Summer

I have been out of work and on summer “break” for just over 3 weeks now. This was me on the last day of work, celebrating. Look how happy I look! How relaxed! The year of teaching 2 senior English classes and 2 online classes and a junior advisory and running a senior signature program for 103 students was finally over!

So, three weeks of no teaching might beg the question of why I have not blogged before now. Even if it doesn’t, I’m going to go ahead and whine answer.​

The mom schedule, it’s killing me.

I know when you have little ones, the days are interminable. You’re stuck at home, wondering how to fill 12-14 hours of unstructured time, scrambling to line up playdates and story times and excuses to be anywhere and do anything rather than guiltily plopping them in front of the television. I remember those days.

Let me tell you, it doesn’t get any easier at the other end of the spectrum.

In the first three weeks of June, I have had no less than 15 appointments for my kids, not counting the daily pick-up and drop-offs for the 17 year old at his lifeguarding job (yes he has a license, but no, he doesn’t have a car. I told him I could buy him a car if he wanted to do his senior year at the local public school instead of his $$$ private school. Mom taxi it is!), the counselor-in-training camp for the 14 and 13 year olds (happening on opposite weeks), or the community service camp (14yr old) or dance camp (13 yr old).

Basically I (literally) spend my days in the car, or in waiting rooms.

Except for the first week of June, when I was in upstate New York and Ohio doing the college tour thing with my oldest.

current top choice: University of Rochester. Also happens to be the most expensive school on his list. Champagne wishes and caviar dreams! (on a McDonald’s budget)

We also hit up Niagara Falls during the road trip which neither of us had ever seen.

The trip was over 1000 miles of driving in 4 days with 4 different college tours (5 if you count the separate engineering tour at one), an admissions interview, and hours upon hours of information tossed at us. It was not exactly a “relaxing” start to the summer.

With that said, it was definitely a mother-son bonding experience I will never forget. Without his laptop and fortress of solitude (aka bedroom), he was forced to able to have heart to hearts with dear old mom.

As for me, I tried to quell the mounting panic that my manchild is for real, seriously, ready or not, getting ready to leave the nest in the blink of an eye.

Senior pictures: check. But also OH MY GOD SENIOR PICTURES.

Fortunately, I still have my 2 littles to keep me from getting too sentimental. Except they’re not so little anymore. The middle child? Starting high school this year. The “baby”? 8th grade. The boy is already working on his learner’s permit class (September birthday) and the baby took a drill team prep camp last week. To prepare for the high school drill team tryout in the spring. The high school drill team.

The counselor-in-training boy helping to check in his little sister for her drill team prep camp.

So this is all to say that even though I’ve been off the “teacher” clock for 3 weeks, the mom job has been kicking my ass. Granted, I’m trying to get 2 months worth of parenting duties done in 4 weeks, as they will be with their Dad for the month of July.

I would much prefer a more balanced timeshare of parenting in the summer so I’m not running around like a crazy lady in June taking care of all the appointments, and then again in August with all the back to school and work events and obligations, but it is what it is.

In other news, I’m coming out of my training slump and looking towards a fall triathlon (separate post about that to come). I’ve been saying for years I want to do better with the strength training (it’s the one part of my training plans that I’m always haphazard at best with), and as luck would have it, my husband has said for years that he wants to work out with me (he hates running. Even though he can smoke me).

So, for Father’s Day, I gave him the gift of coaching me in the gym (that wasn’t his only gift, but definitely the one he was the most excited about). I’ve told him I’ll do 2 days a week with him, so he can keep me accountable.

 

No it’s not a lot of weight. I told him if he made me too sore to train the next day, he was fired. 

 

Me: “That looks heavy. Is it a lot of weight?” Him: “They say if you can benchpress your own body weight, you’re in good shape.” Me: “Is that your body weight?” Him: “It’s about 30lbs more.”  Show off.

So that’s the summer update. I’ve been busy. But I’ve also been getting back into a training cycle (yay me!) and working on some upcoming school year goals.

