Bad Ass, Going Solo: Single Parenthood, life lessons, Run Momma Run, Uncategorized

back to life. back to reality

Five years ago, I would have been ashamed to post this photo. While 4 miles is no easy task, the time it took me to complete them tonight was about twice what it used to take me to run four miles. Tonight I had to run, jog, and walk to get there. Also, due  to toddler difficulties, I had to do it on a treadmill. Again. After 10pm. Five years ago, I ran at least 5 miles 4 times a week and 10 or more on weekend days and biked the 22 mile greenbelt around Harrisburg at least once a week. But this isn’t a story about a runner who is trying to win a race or be the fastest or show people how good I am at running. This is a story about someone coming back to life. It took me three years to slowly fade away and it will take time to come back.

After I had my daughter, I got back to running, lost more than all the baby weight, and felt absolutely amazing about life. Then, for reasons that made sense at the time, I decided to move to Philadelphia. In many ways, things have gone well for me here. I bought my first house, I found a job I love and fall in love with more as it grows and changes, I connected to a church community and a parenting community, and I began building a village for my daughter. But some of the reasons for moving here turned out to be empty promises and were emotionally difficult to deal with. In the last two years, I have almost completely stopped running, my diet has been completely out of whack, and I have let depression win on more days than I’d like to admit. I turned down social invitations choosing to stay home and secluded instead. My body and my overall health has suffered as a result. Some friendships have suffered as well. I focused so much on who I used to be that I forgot to become her again-in a new improved state. And worse, I forgot to enjoy who I was at the present, double chins and all.

About a week ago, I realized that my daughter would be four in a month. Four. She is starting to recognize my behaviors and even imitates them sometimes. She recognizes when I am sad and she asks me about it. I want her to see the best me that I can be(hokey I know, but it’s true). I don’t want her to start imitating the me who sits in front of another episode of Scandal while eating a block of cheese and drinking a bottle of wine. She deserves to know the me I was 5 years ago when I found out I was pregnant the day after I ran a half-marathon in Nashville. The excited, giggly me who did not give a fuck what anyone thought of me. The me who did my thing, painted horrible paintings, but loved them, the me who laughed obnoxiously out loud multiple times a day, and the me who ran everyday because it was the one thing that made me feel my dad’s presence. I want her to see the me who at 35 found out I was pregnant and was going to become a solo parent and just said to myself, “OK Bek, let’s do this!”

On Mother’s Day I was still up at 11pm taking care of a messy kitchen and a sink full of dishes. I caught myself smiling. I realized just how wonderful things really were. I was standing there in MY kitchen, in MY house, washing dishes from my incredible daughter. I was overwhelmed with gratefulness for everything in my life. When I was running that half-marathon 5 years ago, I never would have imagined that I would be standing in a kitchen I owned washing dishes from a kid I had. The excuses I have used to avoid life have only clouded my view of the wonderful life I have been gifted.

That’s all it took to make me decide to get back to it. I promised myself that I would run, jog, or walk at least 2 miles a day for two weeks. At the end of that two weeks, I will make a new promise. On Sunday morning, I will be running my first race since that one in Nashville in September 2012. It is a 5K and I am already a little scared. The thing is, I am also excited. Bella will be with me in the jogging stroller the whole time. And soon, she will be running beside me. And even if I am the last one across the finish line, I will still celebrate and be grateful that I am able to complete 3 miles and do so with my daughter right in front of me cheering me on.

I leave you with an excerpt from Jen Sincero(an incredible author who I highly recommend) that I have been focusing on this week.

“You can’t see the silver lining through victim goggles.”

“Have faith that you and the Universe have created everything for your growth and be grateful for it. No matter what. Get practiced at making gratitude your go-to. Notice the 8 trillion things around you at all times that you can be grateful for, and feel into the grateful expectation for all the things coming your way. The good, the bad, the ugly, The salsa stain you just got on your new white shirt, become a gratitude machine for all of it.”

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Going Solo: Single Parenthood, life lessons, Uncategorized

shame.

In the last week, I have been filling out registration forms for preschools. My daughter’s school unexpectedly closed and I have been scrambling to find her a new school. Doing this requires filling out parent information and sending in copies of her birth certificate; the birth certificate that reads, “Father: Information not recorded.” This is what a birth certificate says when a baby is born in a hospital and the father is not present and later does not claim the child when the state sends him paperwork to do so. It took six months for me to receive my daughter’s birth certificate while we waited for this process to happen. I feel shame seeing this again. A birth certificate should be a happy thing, but somehow this one makes me feel like I’ve done something wrong.

