Difficult days.

There are times when I have loved being a single mother. There hasn’t been anyone to argue with about what I think is best for the kids. No one to tell me what to do or where to go. I don’t have to okay anything with anyone; their father gave up that right years ago. It is just me making decisions.

And that means it is me taking the blame, too.

Ask anyone what it is like to have a teenage daughter and they will rant on about the disrespect, the rude behavior, the attitude. I’ve talked to plenty of mothers over the last year or two–“Is this normal?” “Is she supposed to hate me so much?” “Am I really as stupid as she says I am?” Every mother nods, smiles and reassures that it’s just teenage girls; they are a force to be reckoned with.

Logically, I know that. I realize her frontal lobe isn’t developed, that teenagers generally do think the world revolves around them. I know that she is just saying it to upset me. And day after day, it does. It wears on me and I wish I had someone to hold me up when she shoots me down who could come in with a deep, masculine voice full of authority to tell her it’s no way to treat her mother.

I have friends, dear friends, who support me and remind me that it the daughter isn’t the authority and even when she makes cruel assertions, they are just the spouting of an 8th grade girl. They remind me to take deep breaths and let it roll off my back like a duck in water.

So I try. I inhale through my nose and fill my lungs, exhale slowly, purposefully through my mouth. And again. But there are days when those breaths dissolve into sobs and I ache for someone to step in, help us manage these treacherous waters. Those are the days the anger boils over at events long past, at relationships since faded and I wish more than anything that this young teenaged girl had two people to guide her. Two people who loved her and each other, to be the object of her wrath — instead of only me, alone.

The Final Countdown

School starts back up next Wednesday. I know we are weeks behind other areas of the country, but it still feels too early, too much like summer never really happened, to start that routine again.

With the lack of work, the summer was a long string of days searching for work, writing cover letters, struggling to make cash and cool days when I wondered if the entire season would just go belly up. Luckily there were some lovely moments, too. Belize. Camping. Sunsets and street fairs.

The housemates are back and the son’s voice has deepened oh-so-slightly. We haven’t heard his stomping overhead for nearly a month with our families’ different schedules and, to be honest, I haven’t missed it. The heavy footsteps are back, though, and the older they get, the louder they are on the floor below.

The daughter has bought school clothes with money from her grandparents. And she is trying to edge her sleep schedule backward toward a school-friendly 9 p.m. bedtime from her summer-crazy midnight turn-in. Meanwhile I’ve been the sack by 10 p.m., no matter what.

The son is coming back(!) in less than two weeks. The job fell through and he’s got classes ready for him at the college down the street. Come to find out, he can get financial aid after all!

Give me another coupe of weeks and thing will be in a new, but similar routine. Dropping one kid off instead of two. Heading north instead of staying put for work. And devising some schedule for the daughter to get home on her own. It’s a challenge, this new working mom life. But already it’s feeling better.

Now, I’m just waiting for my first paycheck since May.  tap tap tap

Growing (up) pains

Despite the fact, that I celebrated my forty-first birthday this year, I have avoided some of the more grown-up expectations.

  • I don’t own a house and never plan to.
  • I don’t have a retirement account.
  • I have never hired a lawyer (or a mover, for that matter).
  • I don’t own my own car.
  • And except for a nine-month window after I divorced way back in 1999,
    I have never worked a 40-hour-a-week job.

Yeah, yeah, I know. It sounds totally ridiculous to be this old and never worked that much, though I was working full-time at the school, it was 35 hours per week and I had the benefit of driving with my kids both to and from work (since it was their school I was working at). I was a stay-at-home mom until the divorce. After, I got a full-time job and put my daughter in day care, a horrible experience for both of us. Since 2000, I have avoided having either kid in anyone else’s daily care. All the years I went to school, I dropped them off and picked them up from school. Then we left the country and they were with me except for the few hours a day when I taught and they stayed in our dorm room. We returned to the States and I got a job at their school. I saw both of them periodically throughout the day. And then this summer, I’ve been here (unemployed and penniless) with them.

But all of that is changing.

My son is coming back from California after the job fell through and will be attending community college at the campus just down the block.

