The Extreme Value of In-Laws

I had a set of in-laws when I married.  Some made me feel loved.  Others made me feel tolerated.  I don’t plan to focus on them.  The idea of this post is more about the family of the men I’m into.

Learning How to Cook New Foods

When I was younger, my boyfriend’s moms always invited me into their kitchens.  This is how I learned to make tamales. There’s something about a girl willing to cook for a son that makes a mom want to give you affection.  The first instinctive act as a mom is to feed her child, and here is someone else willing to do so.  It was a time for me to learn, but a time for them to learn about me.  Do I mind getting my hands dirty? Will I clean up after myself? Will I jump at his every whim and how else will I undo all that she taught him.  Will I treat him poorly?

Someone That Understands and Still Loves Him

My favorite in-law bonus was the built in fan club.  I have a gift for finding men that are more selfish than selfless.  They tend to be stubborn and not easily coached into a shifted perspective. They tend to be dominant and aggressive. Of all the men I dated, not one escaped a moment of me thinking, “seriously? Is this what I want in my life?” At these times, I always knew that their family would get it. No one else would see selfishness or poor hygiene and still love the man I’m into like I would.  Except maybe his mom.

Deeper Understanding of His Past

No one can bring out both the best and the worst in a boyfriend like his family.  Typically, he’s going to behave in a way that usually makes me feel like he wants to keep me.  When his family is around, he’s likely to be at his friendliest and happiest and in the very next phrase uttered from a sibling, turn into an angry person you’ve never seen.

There’s a gift to being the new person in the history of a family dynamic.  I can step in without the past clouding my judgement of the present.  I can see the most benign comments as innocent where my boyfriend would see something said by a sibling or parent as instigating and malicious.  I don’t have history to mar the future like a sibling that has seen you with pimples would.

You Get to Glimpse into the Future

There’s also a bit of fortune telling involved.  You see their kid pictures, but you get a real life experience of nieces and nephews.  You see how their siblings raise their kids and you can see echoes of what your boyfriend was raised like.  Parents learn from their parents, or work really hard to unlearn what their parents taught and it’s so clear when you watch your significant other with their siblings, nieces and nephews.

Will he have a receding hairline? Will he repeat the same jokes? How does he act around his family? Does he treat his mom well? Is he respectful to his Dad? How does he describe his family to you? Is it an accurate description or does he see things entirely differently from the rest of the world and is this a good thing?

Where Do Loyalties Lie?

How honest are they? Will they tell you when you’re too good for the sibling they know, or cover every sin and fault he is capable of.

Looking in the mirror, I can’t deny the ways in which I favor my Dad and my sisters.  I never felt my emotional needs were met, and I’m almost paralyzed as a parent, trying to meet that need for my children.  So much of who we are is reflected in the relationships we have, and the family we’re given is so much more telling than the families we choose.

Advertisements

Fear to Commit in Relationships or What are you afraid of?

If you had asked me what I was looking for in a relationship six months ago, I would have told you it wasn’t a relationship.  I was looking for company.  I thought that was what I wanted, because it was simple.  I wanted company for the nights when I didn’t have my kids. Someone to laugh with over dinner or to walk with and discuss literature without grades and term papers being involved. I wanted a connection that was as superficial as I could easily commit to. Or not commit to.

Mishegas. I wanted a heavy dose of mishegas with two helpings of batshit crazy lady. I pushed my boyfriend away. Repeatedly. Hard. For nothing he did, nothing I thought, and every spooked hint of the feels I had no control over. I pushed him away because I was falling in love. Somehow he is still around and even finds a way to love me back.

I was asking the wrong question.  What I should have asked myself was, “what are you afraid of?”

There was something so profound about being completely vulnerable after my miscarriage.  I let my walls down.  I was defenseless.  I wasn’t looking for failure.  I was in a space where all I could do was be loved and held.  In that space my fear was muted by loss and I was able to live outside of that fear long enough to see what I was blinded to before.

My boyfriend is a really special guy.  I wouldn’t have seen it while asking the wrong question.  He was supposed to be company, so when he wanted more, I freaked out and backed away while pushing him as far as I could.

Today I’m asking the right question:  What am I afraid of? The answer was commitment.