Rock bottom, relapses and revelations

Even though this blog is mainly about running and triathlons and pretending to be an athlete in my middle age, I’ve found my most enthusiastic and loyal readers are women who connect with PTSD (or, as I like to reclaim on my good days, post traumatic growth).  Seven years after my divorce, and five years after taking down my previous blog, I still regularly get emails and communication through social media from women about infidelity and divorce. Sometimes it is a mother, or sister, worried about a family member going through the discovery phase; sometimes it is a heartbroken  or angry betrayed spouse herself, either struggling to get through the next hour, or battling to let go of the rage and fear and sadness after many years.

While the circumstances and backgrounds differ, the women have a strikingly similar plea: tell me it’s going to be okay. Remind me that it gets better. Reassure me that there is life after this.  Tell me that I, too, can have that happily ever after.

Happily every after? Oh dear. What type of snow job have I been pulling in this corner of the internet?

I would love to tell you that, with enough time, all heartache and trauma ceases to exist. That falling in love with a new man, even several years into a very happy and healthy relationship, magically erases the scars left from profound deceit and betrayal. That children are so resilient that divorces don’t leave scars, no matter how much they are loved and protected. I would love to tell you that PTSD can be “cured” with therapy and medication, guaranteed never to rear its ugly head again.

I wish more than anything that was all true. But it’s not. Or at least, not in my case.

I’ve been in a hell of a storm since 2017 very nearly began. Well, more accurately, according to my therapist, I’ve either been in a storm or battening down the hatches since 2010, because the delightful thing about not being able to go cold turkey is that you never really get a chance to heal. You can smooth those rough edges over, strengthen those coping skills, and even fool yourself that the horizon is clear, but it’s not, not really.

And so, relapses happen. They happen to many. The alcoholic takes “just one” drink, the drug addict takes “just one” hit, the panic attacks and insomnia and intrusive thoughts say this is “just one” bad week. Only before you know it, weeks turn into months, and one day you get on the scale and realize you lost 5 pounds. You get on the treadmill and can’t run a mile when just two months ago you ran a half marathon. You get up in the morning and can’t remember the last time you slept for more than a few hours at night.

So you get yourself back on the therapist’s couch.

Thinking goddammit but I got over this.  Thinking that you thought the worst was over, but you failed to take into account that it can always get worse. Rookie mistake, and god knows, you’re not a rookie, so now you’ve relapsed and feel like a fool.

 

But, here’s the thing. The women who are asking me to tell them it gets better? That it’s going to be okay? I can honestly say that while happily ever after is illusory, and there’s no such thing as unicorns and fairy tales, it absolutely and totally does get better and it will be okay.

How do I know? Because there’s only one real rock bottom. And once you’ve hit it, I mean really hit it, you never go there again. You might relapse, you might bungee jump down and spring back after your face hovers, inches, millimeters from that concrete floor that could shatter your bones, but you will never hit it again. Want to know why? Want to know how I know?

Because once you’ve clawed your way back from rock bottom, you know you can do it again.

In 2010, when my then-husband told me he was leaving, and the truth slowly came trickling out over the course of several months in Chinese water torture fashion, I completely lost my shit (I’m sure there’s a better, more clinical DSM-V term, but let’s go with that). I had never felt so unmoored, so alone, so without any hope or vision for my future. There was no manual for this insanity. I was trapped in a bad Jerry Springer episode, only there was no “off” button on the remote, no channel to change. My entire life, forwards and backwards, ceased to exist; my identity –  that of a wife, a best friend, a partner – stripped from me; my most beloved and cherished role as a mother downgraded to a 70% position, without my input or consent.

It was gone, all gone. They talk about a light at the end of the tunnel? All I saw was a yawning black chasm.

That was my rock bottom. I will never hit that again. I know now that I can survive. Once you know that? Really know that? It’s etched in your soul.

Sure, relapses happen. I have returned to therapy after a 4 year hiatus, brushing up on those coping skills, reminding myself of how to deal with the PTSD triggers that will assuredly not abate for another 5 years. I’m circling my wagons, conserving my energy and finances, following professional advice, both therapeutic and legal.

Recovery does not mean that the struggle ceases to exist. Recovery is about knowing that you can fight the good fight, and that if it’s not okay, it’s not the end. That there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and taking comfort in the knowledge that the light is there, even if you can’t see it.

Ultimately, it’s about faith. Hope, instead of hopelessness.The belief, no matter how shaky it feels some days,  that rock bottom only hits once.

