one. I ended up disappointing a lot of people: people who I loved and people who my child loved. I had to take time to grieve the loss and work through this betrayal.

But the one person I didn’t end up disappointing was myself. I had not betrayed my values. I had spoken from my heart, and from a place of truth. This was not pride–it was dignity. And dignity is the very ONE THING we cannot compromise. Our lives will never be easy, but we can at least know we are living in integrity when we speak and respect our values through our decision making.

I’m talking to YOU–the one who cares the maximum amount. Don’t forget to care about yourself.

Photo: My friend, Melanie, who has been teaching me about dignity since the third grade.

Happy Re-Birth Day to Me


9 years ago today, after laboring for 30+ hours, my daughter, Aliana, was born via Caesarian section at 7:50 am. After experiencing what my OB-GYN proclaimed to be a freakishly challenging pregnancy, that included sciatica, kidney stones, preterm labor, and gestational diabetes, it was mind-blowing to me that a human this extraordinarily healthy had actually been percolating inside of me for nine months.

On this day, June 15, 2008, I was 32 years old, yet I was just a shell of a person.  I had no personality, no likes or dislikes, and no idea how I had gotten myself into the mess of an abusive marriage.

And now I had this tiny, gorgeous human with a full head of curly black hair, that was staring at me with the deepest coffee colored eyes I had ever seen.  And somehow, those eyes were the only thing that ever could break me of my numbness.  You see, I could no longer disassociate from my life, because that would mean I was disassociating from MY OWN CHILD. 

In the intensity of her gaze, I imagined she was saying to me, “I am here.  I am LIGHT.”

Her existence broke me into a million pieces so that I would be somehow be forced to make a plan to put myself together again, because her eyes–HER LIGHT–showed me that she needed a mama who was whole, and that mama had to be me.

One day, I was giving her a bottle when her father entered the room.   I don’t remember what I had said that upset him so much, but he spat on me.  His spit ran down my face and dripped onto my shirt.  I didn’t react, as I knew that would make it worse, but Aliana did. She screamed at the top of her lungs and she no longer wanted the bottle.  Her screams and her terror reminded me of my own terror–reminded me that I needed to finally be terrified in order to be her mother. My heart of darkness slowly began to crack, and I allowed her light to seep into me.

Her birth was my rebirth, so in many ways, this day, June 15, is sacred to me and forever will be. It is a day that I was also born, as this baby was the one who brought me back to life.

Sometimes people say to me, it’s unfortunate that you and your ex husband conceived a child together, because that means you have to still communicate and can’t be completely unattached. What people who make these comments don’t understand is that if I hadn’t had my daughter, I might still be living in that marriage. Aliana’s existence propelled me into a completely new level of life, because I finally loved a person so much that I didn’t want her to live the way I had been living.  The love I couldn’t feel for myself, I could feel for her. 

Something deep inside of me knew that I could never be the mother she needed unless I could fully be myself, and the journey to self discovery started with her birth. 

Changing lives is serious business, and this girl wasn’t even planning on getting into that business; the universe simply deemed it so.

And for that I will always be thankful. Happy birthday, Aliana. 

Child of God

On Tuesday, I drove up to Kokomo to be with my dad at his doctor’s appointment. On the way there, I stopped to grab some coffee. 

I went inside the coffee shop and ordered. As I was waiting for my organic, almond milk, local pumpkin “spiced” latte, (I know, I’m annoying), I sat down on a couch and peered out the window. 

Outside there was a child with a beautiful round face playing with legos at a table while a woman (presumably the child’s  mother) chatted with a few of her friends. 

The child came up to the window and waved at me through the glass. I waved back, smiling, and wondered what gender the child was. It was hard for me to discern, and I found myself wanting to know. 

And then I sighed. And just sat there, mesmerized by this child’s smile, until I heard the barista say, “Order for Emily!”

And as I walked away, I suddenly snapped out of my wondering. I am not sure why. Maybe it was just the emotional state I was in. I was trying to go into the doctor’s appointment with an open heart, trusting what was about to happen, despite my fear.  And so I heard a voice inside me say, “You don’t really need to know everything, Emily. Don’t put that beautiful child in a box. Separate yourself from this world of boxes and labels.”

And I began to think about my own baby, who is really not a baby anymore, but a vibrant 8 year old. As I’ve mentioned in this blog before, when people ask her, “What are you mixed with?” I feel weird and awkward and like some boundary has been crossed. I am still stunned when strangers and acquaintances ask that question so effortlessly. It slides of their tongues like smooth butter. 

