Tuesday, May 17, 2016

choose joy

This is the second of several installments working off of a feeling prompt. Today's feeling: alegría.

I love to say the word alegría. The way the liquid l sound gives way to a hard g, only to flutter away in a quick r-í-a. It's a beautiful word. The closest approximation of alegría that I know of is the Italian word allegro, used in music to denote a quick, happy pace. Maybe that's what sets alegría apart. It's joy and happiness, for sure, but set to a lively, vibrant tempo.

I feel algría when I'm with my husband. We like to visit new places and just sort of wander around. I love the freedom of it all. I love that we have no plan. I love that we stop when we want to, and then start up again. We eat what we want to (in part because we know we will walk it off), and find pleasure in everything. We talk about where we are. Sometimes we talk about who we are. We recite our history. We remember how we fell in love, holding hands as we run for the next train.

And we fall in love again.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

turning corners

This is the first of several installments working off of a feeling prompt. Today's feeling: resentment.

My step-children are 15 and 16, and I've been in their lives for 2 1/2 years now. During my first year of marriage, I started a new job, sold my house, gave away most of my things, moved into their house, lost my sister suddenly, and was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Plus all the other “normal” step-stuff.

And I have struggled.

Mostly, I've struggled with all the ways I've had to rewrite my "wife/mom" script to adapt to being someone’s second wife/stepmom, rewrites that have been entangled with intense feelings of loneliness, powerlessness, resentment, and disappointment. At times, I have felt deeply ashamed of these feelings; at times, I have felt that I am failing.

Reading stepmom blogs has been incredibly healing for me and has helped me to start to re-examine my beliefs about myself, marriage and motherhood. I am just scratching the surface of this inquiry, and it is changing me for the better.

I am surrendering to the truth that these are not my children, while holding to the equally important truth that this is my family.

I am finding peace in reminding myself that my step-children have parents whose job it is to do the heavy lifting. I resisted this new belief for a long time, much to my own detriment. Embracing it now has given me the freedom to discover what I WANT my role to be, and gently revealed ways that I can bond with my step kids without trying to be something I don’t need to be or something they don’t want me to be.

I've accepted that when I try to get too much into rules, consequences or agendas, I set myself up to be misunderstood, mistaken or just plain rejected, and that my marriage and my self-image suffers when I feel these things. None of us are ready for that kind of senseless suffering. We may be someday, but not yet. And that is just fine because, as previously noted, the kids have two parents whose job it is to do rules, consequences and agendas.

In terms of my unique role, I have discovered that I can safely notice, comment, and even warn, but that my relationship with my step-children grows better and stronger when I notice, encourage, and support. Fortunately for us all, this latter role suits me very well, and it brings my husband and I closer.

My husband and I have learned to lovingly acknowledge each other's efforts and to focus optimistically on our common goals. This has meant the world to me for so many reasons. One of the realities of any marriage is that deep feelings of partnership take time to develop. In the case of an insta-family, this process requires extra doses of intentional practice, patience and perspective. Where there was predictability and order for the original family, there is now an unsettled quality. Still, to the newbie, they all seem so loyal and comfortable with each other, and very ready to fall back into familiar patterns. And the newbie wants so badly to belong, to have a purpose and an identity within this tight and well-established group. Eventually everyone sort of realizes that they have no idea what to do with her, but that she's there. And she's moving stuff around. It's all sort of comical and desperate. And real. Feeling more connected to my husband has changed everything and gives me so much hope for what is still to come. I trust him more, and I trust myself more. And that trust is leading to beautiful lessons.

Of course I still have days that I want to get in the car and drive far far away, but I'm learning ways to cope with those feelings, too. (Having cancer has really helped me with this.)

The best nugget I can share so far: Let love rule. Love your husband. Love your step-children. Love the house. Every inch of it. Claim it. Claim it all. And love yourself. Take time to sit with all of your feelings without any judgment or shame, then get up and do something that makes you happy. Don't worry so much. Let things unfold. It will all be just fine.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

i found a lump

Part I: The Lump

It happened a week or so before Thanksgiving. I think one of the medical bills I just entered for taxes was dated 11/20/2015, so it was a couple of days before that. I was in the shower.

I try to remember what happened next: starting to cry in the shower, thinking, "This is okay. You're okay. This is okay, " then, "Call the doctor. Call Eddie."

Eddie, my husband, was in another room working on bids and project notes and Facebook ads. He came immediately.

I got out of the shower and stood in front of him, soaking wet, and distraught. I put his hand where the lump was and crumpled into his arms. We tried to reassure each other that it could be anything. Scar tissue. An infection. A swollen lymph node. We should call the doctor and have it checked out. I made the appointments before going to work. More appointments followed.

I finally saw my breast surgeon for the biopsy about a week later. She wanted to do it herself in her office. I waited for almost an hour because she is always so backed up. So many women with breast cancer.

She told me how to lay down, what to do with my arm. She did another ultrasound first, to see what she was working with. She tsked and shook her head. She read my chart again.

