Don’t believe it

When our divorce process was just beginning, the separation phase, the shock and depression phase, I read as many books on the subject as I could muster. I googled my ass off, poured over Goodreads and Amazon reviews of divorce books and read into the night.

Reading and insomnia go hand in hand.

That’s how I handle most challenges in my life usually, I study the problem to wrap my head around it and hopefully find a solution or plan of attack. Sometimes reading about it gives me solutions, or at least ideas of how to cope, other times it just helps ease my mind to know that I’m not the only one.

And isn’t that what we are all hoping for, not to be the only loser in the room?

It didn’t take me long to notice the trend in divorce books and articles were skewed towards women – are there any divorce books or articles for/about men? I wonder. It sure didn’t seem like it during my research.

What I also noticed was a running theme, across most books and articles aimed at women, that most women getting divorced, over the age of 40 like myself, were well past their prime. They are on the other side of the hill, washed up and dried out, and can only expect to live a life slightly above miserable because they are no longer young, sexy and desirable. They need to buckle up for the bumpy ride to the finish line.

And part of the reason that we are now divorced is that we have let ourselves go during our marriage, obviously. We have become fat and frumpy, sour and lame, and now life will suck. We focused too heavily on our kids all of these years and have let our love relationships slip through our fingers.

Now we must deal with the fallout from giving up on ourselves, and our marriages, and hang our heads in shame while we plug along through the muck of the rest of our lives.

We don’t moisturize, we don’t exercise, and our brains have turned to mush from raising children and taking care of our husbands, because we also don’t have any career goals or real outside interests of our own that mean anything.

In other words, that anyone else finds important.

We have to accept that men our age are “only” looking for much younger women – of which we are no match for, obviously. We don’t have the energy to get back into the game, even if we wanted to. We’re much too enmeshed in our craft projects, charity volunteering, HGTV and stuffing our faces with comfort food while we pull on our stretch pants and big t-shirts with butterfly appliques while we wait to die…alone.

We’re too busy cutting off the crusts on organic sandwiches for our tweens, planning the next prom theme with the PTA or caring for our aging extended family while ironing (his) shirts and rsvping for the next corporate gala function supporting the latest charity interest. We’re busy!

Much too busy to consider finding love again, or even a willing partner to look our way.

And how could we even expect to find love again when all of the men we’re “allowed” to be interested in (within a reasonable age range, of course, usually a bit older because they still like them younger even when they’re riding into the sunset of life) they are either still married (by some stroke of good luck) or are now dating women who could be our daughters??

You know what? Enough.

Why are we continuously expected to accept this narration of what a middle aged divorced woman is supposed to be? Why are we viewed as the hopelessly lonely spinsters of midlife because we’re divorced now?

Have you met a middle-aged divorced woman lately? I have, and believe me we’re not all throwing in the towel and accepting that we’ll never have sex again and die lonely. Get married again? Well, that’s a fifty-fifty shot, most women choose not to get remarried after a long-term marriage. That’s a real statistic, look it up.

Can you blame them??

No, midlife divorce is crushing. It’s depressing and humbling, it’s a waterfall of emotions while at the same time a slow drip on your soul likened to Chinese water torture (usually thanks to your ex, what else is new?). It’s painful in ways you never thought you could hurt, and would never wish on anyone. It takes your breath away. It takes away your identity and pulls the rug out from under you. It takes, and takes, and takes.

But it’s also a gift.

It’s the gift of a do-over when you have the maturity and experience to hopefully know what you want and need this time. A lesson well learned by now with any luck, and maybe with a bit of therapy for good measure. It’s the gift of not having to live the rest of your life in a hollow shell of a relationship, biding your time, thinking that this is just as good as it gets because surely everyone must feel this way.

They don’t.

Some do, of course, but not everyone. No, it’s not normal and it’s not okay.

It’s the realization that you now have the ability to create the life you want, they way you want it, without anyone else having an opinion that you really have to consider. It’s taking steps in a new direction that you may have never considered, or maybe you have considered it in the past but always managed to tell yourself that you couldn’t because…fill in the blank. You couldn’t because you wouldn’t be supported in your decision, you would be shamed for even thinking of pursuing it, you would be tormented for taking time away from what was “important” in someone else’s opinion.

It’s freedom.

Sure, this isn’t the way it was supposed to turn out. Nobody gets married with an expiration date printed on their marriage license, or written into their vows “I take you for the next twenty years, then we’ll renegotiate the terms of our relationship”.

Maybe we should have?

But that doesn’t mean that you won’t have a happy life with a happy ending. Your happiness is based solely upon what you choose it to be. You. Nobody else. And age has nothing to do with it.

I love the saying “I ain’t dead yet”, because it is so true and it’s real. You’re not, if you’re reading this. We’re not dead yet, so stop counting us out.

And truthfully, we’re not really old. Remember when 40 was considered old? That’s when people died before they turned sixty. People live to be 80, 90, sometimes over 100 years old now. Get over yourself, put away that AARP card, and go make the life you want the way you want it to be. Nobody can tell you not to now.

