Every day memories

We tend to wait for special days, holidays, family celebrations to pull out the fancy stuff, the expensive things. Sometimes there may be a feeling, niggling in the back of our mind, that maybe whatever we are doing just isn’t “special” enough to celebrate with the good stuff, would our mothers or grandmothers approve? So we resort to our everyday basics, saving the good dishes/linens/crystal for the truly special times. A better suited time.

But too often, a better time only happens once in a blue moon, or sometimes not at all. This is not a post about “life is too short”, not really. But it is something to consider, to remind ourselves, and something that I’ve been leaving myself open to recently.

According to various studies – and my therapist – there are about four or five highly stressful experiences in life that are common to most people:

  • marriage, divorce, death, buying a house and losing your job.

I’ve covered a few of those over the past year. A couple were even at the same time!

2016 was not my friend.

But now that I’ve come out on the other side of it all, my world has come into sharper focus. Colors are brighter, smells are stronger, the whole world is more vibrant and pulsating with possibility. I feel lighter, happier, full of appreciation. Fully aware.

I feel as if I’ve been reborn some days, as cliche as that sounds.

I appreciate so many things, everyday things, so much more now. I feel comfortable in my own skin once again, and it’s been a very long time since I could honestly say that. And this new attitude, or awareness, has led me to see my life and how I live it in a whole new light. I’ve started to let go of a lot of the usual expectations and instead have  decided to let the tide take me where it wants. It’s not giving up the fight so much as it is just not fighting the magnetic pull any longer. Following my heart, giving myself permission to not ask for permission, being open to more. Finding the joy.

Listening to my soul.

So, with this new enlightenment, I’ve drifted away from conventional ideas of only celebrating when it’s the “right time”. Everyday is the right time if you reframe it in your own mind. It’s your experience, and your chance to make memories any way you like.

After moving into my house, my first ever all-my-own house, I was putting away the dishes, glassware, the pots and pans, and I noticed how much I love my china. I kept it for this very reason, after considering the idea to give it away or even leaving it behind, fearing that bringing it into my new home would only be an ugly reminder of a twenty year mistake, but for some reason I just couldn’t let it go.

I chose the pattern twenty years ago because it spoke to me, it gave me a warm feeling deep inside, and twenty years later it still does. Oddly, it didn’t remind me of our wedding, or the broken promises and disappointments that I’ve encountered over that time, instead it reminded me of family dinners and Thanksgiving and Christmas. Sitting at a big table with a group of happy, smiling people, that I love with my whole heart, laughing and enjoying each other. Special days. Days filled with love and joy and thanks.

And then a thought occurred to me, why should’t I feel that way every day?

Why do we have to wait until November or December, or a birthday or a graduation, to feel that warmth inside and appreciate the closeness that creates happy memories? Everyday that you gather around a table with your dearest loved ones, and maybe even a friend or two, is a special day. If you’re honest with yourself, you never know how many of these you will get over the course of your lifetime, why not appreciate them all?

So, instead of putting the fine china away in a cabinet somewhere “safe” to be retrieved for a special occasion, I put the entire set in my kitchen where my everyday dishes “should” go. My kids questioned my placement, almost panicked, asking what we would eat dinner off of on Tuesday night without “regular” dishes.

And then I unpacked the crystal and did the same thing.

I will no longer drink wine out of the “everyday” wine glasses, much as I love them too, only saving my crystal for a special occasion or “company”. Instead I will celebrate every sip of cheap red wine in my beautiful crystal glasses and feel special each time.

I will pour wine (maybe a better grade if you’re lucky that day) into the same glasses for my friends and family, and serve them my famous meatballs on the same fine china when they come to visit, too. Appreciating the moment, the shared experience, without worry about chipped dishes or broken glasses stressing me out, but instead relishing the happy memories being made out of our every day life.

I would love to know that when I die, while my children are cleaning out my house, they will come across the china and crystal and any other “special” things I’ve acquired along the way, and be able to say “remember how we ate off of this china every day in mom’s house while we were growing up? Just sitting at our wooden barn door table in the kitchen, eating spaghetti or meatloaf, and drinking wine or milk or whatever, but we ate it off of the china and drank out of our crystal glasses…on a Wednesday!” I want them to treasure those china plates and crystal glasses for the shared warmth of memories that have been etched into them. I want them to have everyday memories of us as a happy, loving family.