*This post inspired by Glennon Doyle Melton’s article.

 

 

Five years

for better or for worse,

for richer, for poorer,

in sickness and in health,

to love and to cherish;

from this day forward until death do us part

Today is our 5 year anniversary. I think this is supposed to be a “bigger” anniversary, because it’s a half decade, or at least, my husband seems to think it is, since he has repeated several times over the past month, “It’s our five year anniversary. We have to celebrate! It’s a big one!”

But while the sentiment is sincere, the enthusiasm is strained.

2017 has not been good to us, on so many fronts. As I alluded to in my last post, we’ve been dealing with so much. We’re exhausted, and depressed, and overwhelmed.

Put simply, we’re dealing with the “worse”.

Last weekend, as he once again drummed up some forced enthusiasm for our impending anniversary, I realized that I needed to somehow, some way, carve out a little corner of gratitude for this day. Despite the, for lack of better word, clusterfuck that has been our lives for the past few months, we are good.

Really good. I mean, distracted and strung out and broke and sleepless, but good. I realize that sounds weird. But I know what it is to take stress and anxiety and depression out on your partner. Been there, done that, have the divorce decree. I know how easily the planets in the orbit can chip away at the sun.

Our life has been hard lately. And it would be so easy to take all that anger, and resentment, and anxiety, out on each other. But we’re not.

We’re in this together.

So, in an attempt to acknowledge gratitude for that not-so-small favor, I put one picture from each year of our marriage up on my Instagram this past week. I included the following description with each picture:

Q: What do 2010, 2012 and 2017 have in common?
A: Therapists, lawyers, children in crisis, PTSD, medical bills, and oceans of tears.

But you know what they also have? My silver lining, my fearless warrior and the love of my life. Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light. Hatred cannot drive out hatred, only love. This Friday will be our 5 year anniversary. I’m counting down the years.

Summer 2013 – married one full year. Our road trip to Florida with a 13, 11 and 8 yr old. I don’t have a blog post for our 1st anniversary – this blog didn’t exist yet.

January 2014 – our 2nd year of marriage. This was our trip to Cancun to see my dear friend Sarah get married. 2nd anniversary blog post here.

August 2015: 3rd year of marriage, and first day of school (ie work). No, we don’t plan to color coordinate. Yes, we often do. 3rd anniversary blog post here.

March 2016: 4th year of marriage, and my husband’s 40th birthday trip to Seattle and Vancouver, Canada. He likes “real” photos. Like us in an elevator heading to Stanley Park. This is typical of the photos he takes of us. 4th anniversary blog post here.

Traditionally, for our anniversary, I revisit some pictures from our wedding. I was lucky enough to have my very talented friend Wendy do our wedding photography, and I have countless gorgeous photographs from that day.

But this year? This is the picture that rings true for me.

I know, I know, it’s not a “traditional” wedding moment. This was taken just after my best friends gave our wedding toast; if you look carefully, you can see the remnants of the verklempt on my  husband’s face (I had just finished a full out cry). My friends spoke, in not-so-specific-terms, of my fight to get to this moment. Of how they were so worried about me. Of how so many people in that room weren’t sure I would make it. And of how my husband came along and helped me piece myself back together again.

At some point, as we stood there, holding hands, me crying, listening to women who knew me, and loved me, best in the world, my 2 younger children came up and clung to us (my oldest is just out of the shot, behind my daughter). There we were, hands clasped, standing firm, with the boy wrapped around my husband, and my daughter curling into me.

Five years later, in so many ways, we are still holding this pose.

Right now, at this moment in time, 5 years into our marriage, we’re not able to focus our attention on each other. We’re not romantically gazing into each other’s eyes. Right now, at this moment in time, our children need every ounce of strength, time, attention and resources that we have.

But we’re still clasping hands. United. Protecting our family.

Happy anniversary to my rock, my partner, my amazing role model and provider for our 3 children. Their eyes are always on us, and I am so grateful and proud to have someone like him holding my hand, and holding me up.

 

Full stop

There are bumps in the road.

And then there are the brick walls. The ones that, quite literally, stop you in your tracks. Not slow life down. Not adjust the weekly schedule. But put everything else in your life on the shelf while you deal with what is in front of you, so impenetrable, that you must figure out an alternative route before you can go anywhere.

