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.

Should I Stay for the Kids?

When a couple is in a committed relationship, and one of them is contemplating leaving, he or she may ask him or herself questions such as, “Is this bad enough for me to leave or good enough for me to stay?” However, when that same couple is in a committed relationship with children, there is a much more disconcerting thought that may enter his or her mind: “What would leaving do to my children?”

I am 41 years old.  I am divorced.  I am clearly not a psychologist or a relationship expert.  I am not going to furl data or research at you.  However, I have had the privilege of witnessing profound personal growth in people who were willing to dig deeper into the layers of this aforementioned question:  What would leaving my children’s father or mother do to my children?

When I hear people ask this question, I also hear the following underlying/interconnected  questions:

  • What would it do to me to see my children suffer through this pain?
  • What would it mean for my children to come from a broken home?
  • What will happen to me as I explain this to other people?
  • What will people think of me for leaving a marriage or partnership that doesn’t look “that bad?”
  • Shouldn’t I be able to tolerate it, at least until the children get older, so that I can give them a “stable” home life?

These are really hard questions that I am sure many a therapist has heard in their offices. These are questions that have been written into journals and secretly tucked under people’s mattresses where no one else can find them.  These are questions that are whispered in quiet corridors where lovers meet to have affairs that feel more comfortable to them than leaving the status quo.  These are questions that people ask themselves as they drink a bottle of wine every night in order to go to sleep, because numbing out is easier than answering these questions.

While I️ don’t know the answers to these specific underlying questions, what I️ do know is this: OUR CHILDREN NEED US, NOW MORE THAN EVER BEFORE.  And when I say “need us,” I mean need US–the real, most true version of ourselves.  If we are in a relationship that does not offer us the opportunity to be the most REAL and TRUE version of ourselves, then staying in that relationship CANNOT be what’s best for our children.

When a mother walks into her home, and feels like she can’t be herself, that has a negative effect on the little people in her home.  When a girl looks into her daddy’s eyes and sees a person who does not love himself, that actually has a negative impact on that little girl’s mental health. When anyone walks into his or her own home, feeling broken-hearted because love doesn’t live in his or her marriage, his or her children will FEEL the effects of this sadness.

I know kids.  When I come to school to teach, and I seem frazzled for whatever reason, one of these insightful little people will come up to me and say, “Have you had your coffee yet?” BECAUSE THEY KNOW THINGS.  I don’t really wear makeup much anymore to work, but the first day I stopped wearing it, a five year old asked me the minute I stepped into the building, “What happened to you and where did your pretty eyes go?”

These are children–some of the most curiously perceptive people on our planet.  They FEEL things in the air and see between the lines.  They know when we are trying to distract ourselves from our lives in order to avoid living it.  And they definitely know when we don’t love ourselves.

They can also sense when our lives are unfulfilled.  They can feel when there is an emptiness in our hearts.  Our children know when we are pretending, and if we continue to show them that pretending is okay, they will begin to start pretending and stuffing their feelings down, too.

And one of my mantras for this year has been: there is no power in pretending.  We do not want our children to believe it is okay to behave like someone they are not. When we push down who we are and what we want, in order to avoid causing other people to experience pain, we aren’t actually LIVING, and are in fact, BETRAYING our truest, highest selves.

We must start to understand that there is a way of being that is authentic. And in this space of authentic living, we will find that what is good and true and right for us (and I got this line from Glennon Doyle, because she’s a genius) is going to be what is good and true and right for “our people.” And our people include, but are not limited to, our children. Now, this does not mean our children will not suffer pain. Divorce is painful. Painnnnnnnful. Heartbreaking, in fact, for adults, children, and members of the extended family. But–and I️ cannot ask this question enough-is it our job to protect our children from ever experiencing pain and heartbreak? Is that truly what being a parent means? Or, does being a parent mean to hold our child’s hand and show them how to be their truest selves, even when it’s hard and not popular or right?

Could it mean that we are actually doing our best parenting when we teach them that they can walk through pain and come out stronger and more resilient?

