Sharing Stories & Supporting One Another

In the last six months I’ve written two stories about interesting and persevering women who deserve to have their stories told. These stories were submitted to an informative and thought provoking site called GirlTalkHQ for their Wonder Women series. The Wonder Women series was a call to writers to share stories about women who inspire us, have overcome adversity, and can teach us a thing or two based on their personal experiences. When I first saw the writing prompt Calling All Wonder Women, I couldn’t wait to get to work on these stories.

Continue reading here.

When Your Child Discovers The Big Lie

Standing in the toy aisle in Kohl’s and concentrating on which item to buy for a friend’s son’s birthday, I hesitated before asking my son to repeat what he had just said.

“Can you repeat what you just said, but can you whisper it to me?” If it was what I thought it was, I didn’t want his 5 year old brother to overhear.

“I know that Santa’s not real, Mom.”

The color likely drained from my face as it was probably the last thing I was expecting him to say at that moment, but it was, in fact, what I thought he had just said.

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“Ok, if you want to have this discussion, it has to be in private, with both me and your father. It needs to be away from your brother.”

“Oh! So you’re saying he isn’t then? I knew it!” His voice getting more shrill with each word.

“I said let’s talk about this later. Now is not the time.”

Thankfully, he forgot about it.

Two weeks later, after walking in the door from school, he reminded me that he wanted to have that talk. He said he knew about Santa and the Tooth Fairy because he had set up his iPad to video us sneaking around.

“That’s bologna.” I said. He smiled and admitted to fibbing.

“Well, I know they’re not real because you say you will tell Santa if we are misbehaving. That made me realize you’re lying. How could you tell Santa? It’s not like you have his phone number. What you think you can fool me by saying you’ll just dial him up? Or email him! It’s lies!”

“We’ll talk about it at bedtime.” I silenced him for the moment.

At bedtime, his father and I sat down and told him in so many words that he was right. Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny were pretend magical stories to make the holidays and losing teeth more fun and special for children. It was a lie coming from a good place (uh, confusing), and he would understand one day and do the same for his children.

Anger was the emotion that seemed to settle right in when we confirmed the bad news. He got emotional and went on to say he was hurt and surprised we had lied to him for 8 years. Then my husband corrected him and said, “Well, actually 9. We lied for 9.” Thank you, husband.

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He pushed us away when we tried to hug him. We didn’t “deserve” hugs. We were horrible parents. He was sulking like an irritated teenager. Then he asked about Elf on the Shelf which we only started doing these last two Christmases. He seemed more upset about the Elf for some reason. We gave him the ol’ “you can help keep the magic going and be part of it for your brother now…” spiel and it simply ignited more upsetment.

“How can you ask me to LIE to my own BROTHER? What kind of parents ARE you?” The drama was over the top. I wanted to laugh, but then I couldn’t, because he was so genuinely upset, the humorous vibe evaporated. We explained that he better not tell his brother or his friends.

The saga continued as he ran into our bedroom and grabbed his framed baby picture off of my nightstand and stared at it. I felt like we were in REM’s “Everybody Hurts” music video except it was, “J’s found out there’s no Santa.” This was like a made for TV moment.

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For the first time, we didn’t get a warm goodnight (he’s a lovey dovey kid), and we were sad about this phase being over. We shuffled back to the living room feeling a sort of grief only parents that have just gone through this experience can understand. It was the end of an era, which is sad for parents too. As your children go through different phases, some good and some bad, when the phases come to an end, there is a small sense of mourning. Not really for the bad phases though… adios to those!

We thought about any possible way to lift his spirits. Since our son had stayed home sick that day, we didn’t know if he had made drama club.The school had a lottery system in which they select children who are interested at random and there are a limited number of spots. My husband posted on the school’s parent group on Facebook to see if there was a way to find out and wa-la (thank you Facebook and the parent who got right back to us) we found out he had made it!

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We agreed to tell our son right away in hopes to cheer him up, but he was pretty stoic after we shared the good news. He wanted to crash in our bed for the night which he hasn’t done for years. He kept saying he didn’t know how he would fall asleep because this was the worst day of his life.

The next morning he was still thinking about it and said to his dad, ” So what’s up with the Santa tracker then?” It was obviously still on his mind. So much for hoping it would pass!