"This can't be necrotic tissue." Dead tissue from an injury or past scar. "It's not close enough to your previous site to be scar tissue. If this is a new tumor, you know we can't do radiation again. My recommendation will be a mastectomy."

I sort of nodded. I was so overwhelmed. I wished I had brought someone with me. I wanted to cry. I needed someone to hold my hand.

We got the diagnosis on December 3, 2015, one day before our first wedding anniversary.

This was my second breast cancer diagnosis. My first bout was in 2012. While getting dressed, I noticed that the skin around my left breast was pulling in a weird way. Take home note: Know your naked body. It's not gross or pervy or weird. It's your body. And if you don't take a long look every now and then, you might start to miss things.

I'm three months out of my bilateral mastectomy now. They called it a simple, which someone explained to me, but that I still find very insensitive.

I opted for the double because of an old Arabic proverb from the book The Alchemist that basically boils down to: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Except way more poetic.

Part II: Early Coping

The first two weeks after a mastectomy are agonizing. My husband was so supportive and fearless. I was in pain, in shock, and so afraid of infection or of losing my nipples, which we opted to spare. I felt like I was constantly asking for help, and this only added to my anxiety and distress. I'd rather suffer more and rely less. So I stopped asking for as much as I needed.

To anyone who might relate the the feelings and behaviors I just described: Stop. Just stop.

Ask for all the help you want or need. Or just want. Make a list of everything you normally do and call this list "What I will need help with." Include everything. Hold a family meeting and share your list without any apologies. Finally, put someone else (not you!) in charge of keeping up with all the stuff on your list (laundry, dinner, cleaning, groceries, sponge baths and hair care, pet care, making sure your medicine and water is within reach, that your dressings are changed on schedule, etc.) That way, you won't have to constantly ask for help and--hidden bonus--your people who aren't used to looking after invalids (um, most of your friends and family) will get a heads up to all the things that you usually take care of and will need them to start looking after for you.

For your emotional needs: Give yourself permission to feel anything you want to feel. Ignore everyone else's definition of "strong." Ignore what people tell you about how much time you should take off or how doing dishes might help with mobility or how you probably don't need to take the full dose of pain killers. Those people have no clue.

Whatever the doctor tells you is "normal" recovery time, multiply by 1.5. Two weeks til you can go back to work? Wrong. Take three weeks off, then see how you feel. I went back after two weeks and it was a terrible decision. It's not just the physical activity of work, either. It's the constant stress, influx of emails, phone calls, people needing solutions by the minute to problems you didn't create. You don't need that right now.

Cry as often as you need to.

Tell people which "comforting" phrases are not helpful right now ("This is just going to take time"), and which are ("Let me rub your back.") Call people of the phone or text when you need to talk. And don't let anyone come near you who isn't a pick-me-up.

Let your husband know if someone else needs to take the kids for a few days. I wish I had done more of that. Kids, even teenagers, have no idea how much they need, want and expect of the adults in their lives. It's okay to let someone else attend to all of those little needs or a few days. Like, in our case, maybe their actual mother.

And if your husband or primary care-giver needs a night off, reassure him that that's okay. Just make sure you have what you need and aren't left all alone, unless you want to be all alone.

Some people don't really get the value of quiet companionship. Find at least one person who does, and let them know that you appreciate them for just being there.

In short, let people help you, but be sure they are really helping you.

Part III: Intimacy

I started my period the morning of my double mastectomy. The doctors had already told me that I might need help using the bathroom for the first couple of days--and I did--so starting my period was like salt on the wound. Eddie not only helped me with EVERYTHING, but he learned to change a pad. Yes. Yes, he did. And I'm so deeply humbled by that because what I needed most while I was in recovery--besides pain management and rest--was intimacy. I craved it.

I still miss the freedom to spontaneously tackle-hug my husband. Or even just spoon. We can do a lot of loving things, but these simple acts require a lot of pillow-positioning and planning.

And I still can't comfortably rest my head on my husband's shoulder in bed or while we watch TV, but I can lean into him while standing up, and he can hold me for a really long time.

(We can do other things, too, by the way. I don't want anyone getting too bleak a picture! But the long embraces are way more romantic.)

We finally met with my oncologist a few weeks after surgery. I didn't have to do chemo, which was actually a surprise. I mean, I didn't do chemo the first time either and, oops, I got it again. So, I sort of figured chemo after a recurrence would be a no-brainer. But my oncologist looked at my labs and thought about it and said, "Let's do tamoxifen again."

"Would there be any added protection by doing chemo?" I asked, sort of bordering on insistence.

"No. In your case, there would be no added benefit to chemo. The only concern I have for you is that you will not be able to try IVF again for at least 3 years. I know you wanted very much to have a child."

