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

snow day.

My morning began with my daughter dancing on top of me at 7am to Jazmine Sullivan while wearing a princess dress. I looked out the window and honestly couldn’t understand why the school district decided to cancel today. There were some flurries, but the roads were just wet. One of the downsides to working from home is that a “snow day” just means you have to spend the day trying to get your work done while your 4-year old runs around the house like a crazy person and uses you as her personal jungle gym. Every time this happens, I end up getting irritated with my daughter and the two of us end up in a screaming battle.

From about 8-11, I tried my hardest to get as much work done as possible while the television entertained my daughter. I had her help me assemble gift bags for teachers to occupy her, but by lunch time, she was getting pretty restless. We ate lunch and I continued to try to get work done. She was literally climbing the walls by 2pm and I was wondering if day drinking was kosher in this situation. By this time, the storm was dumping snow on us at a rapid rate and it was clear that this was a justified snow day and I would have to shovel at some point. I closed my laptop, dressed us both in multiple layers, and said, “let’s go play in the snow!” Bella’s eyes glowed with excitement and we headed outside with toys, salt, and a shovel.

She  immediately started running up and down the sidewalk in the snow, eating snow off our neighbor’s motorcycle, and catching snow on her tongue. I began shoveling the heavy wet snow and commiserating with my neighbor. She looked over at Bella who was laughing and chasing snowflakes with her mouth. She looked at me and said, “You know, I can’t remember the last time I caught a snowflake on my tongue.” She put down her FullSizeRender (7)shovel, looked up at the sky, and opened her mouth. A snowflake landed on her tongue and she closed her eyes, smiled, and savored it like it was the most delicious thing she had ever tasted. I stopped shoveling. I looked at my beautiful daughter running down our beautiful snow covered street. All I could hear was her laughter. I looked up to the sky and opened my mouth to catch a snowflake. A big fat wet snowflake hit my tongue and another went right in my eye, temporarily blinding me. I let out a teenage giggle and stood there, in the moment, and took in the taste, sound, and chilly air.

While my mind told me to go back inside and do more work, my heart decided that there was more fun to be had in the backyard. Bella and I finished up the shoveling, salted the sidewalk, and ran through the house to our little backyard oasis. We ate more snowflakes, built a very sad looking snowman, and laughed about the possibility that there might be yellow snow on our new snow friend’s back. Our dog barked in agreement(guilty little canine). Once the snow got so heavy that we could barely see each other, we decided to go back inside.

Inside, we assembled four puzzles, danced around the living room, played with our cat, and ate pizza and oranges. At dinner, Bella looked up at me and said, “I just love you so much.” And that was it. That is when I knew for sure that I made the right decisions today. Snow days have almost always been stressful. I always choose work over Bella and end up only getting annoyed with her. Today a switch went off in me that changed that. I put us first. I decided to live in the moment and to take in the blessing that a day together can be.

At bedtime I read her a couple books and sang the three songs we sing every night. She sat up and said, “Mommy, you left your phone downstairs!” I smiled and replied, “You know what? I don’t even care.”

Happy Snow Day! May we all have many more days like this to come.

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Losing Dad, Uncategorized

grief is a jerk.

Today I was driving down a tree lined suburban street. The weather was perfect, the sun was out, and it was still morning. I pulled up to a stop sign and an older gentleman waved to me to indicate he was about to cross in front of me. I smiled and waved him on. I watched him as he slowly walked in front of my car. He was tall, handsome, and probably in his early 70’s. He was wearing white socks pulled halfway up his calf and white sneakers. His face was wrinkled from years of smiling. He was exactly what I imagined my dad would look like today. And grief, that sneaky little jerk, made my heart swell up and tighten my chest and made the tears burst from my face. The ugly crying began and I lost control. Just like every other time grief sneaks in, I was completely unprepared for his visit.

When you lose someone you love, people start talking to you about the stages of grief and even giving you books about the stages. They make you think that you just have to 

FullSizeRender_3work your way through each stage and then you will be good to go. I feel like the stages of grief are more like the stages of cancer. The moment my dad took his last breath I felt a dull ache in my chest. From there, things inside just started rotting little by little. It didn’t effect just one part of my life, it slowly crept into every inch of my being. We had more than three years to prepare for my father’s inevitable death, but we could have had twenty years or one day. It made no difference. Just like there is no preparation or warning to what happens to your body after childbirth, there is also no way to prepare to lose someone. Like cancer, grief is this little ass hole that just goes around hurting innocent people and flipping their lives upside down.

