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Archive for December, 2009

While the blogging break was fabulous, a gift from the gods in many ways, it does mean that finding a way back into blogging involves a brain-dump. Hello, Dear Readers! How I have missed you! Please let me take you on this guided tour of my neuroses:

1. I held firm on the Trader-Tot. This is progress, right? Setting boundaries and holding them? Sure it was a boundary that protected someone else, but still; violating it would have made me miserable. Guilt-ridden and unhappy with myself.

And we’ve both agreed that he needs to tell his ex about me before the TT’s next visit in February.

2. Vacation was wonderful. PP and I spent many long, lovely days together, with only the occasional freak-out (both mine). It’s strange; when I was on mat leave I quickly and clearly understood that introvert though I may be, I need to get out of the house regularly because long days cooped up indoors are bad for both of us. Yet, after a long stretch of not being able to be cooped up indoors thanks to work and the separation agreement and the Trader and volunteering etc., I forgot that. A few more plans would have been good for both of us.

Still, we cooked and baked together, did crafts involving glue and glitter, did some visiting, played with her new toys, and generally had a lovely time together.

(But getting us out together more is still on the 2010 Better Mother resolutions list.)

3. I got to see the Ex’s new digs with his girlfriend out in Bob. It’s a big house. It’s very new; the backyard isn’t fenced yet and the model homes are still open. It’s lovely. PP has a big pink bedroom with two windows, two white flowered curtains, lots of toys, and no books. There are no bookcases anywhere in the house. In the basement I saw one small shelf of children’s books. There are lots of toys, a nice big TV, a couple of gaming systems, many many photos of both children, and absolutely no art or craft supplies. No crayons, no paper, nothing handmade.

The Ex, the chameleon that he is, has obviously reformulated himself into a creature who can fit into this new environment, just as he did with me. But I think this is a better fit for him.

It was intimidating. Weird how hard it is to remember that I used to live in such a house (only with books and arts & craft supplies). It was so BIG. Why would she want to stay in my crummy little apartment when she could live in a huge pink bedroom and a nice spacious house with a (soon-to-be) fenced-in backyard?

But it is good too to see that I am offering her things she won’t get in Bob. Like creativity and learning.

Also, when I mentioned to the Trader how lovely her room in Bob is, he said, “When we move in together, we’ll give her a room that will blow it out of the water. It won’t even be a competition. So we’ll have to move into my big house.” He was mostly kidding, and I wasn’t complaining to begin with, but it’s nice that he understood my insecurities without me having to state them.

4. Went to a dermatologist who prescribed a bunch of stuff for that rash I was talking about before. So now I feel nauseous and my skin is so sensitive that sweat feels like someone lit a match to my face. I keep telling myself this is temporary, but even so.

5. My parents gave me a christmas present this year. It is the world’s ugliest purse. I smiled and said thank you and it is still sitting in its box in the front hall. What does one do with the world’s ugliest purse?

Are any of you in desperate need of a really ugly purse?

I think they got it off the shopping network. It has that mail-order look about it.

I should appreciate it more, and on a certain level I do appreciate that at least this year I got something–I mean, they remembered me. And PP got some nice gifts. But does it ever underscore how little they actually know me. I don’t think any of you, Dear Readers, would be at any risk of getting me a truly ugly purse.

The Trader got me some books I have been dying to read, and has promised me ice skates (for PP as well). That was thoughtful.

6. Still terrified. But that’s not really a bullet-list kind of point. Not even this kind of messy, meandering bullet-list.

7. In support of my 2010 Better Mother Resolution, I went and bought a bunch of books. Because as we all know, everything worthwhile begins with a book. I may blog about them. I may not. I am certain to blog about this Better Mother Business.

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So let’s just pretend that there isn’t a massive holiday during the next two weeks…

…and that I’m not glued to my cell/twitter/news sites with my mood rising and falling every five minutes depending on the latest news in Copenhagen…

…although it is. No clue whether or not I’ll sleep tonight, Dear Readers. I just want a viable planet for my daughter to have children on. Is that so much to ask? I just want a few hundred million poor people in developing countries not to die so that we can continue to drive fancy trucks and eat Big Macs. I don’t think I’m being too demanding. …

…my stomach hurts.

But ignoring all that: New Years Resolutions!