I made a commitment.  I was married and kept my vows.  I never had a crush on anyone while I was still with my husband.  I was faithful.  That marriage and the dreams I held for our lives vanished without warning.  I was afraid that if I committed again, I could lose it all again.

I talked to my nephew on Mother’s Day and he told me that being Yessie on the prowl was what he knew. I was being who he grew up with. That was shocking to me because I didn’t realize how easily I slipped into those old habits while online dating. I had no sex but I was just as broken as I was as a teenager.

I was afraid of losing control.

I worked hard to get my finances where I wanted them.  (Recent grief retail therapy doesn’t count.) I was proud of being able to lease a car on my own.  I was happy with being able to do what I wanted whenever I wanted.  The idea of someone else in my life that might try to control where I went and who I went with scared me. My boyfriend has a degree in finance and wanted to share his expertise and knowledge and I freaked out about financial abuse and control.

I was afraid I wouldn’t have my space. We both crave each other while also needing space. I don’t feel suffocated and had nothing to fear. We fit in the ways that matter.

I was afraid of losing my voice and not being heard. I didn’t know how to ask for support or how to be a partner.

For Mother’s Day my boyfriend bought me a leaf blower and weed whacker. Initially there were giggles. It’s not traditional. Years ago I would have been angry. I like tools. I’m terrified of circular saws but I’ve been looking at Dremels for a while. I want to replace mine. The thing is, he was watching me. When we lost our twins, I was pulling weeds like I was exorcising demons. He wanted to support that. He watches me carefully and he can see shifts in my mood that I can’t see. The projects I take on are balanced. He knows I have it covered and it’s cute to watch him struggle with not taking over, but he partners with me and listens for what I don’t say.

I was afraid of what co-parenting might look like. It was hard enough trusting my ex with diaper changes, let alone a new man who doesn’t know my kids like I do.

I had this moment on Mother’s Day where my boyfriend stepped into the step-father role with Kid3. He was teaching him how to use a BB gun. He showed him how to use the safety, and reminded him to point it to the ground. He even used a stern Dad voice in setting boundaries about needing supervision. It was a moment where my fear was replaced by that feeling you get when a man is being a great role model to your child. It’s somewhere between heart bursting and melting while your libido reminds you that you are far from dead in all of those lovely and tingly ways.  It was a moment where that lioness that protects her cubs also marks the territory that is hers. It was a terrific moment to be me.

I sat back on the porch and watched them and kept wondering what on earth was I afraid of.

What It Means to Make Space for Someone or Something In Your Life

When my ex first left, there was space. I had room in the closet and where furniture left bare walls. There was space in my bed and I always filled it with books or kids when they were with me. I had to adjust my cooking so I didn’t always have way too much food.

The new man in my life has been around a few months and the spaces I try to make feel tight. It’s like a stretched rubberband. There are times that I see a shadow or hint of my past in our future and I stand back and snap in anger and he makes space for me, responding quietly and patiently. He might respond to a comment the way my ex did. He might blow off a concern the way my Dad does. He gets the full weight of what it feels like to know I am not afraid to be alone from the ways I keep trying to push him away and reject him.

And yet, the first time he took out the trash or helped with laundry before I asked, I started sobbing because I’m not used to that kind of help.

I’m fully aware I’m holding him responsible for a past he had no part in and I’m trying not to. He’s listening. He’s shifting from his own comfort as a bachelor and we’re both figuring out how we fit.

At one point we discussed making space and I emptied a dresser drawer for him. There was excitement. There was fear. There was a stretch and space was made. It was a moment to celebrate in our relationship but for my eldest it was a space made that he didn’t have room for. It didn’t affect his things or his personal space other than being in the same common areas but it bothered him. He didn’t make space.

I’m between jobs right now and the timing was perfect for my gallbladder to announce its existence. I just had it removed. Moving slowly, resting fully and asking for help (and being receptive of it) is a way my situation made space for the needs of my body without pressure of work responsibilities.

In October of 2014 I had pulmonary embolisms. There were several blood clots hanging out in my lungs. They could have easily taken a ride in my blood stream and ended up in my heart or brain with fatal results. My birth control pills tried to kill me and I take medicinal side effects seriously. I was told any pregnancy after that would require a shot of blood thinners daily until birth and then it would have to be quickly reversed.