I️ don’t know about you, but for as much as I️ hate seeing my daughter in pain, what I️ would hate even more would be for her to never know the lessons that pain can teach. That grief can teach. That heartbreak can teach.

Perhaps if our children can learn to withstand heartbreak and grief and pain, they can learn to sit with others and have empathy for them, too, when they see them walking through the same. And when our children can learn to hold space for each other and practice empathy and compassion, they can change this very world.

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. 

When a Blind Date Turns into a Therapy Session

One fine morning about two years ago, I met a guy on a blind date at Cafe Patachou.

We both ordered the omelet of the day and went through the whole “give me the clean, short version of your relationship history” spiel, which often occurs on a first date.

Then, we started to talk about random crap, which just so happens to be strength of mine.

I told the story of a couple I knew who had a larger number of children, and were continuing to have LOTS of babies, like seven kids or something. As I continued to tell the story of this couple, I found myself getting really fired up. And three minutes into this story, I was suddenly giving a scathing diatribe about how some people have babies just to fill a void or because they’re bored, and it’s at the expense of the children, when they aren’t able to provide the necessary support (emotional, monetary, etc.) that these kiddos need, and OH MY GOSH I JUST HATE IT when people do this, or something like that.

And the gentleman across the table thoughtfully looked at me and said, “it’s sounds like you’re really angry about this subject.”

“Yes, I am!” I quickly spat out.

And then I realized that I was actually exhibiting the physical symptoms of anger–I was tightly grasping my fork and my face had gotten unattractively puffy and red.

I sighed.

“I don’t know why this bugs me so much. But it really bugs me,” I said, a little bit more calmly.

“Perhaps it’s related to something in your own childhood,” he said.

“Who are you?? Are you like an undercover therapist or something??” I asked, trying to lighten the conversation.

“No,” he said laughing, “but I’ve been in therapy before and am pretty good at making an observation.”

So I did what he said. I began to think about my childhood. I began to think about some of my emotional needs that weren’t met, despite the fact that my parents were, and still are, amazing parents. 

I began to think about the times where I haven’t met the emotional needs of my own child, because I was exhausted or sick or distracted. I thought about how frustrating and upset I was about those times.

And then I thought about why I am so angry. And it’s because I’m afraid. I’m afraid when I’m not able to be the kind of parent my daughter needs at certain moments.

The truth is, no matter how great of a parent you are, no one is capable of meeting every single one of his or her child’s needs 100 % of the time. It’s simply not possible. We are not super humans. 

But, I realized that my anger at the couples who were having lots of children was actually fear–fear for their children. Fear that they won’t get what they need.

I am reminded of this story today when I find myself in a situation where I’m angry at someone–when I’m feeling judgmental about something they said or did.  I personally don’t care for the expression, “put yourself in the other person’s shoes, and try to see where he or she is coming from.”

Because sometimes you have NO FREAKING CLUE where the other person is coming from. In fact, you may think the other person is a complete idiot. You may think, “I can’t put myself in his shoes because I would never, ever DO what he did.”

So it’s during times like that, that I am reminded to turn inward–not out.

When I’m feeling judgmental or angry with someone, I try to be still. I begin to ask myself, “why does this bug me?” Or “what is happening or has happened in my own life that plays a role in how I’m responding?”

If I am not aware of my own values and the events or experiences which shaped them, I can easily become angry and judgmental towards others.

We are all SO different. Our stories have unfolded uniquely and our pain plays out in different ways. Empathy and/or sympathy are not easy emotions to access at times, especially when a person has hurt us, or we don’t like to see them making choices we think are hurting themselves or others.

But at the very least, if we can turn in–turn in and tune into our own experiences which have shaped what we believe about ourselves and others–it’s a start in the right direction. It’s an acknowledgement that there are prizes of STRENGTH and POWER and KNOWLEDGE to be won from our stories of adversity.

And now I’m going to stop writing here. Because it’s 4:30 am, and my insomnia finally wore off. ❤️ Back to sleep.

  

Your Children are not your Children

My mom was born in her grandparents’ home in the cold of winter on January 14th, 1939. Her mom, Ruth, was a homemaker, and her father, Clayton, was a farmer and Mennonite pastor. They named her Grace Elaine. 

