Ideal

Sometimes kids say the most profound things.

My younger son just completed two weeks of drama summer camp. He had a blast. He played the part of Prince Phillip in Sleeping Beauty. While he didn’t have the most lines he has had in a play before, he did get to dance with the princess, kill Maleficent, kiss the princess and save the day. Overall, a great show.

After the show we were cuddling on the couch talking about the show and about life. I told him that I let his dad know about the play but he didn’t make it. Instead of making excuses for him (again), I just held him and told him how proud I was of him.

He was quiet for a second, then he looked at me and said, “That’s why when I become a dad I want to be the ideal dad. Not perfect, because everyone makes mistakes, but ideal, as in trying to do the right thing and be there for my kids and their events.” We talked about how important it is to be at your kids’ events: drama productions, sports games, piano recitals, or whatever it is they like to do.

Being a single mom, I struggle with being there for everything he does. I support him in all of his events and I am always there for him, but somehow I never feel like it is enough. I am the “there parent”, the one who is there everyday so inevitably I am also the one who gets the attitude, the tears and the “blah” because I’m there. I’m not the special one; I’m the everyday one. I’m not the one he gets excited to see, but rather the one that he cries to when he is upset, scared or disappointed.

Funny how sometimes we get caught up in being the perfect parent, when all they want is the ideal parent. The one who tries their best and is there for them no matter what. At the end of the day, I would rather be the “there” parent who he relies on for everything.

After a few minutes he looked up at me and said, “Mom, you are an ideal mom. You aren’t always perfect, but you are always there fore me and you always try your best.” He cuddled back into my arms and I grinned – I may not be perfect, but I will take ideal anytime.

Better late than never??

Watching him glance at the door between every punch during karate class.

Sensing him get increasingly anxious as the week goes on in anticipation of his dad showing up or not.

Having to join the “regular” class instead of the father / child class because his dad didn’t make it on time.

Trying to help him hope for the best but not be disappointed if it doesn’t happen is heartbreaking.
But as his mom, that’s my job.

This week at karate class my son had a father/ child karate class. Having divorced parents and not living with his dad, an activity like this brings a heightened level of stress and anticipation.

I tried to start early. I told my ex about the day. Told him that his son was looking forward to having him there. Tried to convey the importance. I told my son that we would try our best but sometimes dad was busy and might not be able to make it (still making excuses for him).

My son was anxious and irritated all week. Not sure what his dad would say. Not sure what would happen. And not sure how to say all the things he is feeling.

He said he would go.

I tried to encourage them to spend some time together before or after karate class. I tried to arrange for him to pick him up and bring him so they could go together. His dad said he couldn’t do that.

On the way to karate I get the text. “Running late”.

Class begins and they ask kids with their dads to go to one place and kids without their dad’s to go to another part of the mat.

As he begins class in the other part of the mat, he watches the door. Glancing over his shoulder between each punch, kick, move. Mouthing to me “where is he?” Waiting. Watching. Hoping.

His dad does come. 15 minutes late. But better late than never; right?

After karate he asked his dad and his girlfriend if they could do something together. They said “no”. He asked when he would see them again. They said “soon”. He thanked them for coming. They gave him some stuff they bought him. And they left, 15 short minutes after they arrived.

My son packed up his karate bag came over to me, gave me a big hug, and said, “Father / son karate was fun. But I liked mother / son karate better.”

I beamed. Me too buddy, me too.

Disappearance or disappointment

I have 2 sons (the pride and joy of my life) from 2 different husbands.

My oldest son’s father was the disappearing one. We left him when my son was only a year and a half old after disappointmentthe relationship turned violent. I tried to keep a connection for my son with his dad, but I couldn’t do it alone. He did not make the effort to stay connected, so he disappeared from his son’s life. I worried about my son and tried to provide him with father-like figures throughout his life. He had my dad and my brothers as father figures in his life and some of my great friends who were there for him as well.

But mostly he had me, as both mother and father. He is an amazing 19-year-old young man who is surprisingly well adapted and not bitter about his disappearing father.

My younger son has known his dad most of his life. He is 11 years old and we are only recently divorced. He sees his dad every other weekend. Every other weekend he is faced with disappointment from his father. He says it doesn’t hurt when his dad shows up late or cancels, but I know it does.

Being the one who’s home with his all the time, I sense a difference in his voice and his spirit when talking about his dad. He is careful and guarded. He is shy and uncertain. When he wants to make a change in his plans with his dad, he asks me to intervene. When he wants his dad to come watch him compete on his swim team, he asks me to invite him. And when he comes home from his dad’s, he holds me tighter.

I think that because he had a dad involved in his life for a long time, he misses the “dad” role more so than my older son did. He talks more about what kind of a dad he wants to be. I have a few friends who he looks to as a father figure. He talks about them to me and always tells me what he admires in them. He is constantly comparing and questioning.