With whomever you want it to be with, older or younger, or on your own. It’s really up to you now. You have choices. Stop letting the world tell you that you’re too old to start over again, stop listening to the commercials that it’s time for you to slow down and give up.

Don’t believe it.

That’s my book, my article, my advice. Short and simple.

And it’s good for women and men, because I’m a rule breaker.

Advertisements

Crossing paths

Unexpectedly I found myself in the sites of a happy, fun, outgoing ball of energy who’s enthusiasm was contagious and intoxicating.

He was the type of person who can get an entire bar singing together, instantly take over the lead for a group of people and make things happen, he was the mayor of wherever he happened to be. When he smiled his eyes twinkled with just a touch of glee, and he smiled a lot, especially when he laughed. When we danced, he lead with confidence and joy, spinning me on a crowded dance floor that felt like our own personal world. I couldn’t stop smiling, or laughing.

It was a whirlwind!

It wasn’t about pickup lines, what he did for a living, or how many drinks he could buy. It wasn’t about the car he drives, the degree he has or if he was wearing designer clothing.

We laughed, we danced, we sang. We connected.

He saw me. He truly looked at me, not through me as if waiting for something more important or entertaining to come along, he actually looked into my eyes when we talked. I was in the center of his field of vision, the world felt so far away…

…and it was intoxicating.

He was traveling, alone with a buddy, across Europe with multiple stops planned for their trip. I was traveling alone, across Europe as well, with multiple destinations on my agenda. But we were both here, in this very bar on a pub crawl, in this obscure country, at the same time.

Coincidence? Fate? It’s hard to decide.

When he finally kissed me, it was electrifying. I could feel his energy almost transfer into my body as soon as he touched my face, and my endorphins released immediately. It’s the only way I can comprehend how to explain it. Like magnets, drawn together without any warning, that spark.

I was starry-eyed…for the first time in a very long time.

I felt twenty years younger.

Do you remember those early days of young lust? That quickened pulse, dilated pupils and almost swooning when he held your hand or put his arm around you? Just the intensity delivered by a kiss alone? The electric energy sizzling all around you, even while you danced and sang to 80’s music in a crowded bar, remember?

I had forgotten.

Forgotten maybe, but it was not lost. It was all still there, just buried under layers of self-doubt and low self-esteem, from years of training and practice. I was no longer the young woman of my youth getting gussied up for a night on the town, complete with makeup and a form fitting party dress, ready to take on the world and anyone in my way.

No, this was a completely different version, a version that I never expected to be when I was in my twenties, but here we are 25 years later. Older, wiser and just a little bit jaded. Add in  splash of “who cares?!” with a dash of “fuck you” and that’s what your fifties look like.

No makeup, jeans and a t-shirt, fresh from the geothermal spa (without a hair brush) and carrying bags from souvenir shopping with my wet swimsuit sitting in the bottom. I didn’t plan for my day of adventure with any concern for my appearance. I was a mess! I had stopped thinking about myself that way lately, attractive or desirable, stopped considering that I may have the opportunity/option to meet someone while I was enjoying one of the many fine drinks along the pub crawl way. It was a stopover, not a destination.

I was all about being functional, not fabulous.

Definitely not on the prowl or looking for a love connection, just trying to make the best use of my nineteen hour layover. But isn’t that the way it usually happens? The less effort you put into it, the less you care about the results, the better your return? It sneaks up and surprises you, out of nowhere.

Because you’re relaxed. You don’t care, you don’t have expectations and that makes you open to opportunities that you never realized were possible.

We truly enjoyed each other. No pressure, no deep conversations or confessions. Easy.

After closing time, which was nearly daylight, while the crowds filled the streets before wandering off in all directions, we wished each other well and went our separate ways, to our next destination. Two nomads, exploring the world while taking in the cultures of each stop along the way, crossed paths to spend a few hours in each other’s orbit of happiness and discovery.

Single serving companions, for one night only, a limited time offer.

A magical moment in time, and the time was up. It wasn’t the love story of the century, it wasn’t even longer than a few hours on a pub crawl, but it re-energized me and made me see myself in a new light. I felt lighter, happier than I had in a very long time, and confident.

I could appreciate who I am, and how I want to live my life, I can dream big and go boldly on my own to meet my future self. The universe was speaking to me, it was assuring me that the world is big, so big, and so very full of interesting and amazing people, the opportunities and possibilities are endless!

There must be someone out there just like me, who embraces life the way I want to, exploring the world and the people in it with the same fascination and appreciation. Someone that will see me, understand me and want to be a part of my orbit. In fact, he’s probably on a plane right now, heading to Zimbabwe, or the North Pole, and eventually we will cross paths and hopefully our paths will merge for the rest of the journey.

I’m willing to explore the world to bump into him someday.

Please don’t take away my girl card

I have never been a girly girl, as much as my mother tried.

And tried, and tried.

I can dress up like the rest of them, with my makeup and high heels, when the occasion calls for it. I can sit still long enough to get my nails done, mainly because of that amazing massage chair that the salons offer and a Starbucks coffee nearby. And I do like to be pampered once in awhile, with a full body massage or an acupuncture treatment to calm my body and mind.