The brick wall that makes you fervently hope that you’ve earned enough of a solid reputation at work  that you can, emotionally and physically, check out in order to manage it (I have). That your bosses are kind enough and supportive enough to green light it (they are).

The brick wall that necessitates immediate care and trained professionals and mountains of paperwork with legal mumbo jumbo and very, expensive. fixer uppers.

The brick wall that steals sleep and erases appetite and brings day to day functioning to its barest essentials. When breathing feels like a victory.

The brick wall that makes you feel so incredibly alone because it is so scary, and stressful, and overwhelming, but you are the one in charge of taking it down, piece by piece, brick by brick. Only not really, because it is someone else’s wall. So you feel completely, 100% responsible, and wholly, utterly helpless, simultaneously.

That kind of full stop.

That’s what it is going on in my neck of the woods.

If this seems vague, it is. Because it is both my story, and not my story at all, to tell. I want to write it out, because writing is my therapy, and not write a word, not utter a syllable to anyone about any of this, because speaking of it makes it real.

I have all, and none, of the words about this.

I am hurting, on the most profound, basic, instinctual level, but also surviving. Taking care of business and doing what needs to be done. Because that is what I do.

I can say that my muses, for whatever rhyme or reason, this week have been my badass writer friends. I am an English teacher, and a writer, and a lover of words, so when I need strength, it is words, and mantras, that come to me.

This is my letter to the world that never wrote to me.

I don’t know why this is the Dickinson phrase that tolls inside my brain. The poem it draws from does not particularly apply to my current situation. Certainly “hope is a thing with feathers” would be far more appropriate – but there it is.

Grace always bats last, and the lightness always overcomes the darkness.

I am not a Christian but Anne Lamott has gotten me through more dark times in the past 7 years than I care to admit. She has a way of making the dark and twisty and messy human crap seem beautiful and noble and essential. We need more of her in this life.

I can also say that, with all due respect to Gretchen Rubin, who seems like a perfectly lovely human being, that her Happiness Project book appears to be my own personal doomsday. Remember the first time I tried to blog the Happiness Project? Round two is NOT GOING SO WELL PEOPLE.

I’m not overly superstitious but I’m also not blind to signs from the universe. Consider this my official resignation from that writing project, round two.

I have a triathlon on the docket in 13 days. Suffice to say I’m not in training (and have not been for several days). Full stop, and all. Right now, it is very. very. very. far down the totem pole of priorities. Maybe I will show up, if I can manage to run for more than a couple miles without feeling lightheaded and nauseated (I attempted an easy run the other day in the interest of self-care, and discovered that running after not eating or sleeping for several days, even at an “easy” pace, is not so “easy”.)

In the meantime, I know grace bats last. And I know lightness always overcomes darkness. But if that “last’ could come sooner rather than later, that would be fantastic.

Amen.

 

The Happiness Project: April

For 2017, I am blogging my way through Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. Read here to see my intro post.

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Lighten Up – Parenthood

For April, Rubin focused on parenthood, specifically her effort to “lighten up” when it came to parenting her (at the time of writing) two young daughters.

I totally get this. Parenting babies, toddlers and preschoolers is hard, y’all. I’m a decade out from it, but trust me, I haven’t forgotten. Rubin writes of the research, “Marital satisfaction nose-dives after the first child is born and picks up again once the children leave home” (91).

Picks up again once the children leave home.

I know when the kids are young, and you haven’t slept in years months, and you’re cooking dinner with a baby on your hip and one wrapped around your knees, and you are, literally, assisting little human beings with their shit and snot, that the thought of those little people having the independence to wipe their own asses, never mind make their own snacks, seems so intoxicating and alluring that anytime in the future seems like a better alternative.

People, I survived the early years of three offspring delivered in a 4 year span. They eventually grew older, started sleeping and taking care of their own bowel movements, and I had several blissful intermediary years of post-early childhood but pre-adolescence. Those were the magical years.

I now have 3 teenagers living at home.  To follow up on Rubin’s notes about the impact of children in general on happiness at home, “Marital satisfaction, which typically declines over the course of marriage, reaches its all-time low when the oldest child reaches adolescence.” To put it simply, if having kids at home is stressful and exhausting and on a day to day basis lowers general levels of happiness, then having teenagers at home is the bottom of the barrel.