I guess with parenting, one never knows how much something will impact their child until it actually happens. My son clearly believed HARD in the magical things we told him about. For that I’m glad because those years were SO MUCH FUN. This was definitely a learning experience. The anger carried on the entire next day, but slowly it dissipated and we got him to agree not to tell his friends or his brother. I do believe we just witnessed his first major disappointment in life. Sure he’s had other let downs, but nothing to this degree. Of course there will be many more to come. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it’s so interesting what we learn from parenting. It’s a front row seat to the growing changing of the human being you’ve created-physically, mentally, and emotionally. You can’t help but be riveted, worried, and grateful simultaneously during the whole experience. Hopefully, we can still get a few more years of Santa, the bunny, and the Tooth Fairy with our youngest!

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Embarking On The Unknown; A Career Path

At the age of 16 or 17 most kids have to start thinking about and actually decide what field they want to be in for work. This, of course, is the whole college selection journey that begins with picking a school, a minor, and a major. In the end the hope is obviously that a job will come along in said field. Some teenagers have a solid conviction of what they’ve always wanted to be, but it’s typical to be pretty clueless. It’s only a decision that impacts the rest of your life, but you’ve been on the planet 16 years…so….you’ve got this.  You have to start to hone in on what you think you might like to do all day, while also getting paid a decent wage. Those things don’t necessarily go together, but nonetheless, at the wise age of 16 we dive into our best guess.

***

My bedroom was painted royal blue. I had a thing for the color blue back then. The ceiling was smothered with Rolling Stone magazine covers end to end. I absolutely loved Mark Saliger’s photos. I poured over the Rolling Stone interviews imagining that someday I would be the author to many music legend interviews. I wondered what I wanted to do with my life and often stared up at my ceiling hoping I would some day end up at Rolling Stone. I decided that since writing was something I loved and I got good grades in that subject, I’d be best at a journalism. I also remember thinking that whatever I majored in, I’d have to make sure there was as little math involved as possible. Legitimately, that was a concern for me since math never was my strong suit.

I started out at community college due to finances. My dream had been to go to the University of Southern California, but I quickly realized that picking a college simply because I wanted to go there was a luxury that was not in the cards.  When I signed up for our local community college, I felt disenchanted. My dreams of moving away to Cali had been pushed aside. In my mind, I had big plans for myself. One year later, I ended up attending a university in Illinois about 4 hours from home.

One afternoon, I visited the placement office at community college to nail down a major. The office was filled with shelves of books about every possible occupation under the sun. I went and thumbed through a couple, finally settling in on Public Relations Specialist. 

I read the description over and over and looked at the average salary of $70,000 a year.

“Wow, that is SO much money.” The wheels were in serious motion in my head, “I’ll be rich!” I was sure I was going to be poppin’ bottles with P. Diddy and J. Lo. The words in job description bounced up and down on the page with excitement right at me. Media, Radio, Television, Writing, Celebrity, Top Executives, Relationships, Communication. Whatever this job description was selling, I was buying with all of the tip money in my pocket.  It all sounded so glamourous! $70K to my 18 year old self also sounded like a million dollars, ah, how things change…but I digress.

It listed the majors and minors  for this type of role. And guess what? There was hardly any math involved.  I signed up to major in journalism with a minor in marketing. I felt my planning was thorough since I had a plan A and a plan B. Plan A would be to try to become a writer for Rolling Stone, while plan B would be the PR Specialist gig that had dazzled me dizzy. I knew I would minor in marketing because it had been my father’s major and he had turned out successful, so why not? That was the amount of thought I put into my minor.  I chose it blindly with a whole lot of gusto.

Basically that describes my entire decision making process- from start to finish.

I loved my classes, there was just one smidgeon of a problem. While in my journalism class we were writing about Princess Diana’s death that had been all over the news. The professor went on at length about the long hours journalists put in, the sometimes life or death situations,  and the right and wrong decisions they’d have to make in certain circumstances (case in point with Diana). I was riveted and wondered if my job at Rolling Stone would be that way. I committed in my mind to do whatever it took. But it was something else he said that changed my course right then and there-literally.