My daughter will be on her own to get home, eat and work on homework every afternoon. I’ve always been here for that, always with her to help out when she’d let me, make her dinner. Now, I’ll have to trust that she learned the bus system well enough to get herself back home. I have to hope that she will get food for herself, a rarity for her since she frequently forgets to eat. I won’t be here to be the Mom I want to be and I have to trust that she’ll be okay with it all, but the guilt of leaving her like that is killing me.

Perhaps it will work with her brother back in the house, able to keep her company in the afternoons, someone to talk to and ask for homework help. But I am going to miss being with them both. It’s hard to let go of the 24/7 parenting that I’ve devoted myself to and it’s hard to admit that I don’t have control over everything.

My first day, an orientation of sorts, is tomorrow, then the real deal starts on Monday and I can already feel the time constraints. I just have to remind myself that millions of parents do this every day and that so many of them haven’t been as lucky as I to have spent so many mornings and afternoons with my kids. And, I have to remind myself, that it’s about time I grew up and got a ‘real’ job.

All you working mothers out there… is there something I can do to get past the guilt, the worry? Or is this just one of the joys of being a mom?

(Of course, when I factor in the fact that I have a GuyFriend that I adore being with and will now rarely see along with all my other friends and hobbies and unfinished projects, I just want to run away crying. I can’t, though, so we’re just gonna have to give it a try and see what happens. At least it’s a job I wanted.)

And then there were two.

My family trio became a duo last week when my son moved out of his bedroom and into my sister’s house–1009 miles away.

I’d been expecting him to go, he was going to bring her kids home after their summer vacation with family. He would accompany them on the flight, stay for a few weeks and come back home. But life never quite happens like I expect and wham,bam Stuart suddenly had a job at my sister’s dental office.

If he wanted it.

He has spent much of the summer looking for a job with no luck beyond the small landscaping gig he’s had for years now, but suddenly there was a nearly-full-time position just waiting for him. In southern California.

He accepted, said his goodbyes to family and friends, then boarded a plane with his ten- and five-year-old cousins bound for LAX.

His room sat empty for two days, waiting. Maybe he’d change his mind. Maybe the job wouldn’t actually exist. Maybe we could still be a trio.

A week later, he’s getting settled in his new room and his sister has taken over his old room. Her computer is on his desk. Her sheets are on his bed. Her toys and books are on his shelves. And maybe in another week or two it won’t seem like they are his desk, his bed, his shelves, his room. Maybe it will feel like they are really hers.

when we were young (1999)
Perhaps in a few weeks we will have morphed into a dynamic duo, instead of feeling like a tripod with missing leg. I feel this imperative to bond tightly now or we will simply fall apart. So I’m spending more time with her, talking more, being together more.

Together, just the two of us.

Summer Reading

Summer again–the perfect time to do a bit of reading.

That’s what I think every year and yet, every summer comes and goes without me doing nearly the amount of reading I’d like to do. Usually I set a lofty goal of a book every two weeks, but that hasn’t happened since I could justify reading for hours on end as a university requirement. Now, between all the laundry, job searching, sewing, skill building, cooking, working, etc. it’s hard to find the time. In fact, I’m not sure if I actually read-read a book at all over the six months prior to the ol’ budget cuts at the school.

I do listen to audiobooks fairly regularly, though, and enjoy them immensely. There’s always the argument if it’s really reading to listen to an audiobook and while I am all in favor of them, it is a completely different experience from reading a book with your own eyes. I hadn’t realized it until this summer started and I have been making a more conscious effort to read paper copies of books that I’ve bought and never read. It’s slightly embarrassing to admit how many books I have on my myriad bookshelves that I haven’t read yet. The sheer volume of them keeps me away from Powell’s though, at least for a little while. My pocketbook certainly needs the rest.

