Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Out with the old

I have a confession. I like to collect people. I don't like to say goodbye, and I don't like to discard people. I like to remain friends, to transform relationships, to stay in touch, to honor their value as a person. I realize now that is a nice ideal, but it doesn't hold water in the real world.

 I realized that I did not discriminate in collecting people, and that meant some of them ended up being insensitive, unkind without apology, judgmental, or bossy.  I tried to stay with people who were hurtful and could not clean up their emotional messes. I would then take on their blame and actually feel guilty for being emotional or sensitive, while they traipsed off happily unburdened by pangs of conscience or guilt.
Gee, I wondered to myself, why on Earth am I trying to make something work with people who are consistently hurtful?
It has left me cultivate intolerance: intolerance for criticism, intolerance for contempt, intolerance for not taking responsibility for one's actions, intolerance for dishonesty, intolerance for double standards, intolerance for demeaning behavior, intolerance for hypocrisy,  and intolerance for my own masochistic tendencies. I realized I simply could not stay in relationship with someone who made a habit out of making a big 'ole hurtful mess of things and then leaving me to clean up after their lack of awareness.
This led to a commitment to authenticity. I have set boundaries and let go of those people, and that was hard. It leaves me free to focus on the people in my life who are trustworthy and safe. Going a step further, I am also looking to women who are older than I am to usher me into the next phase of womanhood. I have a few in my life already who probably don't even know I have designated them "mentors" but I soak in their wisdom.  I am pickier about who I choose and make sure their character is one I can emulate and learn from. Gosh, I need more help developing compassion, not less.
That was a hard, painful lesson to learn but it was years in the making. I do believe it is compassionate to not tolerate the cruelty of a fellow human.
It's an awkward subject. Sometimes we have to break up with friends. Sometimes there is no hope that a person will ever "get" it. Sometimes we have to give up our belief in that person. Sometimes people just have their season in our lives.
I read once about a Buddhist vow that involves not adding to the suffering of the world. When I have put myself around people who add to my suffering it is easy to ignore my own blind spots. Being with safe, like-minded people gives me a place to be vulnerable and correct where I might add to the suffering of others or the world.
And love is where I want to and grace and compassion.

We smoked a lot of hope
We did our cryin', too
We're finally waking up
To what real love can do

From "Round of Blues" Shawn Colvin

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Single Mom Whining

There is a blog out there called "Single Dad Laughing". It's actually really good. But this weekend, I was certain I could start a blog called "Single Mom Whining." After all, it's the Christmas season, and if being a single mom isn't hard enough, there is the pressure and stress I feel because of the issue of , well, stuff.
What brought it on was my almost 6-year-old's upcoming birthday. In our community, when we have a birthday party, we try to make it about the child and his or her friends and the experience. Presents are either hand-made or optional. We love it because it is a win-win. No one has to stress over what latest toy to buy, and the birthday child (and his family) are not inundated with more stuff that will be used once then tossed aside.
But I couldn't help but have pangs of wishing when my son asked me if he could have a "real" party, one where he gets lots of presents from friends. Single mother guilt kicked in. Parenting guilt kicked in. Am I depriving my child? Am I just wanting to compensate him for having divorced parents? But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that isn't the gift I need to give my child. A stressed, financially-depleted, guilty mother does not serve anyone. Friends who are stressed because of you don't either. Besides, I'd rather teach my son what really counts, and give him an opportunity to learn self-control.
 I gave my son three choice toys I knew he wanted and I could mostly afford, he had a party complete with making graham cracker gingerbread houses and sweet handmade or handed down gifts from friends, and a hike in the woods where the highlight was finding an old wagon tire that was the perfect size for 6-year-olds to roll down hills. We had spent the day cleaning and anticipating the party. My children went off to their dad's in high spirits and I doubt my son even remembered he had asked me for that "other" kind of party. And I felt foolish for even thinking that was better than this:

The night before, we had picked up and set up our Christmas tree. I was in a slightly irritated mood because we had been shopping, and again, that is stressful because I am reminded of what I don't have or what I can't give to my kids. I inwardly grumbled that I had to carry in the tree by myself, that I have no partner to cheer me on, that I am taking on mortgage, car repairs, and parenting all by myself. We set up the tree, and I wanted it done a certain way but my eleven year old wanted it done the "right" way (because mom is increasingly not "right" in the eyes of an eleven-year-old). We exchanged irritations with each other, finally got the ornaments down and the tree up. As we took out the ornaments, I was flooded with such sentiment. There are such precious things here. Most of our ornaments are hand made and gifted to us. Thirteen years of teaching and so many of those ornaments are treasured gifts from students and families. Sweet ornaments from when my twenty-somethings were small. Serena and Davis enjoying each and every ornament "Oh!!!! I remember this!!!" It was like they had never seen ornaments before. Christmases over the years came to memory, friends and family who were in our lives, loved ones who had passed on. Gentle tears came, for so many dreams have been put to rest, and there is still so much to learn, and people to love. The irritation was soothed and I came into the present. I was immediately grateful for my sweet children who teach me so much.
Our tree ended up being beautiful:

In the midst of a bit of feeling sorry for myself, of my child's impatience with wanting something he couldn't have, of my own impatience turned intolerance in a charged mother-daughter interaction, I forgot the value of anticipation. Isn't that what this season is about? Anticipating something joyful, anticipating the light. You don't have to have it right now, and in fact, it is good to unload some old things before you do "get" it. It always comes. The gift is the anticipation.
I'm still making as much as I can for gifts this year, as I've done for some 20 years now. I'm telling the kids we are keeping it simple. We have projects going pretty much every day. They don't always get done but we have projects. We are planning gathering with family and celebrating loved ones, the REAL important stuff.
I can be Single Mom Whining for awhile. I have every right and reason to grumble some days. But I also have every right and reason to be deeply, humbly, and ever-grateful for this life. And I am!