But that’s about where it ends.

I am more comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt, with sneakers, or my most favorite Birkenstock sandals that I’ve owned for over 15 years. I put on makeup each day before I leave the house now, but that only began during my divorce. I suddenly realized that I could run into people who may know both of us, or even his new arm candy of a wife, in the grocery store or around town and the report back would be that I looked like an old, haggard troll doll on a bad day.

Not happening.

I am a boy mom, not a girl mom. So the pressure is off to be the girly girl. If anything I learned to embrace the boy culture almost too easily. It spoke to me. It was hard wired inside of me since the second grade when I realized that dresses were nice, but a lot of work around boys with curious eyes. Plus, they were cold to wear in the winter!

You have to suffer to be beautiful, I get it, but cold? No thanks.

Now in my later years, my midlife years, I have realized that there is yet another girly DNA segment that I am missing. The gardening gene. Most women my age love to garden. They love plants, how to tend to them and how to talk to them. They love it so much that they make entire groups out of the idea, meeting up to talk gardening or sell gardening items and plants to raise funds for charity, which is admirable.

I have even been invited to join a garden club once or twice along the way. I’ve also been encouraged to take cuttings from someone’s home to nurture into a plant for my own yard or home. My own mother is a green thumb type and has tried (once again, really tried) to entice me to show an interest in what types of plants are in my own backyard, and in her backyard. Maybe swapping cuttings or talking about fertilizer over coffee.

I can’t tell you the names of half of the plants that are currently growing in my yard.

I can tell you what colors I have, and which ones I adore most for their colors and shapes. I love lilac bushes, rose of sharon bushes and hydrangeas in blue and purple, but please don’t ask me to make a seasonal ornamental planter for my front porch. Or to plant annuals to add color to my front window.

You mean I’d have to do that every year??

It’s not from lack of effort, I have tried to embrace the idea of caring for a yard full of green life now that I own my own home. I have weeded and cleared areas, cut the grass and used the weed wacker. I actually enjoy cutting the grass, believe it or not. I attribute that to using a large machine to do the job and the look of the lines across the lawn when it’s complete. It’s beautiful and symmetrical.

But somewhere along the way, after a day of full on energy diving in for four or more hours, I lose interest. For weeks.

It’s worse than cleaning a house that you know is just going to get dirty again. The weeds grow back, sometimes faster than they grew to get there in the first place. What the hell?!

When we had moved into our first home together over twenty years ago, I made the most foolish mistake of agreed upon labor division I can now imagine. Knowing that landscaping and gardening were really not my thing, I agreed to take care of the inside of the house if my soon to be husband would take care of the outside. I would clean, do the laundry, do the grocery shopping, cook and tend to any other homeowner type of care within my abilities. I didn’t want any responsibility for decision making or care for the outside – because it wasn’t my thing. And he had worked with landscaping during college summers, so he was basically a pro compared to me.

The reason it was foolish? Lawn care has a season, or two if it’s a warm fall. Inside home care is all year round.

Just because it snowed didn’t mean that we didn’t need laundry done, or that the house didn’t need to be cleaned. There is no “season” for housekeeping. Adding to that, I usually ended up shoveling the driveway, during the worst months in our midwest winters, because that was “busy season” for his line of work. My career was year round busy, for the  most part, with crazy hours sometimes but I made the deal didn’t I?

Women’s work is never done. Preach it, sister!

So is it any wonder why I have no real desire or zest for yard work and gardening now? I am full on with the housekeeping care, keeping kids and pets alive, why did I think I would suddenly embrace this female link for gardening now?

Maybe because I am now over 50. Isn’t that what women my age are supposed to do?

Just add it to the growing list of how I don’t fit into this girl club, never really have and most likely never really will. But that’s okay. I still love a good project, like cleaning out the garage, and getting dirty. I still enjoy the reward of a well organized basement or spare room, and the multiple garbage bags dragged to the curb or dropped off and donated.

I still get dressed up with makeup and perfume when the occasion calls for it, I love to cook and bake, and I can sew a patch onto a scout uniform – with my sewing machine (finally) – without too much of a challenge. I love long baths, red wine and outdoor concerts on the lawn. I can make a mean cheese and sausage platter, too.

Hopefully that’s enough to let me keep my girl card.

I will miss it

It’s an odd time of life when so many things are coming to an end, all converging somewhat unexpectedly at the same time, and you are left standing still blinking into the unknown.

Wait, what just happened?

Many of us grow up, get married, have children and pursue careers and passions. The entire orchestra of life coming together with its many different instruments playing the background music of our lives.

Some days are a bit off key, the notes making us cringe or turn away, shielding our ears. Others are exciting and invigorating, giving us hope for the future, and promise of better things and times ahead.

But there are those times during the concert when part of your orchestra moves on, they choose another performance hall with a different audience. Or maybe a new audience chooses them?

It’s hard to tell.