“Who in this class loves writing?” He had a deep voice that carried out of the class and into the hallway.

“OK, now who in this class wants to make money in this profession?” His wry smile curled.

This next part I am paraphrasing; I cannot remember his exact words.

“Those who kept your hands up for the second question need to change your majors right now. You will be poor as a journalist. This is a fact unless you strike gold somehow. I will spell it out for you folks- you will barely make enough money to live and you will work like a dog. You have to live, breathe, and die by writing, accepting that you will likely not make much money.”

I changed my major that following week. I had watched my mom work her butt off and struggle as a hairdresser ever since her and my Dad divorced. In addition to that, my Dad had dropped a scary amount of weight when the real estate market took a nose dive in the mid eighties. For many months,  when we’d stay at his condo,  we’d have fish sticks with ketchup for dinner during that ailing time in his career. I didn’t want to live on fish sticks if I had anything to do about it. Money struggles legitimately scared me, and I would need to pick something that was more reliable. So I said goodbye to my dream of writing. I chose to major in Communications and Human Relations, which I was still pretty happy with.

In the end, I feel fortunate. I ended up picking a major that was right for me and has served me well since it lends itself to many career paths (and there was no math).

If I could change one thing, it would likely have been my minor in marketing. I think I should have minored in English Lit or something else specific to writing. Then again, maybe without that emphasis in marketing I wouldn’t have had the pleasure of working for one of the best marketing firms around. It was an incredibly fun learning experience  and was chock full of good people and amazing volunteer opportunities. I do wonder if I didn’t have that minor of marketing on my resume, would I have gotten that job? I remember the head hunter setting me up for the interview (as a temporary receptionist) and mentioning it was good that I had that on my resume. I did end up getting asked to interview for an Executive Assistant role there while temping, which then lead me to an Account Executive role and later a Sr. Account Executive position.  I guess you never know where your path will lead you!

Along the course of different positions I’ve had over the years at various companies, I can say that I’ve pinned down what I dislike: spreadsheets and data entry. Does anyone like this? If you do, bless your heart. I’ve also come to know what I’m not so good at; being analytical. A double whammy of things I loathe was putting analytical data into spreadsheets. It makes my skin crawl just thinking about it. It felt like I was dying a slow death. Now imagine putting data into a system that was 14 years old that crashed all the time. OK,  I’ll stop now. I can already tell you feel my pain.

What have I learned that I am sharing with you? Ask your teenagers what they like to do, what they could do for years to come without tiring of it, what their weaknesses are, and what they know they despise doing.  It’s impossible for them to narrow it down perfectly since they haven’t had enough life experience or job experience yet, but I do believe it will still help.

If you’ve been out of school now for quite sometime and are looking to overhaul your professional life like I just did-ask yourself those same questions. Realistically, if you’re like me and have a family to support, there will be different variables to weigh in your decision making process.

I’m going to be forty in a year and a half. In my opinion, it took me way too long to figure out the things I should have run the opposite direction from job wise. Lean into your strengths even if it means you won’t get a handsome financial reward. Sure I’ve had to compromise and downsize a bit, but there’s no price tag on happy.

When I think back to what my professor said that day, I wonder if I hadn’t listened to it how things would be different. It’s not a feeling of regret at all, it’s just curiosity. It’s apparent that the writing landscape has definitely changed.  After the 19 years of job and life experience I’ve had since that day, I’ve learned that there are many different options.

It  helps to look into your options, think about them, ask people about their professions, etc. You can still do the things you enjoy without being paid for them.  I am able to be a writer today just for fun.  The fact that writing, people, and creativity are actively part of my life makes me feel richer than ever, even if in the dollar sense that’s not the case.

“The greatest wealth is to live content with little, for there is never want where the mind is satisfied.”- Lucretius

 

 

 

 

 

Working Mom Burnout-What Can Help Us?

Since the crash of 2008 the working world has shifted. Companies are running leaner than ever resulting in people working longer and harder. Of those employees, a decent percentage includes working mothers. At what point does society say it’s time to throw out the old institutional norms and get with the times? Will corporate America hear the sound of working parent burnout and change their tune?