Let it be said, before I go any further, that I actually have really good kids. I mean, I hit the jackpot. Furthermore, after working with teenagers for nearly 20 years, I’m going to make the claim that I *get* teenagers more than the average parent. So I have a leg up.

But still.

I’m not sure how “light” my load is.

Here is the problem with me (and I totally own this as my own dysfunction). I just can’t not worry, nag remind, obsess, stress, and perseverate over any little box that is left unchecked. It’s not even so much that I want to control the outcome, rather once something is on my radar, on my to-do list (even if it’s not my list, but someone in my orbit), I can’t let go of it until it’s taken care of.

Let me give you an example.

My oldest child was recently invited to apply for the National Honor Society. He was given the invitation to apply on a Friday, with a Wednesday deadline to declare his intention. So the 5 days went something like this:

Friday: Me to him: “So what do you think? Do you want to go for it?” Him: “I don’t know. I’ll think about it.”

Sunday afternoon: Me to him: “Don’t forget you need to decide by Wednesday.”

Monday after school: Me to him: “Have you made a decision about National Honor Society? You need to decide by Wednesday.” Him: “Um. No. Still thinking about it.”

Tuesday morning before school: “Okay, so you’re going to your Dad’s tonight. Don’t forget that application is due on Wednesday if you want to apply.” Him, noncommittally, “Mmm”

Wednesday afternoon: Me to him: “So what did you do about National Honor Society?” Him: “Meh. I didn’t apply.”

First, slow clap to my oldest for his A+ game on dealing with a type A mother.  But more importantly, while I disagree with his choice not to apply, I really wasn’t ever pressuring him on what to do. The decision was all his. I just needed to get it off my list. Now imagine this times 3 very busy children with a myriad of activities. A husband, who loves to be helpful and take things “off my list” but doesn’t quite have my rapid-fire timeframe for checking things off.

And the kicker: 103 seniors who I shepherd through a multi-faceted senior program with multiple components, plus 30 kids in English class, plus 11 advisees.

“Light” I am not.

So, where does that leave me? Because, listen, while this project is about happiness, it’s not about fantasy. I have been like this my entire life. It’s part of the reason why I am excellent at my job, highly productive, and high achieving in multiple facets of my life. But I will also never be “laid back”. “Light”, if you will. I am okay with this. That doesn’t mean I can’t dial it back a notch.

So, I’m working on letting go. Only reminding my kids once or twice instead of daily (and yes, I know that better serves them. Again, this isn’t about me trying to helicopter parent them into a certain outcome, rather my own obsessive list-making). Trying to let Jesus take the wheel instead of feeling responsible for others’ choices (especially the 103 young adults that I am kicking, nagging, cajoling and pleading with to get across the finish line).

My goal, like Rubin, is to modify my natural proclivity for order and control so that I’m lighter. She wrote (after working on lightening up), “The difference was that, although my nature was unchanged, I had more happiness in my life each day; … through my actions I was successfully pushing myself to the high end of my inborn happiness range” (111).

Lighter.

 

 

 

 

The Happiness Project goes rogue

I’m doing a 2017 blogging series on Rubin’s The Happiness Project (for March’s “official” post, see here).

This is the unofficial March post. It’s March. And it’s about happiness. So I’m counting it as part of the series, even though I’m breaking format.

I’ve alluded recently to how difficult this academic year has been, both professionally for my husband and me, and personally for two of our three kids. The junior has been fairly miserable, swamped with AP classes and SATs and ACTs and the grind of the dreaded junior year. The 7th grader has been wrestling with some personal issues, some having to do with middle school (is there anyone who survived middle school unscathed?) and some her own #2010 demons.

But that is her story. As her mom, it’s been heartbreaking, and stressful. We want to fix everything for them, and there’s nothing I can do but sit beside her, hold her hand, and tell her that she, too, must find her own peace with it all.

So it was with this emotional baggage that we all eagerly packed our suitcases and took off for spring break. We take a family vacation every other year (the years we have them for spring break), and the 24 months between each are spent budgeting, planning, squirreling away funds, saving Christmas checks from Grandma, parceling out some of the summer second job income, and anticipating family adventures.