I am thinking, for the first time in my memory, of bypassing my normal list-making/goal-setting extravaganza, and focusing on a couple of things:

1. Maintaining the stuff I was doing last year (running, writing, volunteering, etc.); and otherwise,
2. Focusing on parenting.

I know. I know. But there are things I could be doing better, and I want to. I want to spend more time playing with her on the floor, and get back into doing creative things with her, and make an effort to go more places and do more fun things with her on our days off together (though the only thing I want to do those days is lay down on the couch and stare at the ceiling).

So.

How about you? Any resolutions for 2010?

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I so clearly remember how my first solo spring break with PP terrified me.

At that point I had been living separately for several months through one of the toughest winters on local record, and I was suffering. Right on the verge of a breakdown. Each five-day stint as a single mom nearly did me in. I cried, I yelled, I threw keys at the wall, I sulked (not constantly, but a lot.) I dreaded the mere thought of nine days in a row without a break or any help.

I got through it. Then I got through a whole summer of one on/one off weeks, alternately missing her like a hole in my chest vs. being overwhelmed by the demands of constant childcare for seven days.

Now I know how far I’ve come. I get PP all to myself from the 19th to the 29th this month, and I cannot wait. I’m sure there will be cranky, grumpy times; it won’t be perfect, and I won’t be perfect; but all that time, just the two of us! All the cooking, decorating, wrapping, unwrapping, eating, playing, movieing, visiting, crafting, glueing, glittering, sewing! I practically tremble at the thought. I am giddy. Ten whole days!

A couple of years ago, I could not have imagined being blissed out at the thought of ten! whole! days! as a single mom.

Ten! Whole! Days!

(sigh)

Now being a single mom is easy. And fun. Exhausting, stressful, and relentless, but easy and fun too. Don’t ask me to explain the contradiction. It just is what it is. (It may have something to do with my drastically-reduced standards for housework.)

Now it’s the thought of not being a single mom that is difficult.

I like my blue bedroom. I like having the place to myself when PP goes to bed, and I can sit in silence and think and read and work and craft, and not have to answer to anyone else for that time. I like not having to fight wars of attrition over what kinds of vegetables to serve at dinner, and whose turn it is to do the laundry. Do you have any idea how much mental energy is expending on tallying that kind of thing, and the relief that can accompany just dropping it like a bushel of bricks? I like being able to make all the decisions. I like knowing that PP is settled into a good school and has friends. I like knowing what’s going into and out of the budget. I like the stability and routine and I don’t so much like the thought of upending it.

At the same time I have no desire to stay a single mom for the rest of my life. Or even for the medium term. It is hard. It is stressful. It is tiring. And it is limiting with a lot of the other things I would like to do and be. I don’t have enough time or energy or money to do it all myself.