Three weeks ago I handed in my resignation to a company I’ve been employed with for 6.5 years. The stress level felt as though it was taking a toll on my mental health and it was more than stretching into time with my family. My husband and I decided enough was enough and it was time to make a drastic move.  A move that would mean a single income along with letting go of my healthcare benefits. Leading up to this moment, I have been applying and interviewing since 2011-and to no avail. Due to the painfully difficult task of landing a new job, I have toyed with the possibility of leaving the corporate world forever.  This means we need to be okay with taking a reduction in pay and benefits. The allure of once climbing the ladder has completely lost it’s shimmer. A slower pace where my health is in good form, and life isn’t whipping past me like a freight train is the carrot calling my name now.

We all want to do our best. It’s just not possible to do it at a million miles an hour with a plate so full there’s no bottom in sight. It’s not abnormal for working parents to log on at night to wrap up tasks or respond to emails. Sadly, this has become the new norm. Additionally, many of us have said sayonara to the good old lunch break. Hence the “Take Back Lunch” campaigns cropping up everywhere. Lunchtime for us parents is the beautiful gift of an hour to get errands done during business hours, or in some cases, our only break to do something for ourselves. Now that lunch has gone by the wayside, when are these errands getting done? Where is that hour of personal time to take a much deserved break?

Other than eating lunch at our desks and logging onto the computer to do work in the evenings, let’s think for a moment about the inability to shut the brain off from work. It creeps its way to the top of your mind conveniently right when your head hits the pillow. You’re on hyper alert that there is an email you didn’t respond to, or that looming deadline isn’t remotely possible to meet given the workload and short staff situation. If you’re a working mother, this endless list is mixed in with parental tasks like remembering to turn in money for the school field trip, picking up a birthday present for the party next weekend, or forgetting that there is no water bottle to send to school since your child lost it the day before. Being in this constant state of fight or flight is never healthy as we all know, and it can wreak havoc on not only the mind, but the body (stomach aches, migraines, anxiety, depression).

Prior to 2008, things were a bit different. It would seem that now companies are running more lean than ever. As a result,  workloads are heavy and stress levels are high. Of the existing workforce, plenty of companies employ working mothers. We are the group that leaves one job to go to our jobs as moms. But what about when the day job overshadows, hovers, or smothers the mom job? What then? Can we do both jobs at once and do them well? Who suffers as a result- the generation we’re raising,  us moms, both, or society as a whole?

In a Facebook group I facilitate for working mothers, a survey was posted to capture  answers to questions relating to what they need help with the most as working mothers. The idea was to hone in on how both their home and work life could be modified to make life in general a bit more manageable. The results are fascinating, yet not surprising.

Out of the 213 respondents, there was a tie between morning and dinner time in terms of what the most stressful time of day is. The morning is stressful due to getting ready for work coinciding with getting the kids fed, dressed, lunches packed, teeth brushed and out the door for school. Dinner time was just as stressful with having to multi-task; get dinner prepared while helping with homework,  changing out of work clothes, cooking,  making sure the younger ones are occupied/safe, etc.

Most stressful time of day graph

When asked what was the one thing working moms were most desperate for help with, the majority said making and planning dinner. Help in cleaning the home came in second and help with having organization in their lives a close third.

Need help with the most

Marriage and partnership was another section in the survey. The purpose for this was to gauge how much help working moms get from their partner. When asked  how much help is received in one specific area, picking up and dropping off the kids took the top ranking at 18.3%. Housework and cleaning came in second at 16%. Interestingly, 10% said “other” with half the responses saying their partner is a stay at home dad and does most if not all tasks. The other half  of the 10%  saying it’s split evenly among them and their partner, or the nanny help divide and conquer.

Help from partner

Another question in the marriage and partnership bucket, was the question of how their partner responds to being asked to help. 52% said their partner would gladly help. 12% said the response would be similar to “you’re nagging me, but maybe”, 13% said their spouse would suggest paying someone to help, 8% reported that their partner would say “no” to helping. Most interestingly about this response was the “other” section which received 14%. 30 people responded with a variety of different comments, however, 7 people said their spouse would agree to helping and then not do or say they forgot to do the task, while the remaining 23 people had a mix of responses including that their spouse is a stay at home dad.