Happy memories without a special date attached. Happy just because. Every day memories of living our lives fully, and connected. Sharing love and laughter.

Just every day memories that make us special to each other.

 

 

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It’s the little things

We all have those small memories of odd things along the way in our relationships, the bells no matter how small, that should have alerted us to the idea that he or she is not “the one” but we chose to ignore them. I’m not talking about the regular, run of the mill, glaring red flag. No, these are those little, seemingly innocuous, incidents or habits that we skimmed over so as not to make a big deal about it.

Nobody wants to be that “high maintenance” demanding partner, do they?

Skimming over my memories of our first days, even years, together to see if there were any bells that I should have stopped and thought about recently. Any? How about any more than ten? Or one hundred?

It’s the little things.

Really, in the end, that’s all that makes the real difference in determining whether or not you will whether the storm as a couple for the long term. Those little things that show thoughtfulness, care, kindness.

Does he know your favorite flavor of ice cream, your favorite flower, how you take your coffee? Or if you even drink coffee?

Does she fold your laundry the way your mom used to, because you took the time to show her once, and she knows you like your underwear and t-shirts folded into thirds even if she is an “in-half” folder?

If he forgets to get the taco sauce for your favorite tacos while on a food run does he go back to the fast food restaurant to get it without argument, knowing that his food will get cold, just because he knows the tacos won’t taste the same to you without it?

Does she bake your favorite childhood cake on your birthday every year, from scratch, complete with whipped cream frosting? And make your favorite dinner for the occasion?

Does she make sure that your favorite beer/pop/ice cream/chips are always stocked in the house – and guarded/hidden from your children?

Does he make sure that all of the doors in the house are closed, including the bathrooms and closets, because you need it that way to sleep peacefully? (yes, it’s a bit OCD, but it’s still a thing)

These, my friend, are the “little things”. On the surface they seem somewhat unimportant, almost high maintenance, things to expect of someone. But don’t they make you feel good?

Aren’t these the things that make you feel special, heard, seen? Make you feel loved?

These are the things that start to go missing, some of them almost from the beginning, in our relationships. Little things that we sometimes dismiss as not important as time ticks by, but they are so important. They are the things that don’t involve or need much time, just a little thought and care, but they can make the biggest difference in a relationship over time. They keep you connected.

These are the “little things” that didn’t happen, that added up over time, that chip away at trust and love.

They may seem small on the surface, but they add up to a very big thing in the end that make you feel special…make you feel seen, heard.

Loved.

I was the problem

While I was stripping beds and gathering laundry today, in my very own house, I was thinking about where I was a year ago today. Not just physically, but mentally.

Deep down within myself.

It seems so odd, and distant, already. Almost dream like. The person that I was back then is almost someone I didn’t know, and never thought I would meet. But that person was very real. She was very scared, very defeated and very hurt. She was spinning her wheels in place, trying to find traction to prove she could keep moving forward, but she had no idea how to get out of the ditch she was in, and could not figure out how she got there in the first place. Her world had fallen apart, the wheels had come off of the wagon, and with it her self-esteem and her sense of self. She doubted everything. She didn’t trust herself, her instincts or her memory of the life she had before.

It was time to regroup, rewire and reclaim her self.

I had written at the beginning of 2016 that this would be my “Year of Yes”. I was so determined to move forward, bravely and forcefully, that I had to give it a name. And I had to blog about it – I made sure to let everyone that I knew know what my intentions were for 2016, so I could be held accountable. Not really a new year’s resolution, I assured myself, but a journey to self improvement.

I would push back against this force and I would be victorious!

It makes me sad now to read the desperation written into that blog entry. The way I wanted everyone to know that I could do this, I was stronger than anyone thought, and I would come out of it with few injuries and only a better version of myself.

Desperately wanting to ‘fix’ what was ‘wrong’ with me. Desperately wanting validation.

I took up sewing (thanks to a Groupon), decided to challenge myself to read 25 books in one year on Goodreads (even though I could barely finish a magazine article at the time), decided it was my life’s goal to take ballroom dance lessons, and agreed to the challenge to wear make-up everyday for thirty days to see if it changed my life. All with the mantra, “this is my year of yes!”

And I had to let the world know…or it wouldn’t count.