Typically, I feel like I am like any other parent for the most part. Like any parent, I work hard, try to do the best for my daughter, and have good days and bad. In school or play groups, I am usually the only solo parent, but I only think about it if I see a list of parents and students and my daughter is the only one with one parent on the list.  Aside from these tiny moments, I feel like the joys and hardships I feel and experience are the same for most parents.  But when a school application is in front of me and the whole page titled “secondary parent” is blank, I tend to be overcome with shame. It is not sadness or loss or a desire for pity. It is this deep seated belief that I have somehow wronged the world and wronged my daughter. It is a belief that there is something wrong with me and that has always been wrong with me to make me so irregular. I am somehow unable to have a normal relationship or a normal job or simply live a normal life. And, now I have brought an innocent child into this strange abnormality.

Growing up I was the third child. Somehow I was raised in the same house as my siblings, but always did things and lived my life differently. I didn’t have a relationship in high school, I went to three very different colleges to finish my undergrad degree, I moved around and traveled and basically could not sit still in life. I always admired my siblings. They seemed to have traditional college experiences and lives and got married and had children and stayed at jobs for normal amounts of time. If our lives were puzzles, theirs always seemed to be complete and mine always felt like it was forever missing pieces. There was always some messiness about my life. This carried out of my home into my friend circles as well. I always felt like my life was somehow different and weird and not “normal.” When I found out I was going to raise a child alone, I remember thinking, “God, can’t I even do parenthood normally?!” Instead of just accepting this as being who I am, or even celebrating it, I have always felt shame about it.

Anne Lamott, one of my favorite writers, became pregnant when she was 35 with the child of an old friend, who upon discovering she was pregnant, became angry,  walked away, and made it very clear he would not be in the child’s life. Her story is so parallel to my own, that literally dozens of people have suggested I read her book, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year. The book is beautiful for any parent to read. I laughed and cried and was overjoyed to hear an experience so much like my own. In it, she addresses shame in the most perfect way,

“I have these secret pangs of shame about being single, like I wasn’t good enough to get a husband. Rita reminded me of something I’d told her once, about the five rules of the world as arrived at by this Catholic priest named Tom Weston. The first rule, he says, is that you must not have anything wrong with you or anything different. The second one is that if you do have something wrong with you, you must get over it as soon as possible. The third rule is that if you can’t get over it, you must pretend that you have. The fourth rule is that if you can’t even pretend that you have, you shouldn’t show up. You should stay home, because it’s hard for everyone else to have you around. And the fifth rule is that if you are going to insist on showing up, you should at least have the decency to feel ashamed.
So Rita and I decided that the most subversive, revolutionary thing I could do was to show up for my life and not be ashamed.”

Shame is not something others can make you feel. Your friends and family can possibly cause you to feel guilty about something you have done, but I believe shame is self-inflicted. It is something we believe about ourselves. It is not the feeling that we have done something wrong but that we ARE something wrong. It is debilitating and, quite frankly, a lie. If we truly believe that we are made in the Creator’s image, then shame should never even come into play. Each one of us has this piece of the higher being within us and that should be greater than any inadequacies we feel.
My struggle with shame is my own. It is one of the biggest ways I have wronged myself and those around me. Being a solo parent or having a gypsy spirit or not being able to function in a relationship may be a little different, but it is not wrong. IMG_3491As a parent, I don’t want my daughter to ever feel this shame. As weird as she is, or unconventional, or totally “normal,” I want her to just love herself and be proud of the amazing little being that she is. This desire for her makes me more aware of the fact that I need to “get over it, show up for my life, and not be ashamed.” I truly believe when any of us can be ourselves, embrace our quirks and differences, and celebrate those things that make each one of us unique, we will be able to free ourselves of shame and genuinely live our lives.

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Going Solo: Single Parenthood, imagination, life lessons, Uncategorized

Goodness.

Tonight when I told Bella it was time for bed, she grabbed her blankie, marched upstairs, brushed her teeth, and went to the potty. She did this all on her own.

She then asked if she could play quietly for a little while and if I would sit in her room with her and read while she played. I agreed.

She got out several sets of toys: her Montessori sorting bears, her Big Hero 6 figures, her construction truck, and her safari animals. I watched her and was stressing about the mess that would need to be cleaned up.

She played quietly for about 30 min. I told her it was getting late and she needed sleep. Without help, she carefully cleaned up each set of toys and put it back in the shelf. She then gave me a hug and kiss and climbed into bed.