But that independence, Dear Readers. It is so easy to get used to, and so hard to give up.

~~~~~

Things with the Trader are going very well.

Yes we had that fight. And then we had another one last week too (which should not have been as big a deal but my conflict-meter had been depleted from the week before). But as one friend pointed out, part of it is that I’m so new to this expressing-feelings-as-they-come-up business that I’m not very good at it. And as he pointed out, he can sometimes be insensitive and I can be hyper-sensitive and that’s bound to create conflict from time to time. Also, our fights have so far all been on email. In person they get deflated and dealt with quickly. Words on a screen, Dear Reader, are tough to interpret.

Each time I was on the brink of breaking up.

I am so terrified of not seeing the red flags, sometimes, that I see them when they’re not there. The Trader being a good Dad and having a busy job is not the same thing as the Engineer trying to make me satisfied with the crumbs that were all he said he could give me until some unspecified point in the future which almost certainly would never have come; the Trader spends as much time with me as he can, and I know this, but that receptionist’s-niece thing pushed the Engineer’s button. Where’s that ejection pod?

Or if he makes a promise to me and he takes longer than I think he should to keep it, paranoid fantasies a la the Ex start propagating: he is lying to me, he is deceiving me, I am being taken, maybe he’s not even single! It’s absurd (and he has always kept his promises without me nagging him, even if it takes longer than I expected). And unfair.

I want to bolt. Run for the hills. Wrap my independence and solitude around me like a thick warm bullet-proof quilt and give up on relationships.

Self-protection figures largely, but not entirely, in that calculus. PP-protection looms pretty large too.

I finally feel halfway competent as a single mom. PP eats well–very well. She gets enough sleep. I provide her with decent activities at home, a limited amount of TV, healthy and appropriate toys, lots of crafts, skills building, not enough playtime really but I do what I can. She has a warm bed, nice clothes. I know I need to work on some things, I’m not perfect, but they’re not the kinds of things that coupling up would fix. PP and I are good. I throw her cookie-baking and gingerbread house-building and beading parties (and Monster Parties, too, pea–I promise!) She brushes her teeth and flosses two times each day. She knows that I treasure and adore her. I make her lunches and dinners and wash her clothes and keep the house … not clean, but not in danger of being condemned either. We read together. She’s doing well in school. It’s not perfect but it’s good. Already a lot better in a lot of ways than what I had.

What does a relationship offer her?

Maybe a nicer house, a bigger house. Maybe more time with me, if the relationship is relatively equal and I spend less time maintaining the household etc. Maybe more opportunities of the kind that money can buy.

But another disruption, another move, another school, more new friends to make, another transition, another change to the custody schedule–some fairly significant losses with a bunch of maybes to offset them. And then if it doesn’t work out–another transition, another move, another new school, another break-up, more lost relationships and connections, more hurt, more new friends to make, another change to the custody schedule, and losing me for however long it takes me to get my head together. Is it worth it?

How certain do I have to be before I can take that risk?

I don’t know how to answer that question. Much like I have no idea what makes a good-enough mother, where to draw that line, I have no idea when I will be certain enough to justify the risk to PP of it not working out. 90%? 95% 99%? 99.9%?

Then a little thing happens and I forecast disaster from an impending future breakup that rips PP’s world in half again, and I wonder why I can’t just be satisfied being her mom. Why wreck a good thing for my own selfish desire not to be lonely? Especially when I kind of like having the bed to myself. And the TV off. And my own messes on the coffee table. Haven’t I already prioritized myself above her enough just in leaving her Dad in the first place? Isn’t that enough?

It’s great to feel good about being a single mom at last, but it’s almost too comfortable, too familiar. Leaving looks easy. Staying is hard.

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The Ex and I drove together to PP’s holiday concert earlier this week. As I was strapping her into the car on our way back here, the radio played an ad for ashleymaddison.com.

He turned it off as soon as the voice said “affair.”

Shame, or denial disguised as moral outrage? Your guess is as good as mine.

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I have to provide a photo of myself to go along with an essay being published in a magazine next year, so the other day I was browsing through folders of old pictures of me, trying to find something relatively recent, sort-of high res, somewhat flattering. They all showed PP, of course, and I ended up sending them a lovely shot of the two of us together. It’s an essay about us, after all.

There were shots from Before. Before PP. Before I found out. From the first days of my marriage. And I was so happy.

Not just happy but carefree. Exuberant. Silly. Hamming it up for the camera.

I don’t think I’ve hammed it up for the camera in eight years. Strange that I could have forgotten that old self so completely.

I remember being silly around the Ex. I remember when that felt safe. Now looking him in the eyes feels dangerous. Where did she go? How did I lose her? Is she in there still at all?

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portents

I had a dream the night before last that the Trader and I had the Engineer and his wife over for dinner. It was as unpleasant and awkward as you might imagine.

Probably because this is the one thing I have not told the Trader about my history, and may never. You can lecture me about this if you’d like. I’m not sure if it’s the right thing or not.

~~~~~

PP has been choosing new animals every day this week. First the worms. Then the robins. Then, yesterday, bunnies, who had to be protected from the dogs (I made them sausages with sleeping pills inside so they would fall asleep and not bother us all night). Today it’s doggies, who are being chased by cows, horses and sheep. In a total reversal of the natural order.

Tuesday I was afraid we were going to work our way up the food chain to dinosaurs in short order. Now I see we will be taking a more meandering path.

Maybe the mommy doggie can shear the sheep to make a strong rope and tie up all the horses, cows and (now-naked) sheep.

She’s loving this game. It makes her wriggle with happiness, to be a baby animal and make me the mommy animal and have me protect her from the scary animals. The game does not vary.

Last night we talked a little about fear while she was eating her spaghetti and meatballs. “And if I am afraid, I can tell you and you can help me,” she said. My heart leapt. I know this came straight from the mouths of the therapists at the divorce-group thingie, but that’s why I took her, you know? “Yes,” I said. “You can, and I hope you will, because I would want to help.” I listed some things I could do. “Can you think of anything else?”