Looking back at it now, I panicked, plain and simple. I was borderline manic in my determination to recreate myself, to find out who I truly was and to become the best version of myself, if I am honest. And at the heart of it, without realizing it was there, was the idea that I was obviously not good enough.

If I was good enough, all of this would not be happening to me.

If I was good enough, my marriage would have been successful and we would have grown old together, happily. If I was good enough, he would have loved me unconditionally and treated me with love and respect. If I was good enough, I would have felt it in my heart and known it in my bones, and so would everyone else.

But I wasn’t. So, I had to fix it.

That’s what I do.

I look at a problem from all angles, I try to understand it almost clinically, and then I research for solutions. I take my research very seriously too, to the point that I will read every book, every blog, every magazine article and talk to all of my friends (and some of my family) to find the solution to my problem. It’s never easy, and it’s always a process, but the process is what keeps me going. The process is necessary. I need to understand the problem, to dissect it, before I can fix it.

But, in this case, I was the problem.

That was so clear to me. I was the problem. If only I was more fun, more interesting, more outgoing. Prettier, younger, smarter, more positive. This isn’t a new theme in my life, that voice of doubt has been playing in my head almost since I can remember, and maybe that’s exactly the problem. I have been listening to that voice in my head for so long that I tend to find – no, seek out – people who agree with it.

It’s so much easier that way. And comfortable. And so familiar.

Over the past year, I’ve come to realize that this is what I have been doing all along. I have been self-sabotaging, trying to live up to other people’s expectations and desires, in the hopes of feeling fulfilled…and enough.

But something has changed this past year, something coming from deep inside.

I have come to the conclusion that I am indeed enough, at least for me. Honestly, most of the time, I am more than enough. I can even be too much, if you’re not the right person, in the right moment. And I’m good with that.

I’ve cut ties with the people who have made me feel less than over the years, with ideas that have made me unhappy, and with expectations that only limit who I am.

I don’t need a “year of yes” to prove it.

It has taken the better part of a year, with all of it’s ups and downs and sharp turns, to take a long hard look at myself under a magnifying lens, and to forgive myself for doubting who I am all along. I have had to push through, with gritted teeth and white knuckled grip sometimes, to make it to the other side of this crazy mess – all the while trying to protect my kids, my family and sometimes my sanity. But in the end, I’ve done it and I keep on improving on it. I’ve proven that I am strong enough, smart enough, pretty enough. I am learning to accept and appreciate myself in ways that I never imagined because I was alway made to believe that I shouldn’t. I’ve finally opened up the door, and let in my true self.

And she’s pretty freaking awesome.

 

 

Remember that time when…?

The number of times I have heard that phrase, over the last twenty five years of my life, is immeasurable. The number of times it included me were few and far between.

In the beginning of our relationship, the courting and dating era, I began to hear the  stories from my ex’s friends. They were adventurous, funny, embarrassing, coming of age type of stories. I enjoyed them, it was a way for me to get to know him better through the eyes of his friends, and to get an idea of what type of friend he was to others. It’s part of the normal progression of discovery in a new relationship. They had all been together since the beginning of high school, so they knew him much better than I did, and I was eager to learn more about him.

Most of the stories and memories came from high school, some from college and after, but mainly from their teen years. We all have those “crazy” stories that we share with our friends, and even our families, we even use them sometimes to slightly embarrass each other in front of a new love interest. Like showing naked baby pictures, or school pictures from that period of your life when your teeth were too big for your mouth and your hair was a crazy mop of bad decisions. Those are the experiences, embarrassing or otherwise, that make us the people we are today.

Experiences that have shaped, added color to and created the tapestry of our life.

As time went on, the stories still continued, but began to be repeated. Let’s be honest, there are only so many memories you can collectively share, that you have from any period of your life, that you can relate and retell. Eventually, you begin to recycle them.

It was usually during a night out with “the gang”; at a party, during a holiday celebration, at a wedding, a reunion or even a funeral. Sometimes it was just having a beer together with one or more of his friends in a bar or restaurant or in our home, it was a conversation filler, a way to reconnect. I listened and smiled, laughed at the right parts, and looked just as entertained as they all seemed to be with themselves.

After more than a few years of us being a couple I began to notice that the stories never got updated. They worked on a certain timeline.