Life is full of new beginnings and endings, some are positive and exciting while others are almost too painful to digest and deal with. Death, divorce and moving sit at the top of the list for most people, on both sides of the emotional pendulum, depending upon the timing in your life. You can have directly opposing reactions to the exact same situation just because of the timing or the ability to choose the timing or situation.

This next life change is not about choice so much as it is about growth and new chapters. It’s always been expected, but expected or not, it still kind of sneaks up on you when it happens.

Two of my kids are moving on to the next phase of their lives.

The first one moved out to another state, only a few weeks ago, to begin his first job in his chosen field. He put in the work at school for a year straight – without a spring break or summer break and not many holidays – even with a two week stint suffering through a horrible virus that gave him a 103 degree fever for eight days straight, he did not miss one day of school and graduated with honors. He did the training for another four months out of state and graduated at the top of his class, again with honors. He’s a dedicated and hard worker. He found his job without much input or coaching from me. He found his own apartment, too! I could not be happier or more proud.

My second son is leaving for college in a few weeks, also in another state, a state that takes over twenty hours to drive or two flights to get there. It’s the typical summer before college feeling like most families, I’m sure. He’s busy working and spending time with his girlfriend and friends, not home very much. Even when he is home he has someone over to play video games or he watches endless hours of “South Park” in the basement.

Some days it feels as if he’s already left, he slips in and out of the house repeatedly each day, but then I find the gallon of milk with a swallow or two of milk left in the jug sitting in the fridge or look into his room at the clothes strewn floor while he sleeps in until noon on his days off, and realize that he is indeed still home. But he will be gone soon.

By the end of this summer my house will be less busy, less full, less messy, less loud.

And I will miss it.

I will miss the family dinners, I will miss the talks in the car, I will miss saying good morning and good night to each of them with our usual kiss and “mmm” hugs (that’s a family thing, too hard to put into writing, you’ve got to experience it) I will miss the inside jokes, the laughter, the boys working on cars in my driveway, their friends all hanging out in my basement watching movies and eating me out of house and home most times.

I will miss being a mom of boys. Plural.

I know, I’m still a mom of boys, but not an actively engaged mom of boys really. It’s a game changer, and it shifts the balance of my life in a way that I never imagined. It redefines who I am, once again, which at this point I couldn’t even begin to tell you where that leads.

Divorce was a game changer and redefined me in ways I never knew were possible. This feeling is part of the fallout from the divorce. The gift that just keeps giving.

I didn’t expect to become an (almost) empty-nester alone (almost because I still have one more child at home to kiss and hug currently) I expected to still be married after our kids moved on. My “job” duties would change of course, but not completely, because I’d still be caring for a husband and a house and all of the responsibilities that go along with it. I’d still be taking care of all of the details of our lives, making plans, handling projects, running errands just like I had been doing for twenty years.

We would be moving our boys into their first apartment or dorm, together.

And maybe, just maybe, we would have made more time for each other and taken advantage of this new stage of freedom? Isn’t that part of the reward for raising and launching your children into grown up life, regaining your own grown up life together? Rediscovering your relationship and each other?

Then again, that probably wasn’t going to happen anyway. Let’s be realistic.

I didn’t have this timeline, or status, in mind while my kids were growing up. My first two are only two school years apart, that would still give me a breather in-between goodbyes. Time to get used to one less sitting at the dinner table, and walking by an empty room each day trying not to let it bother me. I raised them, and expected them, to leave eventually and go off to college or start a new career. That’s what you’re goal is supposed to be as a parent. To raise them to be functioning adults.

But I expected them to leave in order, one at a time, with time to get used to the changes.

And I know how lucky I was this past year or more. I was lucky that I had that extra year with my oldest at home, commuting to school, before he moved away for a job. It was a blessing to have him with me during my toughest times, to feel that while everything in my life was changing and I couldn’t stop it, some things were not. My boys were still around me, buffering the ugly world for me sometimes, giving me a sense of purpose and reason to keep functioning. I needed some sense of normalcy and familiar patterns these last two years, some control, while my life was turned sideways and upside down.

Thankfully I was given that gift.

That doesn’t make it any easier. If anything, it just makes me want to hold onto it more.

I need more time.

Don’t we all? It sounds cliche, but it’s true, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. But I did know what I had. I had a beautiful and loving family that I helped create and shape, and I loved it.

I do know what I will be missing. I really do.

I have held back from being “that mom” during this time. You know the one, “this is our last time to…” fill in the blank while she takes pictures of everything you do together or plans some crazy road trip or treats every weekend like it’s a new holiday. I’m not her.

You’re welcome (to my kids)

No, I prefer to turn it inward and soak it up secretly. I appreciate the moments that we do have together, the days that I get to spend time with each of them one on one are the best. I look at them and marvel at the adults that they are becoming and my heart swells with pride. They are good people, they are people I not only love but I truly like.

That’s something I can use to look towards this new future, a future where they are successful, functioning adults and I get to enjoy the show from the best seats in the house. Change is hard, even if it is good change, but it gets easier as it becomes the new normal. And it can also lead to other changes, changes that you never expected or thought you would welcome, but it all comes together eventually. Doesn’t it?