Part IV: Unexpected Heartaches

It melted me that he remembered that I wanted to be a mother. Eddie and I had, in fact, just started IVF consultations when I found my lump. I'd even had all the tests. The one where they probe around your ovaries to see how many follicles you have, to calculate how many eggs they might be able to extract, to then predict how many viable embryos they might be able to create. I had the test where they stuck a probe up my hoo-ha to look around my uterus and determine if it would be a hospitable environment for a fetus. That one sort of hurt, but it was all worth it when they told me that I had a beautiful uterus and plenty of follicles. I could start right away, if I wanted to. I am 41 years old. Of course I wanted to start right away. I would have started the day we got married, but my husband had some weird idea that newly weds should have some time to themselves.

For others in my position: If you have step-children who are with you almost everyday (as mine are with us), then this "we deserve some time to ourselves", while a romantic notion if you're just talking, you know, romance, is a 100% BS argument if you're talking about when to start trying to conceive a child, especially when the uterus involved is already 40+. In the first place, you are not "on your own" and you have MAYBE one night a week "to yourselves". A baby isn't gonna be the reason date nights get hard, especially when you have plenty of family and aren't opposed to using a babysitter. And you should also not cave to waiting until you "know each other better", especially if your gut tells you something different. I would never have married him if I thought I needed to "get to know him better" before having children. I married him because I knew him well enough to trust him with all my dreams for the future.

Waiting to start fertility consultations is my only regret about my marriage; it's the only thing (so far) that we may not get another chance at. It's also the only thing I have felt truly angry about post-cancer. Everything was going so smoothly with IVF. And if things kept going smoothly, I'd be pregnant by now.

I wanted so much to be a mother.

To keep my hopes high, I visualized everything I could about my pregnancy and my baby's first glimpses of life. How I would take care of myself as I got bigger and bigger. How I would decorate her nursery. How I would hold her and sing to her. How she would cry in the night and I would come to her and change her and feed her. I imagined how she would grow up and wear her hair in pig tails. I imagined scolding her when she didn't mind or took something that wasn't hers or needed to be a better friend. I imagined her in little tan corduroys and a pink sweater after school. I imagined hugging her so tight--something I still hesitate to do with my stepchildren because I'm not sure if they want hugs from me and I don't want to make them uncomfortable. I imagined playing and driving and cleaning and fussing and needing a time out and all of it.

I could see her. I really could. I still can. I even thought about what she'd be like as a sassy teenager. A lot of moms might live in trepidation of their teen-aged daughter, but I didn't. Having a teen-aged stepdaughter has been one of my great privileges. Being able to do it again with my own daughter... It was a beautiful dream.

And I think, now that I write all of this out, that a big part of what I was imagining was a home that felt like MINE. A that intimacy that I yearn for with my stepchildren. To start from scratch with my own child, where our memories and experiences and beliefs would be shared from the beginning... I don't know if Eddie will ever get that. He takes what he has just a little bit for granted. And he has no idea what I've given up. I'm not angry with him for that. I just still feel really lonely a lot.

I was supposed to start my IVF drug regimen the Friday before Thanksgiving. I think I felt the lump that Tuesday. I called the IVF clinic and told them what happened. They never even called me for a follow-up. What would have been the point?

Part IV: Getting Stronger

After finding the lump, I went on a serious health kick. And I learned a lot about the connection between stress, estrogen and estrogen receptor positive cancer. Stress stimulates estrogen production, which--in my case, since my tumors were both estrogen and progesterone receptor positive--feeds the cancer. What I learned nearly sent me into a depressive tailspin. Because I was already a cancer survivor, I went in for frequent mammograms and blood tests. None of my tests 6 months earlier had indicated any cause for concern. Where had this tumor come from?

But I knew, even before I knew the science behind stress and cancer.

I knew that I had been through a tremendously hard year. I had gotten married, become a stepmom overnight, quickly learned that there is nothing instant about an insta-family, and that I had no point of real reference for any of the roles or identities that I was suddenly grappling with.

During my first year of marriage, my sister committed suicide. I learned then that my husband was an incredible shoulder to lean on, and that he truly loved me. I also learned that he was terrible at setting clear boundaries with his ex, even in the face of my tragic crisis. It was really hard for him to know how to put me first. And it was hard for me to ask to be put first. I didn't want to be selfish. Or create even more conflict. In hindsight, this was--like coming home from a mastectomy--one of those times when I should have said, "Please ask their mother to take them for a few days." I should have asked, but I didn't know how.

Now I know how. So, thank you Universe for teaching me.

In the end, going through my sister's death together broke down some of the emotional barriers between me and my step children. Hearts began to soften.

A few months later, Eddie's ex sued for full custody (which made me angry on so many levels, including my very deep and very powerful mom level). This drama lasted through the first weeks I was home from the hospital. $5000 later, we got the good news that there would be no change in custody.

Nothing about this year was what I had been conditioned for, which I sort of expected but still struggled with all the time. I wasn't prepared for how devastatingly lonely it would be trying to figure out I my role in a house full of people who shared a life-long bond. And while much of it was still so good, more of it was so overwhelming. I cannot even begin to break it down. And that's just the stuff I was sort of/kind of expected or have been able to sort of/kind of put my finger on.