I read The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore, (buy it)and loved the way it made me think about my own life and about my children’s lives. How small things make big differences and the big sacrifices people make. I couldn’t help but compare my choices as a single mother to both of the Wes’ moms. The author’s mother not only moved in with her parents to have them help with the kids, but also worked two jobs and send the author away to military school. While part of me is awed by her dedication to making the cash needed for private school, I just don’t think it’s something I could do. I love being with my kids. I love the fact that I haven’t had to leave them to fend for themselves during the summer months (though this year, I’ve got my fingers crossed some job comes up before fall!). I don’t want to have either kid spend the majority of their year elsewhere, and certainly can’t imagine having sent them off before they even hit their teen years. But for Moore, it may have been the best choice. He’s successful financially, seems emotionally solid and has shelves of accolades, degrees and awards. I have to wonder, and maybe it’s just the guilt-lovin’ part of me, just what it would have been like for my kids if I’d sent them off to boarding school. Would they be more successful as adults? Who knows, really. Parenting is so difficult and each child has their own drive, personality and quirks that I really can’t say that what worked for Moore’s family would work for mine. But it has made me wonder just a little more about the effects of my choices for our family.

A fellow teacher recommended The Hunger Games by Suzanne Colllins (buy it) months and months ago, but I finally got around to listening to it in May. I’m not sure I would have actually sat and read it, thanks to a predisposition to ignore young adult fiction, but listening to it while I sewed was perfect. It is a long book, nearly eleven hours in audiobook format, but I got through it in just four days. And that is why I love audiobooks so very much. When would I ever find three hours a day to sit in a chair and read? I wouldn’t and won’t. Ever. But stick those little earbuds in and let me listen to it while I cut and sew and pick seams and I’m happy as a little clam. Especially when a story is as engaging and interesting as this one. I have to yet to listen to the next two of the trilogy (waiting for them to show up on audiobook at the library), but from what I’ve heard it’s more of the same great story-telling.

Currently, I’m reading the paperback version of Lit by Mary Karr. I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to get around to reading Karr since I’ve heard her praise for years now, but it took a sale shelf at Powell’s to get me to pick it up. And then it sat there for months, just waiting for me to pick it up and crack it open. Two weeks ago, I finally did. And while I love her writing, I have yet to love her. Parenting, and doing what I hope is my very best, is so important to me and to read how a mother can put alcohol before her child and before her marriage… well, I haven’t been enamored by that part. But her honesty and willingness to put herself out there, along with her magical way of writing memoir, has kept me reading. She’s coming around at this point and there have been enough redemptive moments, that I’ll finish it. And then I will read her other books, as well. Her writing truly is beautiful. Also available as an audiobook.

Next up? I’m not sure. What are you reading and would you recommend it?

We Made It This Far

My son graduated from high school one week ago and I am remain awestruck by the passage of time, the morphing of our family dynamics, the possibilities that lie ahead of him.

So eager to start; September 1999
We all say it: Where did the time go? It doesn’t seem like twelve years since I snapped this photo of him, standing at the ready for his first day of first grade. We were still living with the kids’ father then; I was still married, but just barely. Our trio moved out just two weeks later. But you can’t see the stress of it on his face and that eases my mother-guilt, the worry that resides with me always, telling me that somehow I’m messing the kids up. He seems happy, though. Blissfully unaware that the Saturday after next, he’ll leave his father’s house and never sleep there again. He has no idea that his days with his father will become fewer and further between until the point that it will be weeks, then months and now years between visits. He’s so excited for the adventure of school. There’s no stopping the happy vibe emanating from him. It’s freakin’ adorable.
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And now in book form: Sharing Housing

If you know me at all, you know that I’ve been sharing housing for years now. Literally. Our trio had our own place until 2006 when I decided that having exchange students staying with us would be a nice introduction to both Asian culture and house-sharing. That summer we shared our place with five students, one at a time, from Japan, China and South Korea.

And it worked just as well as I could have hoped. The kids acclimated to having strangers in our space and having to repeat themselves slowly again and again. When we finally got to Vietnam and lived with a rotating array of fellow foreigners, they did fine. It worked well enough that when we returned seven months later, I started looking for someone to share a home with Stateside. Craigslist became a close friend.

One day I stumbled onto an ad for a child-friendly housemate and I figured if anyone was child-friendly, it was me. Granted it was only one bedroom and the three of us would have to share, but I figured we could make it work. We’d spent the last seven months sleeping in the same room while in Vietnam; it wasn’t going to be something new. I convinced her it would work, too, and a week later the three of us moved in with Jennifer and her son, Ryan.