And that timeline didn’t include me.

That’s not to say that we didn’t have some life-changing, scratch your head, laugh out loud funny, do you believe that happened? kind of memories. Or that they happened in a vacuum. No, we did many things with his group of friends – actually most of our time together was with his group of friends usually – and I assumed, over time, that would make them my friends too, and we would all have shared memories to reminisce over.

That’s not how it works, I guess.

In the beginning, I accepted that they didn’t include me, because I was new to the group and hadn’t grown up with any of them, or in their town for that matter. I was originally from the same town, but had moved in grade school, so my opinions and observations of the area really didn’t count. I’m not really “from” there then.

I eventually mentioned it to my ex, after about seven years of hearing “remember that time” for the umpteenth time. I wondered out loud if any of them had made any new memories, maybe something interesting had happened since they turned 21?

Why didn’t they ever talk about the camping trips we took together, when the raccoons stole fruit out of our coolers and we put up heavy cotton tents in the dark in 90 degree heat? Or relive the time it was so cold that a neighbor camper slept in their truck and ran the engine all night – much to the irritation of one of our guys, who let them know in very colorful language around 2am – and we all decided that to stay warm that night we should all sleep naked? (the guys obviously came up with that idea)

Or how about the vacation we took with one of the couples and the creepy hotel room in Memphis, with the scuzzy pool, and we arrived too early to check in after driving all night to get there? Maybe even the party where I first hung out with my ex, the night we both went along with most of the people from the bar that were part of a wedding earlier in the day, to one of the couples’ house to keep the party rolling, and the crazy fight that ensued later where furniture went flying through the front window (along with one or two people), and I slept on the floor of a bedroom so I wouldn’t disturb anyone?

It’s not as if I wasn’t around, or didn’t participate in a life that they were all currently living, for the last twenty or more years. I just didn’t count. I didn’t make the cut.

I wasn’t an original player, or a “founding member” of his fan club. And looking back on it all now, they were all part of their own fan club – the “popular kids” from high school, all grown up now, but still living in the past.

A collective fantasy of forever high school.

The fact that most of his friends had married someone from their high school, and he didn’t, wasn’t lost on me. It made me uncomfortable at first, the feeling that I had to try harder to be accepted, and yet I never got it quite right. I went to the wrong school, in the wrong town, and at the wrong time – I had graduated two years before most of them.

No, I was never part of the “remember that time” conversations, I was just the captive audience, and eventually I stopped playing the game. I stopped participating in the peanut gallery to cheer, laugh and be amazed by them all. I finally made it clear to my ex after a long while, that I was over the whole tired practice of it all, and had no desire to attend another class reunion alongside him to re-meet his old school friends – not only do I get to stand there, smiling like an idiot listening to the same stories over again while they puff out their chests and slap each other on the back or laugh hysterically at their own antics, but I get the added bonus of him most likely ignoring me the entire night, and often times, not even bothering to introduce me to the his fringe fan club.

That’s a fun time, who wouldn’t want to miss that??

My ex would even go out of his way sometimes to point out that I had no idea what was so funny, or interesting, or great about whatever story because I wasn’t there to experience it.

And many times he would recount a story that involved me – maybe I was even at the center of the action – and still manage to leave me out of it entirely. Somehow he or another friend had saved the day, found the answer, had the great idea or made the hysterical comment. I would honestly sit there and wonder how that was even possible…how did I remember being there, at the heart of the story, and not make the final version? How could he leave me out of it entirely? It would make me question my own memory, searching back to recall details to reassure myself, only to think that maybe I wasn’t there at all or it didn’t really happen the way I remembered it.

But I do remember when…even if they never remember me.

 

 

 

She tried to tell me

I can still hear her British voice in my head today. My dear friend, Alexia.

We became friends while my ex and I were living in Germany, and stayed friends afterward. We met at the international playgroup in the city, a very diverse international mix of mothers and children showing up to sing songs, dance and make crafts while we drank coffee and exchanged new mom stories. We had only lived in Germany for about six months when I first tried the playgroup, and it was the most glorious connection I had made since moving to a foreign country!

It was my life line and my escape.

Alexia led the playgroup at the time that I began to attend. She was warm and friendly and welcoming. I loved her immediately. I truly admired her for her strength, her wit, her laugh, her way of directing people without being overbearing, and her straightforward style of telling you exactly what she thought without crushing you. She was like a movie star in the theater of my mind.