Asking for help response

Some of you may have heard of the term overwhelm. This next question addresses how often in a week working mothers experience feeling overwhelmed. 48.3% said half of the week, while 38.9% said every single day. 11.7% said once a week and 0.9% said they never feel overwhelmed.

Overwhelm

When asked if there was an aspect of their job they would like to change in order to make life as a mom easier, there were six options. The options included were more money, a flexible schedule, work from home options, more time off available, all of the above, and other. Most responded with all of the above at 28.6%. 6% selected “other” which consisted several similar responses including shorter commute, a policy that enforces working hours instead of 24/7 availability, less working hours, a service to provide assistance with laundry and childcare, and lastly, an appropriate workload. Some respondents said they are very happy with all aspects of their company, but worry about job security.

Needs from corporate

Most people try to find ways to decompress after a stressful day on the job and evening with the kids. This next question sheds light on how most working moms (from this specific group of 213 surveyed) choose to unwind. The winner for ways to decompress in this group goes to drinking alcohol at 23%.  Sadly, 16.4% said they don’t know how to decompress. Also 13.6% chose “other” which included reading, watching TV, taking a bath, listening to music, or doing a hobby.

Decompress

It is important to dream about what means the most to us, what motivates us, and what would bring us joy. The final question asks about daydreams.

The question reads “I daydream what it would be like to…”

Go at a slower pace in life (22%) and work part-time (20.75%) were the top two selections. 19% said their daydream consists of working at a company that is flexible, has lots of paid time off, and is family friendly, 12.2% said they’d prefer not have to work, 11% said start over and go back to school, 6% dream of having a supportive partner that helps more, and 7.5% said “other” which included having a live-in nanny, being single, being wealthy, having the kids out of the house, and travel.This tells us that when it comes down what matters most,  time wins by a landslide over money on the importance scale.

Daydream

It would seem the over arching learning from this group of working mothers surveyed is that half of the week they feel overloaded.  They feel most overwhelmed in the morning while trying to get themselves and the kids out the door, as well as at night when dinner needs to be made and kids are simultaneously needing attention.  Only half of these working moms have full spousal support when it comes to helping with anything needed. All of them would like a family friendly work environment-which seems like a no brainer to all of us right? A whopping 16% of the moms surveyed don’t know how to decompress-yikes.  This cannot be good for the health of these moms. In addition to this, roughly a quarter of them use alcohol to de-stress. The doctors supposedly say a glass of red wine a day is good for the heart, but is it the best way for us to relax after a long day? Lastly, the most common day dream is going at a slower pace in life or working part-time hours.

So what’s the answer? Perhaps less hours and a more manageable workload is a start. Who came up with 9-5 anyway? Most schools start around 9 as do offices and most offices close at 5:30 or 6 and school gets out between 2 and 3. Does everyone work their best during those hours or can we entertain an idea of a different kind of work schedule?  Who died and let technology become our new tyrant of a boss that allows us to be available 24/7?  Maybe we would all work more efficiently if companies didn’t adhere to the regimented 40 hour schedule. Think about the option of letting employees choose their hours to suit their current situation. It could be this way for everyone-those with kids and without. If the work is getting done, why does the time of day or hours in a day matter?

Think about the incentives for your employees being happiness, motivation, more time in the home, and less overwhelm. Let’s start the conversation. I think we can all agree something has got to change.

 

 

 

 

When Good Luck Strikes

Have you ever been minding your own business when all of a sudden something glorious happens? Maybe that excitingly fortunate thing for you was winning a $10 lotto ticket, someone buying your meal at a restaurant, getting an unexpected promotion, or being the lucky caller on a radio station that scored you a trip for two to Cancun.  Whatever it was that you’ll never forget, be sure to share that story so it lives on. I believe that the more people hear stories of good fortune, the more hope it gives others that something unprecedented might be hiding around the corner. Also, in a world with Google and instant gratification, our memories seem to be waning and you just may forget about your unreal experience and that would be a straight up shame and a half. The art of storytelling needs to be kept alive!

My insanely awesome experience came completely unexpected on a stormy weeknight back in the late nineties. A group of friends and I were running late to the Britney Spears concert at the Rosemont Theater in Illinois. We had wastefully spent time doing our hair and make up only to have it washed right off by the torrential downpour as we sprinted across the parking lot into the venue.