It is a time for celebration, and a pat on the back for a job well done – look I didn’t ruin them! If that’s not a reason to celebrate I don’t know what is.

It’s a new chapter, maybe even a new book with new voices to author it, and one I am looking forward to being a part of even if I will miss the one we are living now. But isn’t that the sign of a good book, you can’t put it down and you don’t want it to end?

This has been one of the best books of my life.

 

Alone, not lonely

I can still remember a time, when I was in high school I believe, that my mom told my boyfriend “even when she gets married, she’ll still need a room of her own”.

And she was right.

I like my own space, my alone time, my own personal time-out from the world and from people in general. I’m okay with not seeing, talking to or being around other people for days at a time.

At the time I thought, what’s so wrong with that? Doesn’t everybody feel that way?

The label “introvert” was only reserved for psychologists and psychiatrists back then I suppose, not used in any parenting handbooks (if there were any) or written about in widely published magazines. Being an introvert was considered being shy, or quiet, or just plain weird in most cases. It wasn’t “popular” I guess you could say.

And don’t misunderstand, you can be an outgoing personality that can talk to anyone, or walk into a room full of strangers and make it work, and still be an introvert. The difference is that an introvert would never choose to do those things everyday, they may even find a way to avoid them, but an extrovert craves it.

The way it was explained to me, after taking the Meyers-Briggs test during my RA training in college, is that an introvert’s thought process happens internally. They only express what they need or think once they’ve worked it out in their own mind, without outside involvement. Whereas an extrovert processes externally, talking through whatever situation (sometimes down to every last detail with detours included) and needs to get it out of their head, out loud usually, to figure it out.

If only I could go back in time to those sometimes painful days of my teen years, and find a way to explain what I was doing and why I actually needed the time out, maybe people would’ve left me alone a bit more. It would have explained why locking myself in my room for hours on end was not a cry for help or why going to the movies with fifteen of your “best friends” did not appeal to me.

Sometimes I just needed to recharge and shut out the world.

I needed to recenter myself and collect my thoughts about things. I needed time to look at life from all of the different angles, with all of the possible scripts of the many different scenarios, to be prepared for the next time. Whatever and whenever that would be.

I was trying to be prepared in a way. I was born to be a Boy Scout, it’s obvious to me now.

So after many years of dancing to that same old song that includes finding a life partner, I am finally able to be alone without question or worry – for the most part. There is always someone insisting that I need to find someone to love me the way I truly deserve, to keep me company in my golden years, someone to fill a void that they assume I have.

But I don’t.

I had a void during the last thirty something years, or more. Something was missing, I just didn’t know what it could be or could quite name it. But it was there. And not just during my marriage, it was there in most of my long term relationships, if I’m truly honest. Something didn’t flow, it didn’t come easy, I kept trying to find the missing piece. If only I could fix it, could do the right things or read the clues properly, it would all come together for happily ever after.

But something was missing. Or was it that there was just too much of something?

It’s one thing to be alone, but a completely different thing to be lonely. Being alone is usually by choice, deciding to forge ahead without a group or a partner as your safety net. Being lonely is more of a reaction to existing conditions, most times that you don’t have control over. It’s trying to be a part of something, only to realize that you’re not, you are not included.

Sometimes even in your relationship. There just isn’t enough room for you.

So alone again, naturally. I wish that I could say that it bothers me, and maybe sometimes it does, but not enough to make me try to fill that void this time. No, this time I am content to sit in the quiet of being alone and absorb it.

Relish it. Appreciate it.

This time I am opening myself up to the possibilities, and the opportunities, that come with being alone. I am accepting the challenges to get out of my comfort zone and do the things that I enjoy, or may have always wanted to do, without the safety net (or sometimes hurdle?) of having a companion.

I recently went on a trip to visit a friend in Europe for her 50th birthday. We have been friends for many years, have supported each other in good times and bad, there was no question whether or not I would fly there to celebrate with her. I was going.

And I was going alone.

No kids, no partner, no friend to sit next to or share a hotel room. Just me and a plane ticket. It helps that I have the incredible good fortune of having stayed in contact with more than a few friends that I made along the way during our expat experience, and was invited to visit and stay with a few while I traveled. Not just in Germany, but other countries as well.

Not bad for a girl who “hates people” and “doesn’t have any friends”, don’t you think?

So my “simple trip” for a friend’s birthday party slowly turned into a “European Adventure” that took me from Iceland, to Germany, to Greece through Turkey and into Italy before heading back home. What started off as a short trip for five days, because I worry that I should be at home for my kids like a good mom is supposed to do, had eventually snowballed into an odyssey of twelve days!

I got out of my own head and asked for help, so leaving my boys at home wouldn’t freak me out nearly as much, and surprisingly it was easier than I expected.

My first stop was in Iceland using a budget airline, because it was the cheapest way for me to get to Germany. I have a problem with feeling good about spending a lot on a plane ticket for some reason. I remember looking at the fares and the available connecting stops and thinking “I’ve always wanted to go to Iceland…”

There were choices of layover times from three hours to nineteen hours, quite a big difference obviously, but for some reason the thought of a three hour layover that would only allow me to see the inside of an airport, in a country I had only seen in advertisements, made me sad. I would be there, but not really be there. Nineteen hours would give me time to see something, to do something, to have an experience or two.