“What is she mixed with?”

“What is she?” 

“Are you her mom? What is her dad?”

It’s a label–a category–that people want. And it bugs me. Perhaps I’m overly sensitive. Or perhaps I’m not. 

But here I was with this beautiful child, in the coffee shop, wanting the same. I wanted a label. A box. A category. Male or female? I’m embarrassed to admit that my psyche may have wanted to know, so that it could structure my interactions with this child based upon knowledge of his or her gender. 

And that is NOT someone I want to be. 

I suppose my brain knows that deep down–which is why it started talking to me about boxes and labels. The child is a child is a child. The child has his or her own identity which is being shaped and formed and I have no business being involved in that process. 

One of my favorite authors, Glennon Doyle Melton, (who recently divorced her husband) announced that she’s in love with another female, who happens to be badass soccer player, Abby Wambach. Everyone is suddenly like, “Is Glennon gay? Is she bisexual? What IS she?”

And there’s something about those questions that I find unnverving. It’s like, we humans are so obsessed with checking boxes. These are some of the common boxes we like to check: 

  • Gender 
  • Race
  • Sexuality

And there’s a lot more. But those above are the three biggies. And there’s a reason for that–people treat you differently based upon their associations and/or unsettling beliefs they associate with those labels. 

There are people in this world who are very uncomfortable without labels; these are the people who can’t stand not knowing what “categories” others fall into. They find comfort in categories and do not like ambiguity. 

And yet, if there’s one thing to be certain of in life, it is that our lives WILL be filled with ambiguity. We are not omniscient nor were we designed to be.

And so I was thinking about ALL the things I just said (I’ve a busy brain) as I entered my dad’s doctor appointment with his neurologist. And as the neurologist gave me his diagnosis, “Your dad is in the beginning to moderate stages of Alzheimer’s disease,” I made a conscious decision right then and there to not let this diagnositic label DEFINE him. 

I saw my dad’s face, as the neurologist told him that the disease is not curable. He was unable to make eye contact with the doctor. He was somber. He did not ask questions. So I did. 

“What does this mean?” I asked. 

“It means he needs to start this medication I’m prescribing as soon as possible to prolong the quality of his life,” the doctor said. 

He went on to explain that with this medication, we are buying at least 8-11 more years of a life that is true to him. 

When I looked over at my dad, I thought I would cry, but instead I just felt overwhelming love and compassion for him. I looked him square in the eyes when we left and told him that this is a condition… but it’s not WHO he is. 

We cannot let these labels–these boxes, these words–DEFINE each other. They are cages. You know what my most important identity is? Child of God. That’s it. Because I’ve had important labels taken away from me–wife, niece, granddaughter, and friend. And yet, I’ve gone on living. 

People build walls in the name of labels; when what we REALLY need is proximity. 

As for me, I am going to do my best to fall in love with the ambiguity, while  decreasing the distance between myself and those different from me. 

And I’m going to keep reminding my dad of his most important identity: child of God. I love you, dad. 

Let’s Talk about Sex

At 6:45 am during my morning commute, I am awake, but not like, REALLY awake. You see, I’m a crockpot, not a microwave. I heat up sloooowly, getting warmer by the hour. Therefore, I was not prepared for the bomb of a conversation my child wanted to have with me this very morning at 6:45 am in the car.

“Do you know what the word ‘climax’ means–like, the climax in a story?” she suddenly asked me.

 “Yes,” I said, (insert thoughtful pause) “Are you studying that in school?”

“Yeah, and I was, like, looking it up on Merriam Webster’s Dictionary online for the definition. Well, the first two definitions were normal. Like they were talking about stories…”

I was starting to get anxious at that moment. I’m not even Catholic, but I wanted to say Hail Marys.  I prayed in my mind, “Please, please, do not let my child go there. I’m so not ready to talk about this topic before 7:00 am. Please make her stop!”

But my child did not stop talking. Her eight year old brain was, in fact, churning.

“But the third definition,” she said, “was like, talking about sex.”

“Oh my. Oh my goodness. Oh dear…Did you show your teacher?”

“No! I just wrote down the first definition and got out of there fast.”

“Okay, well… I can see why that would have been shocking. You just, um….” (holy crap, I’m totally struggling for words here), “you just sometimes have to be careful with the internet.”

That response did not appease her. 

“So, like…what IS sex? I mean I know it’s a private word, but what it is it?” she inquired. 