We heard the opening band, O-Town, wrapping up and people cheering which sent us into a sprint to get to our seats.  At this moment of half running/half trying to wipe our faces off from the rain, a tall man that looked like he was also in a rush was walking quickly toward us and waving at us asking us to slow down. Annoyed, we snapped that we were running late, and we all but ran right past him in our haste.

He asked us to please just stop for one second so he could tell us something. Irritated that he was slowing us down, we all looked at each other and rolled our eyes wondering what he could possibly want.

“How would you like to go on stage with Britney?”

” Huh?”

” I have  passes that are for special stage access. You will get to watch the whole show from a side stage just off the main stage. Would you like them? I need to give them away and your group has the perfect number of people.”

No WAY. We were all dying from a glee-filled induced adrenaline surge.

Of course we obliged and took the passes off his hands. He then escorted us to a side stage just off the main stage and we went up a small set of stairs and waited with a few other girls for Britney to come out. We jumped, and clapped, and squealed at the unexpected fantastical twist of our night. Just minutes ago we were parking far away, running through a rainstorm, missing the entire opening act, and worried about missing Brit’s first song.  Now we were going to be just feet from her!

What was even more coincidentally awesome? One of the other girls on the platform was my friend from school! School as in my college that was 4 hours away from where we were standing. What were the odds of that? Seriously. The others said they had won this occasion from a Pepsi can contest. What the? All we had done was sprint into the theater soaking wet and anxious as hell to get to our seats!

This was at the height of Britney’s career also, might I add. So seeing her, especially this close up, was beyond exciting. We watched the show with perma-grins plastered on our faces the entire time.

About 45 minutes to an hour before the show ended, a young man in a dark gray or black hoodie walked up the stairs and onto the small platform. Since there were only a few of us on it, I was able to get a good look at him before he turned to watch Britney. It was Justin Timberlake! This was back when they were dating. None of us bothered him, but to say there was an electrical current of excitement running through each and every one of us would be an understatement.

The show ended and we talked about it the whole ride back home. We could not get over our sheer luck of being at the right place at the right time. It was an unbelievable experience that none of us would ever forget.

Have you had an amazing experience where dumb luck rained down upon you? Think about it, share your story with your friends, or write about it. It’s pretty cool to reminisce back to that space and time. Life can tap us on the shoulder and take us by complete surprise sometimes and it’s important to take time out and acknowledge the extraordinarily good stuff sometimes.

 

Airing the Dirty Laundry- Literally

Photo credit : @dwonderlandP

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Pulling into the apartment complex after a full day, I noticed the trail of someone’s laundry or clothing strewn through the parking lot. It was still cold and damp out, but spring was finally making itself known after another blustery Illinois winter.  Clothing, boxes, a couple of books, shoes, etc. were tossed along the walkway, in the grass, and in the parking lot. In the passenger seat of my mother’s car, I peered through the window staring hard at each article of clothing.  The piles of belongings led up to the main entrance of the building.

Thank God being fifteen was coming to a close soon. The last two years had been flipped upside down and I was ready to close the door on that chapter. Still,  this new life felt like someone else’s. I was reeling emotionally from being disowned by my father, thrust into my mother’s apartment with nothing but a backpack’s worth of stuff and adjusting to the start-stop-start of two different high schools.  Navigating living without my younger sister was also a shock to the system. There is a vast difference in going from having a sister to share your space, things, and thoughts with – to being by yourself.

For the last year and a half,  there was always some kind of drama lurking. Walking on egg shells became an honed skill. Just keep everyone happy and life would be OK. Don’t rock the boat. Nothing seemed to really bother me anymore-things could always be worse. Now that I was with my mother, there was no fear of what new false accusation or punishment awaited me. I believed that being out of my father and stepmother’s physical presence allowed me safe refuge from their mental games.

Mom worked long days, usually grabbed a cocktail with her gals after work, and typically got home late. It was odd to be alone in the loud quiet of the apartment, but for the first time in awhile, there truly was a feeling of sanctuary.