I had not idea how difficult an ex could be, and the kind of hold she could have over my household if we weren't careful, thoughtful and diligent. And impervious.

The months before I felt the tumor were rock-bottom months, as far as her influence over my life and marriage were concerned. And I felt utterly wasted. And often powerless.

That's part of the reason I decided I was not going to give her any more power over my future. Eddie and I started IVF, in the wake of one of her last onslaughts. It was such a powerful step for us. We started a lot of other things, too, that have been equally powerful, as we determined to better manage her so that we could truly claim what was ours.

Cancer has helped with that, too. It really has.

Part V. Stuck in the Past

I have often contemplated the advice I would give to my stepdaughter if she were ever in the position to date and marry a man who already had children with another woman. Especially if my step daughter had no children of her own. Especially if her would-be stepchildren were primarily with their father, and his ex was prone to conflict.

What would I tell her?

Run for you life!?!

That would have been very honest, but short-sighted.

I could give her more mature advice: Don't ever ask him if he is over her. He thinks he is. And he probably mostly is over her as much as you are over the last person you really loved. Except that he did't just really love her. He married her. And had children with her. Compromised and laughed and fought with her. House hunted with her. Moved across country with her. Went through illness and tragedy with her. Relied on her. Trusted her with everything. Tested mattresses and couches and freezers with her. Went on vacations. Holy freak. So many vacations. Places that you might have wanted to see someday, too, but will now need to visit on some kind of non-romantic girlfriend trip because there is no way you are going to walk hand in hand with him down a street where he might have made out with his ex wife. Uh-uh. No.

And he won't understand this at first. He won't understand why you don't want to go to the one decent place in Cabo that he and she discovered years ago. Or, speaking about vacations generally, why it might be weird for you to share a hotel room with his kids (especially his teenage boy). Or why it might break your heart when they ask, "Hey dad, did you ever come here with mom?" And you will wonder if he lied to you when he assured you that Puerto Vallarta was uncharted territory. You'll also wonder--repeatedly, because this won't be the only time the bring up their mom and dad's romantic history--if they ask those awkward questions with such obvious disregard for your feelings because 1) they really do disregard your feelings or 2) you really are invisible or 3) they want you to know that she already got all this before you ever came along so stop thinking you're so special.

Then you'll wonder why, in 20 years of marriage and a crazy number of trips to Mexico, they never went to Puerto Vallarta. Was it beneath her? Then you'll start to wonder if she stayed in nicer resorts, ate at fancier restaurants, wore cuter vacation clothes or paid more for her souvenirs and massages. Because she probably did. I mean, she was married to a successful businessman pre-divorce. You were a school counselor paying off college loans and a mortgage, driving instead of flying, and watching Netflix because it was cheaper than cable.

And even though you are so proud of your life and your choices and your character and see yourself as beyond blessed, you will compare yourself sometimes to her and wonder if maybe she just had a lot more self esteem than you, especially when she tells you in angry text messages and emails that you are nothing and pathetic and obviously desperate for love to have agreed to live in her old house and sleep in her old bedroom and even hope that her children could ever love you.

A part of you will wonder if that's true.

It'll sort of seem like maybe it is a little bit true sometimes.

Part IV. Looking Forward

Except that it isn't how she describes it, really. Usually everyone seems pretty happy. And nice. And maybe even loving. You sure are trying to be loving.

And even though I'm stressed out of my mind most of the time and have cancer and lost my boobs and am currently in some serious pain from sitting at this computer for so long and still haven't said it all, I am happy. And hopeful. And very blessed. And very very loved.

So, I guess what I'd really say to my step-daughter is this: Just know that there will be things that will take time to work through, and a lot of the work will be done alone and in private. Your husband will want to make everything better, but he won't be able to because he's not you and you can't expect him to feel what you feel. He's still thinking in an old way, based on that old relationship.

And you will have to let a lot of things go. A lot. And sometimes losing things (especially dream things) will feel like losing yourself, but you're not losing yourself. You are finding yourself every day. And you will find others, too. And you will get there. Through prayer and longer talks than he might want to have and longer embraces and rough nights and speaking up, even when what you say or how you say it aren't what anyone else wants to hear right now... You will get there. Soul intact.

And it's probably best not to invest too much emotion into any part of the intimate details of his previous marriage. Instead, all you really need to know--because I'm pretty sure he knew from the moment he laid eyes on you--is that you are every bit as important as any other person under his care. And that you are worth the work and the steps and the changes and the transformation that you will all make--you, your husband, the kids, and even the ex--together.

I wonder if I would have gotten cancer again had our first year been less stressful. I don't know. But having cancer has taught me so many things.

Eddie's ex really did get into my head. Cancer got her out of my head. Now, I feel so incredibly strong. Eddie is stronger, too. WE are stronger. We are learning so much about taking good care of ourselves, letting go of the need to please (down with co-dependence!), and how to be more assertive. We are learning what really matters... and what doesn't.

I think cancer may have saved my life.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

the truth will set you free

So, here's a very frustrating truth: Sometimes (insert smirk, chuckle or full on GUFFAW here) it doesn't matter who's right.