This is the home/farm where she grew up:   
She was the first born of three children, and the only girl, but was not spoiled in any way shape or form. Those Mennonite grandparents of mine were too busy thinking about how to put a meal on the table and sew their own clothes and milk cows and crap. 

Here’s a photo of my mama and her cousins when she was younger. My mom is in the center, with her hands up by her mouth. Her younger brother, Elson, is in the front, putting God knows what into his mouth. 

 

When I asked her to describe her childhood, she said the following, “We had good, simple food and were never hungry because we had cows my parents milked and food from the garden which was canned in the summer. We kept potatoes and apples in the basement during the winter.  

We had chickens who laid eggs which we needed to gather. Sometimes we bought groceries from a huckster, a man with a truck which had shelves of food. ”

I have no idea what the hell a huckster is. 

Anyways, my mom was a good girl. She pretty much did what her parents wanted her to do. Despite that fact, they SENT HER AWAY to Mennonite boarding school–a private, Mennonite high school that was located two hours from home. I guess they just wanted to make sure she was a hundred percent Mennonite a hundred percent of the time. 

And she pretty much was. She sewed, read the Bible, sang hymns, cooked awesome food, and even wore a covering on her head. She was beautiful, but concealed her beauty in order not to be vain. That was the “Mennonite way” during that time.

My mom was a unique mother. She became an ordained minister when I was in the third grade. (More on that here, if you’re curious.She was extremely matter of fact all of the time, as well as logical and honest. When I was around seven years old, she sat me down and talked to me about menstruation. I was like, “This sucks, and why the heck are you telling me about this because I’m freaking seven years old??!!” 

Her reply, “Because it’s going to happen someday, and you need to be informed.” Such a Grace answer. 

She bought my brother and me a book about body parts and bodies changing. When she saw us reading it, she said, “Let me know if you have any questions. It’s okay to talk about the book.” We were like, “Um, no,” and quickly put the book away in embarrassment. 

She believed in rules and following them, but definitely picked her battles carefully. If she said, “If you do that one more time, you will get spanked,” she meant it. 

For whatever reason, she neither encouraged nor discouraged us from believing in Santa or the Easter Bunny. My theory is that she could not tell a lie. Ever. She was like freaking George Washington, for God’s sake. 

She rarely showed emotion, and was often even-keeled–the opposite of my dad. However, when she lost her brother to cancer, I remember seeing her tears. She says, “My saddest time was when my brother Elson died from a four year battle with cancer. Since he was 18 months younger than I, I felt he was part of me. I had so many tears even though we lived hundreds of miles apart for many years. Even a long time after the funeral I was surprised that when I looked into a mirror I felt like crying. That has never happened before or since.”

That’s what cancer does, people. It’s devastating. 

My mom continued to parent me into my adulthood. The first time my exhusband and I separated prior to my divorce, that woman sent me a freaking Bible verse every.stinking.day through email. Every morning I knew I would have a piece of encouragement in my inbox when I woke up. 

When I was in the midst of grieving the death of my marriage, I literally could not get out of my bed one day. The tears flowed from my eyes to the point that my eyeballs were swollen and I couldn’t see. My mom stayed with me. She baked me homemade bread. She prayed. She told me she envisioned me like a beautiful flower who was about to blossom, but I had been covered with dirt for so long and I was finally reaching out of the soil. She saw my potential before I did.

I wanted to be my mom. She’s just that kind of strong woman I was longing to be. 

So right after I gave birth to my own daughter, I started to breastfeed. It was very challenging for me on many levels. I went back to work when Aliana was eight weeks, my marriage was continuing to crumble, and I was trying to do everything perfect. I put tremendous amounts of pressure on myself, and I was an  emotional post-partum wreck. 

I decided to see a lactation consultant. 

When I was sitting in the consultant’s office, feeling overwhelmed, I said, “My mom nursed me until I was two years old! I know I can do this. I just don’t get it.”