We are closing in on 6 years since we lost Paul Wilcox. I honestly don’t feel any better about it. You can still find me crying, “It’s not fair!,” when I look at slideshows of my dad. I still hear his voice and that contagious laughter. I still want to wake up and find out it was all a dream and see him walk through the door. FullSizeRender_1I still want to see him lift up my daughter and swing her around the room or even just read her a book. I still have moments of shock, denial, and bargaining. I still see sweet old men with their socks half way up their legs on a hot day and burst into tears. The stages of grief keep looping around. There is nothing final or linear about them.

Grief is hoping you never have a wedding because the thought of walking down the aisle without your dad is too much. Grief is buying figs at the store even though they are

FullSizeRendertoo expensive and you only kind of like them, but they remind you of your dad’s fig tree. Grief is watching your daughter blow out birthday candles for the fourth time and still wishing your dad was one of the people standing there singing to her. Grief is finding it hard to go to church because you can’t go there without thinking of your dad and all those Sunday mornings of him standing in the pulpit. Grief is wishing you had asked more questions or taken more videos or spent more time listening back when you had time. Grief is wishing you had said “I love you” just 10 more times.

The best explanation I have heard to explain this unfortunate part of life is that losing someone is like losing a leg. You do learn to walk and run and dance again, but you do everything differently now. You still feel pangs of pain from time to time and you still long for your missing limb and reminisce about the days when you felt whole.  

No matter how grief hits you or no matter how long it stays, I pray you let it do it’s thing. Even when it is painful, it reminds us that we once loved and loved deeply. We loved someone deep enough that even years after they are gone, we still remember that love and long for it.

 

dad fishing

“Down the middle drops one more
Grain of sand
They say that
New life makes losing life easier to understand
Words are kind
They help ease the mind
I’ll miss my old friend
And though you gotta go
We’ll keep a piece of your soul
One goes out
One comes in”

~Jack Johnson

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gardening, imagination, life lessons, Uncategorized

Wick. 

For the past few months I have been going out to my garden in the evening, digging a hole, and filling it with food scraps. I try to go out at dusk when I still have a bit of light but am less likely to be seen by my neighbors. I am pretty certain many of them already think I am a little strange(an introvert in an extroverted neighborhood), so seeing me dig holes in my yard to bury the ends of my carrots and used coffee grinds would not help my current status. A while ago I read about the benefits of burying compost in your garden to improve the soil. I wrote an entire curriculum on composting for grad school, so I am not new to the concept, but I’ll admit I never thought of just digging holes and burying it. My soil is in bad shape, so I figured, “why not?” 

My garden, or backyard, is half the reason I bought my house. I want to live in the city, but only if I can have a piece of earth to play with. I lucked out finding a house close to center city, but not too close, with a yard that is the same square footage as my downstairs. I want this garden to be happy and healthy and full of flowers, herbs, vegetables, and fruit trees. I want bees and birds and butterflies to make their homes there. I want my daughter to grow up with a green thumb and a love for the outdoors.

When I moved here, the yard was full of waist high prickly weeds and random tools and trash left over from the remodel of my house. The first time I saw it, it was pouring rain and it looked like the yard had been neglected for years. I instantly fell in love. I looked at my realtor and he immediately knew as well as I did that this was the one. I looked at that muddy weed and trash covered yard and all I could see were the birds and butterflies dancing through the lush and healthy garden. I could already smell the lavender and fennel.

My first few months with the garden, I filled 10 or more bags of trash. Broken glass, rusty tools, parts of railroads, statues, dirty diapers, and a variety of broken toys and christmas ornaments were on or sticking out of the top layer of soil. I pulled all of the weeds and pulled them again when they came back. I had days when my arms were covered in scratches from thorns and the stench of old trash filled my nose. I threw out some of my gardening clothes and wore through 4 pairs of gloves. My daughter was strictly forbidden to enter the garden I so desperately wanted for her. By month six or seven, most of the weeds stopped coming back and grass and clover started covering the yard, random morning glories popped up, and birds started coming to my feeder. Still, the yard was mostly bare and after heavy rains, more trash would come to the surface and I would fill more bags with pieces of glass, plastic, Styrofoam, and metal. Sometimes I would come in crying and feeling hopeless that I would ever have a good healthy garden.

The thing is, I grew up watching and reading The Secret Garden knowing that you should never give up on a piece of earth. In the story, Dickon shows Mary a bud in the neglected garden and says it is “wick.” That is, it still has life. It is worth reviving and it will blossom again. Much like The Secret Garden, I heard stories of my yard once being lush and covered in rose bushes by a previous owner who is now gone. I like to think that she also once dreamed of a little piece of heaven in the backyard and the life that is left here is a little piece of her.