Why not??

If you ask my mom, and my family and a few of my friends (and I’m sure anyone else I told along the way) they thought I was insane. A woman traveling alone and running around a foreign country with less than 24 hours is crazy talk! Aren’t you scared? Aren’t you nervous? Where or when will you sleep?!

I booked it. I was giddy, and excited…and yes, I was a bit scared. What am I going to do in Iceland for nineteen hours…alone??

Turns out, quite a lot.

And it was glorious. Planning my own itinerary without having to consult with anyone, taking my time to look around or shop, or just sit and take it all in, absorbing it all without any background noise was incredible. I felt at peace and alive at the same time.

I didn’t go it completely alone the entire time, I also joined a group tour for a pub crawl that night – after soaking in a geothermal bath for the day – and met some fabulous people while drinking and dancing and swapping travel stories. It is so much easier to talk to strangers on your own. There is no pressure to move along to the next thing or place, or to pay attention to someone that you are traveling with, creating your own social cocoon. You are open to the world and the people around you if you allow yourself to be.

The universe will bring you who you need at that moment in time. Trust me.

During that nineteen hours the last few years of heaviness and heartbreak faded out of my memory, my divorce story wasn’t the core of my identity, and I remembered who I used to be not so long ago. I felt lighter, unencumbered and free, for the first time in a very long time. I caught a glimpse of myself at 25 once more, laughing and dancing and making friends along the way. And I liked her.

I didn’t think it was possible to be her again, to recapture her spirit, but turns out it is.

The rest of my trip was spent house hopping to visit friends, catching up and hanging out with no real itinerary planned. I wasn’t on a sightseeing vacation, I was on more of a “world tour of friendship” vacation and it was amazing for my soul.

I drank my favorite beer in my favorite city center, sat at various kitchen tables and talked for hours, laid on a beach taking in some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable, and I did it all with some of my closest and dearest friends.

All because I said yes to a party, and yes to myself. Yes to being alone.

My last day and night I spent completely alone going through Istanbul to get to Venice, where I stayed for one night during my 20 hour layover, before heading home.

I will admit, traveling alone had it’s moments of anxiety and doubt, but I muscled through it and felt even stronger because I managed it without breaking down. The Istanbul airport was a bit confusing at first, so many people going so many different ways with so little information, am I in the right place at the right time?? But once I took a moment to breathe and relax, it wasn’t that confusing at all, it was just busy in a European way.

Nothing that a Turkish coffee and Greek yogurt at a lovely airport cafe couldn’t fix.

I then made it to Venice, after almost sleeping through my flight boarding (thank you to the angels in the airport that woke me up in time!) only to get off on the wrong water taxi stop and wander around lost for almost an hour. My familiar anxiety began to grow and panic began to set in as I traipsed through the Jewish Ghetto with a 40 pound backpack, wondering how I had missed the hotel that was supposed to be 500 feet from the taxi stop?

I could hear the irritated and whiny voices of past travels running commentary through my head, pointing out my mistakes, asking me why I didn’t know what I was doing or where we were going. Accusing me of poor planning with the pressure of expectations that I should know what to do to solve the problem – even when I couldn’t know what to do because I had never been there or done it before.

I was lost, yes. But I was lost in Venice. Freaking, amazing Venice.

Finally I chose to stop and sit in a cafe, ordered a cocktail, and watched the people go by. I was lost in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, a place I had only dreamed of going to for years, and now I was sitting here enjoying a cocktail watching the people walk by around all of this stunning architecture, with only myself to worry about. And really there wasn’t a whole lot to worry about if I was honest with myself.

It would all work out.

I most likely would not have been as successful in calming myself down and readjusting had I been traveling with a partner, or my kids. Traveling with someone else comes with higher expectations. The planning is more intense, in the attempt to make everyone happy, which is a tall order no matter where you go. This was a new idea for me, to travel almost free-form, making adjustments along the way sometimes even rerouting my trip to accommodate another opportunity.

(I missed my connecting flight from Iceland to really start the trip off on an interesting note, but it all worked out)

In my relaxed state, it dawned on me that if I didn’t find my hotel eventually, I would just book another one and pay the price. Or possibly I would wander the city streets all night, stopping to eat a good meal and drink some fabulous wine, until I was ready to get back on the water taxi and head to the airport. It didn’t really matter, because I was the only one I had to be concerned with this time.

Plus, did I mention that I was in Venice? Lost or not, it was worth it.

Being alone is not being lonely. It is being self-sufficient, testing the limits of your mental strength and critical thinking, taking on the challenges life throws your way without the burden of proof to please another. It allows you to be open the world around you, and the people in it, or to go along your merry way without any distractions.

It’s truly taking care of the most important person in your world. You.

I came back home feeling the most accomplished that I have ever felt, at peace with life and recharged, and so happy with the life that I’ve made for myself that has given me so many friends that I have gathered along the way – old and a few new. I came back confident, reconnected to myself, looking forward to my independent life alone.