The consultant looked at me and said, “You are referring to your mom a lot, and that’s okay. Could it be, though, that you are a different kind of mother?”

Ugh. When the truth stares you in the face, it’s often hard to hear, but necessary.

I realized in that moment that I would never be my mother, and I would need to accept that. The truth was, I was a working mom, whereas my mom stayed home with us until I went to school. The truth was, I was in an unhealthy marriage that was falling apart and I had minimal support in my child rearing, whereas my mom had the support of my dad. The truth was… I was NOT my mother. 

Not only were our circumstances different, but our personalities are very different as well. My mom is shy, and I’m a social butterfly. My mom is graceful under pressure, whereas I get emotional. My mom is the best cook I know, I am not. My mom is a minister, and I MOST DEFINITELY am not. 

The educator in me wants to draw a Venn Diagram for you to explicitly show you our similarities and differences, but it’s getting late, and I don’t have time for that, and neither do you. 

What I will say is this: Parenting is hard. I am thankful I had good parents. I am also trusting in the fact that although I am very different than my mother, that I am designed to parent my daughter. 

And I know that my daughter is not me either. It can be difficult to accept that our children are not going to be us or be exactly who we want them to be. 

This quote from Kahlil Gibran (one of my heroes), sums it up:

“Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts, 

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, 

which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, 

but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.”

I love you, mom. ❤️

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.

  

Just Do the Next Thing. 

Being a divorced, single parent is just the weirdest thing. 

There are a lot of weird things in life. Some things only have felt weird to me for a season–like becoming a parent. The whole first six months of that, I was like, “Holy crap, you mean they just don’t stop crying? And they don’t sleep? And my LIFE HAS ESSENTIALLY BEEN TAKEN OVER BY THIS TINY BEING?”

But, I got over the weirdness of that. It took me about six months, as I mentioned, and my brain adjusted to the fact that I was a real mom. I was responsible for this tiny, remarkable being, and by golly, I was determined to get it right. 

But this divorced, single parent thing? Meh. Not so much.

I wrote about my journey towards accepting my divorce here.  I think I did a pretty fabulous job at grieving the loss of my marriage. I also think I have done a pretty fabulous job at being okay with where I’m at in life; I’m definitely okay with telling others that I’m divorced. I’m definitely okay with talking about the mistakes I made in my marriage and accepting responsibility for them. I did all that hard work through therapy, reading, and intense reflection. 

But watching my daughter walk out the door and get into my ex-husband’s car every other weekend? 

I’m not good at that. 

I cry. I don’t cry in front of her, but I call out, “I love you,” close the door, watch her skip to his car, sit down in my rocking chair and cry. 

I feel so alone in that moment. And it’s not about being physically alone. It’s about this feeling that no one understands my suffering in that moment. You may be thinking, geesh, Emily–“suffering” is a strong choice of word there.  But THAT, my friends, is my suffering. 

The experience of watching my child walk out the door of my home and prepare herself mentally to transition over to another home for a brief amount of time, while knowing that the rules and the way the households are run are totally different–THAT is my suffering. 

This is why I sometimes ball up on Sunday mornings when I’m child free in my bed and hit the snooze button until noon. Not because I need that much sleep; but, because I am sad for my child. I grieve that she doesn’t have the normalcy of a childhood that I did. I grieve that I am not with her. I grieve that I don’t know what she’s doing in her other home. I grieve that she has to transition all the time between two homes which is just heartbreaking to me. 

So it’s in these moments, like I had this a.m., that I literally put my hands on my heart, and say to myself, “This is hard. It hurts. Give yourself this moment to cry. And then, go and do the next thing.” 

Whatever that thing may be–now go and do that, Emily. You must do that next thing. And then the next, and the next, and so on. 

So now I’m going to the laundromat. Because that is my next thing. 

