One is the Onlyest Number (aka: Pathways)

Life is a maze of pathways.

When we are young, the paths seem fewer. Wider. Simpler to choose. Well duh…I choose the path with the great job, perfect spouse, 2.5 kids, and a 3-bedroom house with a picket fence. Okay, maybe not with the picket fence, because those babies require maintenance.

But as we journey forward in life, those paths begin to multiply. They are murkier, shrouded in mystery. We think we have wandered down the path leading toward our destiny, only to discover that we’ve wandered into some ghetto by mistake. Whoops. Backtrack.

So we choose new paths, with new starry-eyed goals, and new hopes for a better lives. Surely this time, we’ll get it right. Right?

I used to be so good at picking the seeming winners. I wanted to graduate from a university. Bingo! I did it. I wanted a traditional marriage to a good man, with three kids, a golden retriever, and a house in a sleepy suburb. Bingo! I got that, too. Only later, the good man turned out to be not so good, so that path grew more like the journey toward Mordor, until i worked up the courage to flee.

I chose a new path. One with just me, and three great kids. (Only no more golden retriever, because, sadly, she was stolen from us.). It turned out to be the best path yet. My kids and I make one happy family together. I have a career that I enjoy, our health is good, and I feel that I have an optimum balance of work, hobbies, and rest.

But there is only me.

I’m not completely alone. My kids and I have a terrific relationship. We talk, support each other, and laugh together. What more could I ask for? One of my sisters lives nearby, and though we rarely talk or get together, I know that I could call her in an emergency. So I guess that’s kind of a support network.

Still, there is only me. (Cue Whitesnake)

I am the only parent i our household. Which means, I get to be the nurturer, enforcer, provider, protector, teacher, and final-decision-maker. Those are my roles, as Mom. I can pretend sometimes that my kids are my friends, but truthfully, they have their own lives, with their own friends. And there are many things that I can’t share with them the way you can with another adult.

I am my only friend. I’m friendly enough with people I encounter at work or the occasional meetups I venture out to. But I do not have any close friends. If something exciting were to happen in my life, I would scream about it to No One and Everyone on Twitter and my blog. And possibly with people at work. I would not have a friend to share it with. If something bad happens in my life, well, I would probably write about it in my journal, or deal with it internally while listening to sad music. It is up to me to cheer for myself. It is up to me to comfort myself. Because, there is only me.

Luckily, I am good at being the only one. I’ve had a lot of practice. And I’m a pretty darned good friend to myself. I treat myself to an occasional chai, or glass of good wine. I know myself well, so I know just the right things to say to motivate me. I compliment myself and cheer my own accomplishments. Most importantly, I like myself. And I will never leave me.

This path of Onlyness isn’t the path I thought I would take. I thought that by now, after being single for nearly five years, my life would look a little different. I thought that I would have a couple of close friends to hang out with and chat about stupid stuff and important stuff. I thought I would have been in a serious relationship, maybe even remarried, but to someone much better for me. Why not? I’m a kind, honest, interesting, intelligent, and funny person. But neither of those paths led anywhere. They were only ever dead ends. Somehow, it always ended up with only me, standing there, wondering what went wrong.

So I chose a different path. The path of purposeful Onlyness. A path on which I no longer seek friendships or relationships to fill whatever voids I may have, as doing so only led to deeper voids, and more hurt. A path on which I allow people come and go as they choose, and not chase after them. Nor will it hurt when people go, because we will never be close to begin with. A path on which I will not ever again allow myself to be emotionally weak and vulnerable with others. I will instead hold others at a distance, safe in my aloofness.

On this path, I go out to see concerts, movies, and plays with Only Me. I try new foods. I read great books. I work hard at staying fit, advance in my career, and focus on raising my last two teens to adulthood. I do not look with envy at those who are on a different path. I instead celebrate my own path, and offer myself the love, respect, and appreciation that I know I deserve. Is the Only path a lonely path? Yes. It can be. But no lonelier that when I was on the wrong path, searching for togetherness, and only finding aloneness. Better to admire the garden from a distance than to pick the flowers and be stung by bees.

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Two Small Words (a poem)

Today

The universe breathed your name

(the car you drive

the foods you eat

a sport you love)

and two small words

Hey you.

So tiny, innocent

written by the wrong hand

but in my mind

your voice

as clear as a summer sky

shines over the desert

that familiar lilt and cadence

Hey you.