Three and a half years later, we’re still living together, though in a new house (after some crazy house-hunting). The kids are older and act more like siblings much of the time. We make it work, all of us together.

I’ve always thought this was a great mode of living for solo mamas, not just the young urbanites who want to split rent. It gives us someone to depend on, to help us out with kids and someone to vent to with ex-husband issues need to be aired. I know it doesn’t work for everyone, but I think it’s worth trying.

Annamarie Pluhar agrees and wrote a book to tell you about it–she included us in her telling–with a new release from Bauhan Publishing: Sharing Housing: A Guidebook for Finding and Keeping Good Housemates.

If you’ve wondered about it before, from either the landlord or renter perspective, the book is full of great info, advice and personal anecdotes (like mine) about what makes and breaks this shared housing mode of living.

What is the point?

Since losing most of my blog, it’s set me to thinking about the whole idea of blogging. What is the point?

I’ve been posting bits and baubles about my life, my family’s life, for more than five years (how could it be that long?!), sharing moments that range from our decision to volunteer in Vietnam to our first real road trip as a family to my son’s role as the Moon. And sometimes I pontificate about the more important stuff, like what it means to be a Westerner in a developing country.

But I don’t often write about the ups and downs, struggles and joys of parenting alone.

And so when my blog here disappeared last week, I wondered if there was reason enough to get upset, or to re-start the process. I’ve thought about it and I’ve decided that yes, there is. There are only a few of us blogging who have been solo parenting for more than a decade, but we do exist and it can be done. And I think that’s really my point: it can be done and you can all be happy. It doesn’t actually require two parents to have a happy family. I’m sure it would be nice to have someone to share this all with, but it isn’t a necessity. Really.

Parenting is hard. Mothering can be tiring and overwhelming. But in the end (and I’m painfully close to the quasi end with my son), it’s all worth it.

pre-teen trauma drama

A. had spent the last hour moping around upstairs, sure that her beloved computer game was forever corrupted by her own barely considered and swiftly enacted change of her computer’s resolution. Click. Click. Black. It had happened too quickly for her to back out. Control-Z. Restart. Still black. It was at that point that she’d lost all touch on reality and the wailing started. Like the woman in mourning as her husband burns on the funeral pyre, A. reeled with grief, the tears and strained moans coming haphazardly. She had fallen into the black abyss and her brother came to save her.
Continue reading “pre-teen trauma drama”

Pre-teen Trauma Drama

A. had spent the last hour moping around upstairs, sure that her beloved computer game was forever corrupted by her own barely considered and swiftly enacted change of her computer’s resolution. Click. Click. Black. It had happened too quickly for her to back out. Control-Z. Restart. Still black. It was at that point that she’d lost all touch on reality and the wailing started. Like the woman in mourning as her husband burns on the funeral pyre, A. reeled with grief, the tears and strained moans coming haphazardly. She had fallen into the black abyss and her brother came to save her.

Clicking, reconnecting, resetting, searching, coding, restarting and more clicking; S.’s patience was on display as he calmly sought a way to reset A.’s resolution to one that the monitor would recognize, one that would let her play her game again. And finally it worked.

“You just need to turn the monitor on when you want to play,” he told her as he walked past her, sitting chin in hand on the stairs.

She sighed heavy and low then stood to go into the living room.

“It’s not gonna work,” she said to no one. “There’s no way he could fix it.” Click.

And with that click she realized just how magical her brother really is. “OH.” She ran to his room, busting the door open to give him an uncomfortably long hug and a kiss which is almost always refused, but managed to sit stoicly through. “Thank you, thank you, thank you! You’re the best man in the house!”

Being the only man in the house, he wasn’t impressed.

“He’s the best big brother I know,” I shouted down to her.

“Yes! Yes! You’re the best big brother a kid could ever have! What can I do for you? I will do anything! Do you want a snack? A drink? A back massage? I’ll do anything!”

S. sat facing his own computer. “Anything?”

“Yes! Whatever.”

“Okay, then please just go away.”

And with that it was over. A. happily ran back to play and S. was back to being a typical teenage boy.