(I came back. Believe me that was one of the toughest decisions ever…)

At a time when most people expect me to feel empty or lost, expecting me to be desperately trying to fill the void that my tidy ‘happily ever after’ expectations didn’t deliver, I actually feel full and found. I feel hopeful, full of possibility, making plans that truly connect to the dream life I never gave myself permission to pursue. A life that I can now ask the honest question: what makes me happy?

Alone again. Naturally.

 

Help wanted

Once the dust has settled after your divorce, (the moving, the changes to your lifestyle, getting your kids adjusted to a new family dynamic, actually getting yourself adjusted to your new life as a single parent – or just being single for the first time in what feels like forever) you have to start chipping away at the things that have been put on the back burner. You’ve been in triage mode long enough, it’s time to take on the big stuff.

For me, that would be the idea of re-entering the workforce after a twenty plus year hiatus.

And yes, I am very aware that I am fortunate (incredibly fortunate) that I didn’t have to hit the ground running with this task as soon as the ink was dry on my divorce agreement.

I have heard too many horror stories, that have filled me with sadness and just pure disgust. Hearing of women who were once educated successful working members of society, before they were married with children, now having to get a job as a barista or as an admin in a small business for $15/hour to keep the lights and heat on, due to a divorce settlement that left her sitting at or around the poverty level while trying to care for her children.

She is left with too few choices, her back up against the wall forcing her to take the first opportunity, because she believes that she has no marketable skills after twenty years at home raising kids.

She has been convinced that she doesn’t have marketable skills, by too many people drilling that idea into her head, the loudest voice most likely being the person she was married to all of those years.

Going back to work after twenty years as a stay at home mom is probably one of the scariest challenges out there, especially when you really do need to work. It’s hard enough to find a new job once you’ve lost your existing job (which is basically what happens in a divorce), or have even taken time off in-between jobs, but try coming back to the workforce after twenty or more years.

Believe it or not, there isn’t a red carpet laid out for you or recruiters ringing your phone off the hook, and there aren’t people fighting to get you through their doors to start a new position.

Even with real skills from your previous life, possibly in a corporate position, you are still twenty years behind – and twenty years older.

You are outdated and technically uneducated, your field has continued to grow and progress with or without you. You are starting from square one in many instances.

Think of it like being a recent college graduate…at the age of 50. Did you throw up in your mouth a little bit? Yeah, me too.

And after twenty years of being a stay at home mom (a SAHM for those of you who love acronyms) it’s hard to quantify or even define my skill set. Sure, I did a lot of “stuff” as a SAHM and full time wife, but is it corporate worthy stuff? Can I repackage it to sell to a prospective employer? How do you make all of those many responsibilities you’ve handled for a lifetime, for multiple people, sound like an actual career position that deserves a salary – with health insurance benefits and paid vacation time?

And how do you ask for a salary based upon your previous pay scale of…ummm, free?

It boils down to the age old idea of how to eat an elephant. One bite at a time.

I’m lucky in that my mind (usually) works that way when it needs to, that I can step back and take a look at the big picture, and make an outline of a process of how to get from A to B…to get to X, Y or Z for that matter. But it is still overwhelming. It is still scary as hell. And that’s for someone who actually has the gift of time to figure it out.

So figure it out I shall.

One step at a time, one book at a time. One meeting at a time, one LinkedIn video at a time. It’s an entirely new education without a syllabus or even a dedicated professor to help you find the answers.

The working world has really changed since I was a working woman, wearing high heels, makeup and nice suits everyday, instead of yoga pants without makeup and my hair in a hair clip.

At one time, I was making lunch appointments, going to community meetings and taking clients out to dinner instead of eating leftovers for lunch, alone at my kitchen island looking at Facebook for 15 minutes, and planning my life around a baseball/soccer/swimming schedule that always manages to run through dinnertime, leading me to worry that we’ve eaten out too often in any given week.

I was planning corporate events, galas and conventions compared to backyard barbecues, birthday parties and family holiday gatherings.

Not to mention the age gap that I am now caught up in. I’m technically not a baby boomer – missed that by about a year if you want to split hairs – and I’m definitely not a millennial, (no need to explain the reason there) so where do I fit in?

Nobody really cares enough to talk about my generation of GenX moms, or to focus on us for more than a hot minute, because we are sandwiched between two generations that have the ear of the media and the marketing world at their feet. And when we do finally get the attention that we so badly need (and deserve) it’s usually to tell us to “reinvent” ourselves (insert cheery, overzealous smile here).

Reinvent? Nobody told me that there would be science involved. Ugh.

On one hand I am too young to just sit on the sidelines and wait for life to deal with me or take whatever life throws my way, while on the other hand, I am too old to begin from the very bottom with the idea of putting in my time to work up the ladder to any status comparable to associates my age – or younger!

I am the middle child of the working world. And that’s not easy for this firstborn to accept.

So I read and I listen and I network the best way I know how, because even that has changed since I was last making my rounds as a sales manager.