He thinks things through very thoroughly. We were visiting with my sister one day and he asked her he could live with her if something happened to me. He had it all planned out. He told us all about it. First he would live with my sister and her family, then if something happened to all of them, he would live with my brother and sister in law, then if something happened to all of them, he would live with my friends. Then if he had to, he would live with his dad. He said to my sister, “You know, my dad is a pretty good dad, but he’s not a great parent, if you know what I mean.” Unfortunately, he does know what he means.

While both my boys are different and have had different experiences with their fathers, I think that the disappointment is harder than the disappearance. While my older son was probably disappointed by the fact that his father was not in his life, it was not a constant sense of disappointment every other weekend.

It will be a struggle to help my son deal with the constant disappointment. I will continue to give him positive role models in his life, both male and female. And I will continue to be there for him, as both mother and father. And I will continue to love him enough to grow into the wonderful young man I know he will be.

Strength

Strength comes in many shapes and sizes,

many forms and functions,

many ways and words.

Strength comes when a mom holds her baby for the first time and knows in that moment that she will do anything to protect her baby. It also comes when her grown baby is in tears because their heart has been broken, or someone has treated them poorly, or they had to learn for themselves that life isn’t fair, and knowing she can’t fix it.

Strength can be found in a grown adult sitting by their parent’s bedside while they are recovering from surgery, still waiting to find out what the next steps are. It can be found in the waiting room of a hospital in the family members hoping, praying, and just being there, being together.

Strength comes when a smart, beautiful, young lady spent her junior year of high school battling cancer instead of her grades. When she shaved her own hair before the chemo could take it away from her.

Strength can be found in the eyes of a 12-year-old girl who finally got up the courage to tell her father that she was raped by her boyfriend. And in her steely response when her father asked if she did anything to encourage the boy.

Strength comes when a woman stands up to the man she loves, the man who promised to love and protect her, but instead filled her with fear and terror. When she finally finds a way to protect herself and her family from the man who threatened to ruin it all.

Strength can be found in weakness, in tears, in fear. Because in those moments, when we are often at our weakest, it is then that we feel the strength to push on, the strength to move forward, the strength to ask for help.

Strength comes from knowing when to walk away, and when to walk towards.

Strength can be found in the arms of a friend, who doesn’t have to say a word.

Strength comes in the familiar “ding” of a text message or email alert from someone who cares enough.

Strength can be found in the amazing people who are in our lives.

To walk with us,

to cry with us,

to celebrate with us,

and to just be with us.

I am blessed for all of the different ways I have experienced strength.

I try every day to accept the strength others give to me, and to be strong for them in return.

I’m not a very big person. I doubt anyone would describe me as physically very tough or strong.

But I have seen strength, I have felt strength, and through my experiences, I have known strength.

gentle strength

Disappearance or disappointment

I have 2 sons (the pride and joy of my life) from 2 different husbands (not my proudest moment).

My oldest son’s father was the disappearing one. We left him when my son was only a year and a half old after the relationship turned violent. I tried to keep a connection for my son with his dad, but I couldn’t do it alone. He did not make the effort to stay connected, so he disappeared from his son’s life. I worried about my son and tried to provide him with father-like figures throughout his life. But mostly he had me, as both mother and father. He is an amazing 19-year-old young man who is surprisingly well adapted and not bitter about his disappearing father.

My younger son has known his dad most of his life. He is 10 years old and we are only recently divorced. He sees his dad every other weekend. Every other weekend he is faced with disappointment from his father. He says it doesn’t hurt when his dad shows up late or cancels, but I know it does.

Being the one who’s home with his all the time, I sense a difference in his voice and his spirit when talking about his dad. He is careful and guarded. He is shy and uncertain. When he wants to make a change in his plans with his dad, he asks me to intervene. When he wants his dad to come watch him compete on his swim team, he asks me to invite him. And when he comes home from his dad’s, he holds me tighter.

I think that because he had a dad involved in his life for a long time, he misses the “dad” role more so than my older son did. He talks more about what kind of a dad he wants to be. I have a few friends who he looks to as a father figure. He talks about what he admires in them. He is constantly comparing and questioning.

While both my boys are different and have had different experiences with their fathers, I think that the disappointment is harder than the disappearance. While my older son was probably disappointed by the fact that his father was not in his life, it was not a constant sense of disappointment every other weekend.

It will be a struggle to help my son deal with the constant disappointment. I will continue to give him positive role models in his life, both male and female. And I will continue to be there for him, as both mother and father. And do my best to love him enough to grow into the wonderful young man I know he can be.