I wanted to be just like her someday, when I grew up.

We became friends over the course of many cups of strong coffee and many versus of  “Wind the Bobbin Up”. This led to dinners together, on our own and with our husbands sometimes, and playdates with our children to play together in the back garden or race Bobby Cars down the slanting driveway. She became a constant in my world. A beacon of light. I turned toward her like a flower reaching for the sun.

She was the epitome of “having it together” in my mind.

We would talk about our children, our families, our history, and of course our marriages and husbands. How we met, what our courting/dating was like, our weddings, etc. That’s what women do to bond and to get to know each other. You can tell a lot about a person from the way they describe their relationship.

I lived in Germany for six years, and over the course of that time, I am certain that I filled her ears with my many trials and tribulations of life abroad as an American. The challenges and the struggles. Alexia was British and married to a German man, that was a common pairing in Europe. My husband and I were pretty much the exception to the expat rule at the time. We were both American and didn’t speak a word of German when we arrived.

During all of this female bonding time I am sure that I told her some of my most annoying, and disturbing, stories about my husband and our marriage. I thought it was the thing that girlfriends did, we shared and commiserated, it was a way to blow off steam so you didn’t blow off your husband’s head!

After a few years of confiding in her, one day she looked me in the eye and said, “It doesn’t sound like you’re happily married.”

I was stunned. Not happily married? I asked her what gave her that idea, of course I’m happily married! Why wouldn’t I be? Her explanation was simply that most of my stories about my husband and marriage weren’t very positive, they were sad, frustrating and negative types of stories. I didn’t really have anything good to say about our relationship, or our marriage, for the most part.

I stayed the course of defending my ‘happy marriage’, “What do you mean? Those are things that all wives talk about with their friends, it’s an outlet to share it with someone else. Everyone has their issues and annoyances with their husbands. We all do it.” Alexia didn’t miss a beat, she looked at me with her head slightly tilted and said, “I never talk about my husband that way.” And, she was right. She really didn’t.

I was quiet.

I should have taken that as a sign, a nudge, to take a hard look at my marriage and what I wanted out of it. That was over fifteen years ago. But instead, I decided not to share anymore of those negative stories with her, plus I became more aware of what I shared with most people. I covered it up, left it at the door when I came in, and only shared the good stuff.

Now that I am divorced, I can look back and search for clues, look at my mistakes as well as his, basically armchair quarterback during the replays of our entire relationship. What I should have, what I could have, done differently. I can almost pinpoint when it had started to sour, when I had begun to feel invisible and unimportant to him. I remember telling him how I felt so many times, usually in tears, and still nothing changed. I can remember the big, blowout arguments as well as all of our little disagreements, that led us to this place.

She was right. I was not happily married.

I should have looked more closely at it all at the time that she shared this epiphany with me, but instead I chose to hide it more, to bury it down deeper inside. I began to keep my attitude in check and stay positive in most public instances, not just playgroup anymore.  Even with my own family. I wanted to make certain that everyone thought, that everyone knew, that I was happy. We were happy.

They could all say that we were happy, and truly loved each other, with conviction.

But we weren’t. We were functional most of the time. Of course, we had some really great times together, and loved each other most of the time, but there were long spells of that not being the case over our twenty years together.

He had come from a widowed mother early on in his childhood, and I from a divorced family, we didn’t really know how it was supposed to work or what marriage  should look like. But we were determined and willing to go the distance, at almost any cost, to prove that we were good people with a good, solid marriage. We could live up to the American dream that escapes so many other couples and keep an intact family. We would prove it with each passing year, with each celebrated anniversary. But we weren’t really happy with each other, and it showed in some of the smallest, simplest details.

It’s not always the big stuff.

At the time, it’s hard to admit that it’s really not going the way you had hoped, that your promise to stay with each other for a lifetime may have been an overreach for both of you. We each had our own expectations of how marriage worked, how to raise kids, even how to love each other. It wasn’t very similar in most areas, any areas to be honest, and that created the first crack in our trust of each other and our love for each other that grew with each passing year. A crack that created a small valley in the early years, would eventually lead to a gaping hole between us after many years of ignoring the obvious signs.