My youngest was 8. I felt it was time for permanent birth control for my irregular cycles. My kids still wanted a sibling but they were open to adoption. My ex wanted more kids. My tubal ligation was scheduled. Just before I was ready for it, my ex told me he was leaving me.

Suddenly I didn’t need birth control. It didn’t make sense to have surgery and no one to help with the difficulties of post op. I was ready to make sure there was no space for more kids but it really didn’t matter.

In the following 2 years I would lose about 40 pounds and my monthly cycle became regular for the first time in my adult life. I would become more patient with my kids and so much anxiety would melt in the shadowed beauty of a sunset.

I went from not wanting more kids to actively creating space for life.

We do this in every area of our lives. We allow things to happen or we do all we can to prevent it. We make time to exercise or we refuse to get out of bed. We make time for friends and loved ones or we find ways to be too busy for them.

Can you see the ways you make space and why some of the promises you keep making end up being consistently empty?

How We Compare Past Pain To Gauge Present Pain But It’s All Relative

My writing feels broken.

Life still moves at the speed of “slow down, WTF!”

That hasn’t kept the words at bay.

My love life has been moving in a positive direction.  It has made change for me and my boys and we’re riding the waves as a family.  For the most part we’re okay but in one very specific way, we’re not.

My firstborn is having a hard time with the changes and not having my home whole has made writing a challenge.  How do I write about doing what feels good, when so much of what I feel is tied into how my son feels and the ways we’re not blending our lives into ways where I can proclaim we’re all doing epic shit.

Friday I drove myself to an ER after pushing through a job interview and saying I had a little indigestion.  The chest pain was bad enough that I was crying.  Not sobbing or asking for attention as much as silent tears and gritting my teeth through the nurse’s questions.  It was bad.  I found my sense of humor.  She was hiding out but given free reign, she’s a bit snarky and had no patience for the whiny bitch next to me.  (If a nurse or doctor is trying to help you after you go see them for help, don’t bother trying to justify kicking them.) I was sent home after being given really good drugs and felt better through the weekend.

Monday morning I called an ambulance after a night of chest pain, vomiting and being unable to sleep.  I know, pretty bone headed of me.  I kept thinking, it hurts, but it’s not as bad as the pulmonary embolisms.  And then it was.  It went from kinda uncomfortable to more painful than full on labor pains pretty quickly too.  I think at some point I may have begged for death while running to the bathroom to vomit and it was only after getting through the night that I called an ambulance and had the paramedic act pretty bored as he realized I wasn’t actually having a heart attack.  They hung out with me and waited for another ambulance to take me to a hospital where I was taken in and tested and poked and prodded and drugged.  The 7 am call included a transfer to my plan hospital and a discharge after 33 hours, with lotsa fun follow up appointments in my near future.  Gallbladders are like lungs.  They’re supposed to function without using pain to grab your attention.  If you feel pain, play it safe and see a doctor.

I kept thinking of my worst possible experiences and I held them up to what I was going through.  I held up the past with the present in a way that let me see that I was not actually dying.  I matched up battle scars to see that I’ve been through bad situations and it doesn’t make the current better or worse.  It reminds me there’s no point in whining about it.  I will get through it.  There are no other options.

That moment helped me find the funny and crack some jokes.  That comparison gave me the clarity to see that I haven’t been able to write, but it’s about me.  It’s not the boyfriend.  It’s not wondering what I can write or if I should. It’s my relationship with my firstborn that makes me feel so shattered that the words stopped.

It’s new territory.  I get to learn and we get to stretch, and in time, this will be one of those battle scars in our relationship I will hold up.  I’ll remember how hurt I am that I have hurt him.  I will remember how torn I feel by the directions my heart is pulling me in.  I’ll remember that in this moment and every moment around it, I’ve been trying to go by my gut and do what is best for me and my family, without sacrificing myself for my family.  It’s a marker.

I will see the parts that were broken.  I’ll compare them to the next terrible thing.  I’ll remember how we managed and the ways that made us stronger.  It’ll be okay.  The words will flow again.

 

How To Find Closure After Something Special Ends

A few mornings ago Kid3 was singing an Adele song and laughing about it. He found the funny without knowing what it was about, other than the many memes starting with, “Hello.”

I asked if he knew what the song was about and I told him it was about getting closure and saying hello a long time after a relationship ended. Then the jaded bits came out to bite me and it’s worth looking at if it makes my inner cynic stand at attention.