Everyday I thank God for letting me be this child’s mother. Everyday as a parent has been a lesson. Many days have been extremely hard. Many have made me think that I am not made to be a parent and I am convinced that, like many things in my life, I am failing horribly at this. I didn’t always want kids. I was happy working with them and I was happy being an aunt, but I thought the responsibility of actually having my own was probably more than I could handle.

I often wish there was an instruction manual that would tell me how to do this right. I screw up. A lot. I’ve made my share of mistakes as a parent. For some of the bigger decisions I’ve had to make, there isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t doubt whether I made the right choice.

This kid though, this beautiful vibrant miracle, she proves me wrong over and over. She defies the odds. She does the right thing. She loves and laughs and forgives constantly. She is brilliant and witty. She is creative and independent. She is so strong and brave and confident. She is growing up so quickly and does something everyday that amazes me.

Though I often doubt myself as a parent and quite frankly as a human, she is a constant reminder that I did and am doing something inherently good and right in this world. That, for me, right now, is all I need.

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gardening, Going Solo: Single Parenthood, Uncategorized

raw and open

Eight years and a few months ago I told a friend that I couldn’t imagine being happier about life and more excited about my future. I felt amazing. I was in the first semester of Grad school, I had just moved into a new house, I had gone from being a couch potato to running races and practicing yoga regularly, I had a new job as the executive director of an organization that brought me joy, and I was in the beginning stages of a new relationship with the first man I ever loved. I felt like I was on top of the world.

Then, like a sledgehammer to the skull, we got the death sentence diagnosis for my dad. He was dying. That’s it. There was no hope given. They could help him live a couple more years, but cancer would kill him and it would kill him soon. My dad. The man who lived his life serving others and would literally talk about what he would be doing when he was 100. He enjoyed life so much that it was contagious to be around him. He had already had cancer twice before and would joke about it. “I don’t get sick, I just get cancer,” he would say with pride.

A church friend recently talked about a garden being the metaphor for our lives and God being the Master Gardener. I have taken this idea and used it to help myself work through this season of my life. As I have highs and lows with my literal garden, I see the parallels with my life. Before the diagnosis, my garden was lush and full of herbs, flowers, fruits, and vegetables. Heck, there were freaking butterflies and honeybees fluttering around. You get the picture?

My dad’s diagnosis was the first nasty weed. What followed was three years of watching my father struggle and hope and eventually die. My relationship of three years, the one that was supposed to last forever, died four months later. It was a relationship that might have lasted had it happened at a different time in my life, but sometimes grief has a way of killing things in its path. Three months after my relationship died, I  jumped into a summer fling with a man who I thought I knew and who I thought was an old friend, only to find out he was a complete stranger, was not at all who I thought he was, and I was left to face a pregnancy and eventually parenthood, alone. My lush happy garden slowly rotted and turned into a heaping compost as I blamed the Master Gardener and kicked him out.

Even moments before my daughter was born, I was sitting in the middle of my compost pile thinking the garden and life I once had would never happen again. I was admittedly, angry, hurt, defeated and hopeless. Then, the moment they put that baby girl on my chest and I saw those crystal blue eyes, a small but strong bud popped out of my heap of mush and began to bloom. Trying to keep this “bud” alive and blooming has required months of fighting a broken legal system, three years of pinching pennies and constantly worrying about money, learning how to ask and accept help, and inviting the “Master Gardener” back in.fullsizerender-3

A few days ago, in my actual garden, I spent the entire morning pulling up weeds, removing broken glass, ant hills, and dog poop, and pulling up dead tree trunks. It was the end of a weeks-long project that I was starting to think would take the rest of my life to complete. As I stood in the sun covered in sweat and dirt, I felt the most amazing satisfaction seeing the raw and open earth that I uncovered. It was ugly and beautiful at the same time. Aside from a single strand of purple Morning Glories, everything that had been there was now gone. I immediately started to cry. This garden was me.

My neighbors told me that this garden was once home to beautiful grass, vibrant rose bushes, and lush green trees. After years of trials and neglect, it became the weed covered trash-ridden lot that I purchased a few months ago. It was so bad that one of my neighbors suggested it was beyond repair and I should just fill it with concrete and call it a day. What it is teaching me, however, is that nothing and no one is past redemption. Like my garden, I reached a point in my life where I had to realize that in order for that one flower to grow and flourish, I would have to rip out all that was old, dig up the soil, remove the trash, and start again with new seeds. I would need expert advice and help with the hardest parts of the job. Most importantly, I had to stop focusing on what once was and what I thought it “should” look like. I have to accept what has happened, mourn any loss, and focus on each seed as new life grows and a whole new garden appears.