And I ask for help. Not an easy thing for me to do, never has been, put that in my “weaknesses” category to use in my interviews.

I’ve met with a career counseling service and it has been the best investment I’ve made in myself in years, if ever. It was really hard to take that first step, and write that first check, to hire someone to help me get hired – it felt like a two steps forward three steps back type of proposition at the time – but now I am so glad that I did it.

At a time when I felt down and unworthy, lost and unwanted, having someone point out my strengths and my skills was a much needed self-esteem builder.

To have a fresh set of eyes look at my accomplishments, my work and life history, and show me that I had actually done some really valuable things as “just a mom and wife” was enlightening.

In fact, if anyone had asked me to name my strengths and skills before I met with these career counselors, I probably would have described what I’d been doing the last half of my life as if it were all uneventful, unimportant or basically unworthy of any attention. No big deal, that’s what we do isn’t it?

Most of it being volunteer work or part of raising a family with a few challenges along the way, I wasn’t really “working” or using any specific type of training, was I?

But to have someone point out that I actually have career worthy skills in any other arena, based upon these seemingly everyday life experiences that I took for granted was just my life, was surprising and empowering.

It was a confidence booster, the right one at the right time.

It’s still only the beginning of this new path to a new marketable version of myself, but I’m not nearly as frightened or overwhelmed about it now. I’m not overly confident, let’s not get carried away, that would be crazy talk! But I do have a sense that I’m not done yet, and the best is yet to come. I will flourish in ways that I never dreamed of or expected in my previous life.

And I will work at it methodically until I find the right fit at the right time. One bite at a time.

Nominated, who me?

Thanks so much to Spaghetti Sam (on arewestillhavingspaghetti.wordpress.com) for nominating me for the “One Lovely Blog” award. You’ve made me blush!

The usual rules:

1. Thank the person who nominated you for the award. (done, see above)

2. Share seven things about yourself. (as if you don’t know enough about me already)

3. Nominate 7 other bloggers and inform them (can’t wait to share this)

I’ve already completed the first rule, and I am a rule follower for the most part, so on to the next two requirements.

Seven things about myself…that I haven’t already shared on a public forum that can reach anyone anywhere in the world, similar to crossing the street naked in a busy city. Gee, that could be a challenge.

  1. I am the oldest child in my family, including grandchildren on both sides. This seems to make me a tribal leader of sorts, responsible and wise, the counselor to not only my family but also my friends. The number of times I’ve heard “you’re the oldest, you should know better” are too many to count. This is probably why I have always attracted boys/men younger than myself for most of my life, I suppose.
  2. My first real job was at McDonald’s, when I was 15. To this day, I am still grateful for the experience and customer service training I gained over more than three years – through two separate stints with McD’s – because it gave me a great foundation for customer service practices that I still utilize (and expect, but am often disappointed by) today.
  3. I love to travel, anywhere and any way. Flying is great, but road trips are better. Give me a car, an open road and unlimited time (and bank account) and I probably would not return home for over a year at best. I love the idea of stopping along the way at quirky little shops, off the beaten path diners and other undeclared sites along the way. I am all about the journey, not just the destination. Pretty much the same way I look at life, it’s not where you start or where you end up, it’s what you did along the way that will make a life well lived.
  4. I love old cars. And old furniture, and old photographs, and old stuff. Part of my road trip journey usually includes antique shops, or flea markets (I love those too!) My home was built in 1927 and it feels and fits perfectly for my soul.
  5. I am a mom to three growing boys, who are too quickly becoming men. Being a mom of boys has given me so many opportunities and insights that I doubt I would have ever had with girls, I cannot express how incredible that feels. Knowing that I have some influence, if only over a few future men, gives me the best feeling in the world. I have always said “I’m changing the world one boy at a time”, and I really believe that to be true.
  6. I love to cook and bake and try new recipes and new kitchen tools. I have a tendency to discover a new way to cook, or a new cuisine to eat, and cook that way for months before moving on to the next thing. Currently my new obsession is with the InstantPot – if you haven’t heard of it, google it and read up they are incredible machines! My brother-in-law referred to my kitchen tool wishlist as “power tools for women”, can’t say that I disagree. Who doesn’t appreciate a new Ninja blender or KitchenAid for Christmas??
  7. While I have only been blogging about my divorce and the events around it for the last year and a half, I had originally started blogging about four or five years ago with the idea of just writing creatively to express the ongoing narration that played in my brain daily. At the time, life was very busy with kids and house and family so I didn’t get much accomplished. But then life presented a topic that I couldn’t ignore or refuse to make time for, so here I am.

Now for the nominees. This is a tough one on one hand and so easy on the other. I really enjoy reading so many different blogs and discovering the many formats and subjects that are still out there, but there are a few that I keep returning to continually.

I nominate: K E Garland, Tikeetha T – A Thomas Point of View, SDC – Don’t Make it Weird, stilllearning2b – Lessons from the end of a marriage, Love, Laughter and Truth – Matthew Williams, Jenny Maloney – Place for the Stolen, and Maria@NoMoreNarchole.