Closure is about being able to move on from something that meant enough to destroy you a bit when it ended. It could be a relationship. Or a job you relied on. Or the death of a person you didn’t expect to die and refuse to let go of. It’s about accepting that something you loved and cherished doesn’t exist in your life anymore and knowing that it isn’t who you are. You are not a broken relationship and the past is not where you’ll find your badassery.

The angry black woman in me said, “you expect someone that failed you while you were both in love to make you feel better now that you’ve had the time to move on?” I mean, true artistry looks like this woman in love. Even when you aren’t amazing, my heart full of infatuation can make something truly terrible look like I can’t live without it. I take your flaws and push them aside because living with them is better than living without you. Take that amazing artist interpretation, give it time and I may just see how much we really weren’t made for each other.

Time will show me the ways I didn’t give space or obsessed way too much over every single detail that seemed relevant but really wasn’t. I’ll see the ways I failed and pride will shove the reasons he failed me to the forefront. And closure sometimes asks us to reconnect to reexamine and release these things. But why?

I’m currently in a relationship. It’s new and I’m still in that happy phase so this really is a look back and doesn’t apply to him. But he’s different. I can see the things I question and his answers shift my perspective. I’m different.

Looking at past relationships, there was a fascination in each man I cared about to the point that I wasn’t caring for myself. I wasn’t writing or finding time to be in my happy place. I was relying on him for happiness and that means I wasn’t happy. That neediness often made him (all of the hims) unhappy.

Take my unhappy ass, add a man who was equally unhappy. Subtract the value for our love and how much we cared about each other and it still didn’t add up to keep us together. In the ways we cared about each other . . . The ways we lied to soften the blow of rejection . . . Ultimately, walking away is the greatest rejection possible . . . And that care still couldn’t keep us connected. Time passes and for me that means head turning weight loss. I return to my happy place that shares way more than you’d ever be comfortable with. I start buying myself flowers and reminding myself of the ways I’m awesome that couldn’t be seen under the shadow of the man I placed on my pedestal, and let’s find that closure!

The reality for me is that I have never been able to find closure in a conversation with the men I once gave my all to. I couldn’t see how he might fail me until he did and once I had that hindsight vision of who he was, I see how he could have never been what I painted him as. I see the ways he could never even communicate what I needed to hear because he’s never been as open or emotionally self aware as I am. I held him to my standard and I know he’ll never meet another woman like me. I’ll never meet another woman like me.

For me, closure comes from hindsight and a vision of what my future should be. It comes in facing the ways I accepted less than I desired and taking notice of the ways I undervalued myself to prove to them they were worthy of my love, affection, time and desire. (My desire though… Not everyone can or should handle that much intensity.) I appreciate the times that were good. I relive a few of the good memories. I’m careful to see them with the perspective of someone that was once in love and is now happy and fulfilled in self-love. I can see the good for the good it was. I can also see the ways it was a relationship I would never wish on a loved one and I can stand tall as I walk away because the closure I needed was always in my control and not at the mercy of a man who failed me and odds are would repeat that pattern.

Find the good. Honor it. See the bad. Recognize how you accepted it and promise yourself to do better next time. Be open to love and let go of fear. That’s the closure you’re looking for. It will come in waves and surprise you when you least expect it to.  Go with it.

Relearning How to be a Girlfriend After Being Married

I’m still learning. When I wake up and get ready to face my day, I get to decide I don’t have to know what it will look like or how it will feel. The hard part is realizing the many ways I need to unlearn an existence.

I was a wife for 15 years. I made meals I never ate. I rubbed sore muscles and washed laundry for someone that wasn’t my offspring or me. Dishes were washed and bathrooms scrubbed as the last thing I would ever want to do with the consistency of someone suffering from severe depression. The stench of urine never went away because teaching my boys to use a toilet when I didn’t have a penis as an example means it was a poor lesson and it often failed all over the seat and floor. (New lesson: bleach will make my skin reek and burn my eyes but after a while, the chemical scent fades and with it the smell of stale urine only a barfly could appreciate.)

I dated when I was younger. It was a goal to be someone that might become a wife one day. I wanted to be all that would make me a wife. Even to the point that I would put my desires behind someone else’s. I was a chameleon for love, as it were.