She tried to tell me. I should have listened.

 

 

 

But, I can’t…

This is the first weekend that my boys are going to stay with my ex…for an entire weekend. At least, that’s the expectation.

And honestly, I want them to want to go and hang out with their dad. To do cool things that only a dad can make happen, especially with boys. I want them to be excited to see him and to have his full attention for an entire weekend.

Plus, I would love to have the divorce ‘perk’ of having weekends to myself…what mom wouldn’t?!

But I know that it’s not like that. And it may never be that way.

I know that they haven’t missed a thing, over the last year, while he made himself mostly unavailable to them every weekend. They kept count of the hours that he “put in”, it didn’t go unnoticed. I know that they are rocked to their core over the changes that he has forced upon us all – his long term girlfriend moving into our house to eventually be his wife, without any introduction or warning, kind of changes. I know that they don’t really trust him to think of how they feel, or care what they want. on a weekend or otherwise. He hasn’t so far, why expect anything different?

I know that I should let it go and let it play out. Let them discover who he really is.

But, I can’t.

I worry too much, I think too much, I hurt too much for everyone else. I want to protect them, to make it better, to take away the pain and the hurt.

But I can’t.

I wanted it to play out the way that we had agreed upon, with the normal divorce expectations, the slow build up to leading separate lives and bringing in new players, but that hasn’t happened. I wanted our kids to get used to a new normal first, to feel safe and protected by both of their parents wanting only what’s best for them, but that hasn’t happened.

I want him to be better than he is right now. I want him to think of someone else, other than himself – or his new cool life – and to see how he’s trampling on their feelings and trust. I want him to realize that he’s the reason that they don’t feel safe to trust him, and it’s nothing that I did or said, it’s his actions or lack of that are holding them back.  I want him to know that he created this divide between himself and his boys.

But I can’t.

I can’t change who he is, I can’t rewrite the script. I can’t make him more accountable. I can’t make him a better dad. I can’t turn back the hands of time and get a do-over, not that that would help.

I can’t change it. I can’t change him.

This is new territory for all of us, new territory that we didn’t expect to have to traverse. We are winding our way along a path with too many forks, too many hills, and all the while we are hoping that we will come to a flat meadow full of peace and promise, and finally be able to relax. We are thirsty, tired and frustrated. And we want it to be over. I want to get to that place for all of us, to make it better, carry the burden to save them the heartache and disappointment.

But I can’t.

 

 

Live, learn and read

“We’re amazing people – after all – no one robs an empty house.”

– Becoming the Narcissists Nightmare, by Shahida Arabi 

I have begun reading a variety of books, and blogs, on divorce, narcissism (NPD) and depression in the last few months. That’s how I deal with things usually, I tackle problems and challenges in a somewhat clinical way. I do my research and due diligence to get the answers I need, the answers that help me not only understand my circumstances, but accept them and eventually move on. So, I read. 

A lot.

I read to make sense of things. I not only want to know what it is, or how it happened, but why it happened to me. What did I do, or not do, to attract this treatment or reaction? How did I allow myself to give up my true self and get mentally beaten down, while convincing myself that I was being loved, for so long?

Is it normal, common, typical?

Or is it just me? Am I broken, different?

I can talk about it until my head hurts, and I’ve cried until I’m depleted, but most of my friends and family are tired of listening to me, or will be soon. I still need to understand the why’s and how’s, though. I need to know what my part was in it all, how to avoid it in the future, possibly even how to help someone else eventually. 

I’m a researcher. It’s what I do.

I want to rebuild my armor with a new security system, I suppose. Adding in a new checkpoint, with a safety switch.

The phrase “live and learn” has been running through my mind on a continuous loop, for most of my life, if I am honest. From love relationships, to family disagreements and friendships gone sour, to career decisions. The problem appears to be that I’m not putting the idea of learning from experience into practice quite as often as I should. I am not only living, but more often than I care to admit, reliving these lessons without completely learning from them.

My own personal “Groundhog Day”. (I feel you, Bill Murray.)

So, in the hopes of learning from a truly painful lesson this time around, I am reading. I am reading everything I can find and searching for more. I am building a community for understanding. This way I can label it, learn about it, know the signs and feel stronger in the end.

Empowered. Protected. Prepared.

I think I read about doing this in a book one time…