It really doesn't.

And it's not even that no one cares or that no one wants to hear it or that no one wants to admit who's right.  In fact, everyone in the room could nod in unison and chant like a Greek chorus, "You are adn ever shall be... right!"  A panel of experts could expertly decree, "Yep.  She's right."  And it wouldn't change a dang thing.

Sometimes we just want to do what we want to do, gosh darn it all.

And, sometimes, it's not worth the fight.  It really isn't.  So your all-too-innocent teenage stepson is sporting a Cheech and Chong t-shirt that you hope doesn't bring him the wrong kind of attention or make him want to be the wrong kind of cool.  You said your peace and everyone knows, deep down, what's up with Cheech and Chong.  And if your teenager is about to take a detour on the wild side, it won't be because of a t-shirt, or because you were "right".

Have a little faith in him.

While stalking his instagram.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

4:34 pm

I should be heading home from work about now.  But I don't want to.  I'm just so very tired, and I need a minute.

The last couple of months have been up and down and mostly up but, man, the downs.

Step-motherhood.  What to say?  I'm trying to remember so many things and trying to understand and trying to be patient, trying to be accessible and open, but not intrusive.  Flexible, yet principled and steady.  Reliable without being boring.  I'm hitting the balance as best I can, but I'm never quite sure. It's mostly good.  Sometimes it's great.  Sometimes I don't want to go home right away.

I think my stepkids are starting to sort of accept me in that "we're a sort-of family now" kind of way.  I adore them (and want desperately for them to adore me), but I continue to feel that "stranger in a strange land" thing.  I guess they seem a little less foreign to me every day.  Sometimes we make Sonic runs and share secrets.  I love being the confidant.  It's a form of intimacy, which I crave, so I'm running with it.

My husband's ex served us with papers the other day stating that she wants primary custody of the kids.  My inner wanna-be-attorney is wishing I had been better at documenting.  Because, you know, that's what a newly-wedded, first-time stepmom has time to do.  I wish she knew that I was no threat to her, that I don't want to stand in her way.  I wish she knew that I do what I do out of love, but that I also feel sad and pathetic and incredibly lonely sometimes because--despite the myriad of mom-things and mom-errands and mom-thoughts that are ALWAYS on my brain, I'm not Mom.  I'm Leigh.  And Leigh is pretty good, but Leigh's not Mom.

Sometimes I feel resentful and angry and sort of invisible, which isn't good.

Luckily, my husband is much wiser about the situation.  He was disappointed, but prepared (even if he didn't know he was prepared).  Talking about the papers and the lawyers and what we should do next, and what we should write down or bring up or point out, he finally said, "I don't want to manipulate the situation."

"What do you mean by manipulate?"

"I mean make a laundry list to force the outcome that I want."

"Stating what's true isn't a manipulation.  It's preparing everyone for a new reality--living with their mom--that might not live up to  their expectations, that could break their hearts."

And then I got it.

Their hearts are already broken.  They already know all the ways their mother loves them, all the ways she ever loved them, and all the ways their connection is struggling now.  They aren't harboring any fantasies about their mother, they just miss her.  Even more now that their is this new lady in the house who can't seem to do anything the way mom did.  And if they choose to spend more time with their mom--which I actually support and agree with--it won't be because of magical thinking.  And it won't be because they don't want to be with their dad.  It won't even be because they don't want to be around me.

It'll be because they miss their mom.  Because they want back something they lost.

So the only strategy my husband and I have now, if you can even call it that, is to go into court and talk about what we've done to create a happy home, then share what we feel is a fair agreement: an equal relationship with both parents, marked by equal time and equal parental duties.

To the kids, when we talk to them later this week, we want to say this: We love you.  We love living with you.  We love homework and dinner time and figuring out the laundry.  We love talking to you about life and friends and whatever you are willing to share with us.  We want you to have the best relationship possible with both of your parents, and we don't want you to feel any guilt over that, even though you probably have and will.  We always want you to feel that this is your home and that you are safe and welcome here.  The judge is going let you speak to him/her in chambers.  Say whatever is on your heart.  Just know that we are always here.

That feels like the right thing to say.

And to myself: You have been a good stepmother.  This is not a rejection of who you are or what you have tried to give of yourself.  What you've given, and will continue to give, has been and will continue to be important.  Keep it up.  But know that this time with their mom--which will not be an easy transition for anyone--is vital to their deepest sense of who they are and how they are loved.  Encourage it.  Pray for it.  Think and speak positively about it.  And it will all be okay.

And it will.

Friday, February 20, 2015

stepmom moments

So, here's the deal: I'm a new wife. I'm also a new step mom.  

From what I gather (picture long talks with newly married friends over nachos and whatever they're drinking), "New Wife" is a challenging transition for almost everyone.  That's cool. Challenges are good.  They stretch us.  They help us grow.  