Fast forward to nearly two years ago and I’m suddenly single again. A year ago I started to enjoy being single. I’m doing what feels good and exciting to me. I go where I want and stay out as long as I want and it’s about making myself happy. I’ve gotten really good at buying myself flowers and discovering Victoria’s Secret for myself. I eat what I want and enjoy the epicurean delights of self-satisfaction. I love being single because I get to be selfish without feeling selfish.

Then lightning strikes and there’s a man. Just one. There’s a boyfriend and I get to unlearn being a wife to learn how to be a girlfriend and no longer a single woman.

There are moments of joy because I love the way I feel when I’m with him. There are moments of doubt. I have FOMO (fear of missing out) just like anyone else. Is there someone else? Could there be someone better? I have moments of telling myself to relax and enjoy each moment for the spontaneous gifts of our time together. Our times together are amazing enough that I want to learn to be an us when I was so happy with just being me. And moments where I feel like I don’t deserve him. They coincide with moments when he tells me he knows there isn’t another me on this planet.

I found myself rushing home after work to be by his side and in his arms. On a kid free day as a single woman, I would normally just explore the area I work in or drive to the ocean for a while until traffic was a straight shot home and into bed.

I keep turning the thermostat slightly lower to accommodate his comfort rather than my desire to comfortably walk around naked at home.

I would normally have a light dinner or a non-existent one on a kid free night, and I wonder if I should cook for him or how that should look as his girlfriend that isn’t hungry and he surprises me by caring for my needs and being self sufficient. I have moments that beg for a lifetime in spite of my fear of what that could look like. I wonder if I want more and I ask why can’t I have the more he’s offering. And there’s happiness and contentment and moments that shock me and rock the certainty I almost lived in. (I’m certainly adaptable.)

I find myself trying to remember how I am supposed to behave and care and not rely on him. Can I rely on him? Does he ask that of me and why does that scare me. Around that time, the reality of being abandoned shows up and I see how I keep holding him at a safe distance, without accounting for the fact that there is no safety in what we have and that is the thrill I have a right to embrace.

I’m learning what drives him and where his passions are. I’m learning to see the new patterns of who we are and not place the heavy burden of the old (my past) on top of him.

When I met my ex, it was on the heels of a superficial relationship with someone else. He introduced me to a song that I in turn introduced to my ex. We played that song over and over on our honeymoon. I kept wondering if I should just tell him and pick a different song. I heard it on the radio this morning and it was interesting how the memories of it were layered by two different men. I heard another song with a similar scenario and two different men, and again, the significance and memories cascaded in a way that felt so confused and beautiful. There was a moment with my current boyfriend. There was a sweet emoji he texted to me (and so help me, I’m embracing smiley faces and I don’t feel like an asshat doing it). He sent a picture that reminded me of my ex and I let his expression color the picture in a different light. Like brush strokes on a canvas, we are offered a gift in our expressions and it was a moment to shift what I saw and how I felt and rather than dwell on what it was, I was able to bask in what we’re making it. And that moment is his and mine and has nothing to do with anyone else.

My kids on the other hand . . . Kid1 isn’t in love with my dating one person. (He might have enjoyed the idea of me being a player or hard to keep because that meant I was so picky only his Dad was worth holding onto and that means only my kids held my attention. He isn’t rude but refuses to engage.  Kid2 is indifferent. Kid3 (at 10 years old) has moments where he likes the new boyfriend and moments where his anger is palpable. He tried breaking my car window after watching me, watch him pee all over the toilet seat on purpose. I withheld my smirk and laughter at how visceral his need to be territorial was.  And there I go with that bleach lesson again. We’re all learning.

How I am My Father’s Daughter

Yesterday I was walking past a Dad with his children.  They were taking turns and jumping onto and swinging from his forearms like he was a living jungle gym.  There was laughter and love and a gentle reprimand to one of his other children to not run through the halls because we were in a building that isn’t really a playground.  In that moment I felt so much tenderness for a person I have never met. He reminded me of my Dad and the times I could run at him like he could take all I could dish.  I thought of the times I was on all fours with my children on my back and wrestling with them the way my Dad used to do with me. I walked away remembering the times I would spar with my Dad and he would teach me to block a punch and his love for “tiger claw,” which was fierce with his long talon like nails.