The sweet, sharp heartache

of missing home

tiny razor nicks

Hey you.

Your strong arms around me

the wind carrying your scent

on two words

like wings

Stained With Innocence (a poem)

The elders look down their noses

gaze severe

tutting the overgrown girl who roams the garden

in bare feet

How dare she tiptoe around

the circle

shunning the shrouded mysteries

See how she raises empty hands

to fill with rain

then cup to her own mouth

stained with innocence

adrift in blissful fantasy

How dare she!

She tilts her head, wondering

when the elders traded

the sweetness and burst of grapes

for bitter wines

and dry bread

that crumbles in their mouths

When did they lose their zest

for spring’s green hope

that dawn will rise

with golden light to paint the sky?

She refuses to hate her own

wind-kissed knees

from twirling skirts

and loose, messy hair.

The days are made

for a child’s faith

to see the world in wonder

and taste the new

Happy 1st Divorceaversary!

celebrate-divorceToday I am celebrating my 1st Divorceaversary. Woohoo! Although I have technically been a single woman for around two years now, today marks the day my seventeen-year marriage officially came to an end.

Shameful, you say? No one should celebrate their divorce, you say? Well, I respectfully disagree.

I married my ex-husband when I was only 21 years old. Fresh out of uni     versity, starry-eyed, and far more in love with the dreamy idea of being the perfect Christian wife than I was with the man I married that day. Really, I was nothing more than a naïve virgin in a very expensive dress who believed, like most young brides do, that my marriage was a special, sacred thing that would last until death did us part.

Then this thing called real life showed up.

I will spare you the dramatic details and bad memories. But believe me when I say that choosing to divorce my husband was one of the wisest decisions I have ever made in my entire life. When I walked out of the court room one year ago with the final judgment in my hands, I whooped for joy. I sang aloud. I went home and Snoopy-danced in celebration of this new life, and new sense of freedom. If I had happened to have one of those supportive groups of girlfriends, then surely I would have followed the trends and thrown myself a divorce party.

Happily Divorced Of course, there are some things about a divorce that are not worth celebrating. Some of the changes kind of sucked. Like the child visitation part (not fighting over who gets the most custody, but fighting to get a rather unwilling ex to visit with his kids much at all). And the big financial changes that come with divorce aren’t very fun, either. For many new divorcees, I am sure that there is some sort of mourning period, as well. After all, most couples who have been married for more than a decade are probably close; their lives and routines intertwined to some extent. This was certainly not the case for me, or perhaps the transition to singlehood would have been much more difficult.

But there are other things that are definitely celebration-worthy. Hooray, an end to all the ceaseless fighting! Hooray, no more forced sexual interactions! Hooray, no more having to constantly defend my opinions, thoughts, or choices! Hooray to at last having the freedom to be myself, to grow, and to blossom. Hooray for my kids, who also benefit from a far more stable household! And even a hooray for my ex, who is hopefully realizing that divorce has freed him to pursue the type of woman who will actually make him happy, instead of trying to transform me into someone else. A toast to freedom, and to happiness!

If I weren’t cake intolerant, then maybe I would celebrate this special day by baking one of the crazy divorce cakes I’ve come across on the internet, like these:

I dont cakeDoDidDone Cake

Perhaps I could celebrate by having my old wedding ring redesigned into a lovely pendant, like this:

Diamond heart pendant jewelry

Or, more likely, I will spend the day focusing on the blessings that surround me, like the three great kids who make life awesome every day. And studying, since I have returned to school, and it is now finals week. And maybe, when the kids are not looking, I will turn up the music on my Divorceaversary playlist and Snoopy Dance around my bedroom. Because I am free to do so.

The Unwritten Rules (aka: Young-at-Heart)

image Do you know what I really felt like doing today? Skipping. I mean, there I was, walking downtown in my cute, professional-looking dress, when I was suddenly overwhelmed with an urge to skip to the train station. Why? Oh, I don’t know — because the sun was shining, and the sky was so blue, and because I am still young and coordinated enough to skip instead of walk.But I did not skip. I took a deep breath, then continued to walk at a dull, steady pace, like the rest of the grownups. Because skipping is one of those things that just isn’t done.