“I am not exactly prepared to have this conversation at 6:45 in the morning on the way to school. Can we talk about it later?” I asked, feeling like I needed time to plan out what I was going to say. 

“Okay,” she said. 

But then, some weird voice intruded in my head. It was the voice that told my fears to shut up. It’s like, my authentic voice–the one that actually doesn’t respond in fear, but approaches situations from a place of love. And I was like, “Seriously, voice? After you just avoided that conversation, now you want me to be courageous? You are SO stupid, voice!”

And that internal voice said this:  “Emily, there is no perfect time to have this conversation. It is a gift that she’s asking YOU, her mom, instead of someone else. GO there. Be grateful for this moment.  Answer the hard questions the best you can.”

Stupid voice. 

“Actually, Aliana, that’s a good question you asked, and we should talk about it now,” I suddenly said. 

“Okay?” she said, now starting to get confused by my change of heart. 

“So sex is something that a woman and man do that creates babies… or I mean, that can create babies,” I stuttered.

“So, I am sex?” she asked.

“NO! I didn’t explain that right… um, sex is like something a man and a woman who love each other can do together to make a baby,” I said, through my not fully awake brain. 

“Okay,” she said. “Oh, did I tell you about the trip my friend went on?”

And just like that, she changed the subject. And I kind of, like, thought about going back to the sex thing, but then I remembered that when we went to the child psychologist, she told me to follow my child’s lead in discussions of this nature, and just answer the questions they ask.

And that was it. Apparently I CAN have awkward and hard conversations at 6:45 am. And if I can, we all can. AND, I know I’m going to have to talk about this again with her, which literally makes me want to crawl out of my skin, but I think what this means is that I SIMPLY HAVEN’T FIGURED OUT YET what it is that I want her to know and understand about sex–what it means and what it doesn’t mean. What intimacy is, and what it isn’t. 

And maybe that’s because I’m still figuring this all out FOR MYSELF. Sex is a topic that people have VERY strong opinions about, and I’m even nervous as I’m sitting here typing this out to you. 😳🙄😳 When I was growing up, I found out through the grapevine that sex was when a penis went in a vagina, and OMG that was just so BIZARRE to wrap my brain around,  and THEN I was told just to “never do it until my wedding,” and wasn’t really told why. 

I am starting to see that I sort of learned things in reverse. Like, I got married and had a child, and THEN I learned about sex. And that’s all I’m going to perhaps say about it now, as the rest of my thoughts on that will be in my future memoir (hehehe), but WOW, you guys. Just wow. I actually got through that conversation!!  Like I tell my students, “We can do hard things.” ❤️ I can. You can. We can. 

Dr. Willis 

Six years ago, I found myself walking into the Julian Center, an organization that helps victims of domestic violence, and asking for help. 

“I need to talk to someone,” I said, in a shaky voice, while trying to calm my cranky 18 month old toddler. 

The girl behind the desk told me that there was a 12 week long women’s support group that met every Monday night and was led by a therapist named Dr. (I can’t say her name, so let’s just call her the name I’m about to say) Willis.

I had no idea what was about to happen. All I knew was that I needed to put one foot in front of the other and just show up.

But first, I had to meet one on one with Dr. Willis, so that she could listen to my story and become familiar with me. 

I sat in a chair across from her in her tiny, dimly lit office. Dr. Willis was tall, exquisitely beautiful, soft spoken, and serious. 

She asked me a series of questions, all of which I answered through blubbering tears, while the doctor maintained her serious, yet concerned, composure. 

“I think you will be a good fit for this group,” she said. “I need to tell you that this is a women’s empowerment group. I’m all about tapping into your strengths and helping you build each other up. This group contains women of various economic backgrounds, races, and IQs. Everyone is very different, but you all are here for the same reason–to become empowered.”

I showed up to every single one of those 12 week sessions. Dr. Willis gave us homework every week, and I diligently did it. I was hungry for the knowledge she was feeding me.  

After one of our sessions, I asked Dr. Willis for advice about a book to read. I named off about three books I had researched, and she listened.

“Emily,” she said, in her always composed, calm voice, “I want you to stop reading books for the time being.”

“What the freaking heck?” I said in my head, as I would never have dreamed of contradicting Dr. Willis out loud. “Stop reading books? Seriously? Books? Books are my fountain of knowledge, my support system, my–”

Dr. Willis interrupted my internal monologue. 