Gentle

Be gentle with yourself

Two people in the past few days have told me to be gentle with myself. That is something I am not good at. I expect perfection from myself at all times needless to say, I’m often disappointed. I am very gentle with my students, most of the time. And very gentle with my teachers, again, most of the time. But I’m very hard on myself.

Today was a tough day. Bringing my older son back to college was tough. I adore him and I love having him home with me. So having to leave him at college is heart breaking. This is his second year, so I knew what was going to happen and I knew we would all survive the year. But it was still tough.

In addition to the emotional struggles the day presented, there were also financial stumbling blocks. This past year has been hard, both emotionally and financially. A divorce is not easy, nor is it cheap. And college is definitely not cheap.

But facing the fact that I am still struggling financially makes me feel like a failure. I wish I could take care of my son’s college expenses. I wish he could graduate without debt. I wish finances weren’t an issue. But wishing doesn’t make it so.

So after tears and stress and frustration and kind words from my sister-in-law. I’m going to try to listen to her advice and be gentle with myself. I’m in a better financial place this year than I was one year ago. But it’s going to take some time to really get back on my feet. It’s going to take time, and I have to learn to be patient and gentle with myself.

As my blog title suggest, I’m still a work in progress, and being gentle with myself is something that is still in progress.

The importance of the words we speak

Over the past few weeks, in several different ways, the importance of what we say to others has been a recurrent theme. I’m sure if you thought about it for a few minutes, you would remember something that someone said to you that made a difference for you. Sometimes it is the compliment that someone gives you that sticks with you, but just as often, the insult or cruel comment is the one you remember most.

Last week when I was at a principal’s conference, one of the speakers talked about the way in which we, as education professionals, talk to students and how it impacts their belief about what they can do. Children are full of hopes and dreams, and sometimes the comments we make can either spark those dreams or squash them. We need to think about how we can help them to grow simply with the words we use.

 Again this week, another administrator and I were having a conversation about optimism and being positive around students. Not the kind of Pollyanna positivity that is fake, because kids can see through that. But it is also important to not be a negative Nancy where everything is a downer. It is important for us as the adults to stay positive and try our best to help support the students we work with.

Even closer to home I had a conversation with my son the other night about hurtful words that a family member said. It wasn’t so much a direct comment made to him, but it was more of a feeling he got that he disappointed them. It was a side comment that was made that was hurtful. I know and understand that feeling. We tend to be a very sarcastic family and there is a fine line between humorous and hurtful. Sometimes it is a snarky comment that goes too far.

Or sometimes it is what is left unsaid that can be hurtful. By not telling people how you really feel and what you really think, you run the risk of them not knowing. As a parent I try to tell my boys every day how much I love them. To the point where my younger son says “I know mom, you tell me all the time.” I would rather him know and be sick of hearing me say it, then him not know, or have to guess. I try to tell them when I am proud of them and when they have done something great. I also try to tell them when I am upset or hurt by something they do. I try to do that in private so as not to hurt or embarrass them.

So today I challenge you to tell your friends, family members, spouse, or someone important to you how you feel. Tell them they are important to you. Tell them you are proud of them. Tell them they are special. Tell them what they mean to you. And know that the words you speak are important to them.

I hate Saturdays

I hate Saturdays. I know, that sounds crazy, awful and probably very strange to most people, but it’s true, I hate Saturdays. It’s because that is that day that I have to share my son with his dad. It sounds selfish, but I don’t like sharing. And I don’t like having to deal with my ex. So, therefore, I don’t like Saturdays.

 

I had to go back to court (again) the other day to finalize our “sharing” agreement. It was horrible. Parceling out which day I will get to have him with me this year, and which day he will be with his dad. Of course we both want him for all of the holidays, which I guess is a good thing, but then one of us misses out for each holiday we don’t have him with us.

 

It felt so petty. Chopping up the days: you get him Christmas morning, I get him Christmas night; you have him 4th of July in even years, I get him 4th of July for odd years. It feels like he becomes a non-entity in this. When does he get to make decisions about where he wants to be for the holidays? When does he get to decide where he wants to sleep at night? When did my life become about parceling out my son, and dreading Saturdays?

 

The good and the bad news of the final (I hope) court date is that we now have everything “set”. Bad news is he sleeps away from me every other weekend. Good news is he stays with me on alternate weekends. Bad news is I have to share holidays. (Have I mentioned I don’t like sharing?) Good news is he has a dad who cares about him and wants to be in his life. Bad news is, now instead of hating Saturdays, I hate every other weekend…

Safe place

In the midst of my divorce last year, when I had realized it was bad, but hadn’t quite figured out what to do about it, I had a few friends at work who I could talk to and trust. I still didn’t fully explain everything to them at the time because it was too hard to admit all of it, but they knew that things at home were rough and that I was having a hard time.