I would walk places to kill time, lie on the couch and actually relax,  hang with friends in their cars driving to the mall, the movies, and various fast food places since everyone was eager to drive with their freshly laminated driver’s licenses. Sometimes I’d listen to mix tapes, play with my dog, stare at the ceiling and daydream about all the things I  wanted to do with my life now that I had escaped my  teenage prison. The pressure, the anxiety, the constant nagging, and overblown reactions were over-and I bathed in that relief. In the beginning, the first few weeks of freedom felt like a dream; foggy, surreal, numb. It felt as though at any moment it could be ripped away from me, so I had to be vigilant and careful- it just wasn’t clear what I had to be vigilant and careful of. It was like being on a heightened sense of alert-just in case the rug got pulled out from under me. I would never go back. Never.

One evening just after my mother had walked in the door from work, the phone rang. It was my sister. I had been looking forward to hearing her voice, I missed her so much and these first few weeks without her were tough. But the voice on the other end was troubled, upset.

She explained that we would be unable to see one another for an indefinite period of time.

“WHY?” I held my breath.

Being kept from my own sister felt like a cruel and unfair punishment. In the back of my mind I had wondered if he would keep finding ways to hurt me or break me down even though I had escaped the confines of his self-proclaimed “dream house”.

She went on to explain that we could not see each other because Dad’s home had been vandalized.

Vandalism? How did that have anything to do with us seeing one another? I didn’t understand. And then all at once I did understand. Like a knob cranked all the way to blast, the realization of the situation had all but caused me to throttle through the roof of the apartment on adrenaline alone.

Vandalism. I wasn’t capable. Did they at least know THIS about me? Did they know anything about me? I had been accused of many insane things while under their roof. Here’s  a handful: doing and dealing drugs, dating a drug dealer,  being an alcoholic, a threat to their safety (they once told me they got a lock for their bedroom because they were afraid I would murder them in their sleep),  “stealing” food from the kitchen, a defiant juvenile worthy of military school for purposely smearing jam on the counter to make a “statement”, a mastermind manipulator, and the list of outlandish accusations and paranoid delusions could go on and on. Now I could add vandal to the list. I  had to laugh, there were just no more tears left.

My sister went on to explain they KNEW that I had done it because who else would do it? I had just been kicked out of their home, therefore to them it was the most obvious connection.

I asked what had happened.

Someone destroyed the white paint on their three car garage by squirting mustard all over the place. This person or persons had also put dog poop in the mailbox and on the porch, etc.

My fury at the guilty until proven innocent verdict bubbled over.

” I DID NOT DO THIS!”

Yet another unfounded accusation. I wasn’t even under that God forsaken roof anymore- and yet they were still able to get to me. The best way to describe how I felt was like being punched in the stomach over and over and over again.

It was then my sister shared another hurtful message from our dear father. As a result of my apparent vandalizing of their home, not only would my sister and I not be able to see one another, they would not be returning any of my belongings. I would be forced to keep just the backpack’s worth of personal stuff and that would have to be enough. Because this was MY unfortunate choice  to do this to their home, I would have to suffer the consequences.

And suffer I did.

Many months went by without seeing my sister. My mom had to purchase me new glasses, contacts, clothing, shoes, etc. since I was unable to get my things back and we hadn’t seen her in months prior to them dropping me off forever.  I had no clothes there.

Eventually, Spring came and along with that came an eviction notice. We’d have to decide where to go next and things were not looking promising on a beautician’s pay.

The car windows were cracked, and the cool spring air mingled with my mother’s cigarette smoke. We parked in our usual spot and got out of the car.  I can still remember the exact smell of the delicious wet dirt after the rain.   I took in the scene before me;  the walkway, the landing near the front door of the apartment complex, the parking lot. I cautiously walked over to one of the brown cardboard boxes that sat among the mess of items.  I lifted the tucked moving style folded flaps of the carton and looked inside.

The contents in the box were mine. I realized then that it was my belongings that were also part of the strewn items I had seen while pulling into the parking lot.  I felt the stinging at the backs of my eyes and resisted the urge to cry. While it wasn’t the way I had hoped to receive my belongings many months ago, at least I finally had them back. What forced the tears to flow regardless of my trying to hold them back and be strong,  was the hate-filled way in which they were returned to me;  as though someone had thrown them out the window of their car while driving by. My own father. What I would never understand was how he grew to hate me so much.