“Those books are good that you named. However, I think it’s time you started to look within. You have all the knowledge you need in you to get through this. Allow yourself to trust yourself. You don’t need more evidence or research. Your feelings and your truth are enough to be your guide.”
I swear my jaw was hanging open. This was a first. No one had ever forbidden me from reading a book. 

But this amazing thing happened, you see. I started to recognize that my feelings and intuition and gut mattered. I mattered. I was almost even beginning to show signs of trusting myself. I trusted God first, but believed in the signs shown to me, and that my knowledge was valuable. 

And now…I have a confession tonight. 

I’m writing this story because I need to hear it again myself. Sometimes I forget that I have the capacity to be courageous. I forget that same woman with a quivering lip and a cranky toddler who finally asked for help WAS ME. 

And sometimes I forget that I have this built in superpower called intuition and self knowledge. I have it, and so do you. 

Occasionally I will find myself scrolling mindlessly through my phone, looking for information on God knows what. You should see the weird sh*t I’ve googled–things like, “Did I screw up my child because I let her watch television for eight hours straight while I was cleaning the house?” Or, “How do I know if he’s cheating on me?” Or “What happens if my cat eats her own barf?”
Seriously. 

If you are looking hard for information about how much you have screwed up your life, I guarantee you that you will find it. And you will find it everywhere

This week, I’m challenging myself to stop the mindless scrolling and looking for articles on silly sites like buzzfeed or elitedaily for answers to my life. Let me tell you, it is a BAD habit I’ve formed that needs to be broken. Because 25 year old writer from elite daily named Jenny has no idea how to live my life.

A friend of mine reminded me today, “There is no blueprint for life.” So, on that note, I’m reminding myself to just show up, do me, work hard, and pray–not in desperation–but in thanks. Because I’m thankful that God has given me and you everything we need to get through this messy and beautiful life. 

  
A photo of my cranky toddler, 6 years ago, about the time that I decided that I was more courageous than I thought.

 

I’m So Excited about Florida!

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to do something I seldom do. I decided to buy two plane tickets to Florida for my daughter and me. 

You see, here’s the thing: I hate making big purchases. And even though I preach to my friends about the importance of living in the moment and traveling to see the world, etc., the reality is that I am a single mom living on a teacher’s salary, and any traveling I do must be carefully planned out.

So, I had this “travel money” fund saved up for awhile. At first I was gonna go to Vegas, but that suddenly felt dumb, since I’m not really a Vegas girl. Then, I thought I would go to San Diego by myself on a weekend I didn’t have my daughter, just because I’ve been obsessed with wanting to go there, and I felt like I was getting signs from the universe that I was supposed to go there by myself and explore, and yada yada yada, BUT…anywho, every time I was on the verge of purchasing a plane ticket to go there, I suddenly got interrupted by something–my daughter calling for me, a sudden realization that I needed to make dinner, or just a myriad of random interruptions, and the ticket NEVER got purchased. It was like the universe suddenly said, “No. Not now. San Diego is later.”

And then, one day my daughter came over to me with a piece of red construction paper. On the construction paper she had made a list. It said, “Places with an ocean I want to visit.”

Number one on the list was Florida. Next to Florida were the words, “in October.”

You see, my daughter makes plans to live even when I forget to. 

At first, I told her the list was very nice and said something non-commital, like “That’s cool. We shall see what the future holds,” in my mature, parentish voice.

She explained to me that she really just “wanted to see the ocean like we did in Hawaii.”

Time went on, and I subconsciously mulled  it over. Aliana put the list away, and we didn’t talk about it. 

Until one Saturday when she wasn’t around, I just thought about being in the ocean, and what a wonderful thing it is to  breathe in the air from the waves. And I have always felt there was something magical about water, because water washes over you and just makes you feel new. 

So, I booked the plane tickets for two and a hotel on the beach. And now we are going. It’s only for three days, but it’s the OCEAN. My daughter and I are going to just BE in the ocean. We want to swim and breathe in the smell of the water and feel the sand under our feet and find rocks and shells and marvel at whatever we find marvelous. 

I’m working hard to remember how important it is to live while living within my means. We must live and make plans to live. Do you know how happy I have felt during the last couple of weeks, when I paused from the rapid pace of life to anticipate this trip? Anticipation is half the fun. 

I was actually getting giddy over this trip with Aliana to the point that it was annoying her. I would be tucking her in to bed at night, and saying, “Oh my gosh, I’m so excited about Florida!! We’re going to Florida!!” and she would look at me and say, in her I’m-pretending-I’m-a- teenager-for-this-moment-voice, “Yeah mom, I know. You keep saying that all the time.”