The same, I was warned, applies to "New Mom" territory.  I remember my sister-in-law sitting on the floor of her apartment 16-plus years ago, surrounded by new-born diapers, laundry and bottles, trying to describe through tears and snot the myriad of ways her identity was being challenged by this new role.  And, of course, the changes were mostly good and mostly enriching and mostly joyful.  But there was also a significant part of her inner and outer worlds that were being rocked in ways that were uncomfortable and sometimes discouraging.  And it was very, very hard.

So, here I am doing the first time wife and first time mom/sort-of-mom/not-sure-what-I-am-step-thing all at once.  And it is really, really hard.  Sometimes I'm not sure if I'm strong enough for it.

It's hard for lots of reasons.  

It's hard because my guy and I, who've known each other about a year now, are still getting to know each other in this new married way, under the influence of stressors like time, money, laundry, dishes and shopping.  Not to mention the less tangibles: personal space, personal preferences and personal pasts.  And MOODS.  Holy cow.  And we ALL have our moods. ALL OF US. 

And, duh, kids.  

Kids who are more his than mine, who he created and molded in partnership with someone NOT me, who are wonderful and sweet, but who are just as stressed by all my unknowns as I am about theirs.  Their life, like mine, has undergone a huge shift.  And it is mostly good, mostly enriching and mostly joyful.  But also challenging our inner and outer worlds in ways that are uncomfortable and sometimes discouraging.  

The hardest part: when things get awkward.  They can all retreat to each other, to the private family language that they--like all organic families--share.  It's like a short cut to understanding, a short cut that says, "We belong."  I haven't learned that language yet.  Sometimes I think I maybe never will.  And this leaves me feeling incredibly alone.  

I don't think my husband can even begin to fathom what that loneliness is like.  He craves alone time because he's got so many people needing him, demanding special time with him, wanting reassurance that they still matter.  

I hate alone time.  It reminds me that I'm alone in a house I didn't build, furniture I didn't pick out, and curtains that I sort think are, well, hideous.  So, yeah, there's that, too: all the stuff that's theirs, not mine.  It's really weird.  Really, really weird.

I want him to notice how I try to be a peacemaker.  I smile a lot.  I laugh and tell stories and listen.  I think twice before I mention unfinished homework or missed soccer practices or the laundry that's been sitting on the stairs for the last 5 days.  I try to snap out of my moods..  

And when he's in a mood, I touch his back and kiss his neck and basically do whatever I can to maintain a connection.  I get quiet sometimes.  So does he.  And that might be uncomfortable for him, but I don't do it to make him uncomfortable.  I do it because I need a minute.  Sometimes we all just need a minute.

What I'm basically trying to say is this: Step families are not for the faint of heart. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015


So, this is new...

I'm married!  Yes, it finally happened.  And it's wonderful.  It's also weird.  And so much that no one really ever prepared me for.  I mean, I felt ready.  I just didn't know what I didn't know... some of which I am now learning at what seems like warp speed.  


And I'm over-whelmed, over-joyed, over-stimulated. 

I need chocolate.  Like, all the time.

Here's the deal: I married a wonderful, sexy man... with two kids.  



Definitely peeling back the onion on my whole "domestic flunky" self-image thing.  But I'm up for it.  I think.  Just kidding.  I'm gonna ROCK it!  Eventually.

A few preliminary observations about insta-families and the seeds of wisdom that will carry me through:
  1. Job charts are not a universal truth.  WHAT?!?  Be open-minded.
  2. Some changes take a lot more time than your 6-week plan originally allotted.  Be flexible.
  3. Time is relative.  (I guess Einstein did figure that one out for the world, but it didn't really sink in until I married a Latin.) Be patient.
  4. You will feel like an outsider and you will be left out and there won't be a whole lot you can do about it except to resolve to be graceful, understanding, and a little more extroverted than is comfortable.  Be comfortable in your own skin. 
  5. Good communication doesn't just mean saying stuff everyone wants to hear or saying hard stuff with syrupy sweetness.  Sometimes it entails saying the stuff no one wants to hear, in a way that isn't a total shut-down to further dialogue.  Be honest, be brave and be kind.
  6. It takes time to feel like a mom... and to gain the respect of a legit, decision-making  leader in the home.  Take the time to establish yourself as a graceful, but strong leader.
  7. Being a mom of any kind can be a glorious beat down.  And it is fraught with intricate nuances and unlimited potential for rejection (my mom doesn't do it that way, dad never acted like that before, what happened to the plastic Taco Bell cups?!?, what's this weird piece of cloth on the table?, I don't like spaghetti... the list--which I swear is sometimes made up on the spot--goes on and on.)  Develop thick skin and keep your sense of humor.

I should probably come up with three more things to round out the top ten, but there are a hundred more things, so I'll save some so that I have something to write about over the coming months.  

For now, let me save this post by listing my gratitudes for the day:

  • I am thankful for a loving and supportive husband, who I know is also learning at warp speed.  And performing brilliantly.
  • I am thankful for a job that allows me to talk to teens all day, many of whom are children of divorce and remarriage.  They are a wonderful resource and keep me from making some really dumb moves at home.
  • I am thankful for two beautiful stepchildren who I love deeply and whose health, happiness and futures are on my mind pretty much all the time.  They are making me a better person.  I hope they feel my love.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

honorary degree plan...