One of my friends who was always very kind and supportive of me and knew some of the basics of what was going on at home happened to walk past me in the hallway. He could tell just by looking at me that something was wrong.

He stopped me and asked, “Is everything ok?”

I put on a smile, like I always did, said “yes” but shook my head “no” as my eyes welled up with tears and my hands began shaking.

He knew I couldn’t get into the details in the hallway at school, so he didn’t push me, he just said, “Is there anything I can do for you?”

Half as a joke and half because I was terrified about going home that night I replied, “Can me and my boys stay at your house if we need a safe place to go?”

Immediately, without hesitation, he answered, “Of course.”

 

The next morning, he came to find me. He said he went home to his spouse and without going into detail about what was going on with me, he asked his spouse if my sons and I could stay at their house if we needed to. His spouse, who hadn’t even met my children or me yet said, “I’ll go make the beds.” No questions, no complaints, just support.

They probably never even thought twice about the offer for us to stay with them, but I did. I thought about it all the time. I thought about it when I was truly scared that I would have no place to keep my sons and myself safe. I thought about it when the thought of going home gave me anxiety attacks so powerful that I couldn’t breathe.  I thought about it when I was trying to figure out what I was going to do next.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but that conversation was a turning point for me. Just knowing that I had a safe place to go (one my ex-husband didn’t know about and wouldn’t suspect) made me that much stronger. I had reached a point in my marriage that I knew that things couldn’t go on like they were, but I didn’t know how to change them or how to get out. I had been afraid that if I confronted him he wouldn’t leave, or he wouldn’t let me leave. And if we did manage to leave, I didn’t know where we could go.

Admitting to someone else that I might need a safe place to be to get away from my husband – the man who was supposed to love and protect me – made me realize I needed to do something about it, and soon. So that night I went home and packed an emergency bag for my two sons and me. I packed a toiletries bag and some school/ work clothes, pajamas and play clothes. I put the bag in the trunk of my car, knowing that we now had a safe place to go if we needed it.

We never needed to stay at their house. My husband did leave when I confronted him. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. But I survived, and I am stronger for it.

I am in a different place now, both physically and emotionally. And because of my amazing friends, I know that I still have a safe place to go when I need it. Now it is more of an emotionally safe place than a physically safe place, but everybody needs a safe place to go sometimes.

Where is your safe place?

Leaving Denial

It was late January and I was headed off to a meeting, just a typical after-school professional development (PD) meeting for my teachers. As the principal of a junior high school I arrange a variety of PD activities for my staff. Some are required by state law, some are required by my district, and some are things that, as educators, we just need to learn more about and address with our students.

This PD was some combination of all of the above. The topic was “Healthy/Unhealthy Relationships: Teen Dating Violence Workshop.” I will admit that I was looking forward to this particular PD. Sometimes the topic just hits home and you know how important it is, for everyone.

The presenter had a personal connection to teen dating violence and she spoke with a passion and understanding that came from that connection. She lost her daughter to a controlling and abusive boyfriend who took his obsession too far and killed her. She was a health teacher and now she speaks to teachers throughout the state to help educate them about the warning signs of abusive relationships. And, hopefully, we can use this information to identify warning signs in the students we work with and help them to see the warning signs too.

But sometimes those warning signs are seen a little closer to home then we want to admit.

While I was sitting at the meeting listening to her talk about unhealthy and controlling relationships, I sat with my cell phone in my lap checking my messages because my husband at the time would often text me and if I didn’t respond within a few minutes, he would become angry and send more demanding and insistent texts. He would ask where I was, what I was doing, who I was with. Even though I was legitimately at work doing my job, I knew he would get mad if I didn’t respond to him.

While I listened to the simply stated cycle of abuse the presenter explained, I could no longer deny it. It all started to make sense, but I didn’t know what to do with it. I had lived in denial of the abuse for so long that I didn’t want to see it. I couldn’t see it, because if I did see it and recognize it, then I would have to admit the life that I was living and leave this lovely land of denial that I had become so comfortable in.

So I continued to hold it in and tried to make things calm and peaceful, like I had tried to do for so many years. I figured that if I didn’t rock the boat, then he wouldn’t get upset and then I wouldn’t be afraid of what would happen next. Then maybe I could continue to believe that the abuse wasn’t my reality, again.

But the abuse was bigger than me. I was finally beginning to realize that I couldn’t control someone else’s behavior and reactions. I was finally beginning to realize that I couldn’t make it all better.

Listening to the presenter, the message had been heard and now I couldn’t un-hear it. I kept thinking about what she said and realized I had to do something. The abuse was emotional, but it was just as strong, just as controlling, and just a terrifying as physical abuse. Every time my phone would buzz and the text messages would start, I could hear the presenter’s voice in my head saying that the excessive texting was a way of controlling.

I knew it, I heard it, but I didn’t want to believe it.