Our next spring break, the currently cranky and overworked junior will be a (knock on wood, fingers crossed) college freshman, and off on his own spring break adventure, so this was likely one of our last trips all together.

Where better than Jamaica to escape reality?

They called me over, with a “Mom, come see what we made for you. Thank you SO MUCH for this trip.”

This picture might be my favorite from the entire trip. To see her so joyful in her soul, after the past few months, was worth every penny.

This girl.

They didn’t have a good time at all.

It was the first time out of the country for my kids, and our first time at an all inclusive. If you have teenagers, I highly recommend paying for the all-inclusive option. Sure, the food isn’t as high-quality as other resorts, but unlimited food and virgin daiquiris for 3 teenagers more than compensates. The kids were in heaven. As were Mom and stepdude, who never had to stress out about feeding the bottomless pits.

finally had a chance to decompress, and get quiet, and do some beach reading. I whipped through Glennon Doyle Melton’s Love Warrior and Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes.If you have read Love Warrior and if you know my story, you are probably waiting to hear what I have to say about that. It was … an experience, reading that book. I have an entire blog post about that. I have an entire book to write about that.

Perhaps, for another day. Because I am no longer on the beach, watching the surf, processing and reflecting and composing. Actually, if you want to know the truth, I’m typing this in a doctor’s office waiting room, where I come every Monday night.

Back to reality.

So, I know this isn’t a post about Rubin’s book. Or a race report. Or PTSD recovery.

But it is about happiness. Even if I had to run away to Jamaica to find it.

The Happiness Project – March

For 2017, I am blogging my way through Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. Read here to see my intro post.

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“Happiness is a critical factor for work, and work is a critical factor for happiness” (69).

For March, Rubin focuses on work. Oh dear. This is a quagmire.

Have I mentioned before that I work at the same school where my husband is an administrator? Oh, and where all 3 of my children attend? So, with this topic, I tread lightly. Coincidentally, or not, work has also probably – no definitely – been the single biggest challenge to my overall happiness and wellbeing this year.

Again. Tiptoe through the minefield.

Here’s the thing: I am incredibly #blessed with my work situation. I know this. I work with fantastic people (love my colleagues), and am so dang proud and grateful to not only provide my kids with a topnotch independent school education, but know (really know) that they are being taught by amazing people who genuinely know their stuff, and care about my kids. I have worked alongside these people for 8 years now (and for my husband, 10); the tuition is worth every dollar.

But I have also worked my way into an overwhelming, stressful situation with a relentless pace, where I never feel like I’m getting my job either done, or done well. Without spending too much time or energy (that I don’t have. Ha!) on the details, I voluntarily agreed to take on several extra duties this year.

Now, it’s important for me to stress that none of this was forced on me by my employers. They did not demand that I teach an extra section, or create and teach an online class. I didn’t do it for the money, or for the glory or accolades. (is there either of those in education? Discuss amongst yourselves). I took on the extra responsibility and challenges because I knew it would benefit my students, and I always want to be the best educator I can be.

“March’s focus on work and happiness highlighted a tricky issue: the relationship between ambition and happiness. There’s a common belief that happiness and ambition are incompatible … Studies show that many creative, influential people in the arts and public life score above average in ‘neuroticism’ (i.e., they have a greater propensity to experience negative emotions); this discontent arguable urges them to higher achievement” (88).

am ambitious, only not in the way that is typically admired or celebrated in our society. I don’t dislike money, of course, but no one goes into education to get wealthy. Nor do I have a desire for a title, or authority over others. I really just want to help others, serve my students well, and perform to the absolute best of my ability. Unfortunately, in my quest to do all of that in bigger, better and more creative ways, I created a situation for myself that feels just the opposite – I can’t possibly do it all, and am strung out trying to make it all work.

However, in the spirit of Rubin’s Happiness Project March goal, I am proactively trying to change my work situation for next year. In a move that is very unlike me and outside my comfort zone, I appealed to my superiors for a change in job description for next year. I am not one to ever complain or make waves in my professional life, so it was really hard for me to advocate for myself. I’m not sure how it will all play out, but they were receptive and open to the discussion, and I’m hopeful that next year will result in a happier, healthier work environment for me.