...in kinesiology, with an emphasis in competetive running.  And this is just THIS WEEK'S SCHEDULE

Day one: Endurance.  Open Road. 
Jog/run 5 "easy miles" followed by four consecutive 100 meter acceleration strides. 

An acceleration stride, btw, is basically a runner's crescendo, intentionally building momentum so that you hit your personal max speed by the time you cross the finish line.  Mine were more like very awkward sprints.  Imagine a clumsy ostrich and I think you'll have a fairly accurate visual.  Not to mention the fact that my 5 "easy miles" (there is actually a formula for this!) left me about ready to pass out.  Good thing I had my super cool hydration belt with me.  :)  I'm officially a dork.

And, yes, the belt makes me feel totally legit.  And I'm being serious.  Like Wonder Woman.  All I need are some awesome wrist bands, a tiara, and a lasso.  Not sure what I'd do with the lasso while running, but I'm pretty sure I need one all the same.

Day 2: Endurance and Speed.  Treadmill.  
Run 1 mile at "race" pace (based on personal goal) followed by 1/2 mile at "easy" pace.  Repeat for a total of 3 miles.

Day 3: Speed work.  Treadmill. 
This is where it gets complicated.  If you need a refresher on algebraic order of operations, click HERE
1.) 8 x [1/4 mile at "race" pace minus 15 seconds (WTH?!?  See note below for details!) followed by 1/4 mile @ "easy" pace]
2.) 4 x [1/4 mile at "race" pace minus 30 seconds (more math?!?) followed by 1/4 mile @ "easy" pace]
3.) 1 x 1/2 mile at ("race" pace + "easy" pace)/2
4.) Collapse on floor in utter exhaustion.

Days 4 and 5: Endurance.  Open road or treadmill.
Jog/Run 4-5 miles at "easy" pace followed by 4 acceleration strides.

Day 6: Endurance and Speed.  Treadmill. 
5 miles at "race" pace plus 15 seconds. 

Additional Notes:
1.) For an easy run mapper, try http://www.walkjogrun.net/.  Very easy to use.  Create your own route, or search the database.

2.) I prefer the treadmill for speed runs.  I'm simply not experienced enough to gauge or hold myself to faster paces without constantly checking my phone app (I use My Tracks to monitor my route and pace).  While I love keeping track of my pace on easy runs (I check during my 30 second recovery walks at the end of each mile, which are marked on my running route), the constant checking required to monitor faster paces is very distracting for me.     

3.) Those pesky "plus/minus x seconds" mean x-seconds faster (minus) or slower (plus) than the indicated miles/minute pace.  In other words, since my 5K goal time is 29 minutes, that makes my race pace about 6.4 mph, or a 9:19 minute mile.    Minus 15 means a 9:04 mm, or a pace of about 6.6 mph.  Minus 30 means an 8:49 mm, or a pace of about 6.8 mph.  Plus 15, a 9:34 mm at about 6.3 mph.  You get the idea.  (I used the aforementioned link, pictured below, to help me calculate these numbers.)

Have I mentioned today how much I love the Internet?!?

Happy running!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

pigs do fly

This is me.  I run now.  Yes.  I know.  WHY?!?  Because it makes my workouts shorter.  Because I look good in running shorts.  Because when I go to get my oil changed looking like this, I get free stuff.  I'm not kidding.  Today I got a free tail light replacement!  I never got free stuff before.  Never. 

But that's not really why I run.

Mostly, I run because it forces me to get real with why I let myself go in the first place.  I believe that few if any of our patterns (ways of thinking, reacting, being, caring, etc.) exist in isolation.  Getting real with my physical health has, consequently, brought me into direct confrontation with many of my deepest insecurities, hang-ups, rationalizations and personal myths.  (I call these "stories".  I have quite a few.)  Fertile ground for some serious self-counseling.

I know I'm supposed to say "self-help", but I prefer "self-counseling".  It seems to honor the process a little better.  For instance, this week while contemplating (subtext: bemoaning, griping about, defending, then finally owning) my lack of discipline re: my dream of running a 5K in less than 30 minutes, I realized that I don't go all out in my training because, deep down, I'm afraid my hard work will be for naught, that nothing will really change, that I'll be forever stuck in the same place.

Surely some are saying to themselves, "Dude.  Get a grip.  It's a 5K.  What's with the all the analysis and worry and sweat and painful introspection?!?"  But for me running has become something more.  I find so many parallels between what I experience--the bitter and the sweet--while running and what I experience in the rest of my life.  Running is becoming a sort of spiritual exercise for me, deeply personal.  It's symbolic and empowering.  It's the Hero's Journey made very tangible and concrete.  It is adversity and pain and the darkness before the dawn and, ultimately, victory.  When I run a race, I think, "Man.  I'm here.  I showed up.  And I'm going to finish this thing and eat me a banana and make a connection and go home and feel like I did something!"  And I take that confidence with me into other parts of my life.