As far as I know, there is no grand master list of written rules for things which one mustn’t do after the age of 21. But nevertheless, the rules exist. It is not proper to show up at a friend’s house uninvited. It is not appropriate to grow vegetables and flowers in place of a square, green lawn in many suburbs. It is not okay to go about speaking in a fake British accent (and definitely not in PigLatin). It is okay to feel young-at-heart, as long one does not wear a bikini over the age of 35, or blow bubble-gum bubbles, or eat Lucky Charms cereal, or watch cartoons.

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Adults playing

But why do we have so many rules? Why, in order to be accepted in society, must we dress and speak and move a certain way? Now, I agree that some rules are necessary. Rules that keep people safe, for example, or rules created for ethical reasons, or to keep order in society. Clearly those are useful and necessary. But what about the unspoken rules — the ones which tell us what is and is not socially acceptable? I mean, yes, we should all look down on people who wear socks with flip-flop sandals, because ew. So déclassé. But if, while standing in line at the supermarket, I were to break out singing Seasons of Love (and secretly hoping that everyone else would join in, like in Improv Everywhere), then I’m pretty sure I’d get a lot of oddball looks, and maybe even kicked out.

So, I do not break out singing in the supermarket. Or wear flip-flop sandals without socks. But you know what? Tomorrow morning, I may just kick back with a bowl of Lucky Charms cereal while I watch an episode or two of Adventure Time. Because life is short. And some rules are just stupid. And maybe it is the giving in to those occasional bursts of feeling young-at-heart that actually do keep us young. Not to mention happy.

And so, when I stepped off the train today, I chose to give my inner wild child permission to break the rules. I tilted my face up toward the shining sun and blue sky, and skipped, carefree, across the parking lot. And felt a lot better for it.

 

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Out to Sea (aka: A Stranger’s Perspective)

I live in a suburb of Sacramento, in Northern California. And, as I mentioned in a previous post a year ago suburb snore  , I have really never liked living in the suburbs, where I have always felt like a rose trying to bloom in a concrete desert. I used to imagine my life in a secluded cabin somewhere in the mountains, or an artsy bungalow somewhere in the Bay Area, or a high-rise apartment in some grand city – anywhere but some dull suburb filled with boxy chain stores and look-alike houses. It is when I dwell on those old dreams that I feel the familiar tug of wanderlust. I don’t want to keep standing on the old wooden dock, watching the sailboats head out to sea. I want to be on the boat, sailing toward anywhere but here.

I recently met someone who is a seasoned world-traveler. And while I was hoping to live vicariously through his tales of adventures beyond my own dull suburb, he said something completely unexpected. Sacramento, he said, is freakin’ awesome.

Wait. What?

Okay, when I think of this place where I live, a dozen descriptions come to mind. And not one of those is freakin’ awesome. You don’t know what you have, said the stranger, along with a few other things that made me ponder. And ponder. And…you get the idea. What on earth does this little part of the world have that an outsider would see as something special? Like the INTJ that I am, I analyzed it and made a list:

Ways in Which My City Rocks

  1. Affordable housing. (Yes, well, there are some serious hole-in-the-wall places around the country with cheap housing, too. So maybe that isn’t so special).
  2. The river! (Because that means wildlife, and wild places for hiking and water activities)
  3. The Kings and the Sacramento Republic (NBA basketball and, well…MLS hopeful team)
  4. Some of the most beautiful autumn foliage out there (Seriously. You should see it).
  5. Everything is just a 2 hour drive away. Want snow? Two hours north. Sea? Two hours southwest. San Francisco? Two hours. Giant redwoods? Two hours. Mountains? Two hours.
Midtown Autumn

Fall foliage in midtown Sacramento

Okay, maybe that last one doesn’t exactly count, because it is not about being in Sacramento. But it is still a huge plus for a wanderer like me. In fact, just yesterday, my kids and I drove two hours away to Point Reyes – one of my favorite Northern California destinations for its wild, rugged coastline, wildlife, and beautiful scenery. We enjoyed a great hike through the wilderness and a perfect day on the beach. Then we reluctantly said goodbye to the fresh, salty air and headed toward home.

As we neared Sacramento, I had to rub my eyes a few times. Where our city began, the clear blue skies ended abruptly in a thick, brownish-grayish haze of smog. My kids and I stared in dismay. “Does our city always look like that?” asked my son.

I shook my head. “I don’t know. I hope not.” The smog was so incredibly thick that it obscured our view of the downtown skyscrapers and crept inside our car, burning our throats. Nope, I decided. Sacramento was not freakin’ awesome. In fact, I wanted to freakin’ turn the car around and drive back to the Bay Area.