The small silver lining  was that my stuff had arrived just in time for our big move. I’d be going to live with family friends and mom would be staying with a friend for a bit. The plan was just for a month or two. She’d be saving up until she had enough money for us to get a place together again.

Afterthoughts:

Through my lens as the child and now as the parent: False accusations can harm your relationship with your children. This was one of most hurtful experiences in my life and prior to that  experience, every single false accusation stung almost as bad. I’ll be able to apply this in the now and stop and think before accusing my sons of things with such certainty and condemnation. 

Never-ending punishments and constantly reminding your child of the crime is overwhelming and maddening for them. I think we all need to remind ourselves of this when our kids are teens!

 

 

 

 

 

Guilt Is My Alter Ego- Part 1

It was interesting to peer into my young mind and relive what was unfolding inside the words. Reading my journals dating back to 1987 has been an experience.

Combing through past experiences exposed how my all-consuming  inner voice was formed.  It’s pretty much an alter ego and her name is Guilt. She consumes me as a working mom, a friend, a wife, a daughter, and a sister. Better yet, she’s my arch nemesis and alter ego rolled into one. Beyonce doubles as Sasha Fierce, David Bowie had Ziggy Stardust, and Bridget the Bergen became Lady Glitter Sparkles. But I’m stuck with the not-so-glamourous and sparkly version of myself .  She hovers over me like I’m her whipping boy, saying to me, “It’s GUILT Bitch!” which somehow doesn’t have the same chirpy ring of Britney’s fun voice. And based on pretty much anything you read related to motherhood, it would seem a lot of other moms also get bogged down by their feelings of guilt.

A few weeks ago, my husband gave me some advice. I was running around in a million directions, trying to clean with one hand, talk on the phone in the other, play with the kids with my left foot and eat with my right. After hanging up the phone, I griped to him that I felt all jittery and mega stressed. It felt like I had just finished beer-bonging coffee.

He said, “Look at yourself. Look at all the things you were just trying to do at the same time. You’re doing all these things because you think you should do them. You go through your life doing things all the time you think you should do, but do you ever ask yourself what you actually want to be doing?”

This must be a man thing because it would seem so many men can just turn off the stress and veg out in front of the TV. I do not not seem to possess this same gift of compartmentalization. As in being able to say to myself, “Now I will relax. Later I will do X. Tomorrow I will do Z.”

No way. It all is on fire and has to be done now. That’s is the way my brain always sees it.

Anyway, after I picked my jaw off the floor from his Dalai Lama advice sucker punch , I thought about what he had just said and he did have a major point. All of the things that were causing my stress to go into overdrive were self inflicted: 1.) I had answered the phone because it was someone I hadn’t talked to in awhile, so I felt like I had to answer; even though it was hands down the worst time of day to talk. 2.) While talking on the phone, I was feeling guilty over not interacting with my kids because it felt like I hadn’t really engaged with them all week. This thought is what led me to tell them I would play legos with them, but then I answered the phone, so actually I was half playing with them, half talking on the phone. 3.) Piles of laundry were all over the place so I was carrying the basket to and from the washer/dryer with the phone cradled on my shoulder followed by plopping down to fold the clothes right next to where we were playing legos. Yes, I thought I could fold, talk on the phone, and play legos with the kids all at the same time. 4.) The kids love to tell me how hungry they are whenever I’m doing anything. So I was making popcorn, cutting up apples, and pouring glasses of water upstairs, then going downstairs during intervals of folding clothes, playing with the legos, and talking on the phone.

I’m tired just writing this. This is the stuff I do to myself ALL. THE. TIME. And it basically boils down to guilt in addition to feeling like I am available to and owe everybody something at all times.

My husband continued on in his Dahlai Lama state of mind and asked me to think of all the decisions I’ve made in my life – both big and small -current and past.  Are they driven by other people’s wants or my own? Had I EVER based my decisions on what I felt like I wanted to do for myself? Or did I just default to what my brain was telling me was the “nice” thing or the “right” thing to do at that moment.  He pointed out that something bigger was likely driving my guilt.

Guilt manifests itself out of different experiences, fears, and beliefs we all have. Over time these patterns are hardened and then it feels impossible to break the cycle of that nagging voice.