So, yeah.  That's kind of great.

I'm a new runner, though, and I'm still learning.  Lately, I've sort of plateaued... before meeting that goal I mentioned a few lines ago.  For weeks, I managed to adroitly avoid any deep analysis of said plateau despite a growing sense of restlessness and dissatisfaction. 

This has been really bothering me. 

Again... nothing happens in isolation... I knew this avoidance connected to other parts of my life, I just couldn't quite put my finger on what or how.  (In counselorese, this budding awareness constitutes an important part of the Change Cycle known as Contemplation.  It's where one finally gets that they have a problem, much like Amy Whinehouse must have felt right before she finally checked herself into rehab.  I should probably google her and see how that worked out before I use her as the poster child for Contemplation... Moving on... )

While talking with a new running friend about plateaus and speed and self-talk and the Universe, I realized that, for me, this particular plateau was becoming a sort of comfort zone, a place where I could safely exist and feel okay about myself, but not a place where I felt challenged or meaningful.  I realized that I have been choosing to settle into this safety zone not out of some Zen Why-Rock-The-Universe? Inner Peace, but for fear that my Universe couldn't be rocked... which is a seriously depressing thought cuz, for reals, baby was meant for more than this, yo! 

And here's the bring-it-all-full-circle kicker: I know that I do this in other significant areas of my life, too.  Routinely.  Important areas.  And now I'm thinking, "Holy crap."

Fear is a subtle beast. 

One thing that running has taught me is that motivation follows action, and not the other way around.  (Actually, a speaker at Time Out for Women taught me that. But running helped make it real.) 

We don't change because we suddenly, like magic, find our motivation.  We change because we finally decide that--ready or not--we are going to do something... anything.  Put shoes on.  Turn the t.v. off.  Take our meds.  Whatever.  (I don't judge.)  The point is, we make a choice and we takeaction... even though we aren't 100% sure yet what the outcome of that choice will be.  (I think they call this faith.)

So, tonight, with the help of this cool new invention called the Internet, I worked out a new running plan.  It's a little scary.  Speed work apparently requires a minor in astrophysics.  Oh, well.  Nothing I can't handle.  I went to college, after all.  I remember SOHCAHTOA.  I did have to look up a bunch of running words.  Gonna have to work on some new skills, but nothing too crazy.  Just new.  Yep, sounds like Life in microcosm to me.

I took some steps on some of that other stuff, too.  Equally scary.  (SOHCAHTOA didn't help, by the way.)

Motivation follows action. 

Now to find out what the heck an "acceleration stride" is.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

getting out of dodge

For anyone who has the blues, may I suggest a little more green.

Last summer, I got really depressed.  I don't want to dwell on it.  It doesn't really make sense to me yet.  Well, it sort of does, and it sort of doesn't.  You know how it goes.  But I'm a fighter, so between crying jags, I started making a mental list of all of the disappointments that seemed to be taking over my thinking.  My goal wasn't to dwell, but rather to sort.  There are things we can change quickly, and things that take time.  When someone is depressed, they need to focus initially on the things they can change quickly, things that, once addressed, might help moderate their mood enough so that they can adopt a more healthy perspective on the stuff that's going to take time. 

My depression was characterized by sense of loss.  All these experiences that I started thinking I might never have.  Before I knew it, the list was really long.  I felt like my life, or at least the life I dreamed of, had sort of slipped away.  I knew cerebrally that my life was actually in full swing.  I did the whole "evidence for/evidence against" exercise and could see that  things were very, very good.  But the feeling of dread was still there.  The feeling that nothing would ever change.  That I'd just sort of float through life without really loving it.

And I started thinking about what I wanted and what I could get and how I could get it.  Hence, the sort.  Now, to be honest, most of my woes went into the "No Freaking Clue How That's Going to Happen" pile.  Many of those items are still there (I'm just a little more at peace about them now). 

And then there was Ireland.

I have always loved the idea of Ireland.  I can't explain it.  Everyone wants to see Paris or Rome.  I wanted to see cobbled stone walls lining narrow roads, sheep everywhere, and really old abbeys.  I wanted to listen to people talk like leprechauns.  I wanted to walk and walk and walk through Irish countryside.  And meet a boy named Declan.

"No Freaking Clue" could not claim Ireland.

So I bought my ticket and went.  By myself.  I rented a car and got three flats in one day while driving though breathtaking, yet perilous Irish hills on St. Patrick's Day.

And I was saved by a boy named Declan.

There's more, of course.  But the really important thing was that I went and loved it and I came back feeling changed.  Not just recharged.  That's what I lot of people want from a vacation, to feel recharged.  I wanted more than recharged.  And I think I got it.  I've thrown away the "No Freaking Clue" list.  It's a downer.  The other list is getting longer.  It's just called The List.  No need for fanfare. 

Next stop: Sedona and the Grand Canyon.