“Oh look, there’s a fire over there!” my daughter pointed out the window, where, sure enough, a plume of smoke rose from an urban area wildfire, filling the skies with smoke. Aha. So the thick haze was not how Sacramento usually looks. That was a relief.

community summer gathering

There’s something to be said about those events where the community gathers together to celebrate and have fun together.

After returning home, we gathered our portable chairs and joined a few thousand neighbors in the park across the street from our home. My kids raced around to inflatables and puppet shows with friends from school and soccer teams, and then we sat back and enjoyed the big fireworks show. And as I sat there, content by my children’s side, I realized how good it felt, after a long day at sea, to have returned home again. To have a safe park and nice kids for my kids to play with, and warm summer nights to sit with the community, watching a fireworks show. That is freakin’ awesome – and one of those things that chips away at the concrete barriers, exposing the earth and letting the flowers bloom wherever they’re planted.

celebrate fireworks

Explore. Dream. Discover.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. ~ Mark Twain (1835-1910)

Sail away from safe harbors

It was one of my favorite quotes from an author whose literature I greatly admire. Explore. Dream. Discover. And so I did. At least, to an extent. I rappelled down the face of a cliff. I stood at the feet of the Statue of Liberty and watched a real Broadway musical on Broadway. I tasted the salty breezes of two different oceans, watched the eruption of Old Faithful, and threw stones into the Grand Canyon (because, why not?). I explored. I dreamed. I discovered.

I used to live life in fast forward, arms spread wide, mouth open, waiting to taste whatever new adventures the universe had to offer. I sometimes think that is why I rushed through university so quickly and married so young. I wanted to know what it was like to be finished with school. I was eager to experience life as a married woman (and, of course, the great sex and intimacy that was supposed to come with it. Haha – funny joke, universe). I was eager to try new foods and hear new music and travel to interesting places. I was eager to experience every good thing life had to offer – to explore, to dream, to discover.

I lost that hunger. Somewhere in the midst of an unhappy, abusive marriage, and broken friendships, and lonely, gray years of emptiness, that vision slipped away. Explore? But the world, once as vibrant and inviting as the Land of Oz, now seemed cold and hostile. Dream? I lost the ability to dream beyond rewinding the clock and fixing broken things. Discover? What remained to be discovered? I had traveled to the end of the rainbow, but instead of gold, I had found stones. And that fire that once burned bright within my spirit had gone out.

And so, I shifted focus. After all, I am a mother of three terrific kids. And they do not yet know that there are only stones at the end of the rainbow. So I live my life for them. I get out of bed every day for them. I go to school and work for them, so that I can provide for their needs. I plan adventures for them, because they have not yet swum in both oceans, or visited New York City, or climbed actual mountains. I am happy to do these things for them, because it allows me to ignore the gnawing, lonely emptiness inside of me. But I know that it is not sufficient. I know that I will never be content until that fire burns inside of me once again, urging me to really live…to stop standing still like a zombie and start to explore. To dream. To discover.

I mentioned recently that I have been Cheering Sports Fans in a Bartrying new things. Because maybe that is what it takes to re-light a fire that went cold years ago. So far, I have had little success. And in fact, just today, because I had never been to a bar, and had never watched a soccer game with a big group of other soccer-loving fans, I forced myself out of the house and into a large bar downtown to watch the USA vs. Portugal World Cup soccer game. Unfortunately, that turned out to be a huge mistake. The bar was absolutely packed with adoring, cheering fans. I stood among the beer-guzzling crowd, feeling out-of-place and very awkward. Not to mention thirsty. How on earth are you supposed to get something to drink in a bar…shove your way up front and yell “Diet Pepsi please!” over the din? And do they even sell Diet Pepsi? Luckily, I found a (waitress?) to ask, and she very kindly brought me a Pepsi (not Diet, but who cares?) for free. So I quietly sipped my soda and watched the game in silence, while imagining myself with a group of soccer-loving friends, guzzling beers and yelling at the TV screen. Together. (Does that count as dreaming?)

I went home at halftime.

But still, I explored. And I discovered what a bar is like. Sort of. So I don’t have to do that ever again. One teeny-tiny, wobbly baby step into a world that feels so enormous and so scary. Watching a soccer game alone in a crowded bar sucked. Seriously. But now, twenty years from now, I don’t have to look back and be disappointed that I didn’t even try.