  
And as a sidenote, when you feel sad, google “suffering quotes.” I know… You’re probably thinking– won’t this make me feel more down? No, it won’t, because you will be reminded that suffering is part of the human existence. Here are just a few I found this morning:

“To hurt is as human as to breathe.” -J.K. Rowling

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seated with scars.”-Kahlil Gibran

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.” -Winston Churchill

“Something very beautiful happens to people when their world has fallen apart: a humility, a nobility, a higher intelligence emerges at just the point when our knees hit the floor.” -Marianne Williamson

“I thought faith would say, I’ll take away the pain and discomfort, but what it ended up saying was, I’ll sit with you in it.” -Brene Brown

So, my faith is with me here in this laundromat. And I know that when I feel that overwhelming sadness, I will once again, put my hand over my heart, recognize that the moment sucks, and then do the next thing. 

And the next thing. 

And then the next. 

And then, you’re okay again. I’m okay again. 😎

“You are the Second One on my Love List.”

I found this letter in Aliana’s backpack during the last week of school:

  
My first question was, “Who in the heck is Steve?”

My second question was, “What is a love street, and why is he saying that you are the second one on it?”

I tried to ask these questions as calmly as possible. I explained to her that when you are seven, you are friends with everyone, but you don’t have “boyfriends” until you are much older. 

And then I paused to silently reflect on the fact that I actually had a “boyfriend” in both kindergarten and in second grade. (There must not have been any cute boys in my first grade class). 

My kindergarten boyfriend gave me a ring as a gift. When I showed it to my mom, she told me it looked too expensive to keep and that I needed to give it back to him the next day. When I told my boyfriend that my mom wouldn’t let me keep it, he confessed that he got it from his mom’s jewelry box, but that she “didn’t care.” I forced him to take it back, though, because I knew my own mother would be walking me to his house to discuss the ring with his family if I didn’t get rid of it. If my mom would have been the swearing type–she’s totally not–but if she had been, her motto would have been, “Do no harm, but take no sh**.”

Anywho, my second grade boyfriend wrote me a note and asked me to “go” with him. I said yes, and I thought he was going to hold my hand at the end of the year skating party until he chickened out. Then he moved to Florida. 

And then not a single boy expressed interest in me until the age of fifteen. Talk about a dry spell.

So I’ve tried to chill out about this letter I found, while simultaneously using it as an opportunity to talk to her about how important it is TO NOT SPEAK ABOUT BOYFRIEND/GIRLFRIEND STUFF UNTIL I FIGURE OUT HOW TO OWN AND OPERATE A HANDGUN TO KEEP THE BOYS OFF MY PROPERTY UNTIL SHE’S 18. 

Just kidding; I’m a pacifist. 

But on a serious note, this stuff makes my head spin. It really does. Like my brain says, “This is way too freaking young to be talking about this.” 

But, then I remember that this very topic–like many others–is one that I want her to first talk about with ME, her mother. Not the kid up the street. Not some random adult from church. Not an acquaintance or even friend of the family–FROM ME. Because I’m the mama bear and I am the one who will be raising her and modeling for her how to have healthy relationships. 

So back to Steve. Freaking Steve.

Aliana proceeded to explain to me that Steve is a friend from YMCA Daycare and that when he wrote the sentence, “You are the second one on my love st.,” he was trying to tell her that she is the second one on his love LIST. Some freaking love list. 

“Love list? There’s such a thing as a love list?” I asked her.

And then I started having flashbacks to middle school when we would play MASH on notebook paper and list three boys we liked, and then three cars, and a bunch of other crap. 

So this love list is maybe kinda like MASH. 

But I got down on eye level with her, and this is what I said:

“You know that when we talk about loving each other in elementary school, we talk about loving each other as friends. There’s no boyfriend/girlfriend stuff. Got it?”

“Got it,” she said.

“But furthermore, when you ARE old enough to have a boy like you and he tells you that he loves you, but that you are number two on ‘his list,’ you need to say, ‘Oh I’m not number two, honey, because I’m removing myself as an option on this so-called list.’ Aliana, when it comes to love, remember this: never be someone’s number two. You don’t rank people or love.”

By this time, she was walking into the living room to turn on PBS Kids. She didn’t get it. And then I realized I was kinda saying that message to my own damn self.

When it comes to love, there is no number two. There is no list. Did you hear that, Emily? There is no number two.