A pensive silence, while she stared off towards the wall.

“Is there anything you are afraid of?”

“No,” she said, and went back to her spaghetti.

Who or what are these robins, cats, dogs, cows, horses, sheep? What is she afraid of? What is it I’m saving her from?

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mamas and babies

The follow-up appointment to the divorce-group thingie was yesterday afternoon. It was good and bad: she agreed with all of the concerns I’d had about PP when I signed her up over a year ago.

She’s a delightful, clever, happy, fun little girl who charmed everyone. And she’s deeply identified with being happy, hates talking about her feelings, is a full-on budding perfectionist, sometimes bossy and will not talk about the divorce.

It’s simultaneously reassuring to know that I was so right about it and disheartening to know that she’s struggling.

But the worst is that PP said early on that she feels she has to be happy or Mom and Dad will be sad (and then refused to talk about it).

And that over the six weeks, she kept playing a game where the baby kangaroo kept looking for its mommy and couldn’t find her. And the other kids kept giving her suggestions of how to find her and she wasn’t having any of it.

The therapist thought that this was partly related to her size issues–that she may have internalized some denial about that, or be over-compensating or something–but whatever the reason felt it was pretty obvious that she needs to be perfect, feels that means being happy and not talking about hard feelings, and so also tells other kids what to do. But that she also wants more of a connection with me and doesn’t know how to get it.

So we both have some work to do.

She had some ideas about different things to try when we’re playing or talking, and how to plant some of those seeds that it’s ok to be bad sometimes and not be happy all the time, but she also felt that it was very obvious that PP would not tolerate talking about feelings for more than a few minutes at a time so it would have to be very subtle. That if I did bring her back for some more support one-on-one it would probably be for 20-minute appointments once a month, because she wouldn’t stand for any more than that. I’m going to try out her ideas for a month or two and then see what I think about bringing her back.

The list–before I forget, and mostly for my own reference:

Try to let the bad guys be bad (the bad guys in PP’s games are not allowed to act bad. The good guy talks to them and convinces them to be nice and then they are good guys, always). Introduce more fantasy and see where her imagination goes; apparently she really liked that.  Maybe I’ll make her a magic wand or a wishing book or something. Maybe Santa will bring her something. Pay more attention in the mommy-and-baby games. When she’s talking about her feelings, ask fewer questions and engage in some make-believe. Basically some semi-directed play and active listening skills with as much nonsense as needed to get around PP’s defenses.

I know her father won’t see this or do this. We’ll talk about it, but ultimately he has already decided that she is perfect and there’s nothing wrong with a little kid who refuses to talk about her feelings or be sad ever. He gets to be the perfect dad who has the perfect child who never troubles him with anything messy or inconvenient–why change that? So he won’t let her be sad. And PP adores her father.

But it’s me too. It’s me having no practice talking about feelings or hard things, it’s me feeling like I have to be perfect to earn my oxygen, it’s me seeing her as too perfect, it’s me not knowing how to talk about her size either when it so obviously distresses her, it’s me not knowing how much independence to require when she can’t open the fridge or reach the counter and way too often letting her boss me around. And it’s me not knowing how to let her find me.

Maybe she’s not looking for her Dad. Maybe she already recognizes that an authentic emotional connection with him is impossible as he will not tolerate her sadness. Maybe she is and I am projecting all over this or wanting to be better than he is. It doesn’t matter I guess.

I suppose what matters is that the mama kangaroo has to find a way to do better.

(on the way home from the appointment, were a mama worm and a baby worm, and we wriggled in our seats to find nice soft piles of dirt to sleep in with leaves on top so the robins couldn’t see. And then when I was tucking her in to bed her bed was a nice soft pile of dirt, and she burrowed under the blankets to hide from the robins. The robins were hiding behind the piles of books, and the baby robins were behind the rocking chair, and they might get through and nibble on her while she slept! No, I said. They won’t. If the adult robins get through I will use my magic super-powers to make them go away (you can shoot them with a gun that shoots tiny teddy-bears! cried PP), and I will block the baby robins with a thousand rocks, and if they try to get through they will only break their beaks. Baby worm can sleep safely.

This morning she was the baby robin and I was the mommy robin and we went downstairs and ate corn bran worm cereal. Don’t ask me what that means.)

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