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Going Solo: Single Parenthood, Uncategorized

Parenthood: 10 Things

I am closing in on almost two years of being a parent. When I found out I was pregnant, I came out of the bathroom, hugged my friend (now Bella’s Godfather) in a state of complete disbelief and went right back into the bathroom and laughed. Hard. For about half an hour. I suddenly understood the Old Testament story of Sarah laughing when she found out she was finally pregnant. It is not, as some would think, something to cry about. A surprise child can only mean good things are coming. For me, I was at an interesting time in my life. In less than a year, I lost my father to cancer after a 3-year battle and the almost 4-year relationship with the man I thought I would marry had ended. I was running daily, doing yoga, drinking too much, and for the first time in my life, thought it might be fun to have a casual summer fling. I thought all of these things would help me deal with the pain I was feeling and get me back into life somehow. Grief has a funny way of turning your life upside down, especially when cancer is involved. Anne Lamott says when you lose someone to cancer, it’s a like an atomic bomb goes off in your family. Your entire life explodes and you do everything you can just to feel again. You find yourself standing there in the rubble with no idea where to start to rebuild your life. At the time, even destructive behavior somehow feels like maybe it will help.

I was also at a point in my life when I wasn’t sure I could have kids. After all, let’s be honest, even in 2012, 34 was considered a little late to be starting in on the first child. If a woman reaches her mid 30s and has not had children, the possibility and hope for children begins to fade and she starts focusing on other things that will make her happy and fill up her life. It’s dumb, but it happens. Believe me. Furthermore, I wasn’t sure I even wanted kids. Being an aunt is WAY easier (and cheaper) and you still get some of the same rewards. I definitely didn’t know if I had any idea what it took to be a parent, let alone a good one.

But, there she was, this squiggly little bean on a sonogram with that huge heart just beating away. That’s the moment for a lot of us when we just say, “ok, let’s do this!” So I did.

And, so far, I have loved every minute. My daughter is my joy. She has brought nothing but love and light into my life and she teaches me something new everyday. So, with my third Mother’s Day only a few days behind me, I decided to share a few things I have learned so far. Last time I did something like this, people added to my list and I loved the additions, so please feel free to share. Life is a constant education and the happiness and comedy that comes from lessons in parenthood is worth sharing.

  1. Time goes so quickly. Spend every moment you can with your child. You will never get these moments back.
  2. Always coordinate spaghetti night with bath night. Trust me. This goes for Guacamole night also.
  3. Don’t buy a new sofa or furniture when you are pregnant. Despite all your efforts to protect it, your toddler WILL figure out how to destroy it. Enjoy the pen and crayon marks and the juice stains. It gives your furniture a distinctive character. It’s practically a piece of art. When your child is a little older, you can treat yourself to a whole new set of furniture.
  4. Let your child make a mess. Let them and see the beauty in it. In less than two minutes, Bella managed to cover herself, the cat, and the entire kitchen and dining room with cornstarch. I didn’t even know we had cornstarch. It was such a huge mess that I couldn’t do anything but laugh and take photos! Then I spent the entire morning cleaning it up. Which, of course, caused Bella to laugh. Things you think may annoy you or make you mad just don’t when your child is involved. In fact, there was almost a little pride inside me that day!
  5. You can do this! Even when you’re at your wits end and it seems like everything is going wrong, you will find that somehow, everything works out exactly like it’s supposed to. Money or time might be tight. Your child may be having an endless tantrum. Or maybe you feel like you will never get to the bottom of the pile of dishes or laundry. I am a marathon runner. There is a point in marathons when you hit a wall. For me, it is mile 22. You just feel like you cannot do it. It happened for me again when I was 26+ hours into labor. I wanted to give up. This WILL happen in parenthood. Then your child grabs your face with both hands, squeezes your cheeks, and gives you a big kiss and “I uv you Mama!” All the sudden, your second wind comes and you finish the race, push out that baby, or put away that last dish or pile of laundry. Children have a funny way of being the oxygen we need right before we’ve taken our last breath.
  6. Be flexible. When I found out I was pregnant, I learned that I had to throw my plans out the window. I stopped worrying about what life was “supposed” to look like. Life amazes me everyday and by going with the flow and accepting the gifts life gives you, you will find that the world is a brilliant and incredible place.
  7. Turn off the TV. Go to the park. Color. Play with blocks. Dance. Your kid will love it and you are in a unique place in life where you get to act like a kid right along with them and no one will judge you for it. Embrace that and soak it in while you can.
  8. Tell your kids you love them. Tell them often. Tell them several times a day. If they get in trouble at school or at home, tell them you love them anyway. Hug often. There are enough assholes in the world. Don’t create another one. When children know they are loved and accepted, they will love and accept others. As parents, we have the power to create a generation of loving compassionate people and it doesn’t cost us a thing to do so!
  9. Don’t compare your child to other children. She (or he) is going to walk when she walks, talk when she talks, and learn at her own pace. Capture each “first” and enjoy it! Stop worrying about whether she is at the right development stage. I wanted Bella to walk so badly and talk so soon. Now I can’t keep her still or quiet! I miss the earlier stages and wish I had soaked them in a little more instead of worrying what came next. Now I’ve made it a rule to just learn and enjoy each day as it comes. You’ll be surprised at all the little cool things they do each day when you’re not thinking about what will happen tomorrow.
  10. Listen to your child. Listen. Listen. Listen. Bella sings to me and talks to me constantly. I barely know what she is saying to me most of the time, but I put down my phone, turn off the TV, and give her my full attention. I’ve worked with teens now for almost 15 years as either a counselor or a teacher. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that they just want someone who will really listen to them. Be that someone for your child. It is never too early or too late to start.
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Uncategorized