The day has come. And I’m so excited about Florida. Like, totally. Like, “Oh my gosh, I’m going to Florida and I’m going to swim in the ocean and frolic in the waves and I can’t believe I just said frolic since I’ve never used that word in my life, but I’m so excited about Florida!”

  

Just do a Cartwheel 

Aliana: Mommy, I’m going to ask you something, and you can’t say no. You have to say you’ll at least try.

Me: I can’t promise an answer to a question I don’t know. 

Aliana: Pleeeease!!! Just say you’ll try! 

Me (exasperated): Okay, okay, what is it?

Aliana: Will you try to do a cartwheel? Just once? It’s okay if you can’t do it; but will you try?

Aliana is obsessed with cartwheels. She learned to do one in gymnastics not long ago, and she won’t stop doing them. She does cartwheels everywhere–after school in the hallways, in the mall when we are shopping, in the yard, in the living room, and even in the grocery store.

Last Sunday, my friend and I were walking down Mass Ave (a street downtown), and were deep in a conversation about how hard life can be, when suddenly Aliana, who was probably tired of listening to us adults talk, started doing cartwheels. On the sidewalk. In downtown Indy. 

And of course, my first reaction is, “What are you doing? Why are you doing a cartwheel right on the concrete?  You’re going to bump into people!

The pedestrians started moving to the side to make way for her cartwheels. They didn’t seem to mind. 

Aliana said, “Sometimes I just feel like doing a cartwheel, mom!”

So when she asked me to try a cartwheel the other evening, I was thinking, “Sweet Jesus, you have got to be kidding me.” I’m 38–about to turn 39. I’m not as spritely as I used to be. It has probably been over twenty years since I did a cartwheel. 

I looked down at the hardwood floor of our living room, and kept thinking, OMG, it looks so far down. I admittedly felt panicky, despite the fact that I’m only five feet, three inches. 

I was anxious. I wasn’t sure if my body could intuit what to do. And I always sucked at gymnastics as a child. And I thought my arms may not be strong enough. 

But I did it anyways. In fact I did several.  They were not very good cartwheels, but I did them. And my child pretended to be a British sports broadcaster, while videotaping a play by play of my cartwheels. 

Suddenly, I couldn’t stop laughing. It was so ridiculously fun to do these damn cartwheels. It’s like my body and my mind needed those cartwheels. I exercise and lift weights on a somewhat frequent basis, but I wasn’t used to moving my body this way. And I needed to. I needed to do something different. 

It reminded me, in general, that when things in life aren’t feeling good, I need to  do something different. Sometimes I have to trick my feelings by changing my actions. When I feel like lying in bed and not getting up even though the big, bright sun is shining, I must get up. When I’m feeling down, and my child is asking me to get in the pool and play with her, I must do that, even though I feel like just sitting on the side of the pool, getting a tan. When I keep dating the same man in different clothing, I must stop dating and just be alone. When I am tired of the same old bullsh*t story, I need to change it. 

When life knocks you down, do a cartwheel. Or a somersault. Or a headstand. You don’t have to do it well, you just have to try. 

Hey, Guys! I Made you Something!

Hi everyone. I just used an app on my seven year old daughter’s IPod, and I made this picture for you:  

 
Do you like it? I do, and apparently I’m seven years old, because I really enjoyed making it. I even wrote my name in the corner just because I kind of want to look like her. She’s sparkly and beautiful and colorful, and in this moment, I’m none of those things. So, I kind of, like, really want to be her. Actually, let’s just say I am her. I mean–that’s me. Do you like my self portrait?

And then I found an app on her phone where I can dress up a cat and make it wear a tiara. I don’t know why I did this. It just seemed like the logical next step after painting my self portrait. 

 

And then I discovered a nail painting app. But I could only paint three nails unless I was willing to pay $9.99 to “unlock the app.” I was trying to justify $10, for two nails, but I just couldn’t.   

So that’s kind of what I just spent the last hour on after my daughter went to bed. I guess you could say I’m stressed and not able to sleep so I’m distracting myself. 

I wasted time. It was silly. It was goofy. But I made something. I’m finding that sometimes I need to give myself permission to create. Even if it is dumb on the outside. It’s still energy. It’s still creativity. It’s still movement. 

And I think we all could use a little of that: energy, creativity, forward movement.