I remember as a little girl, sitting on the toilet seat and watching my Dad shave his face.  He used to have a mug with soap in it, and use a brush to lather the soap up and slather it on his face.  He would stretch and pull his face in different ways to get a clean shave and I would watch every time.  He would rub Aqua Velva or Old Spice between his hands then slap and smear it on his face and neck.  Then I’d watch him button up his shirt and wrap and tie his tie around his neck.

As I’ve gotten older, the ideal Dad I imagined gave way to the one I have.  I stopped trying to place the image in my head on top of him.  I realised he has always done what he felt was best for us and he’s always shown love, even if it wasn’t in the ways I wanted him to. It was my need to put a premium on the love I gave that dictated the value I saw in what I received.  That sounds vague.

I have learned that the ways in which I saw my Dad as not what I wanted are the ways in which his PTSD have shown up as he’s struggled with it my whole life and I could see the outward expression of his inner demons.  I can no longer hold him accountable for the way his survival looks.

I get my bravery and courage from my Dad.  He has moments of posturing and trying to assert his dominance.  He does it with any man that wants to spend time with the women in our family.  He says it when he feels the need to meet and approve of any men we might be dating.  It shows up as the choices he makes and the ways we live those choices out.

Yesterday he had heart surgery.  In his 7th decade of lapping our sun, it’s his first and he’s doing really well considering how epicurean his tastes are.  I was trying to figure out how to be present for him while also living in my authenticity.  I realised I couldn’t sacrifice myself for him because I wouldn’t be engaged with him.  I would be torn.  I had an office party on Thursday that I went to.  I had a great time.  Once I left, I picked up a few things for my Dad and went to visit him.

He wanted to shave and insisted he could stand over the sink and do it himself.  I saw his gown was stained and helped him change out of it.  He was surprised at my understanding of easing him out of and into a new gown but I reminded him I was hospitalized for a month with the twins I carried as a surrogate mother. I was upside down in the trendelenburg position for a week, eating meals and going to the bathroom in this 45 degree, feet above my head position. Two years later I was hospitalized again for pulmonary embolisms.  I understood his discomfort and how to get him dressed, taking advantage of the way the gowns are created.  I brought him a basin and washcloths and watched him shave.

He relies on a mirror far less than he used to, familiar with the stretch and pull of his face and the ways his skin folds with the wrinkles offered to him through time.  He handed me his razor to swish and shake through the basin of water. He tried washing his hand in the water, and I showed him how effective a damp washcloth could be.  When he was done, I used a fresh, damp washcloth to wipe his face gently.  We talked.  I encouraged him.  He encouraged me.  He wanted donuts but I only carry suckers and I left without one, once I got approval from his nurse. He wanted me to go to work and not wait for him during surgery but visit him after he was out.  He knows my job doesn’t pay me when I’m not there to work and he knows I need to care for his grandsons.

During his surgery I was having a hard time focusing on work.  I was present.  I was engaged, but it was easy to rabbit trail my thoughts else where.  I hoped the boys could have stayed with their Dad so I could spend more time with mine, but they couldn’t and in accepting the situation I was in, I saw that this forced my visit to last exactly as long as it needed to for my Dad’s post op. I checked on my kids, and picked up my sister to go see our Dad.

He was tilted in the way he needed to be.  He was starved and able to eat but only in that position, so I fed him.  Bite by bite, I have to admit it was more satisfying than feeding a baby that is learning with solid foods.  I helped him find his things as he was moved and had no control over where his belongings were. He was on really good drugs and not really aware of his limitations or why he needed to have them. I helped him get situated and after a short while we left.

There was something so humbling about helping him because I have always seen him as a powerful man.  It was a moment of being able to give him my love in a way that was an offering and not a request of his.  It felt like a gift to be able to offer my love through service and have it received so completely.

While life still happens at the speed of existence, I was still able to jump from conversation to conversation with catfish and real men alike.  I was able to paper tiger through work orders and purchase orders in the magic that is my pre-invoice.  Facing and correcting errors created during my training. I was able to be mom and sister and daughter, and I was gifted with being able to support the man who has made me the woman I am today.  I’m often asked how I’m doing because that is how we reach out to others with minimal risk.  It was a great day to be me, and this is what it looks like.