From Mud to Motherhood

Let me make something completely clear: I am a tomboy. I have always been a tomboy. I didn’t have many girlfriends as a child because I preferred to be with the boys on my block. In fact, if Michael or Andy is out there somewhere reading this, I am pretty sure you will admit that you didn’t even know I was a girl until you saw me in an occasional dress. It was those moments when you looked at me like you’d never seen me before. In fact, I was typically covered in mud on my dirt bike, so I can see how the pink ribbon in my hair threw you off a bit.

In high school, I preferred soccer and throwing javelin to field hockey or cheer leading. Don’t get me wrong, I always envied those girls a little bit. They always seemed to look so perfect and know how to wear make-up and dress right. I tried to look like a girl form time to time, but usually ended up in t-shirts and jeans, no make-up, and pretty plain hair. I had crushes on boys in school, but never knew how to talk to them like a girl. It was easier to just be their pal and hang out with them platonically.

When I got to college, my sister had her first child. I had always been closer to my dad and brother and didn’t pay much attention to my sister’s pregnancy. I never really thought of myself as someone who would have kids, so I didn’t think it was important to know what pregnancy was like or what to expect. On the day my nephew entered this world, however, I held him in my arms and felt a love I had never experienced before. I felt like it was a new day and a new world. I knew at that moment that I needed to figure boys out, get married, and have kids. How I would ever handle the pregnancy part, however, was still mind boggling to me.

As I got older, I traveled to Kenya, India, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, and Guatemala. I saw thousands of children in my journeys who had no parents. I quickly found a solution: I could still have that love of a child, but I didn’t have to do the pregnancy part. I could adopt children and live happily ever after. This was so perfect because the thought of an actual baby coming out of my body seemed about as unreal to me as an alien sprouting from my belly button. To top it off, the longer I stayed single, the more I enjoyed it. I never felt that push to have to get married. Adoption would for me be perfection.

Not only was this pregnancy a surprise and so far from my plan for my life, it felt foreign to me. What a bizarre thing to have a little critter with arms and legs floating around inside me. For my first trimester, I stopped running. I thought maybe the baby would get lost because I was bouncing around so much. Then, I stopped doing squats because I was worried that the baby would simply fall out. The things that go through my mind are so strange and ridiculous. Still, no matter how clueless I am or how much of a tomboy I feel like on the inside, I still get the sense that I was meant to do this. I have never felt so much like a woman as I do now. That sense of protection, love, patience, and peace are what it is to be a mother. It doesn’t matter if I would prefer to be in jeans and covered in mud, I am still a woman and am blessed with the most amazing experience that only woman can have.

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Uncategorized

flutters.

Today is not a day for long drawn out essays about right or wrong or what is going on with my crazy emotions or opinions. My little baby has been doing laps around my abdomen and making flutters and bubbles float inside me. I thought this would freak me out, but it is incredible. I have had moments of utter loneliness and fear in all of this, but how can I possibly feel either now? This little child is growing inside me and with me everywhere I go.

When I lay my hand on my tummy and feel the miniature kicks and tumbles, nothing exists outside of me and this little wonder. Nothing and no one matters anymore. I’m not sure how this happened to me because I certainly don’t deserve anything this wonderful.

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