 

Each hole I dig is 8-12 inches deep. In some areas of the garden, I dig up a bucket full of soil with little else but happy worms and bugs. However, in some parts of the garden, I have uncovered entire foil chip bags, whole water bottles, tennis balls, plastic bags, whistles, broken glass, and coins. I get a little sick to my stomach at first. This trash is so deep, the only explanation is that someone along the way was literally burying trash. It wasn’t healthy kitchen scraps they buried, it was pollution. I think of my rural gardens growing up; rich clean Central Pennsylvanian and Alaskan soil. It is beyond me why anyone would want to tarnish that which gives us life. Why would they want to fill it with, well, poison? Then I remember that redemption always comes. It may take forever, but it comes. As sad and gross as it is to pull trash from deep beneath my soil, there is great satisfaction in sifting through it and replacing it with fresh watermelon rinds, eggshells, and avocado peels knowing that doing so with gradually clean and feed the soil so worms can prosper and my little piece of earth can produce and thrive once more.

 

 

And yes, there is a lesson in all of this that has not escaped me. My garden, once again, is mirroring my life. I am pulling out the rancid, poisonous things that haunt me and making room for fresh new life to spring forth. I am finding what is still wick and nurturing and caring for it so it will bloom again.

 

“At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to hope it can be done, then they see it can be done–then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago.” 

~Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

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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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gardening, Going Solo: Single Parenthood, life lessons

the good life

At church today, we talked about “the good life” and what that is to us. Our society defines it as more things; a bigger fancier house, an expensive car, jewelry, gadgets, more money, just more. And it’s never enough. We are told our life will be better and we will be happier if only we had….fill in the blank. It leaves most of us constantly wanting more and not noticing the abundance that already exists in our lives.

As I walked to my car holding Bella’s hand and watching her count the cracks in the side walk, with a nice breeze as the sun was setting and clouds were rolling in, I thought about what the good life means to me. I don’t have a fancy car or a big house or lots of money or a boat or, well, whatever it is that is supposedly going to make me happy. We have a small but nice house with wonderful neighbors and a back yard full of birds, butterflies, and green.  I have a good job, but it will never make me rich. It will, however, provide for me and my daughter and will allow me extra time and extra weeks off to spend with my family. It is also a job I look forward to going to everyday and is full of colorful, wonderful,kind, and supportive people. I have a daughter who came into my life unexpectedly but who fills each day with smiles and laughter and wonder. I have an incredible family and friends who are beyond what I could have ever hoped for. After not going to church for more than five years, I recently found one that feels like home and where I feel like I can just be me and it’s enough. On Friday night, Bella and I went to a thrift store and picked out dresses and old VHS tapes. We went home and put on our new dresses and twirled around the living room while watching an old Disney princess do the same. The laughter and happiness coming from my child was intoxicating. It was the best Friday night I’ve had in a very long time. It cost me $7.

IMG_3448So, though a nicer car or a bigger house would be great, I have to say that I think “the good life” is really all those little moments with the ones we love that fill up everyday and cost us nothing. It’s a roof over our heads and having enough. It’s having a job that makes us happy. It’s little fingers and little toes and big toddler smiles and belly laughs. It
is art and comedy, and dancing. It is something we already have. If we forget that or miss it while we are seeking out the material things that are supposed to make us happy, I think we’ve totally missed the whole point of what a good life really is.

–written on April 19, 2015

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Going Solo: Single Parenthood, life lessons, Run Momma Run

get up.

Four and a half years ago I ran my fourth half marathon. Two days later I found out that I was pregnant. I was a runner first and foremost. It had become the most important part of my life and I had fallen in love with every race and practice run. Running was the first img_2820thing I thought about when I woke up and it is what I planned on doing as I fell asleep each night. I had run two full marathons, four half marathons, a ten-miler, and countless 5Ks all in the span of about 4 years.

After I had my daughter, I got back to running pretty quickly and even got my body back. I began dreaming of the two of us running together across that first finish line. Then, shortly after her first birthday, things started falling apart. Life changed drastically for both of us and the running me seemed to disappear. The fun loving careless me disappeared too. The fearless me disappeared. The anxious and depressed me took over. My career and my daughter were both wonderful, but other things got out of my control and I just shut down. I shut down completely. My body, mind, and spirit all took a hit. Until a few weeks ago, I was pretty sure I would never fully recover.

Then, we lost a close family friend. This was a man who has been a mentor and pastor when I was in college and who had been an inspiration to my entire family. At his funeral I thought about the fact that there would never be anyone who could replace this man. He had a way of reaching you at your lowest and showing you how to rise up. Through stories told at the funeral, I was reminded that we all fall down at some point. If we are human, it is inevitable. The important thing is getting back up. This pastor was gifted at meeting people at that point and helping them get back up to finish the race. I wished I could talk to him one more time because I knew he would know what to say to help me to get back up. I fell down two years ago and I have been down too long.

When you are a solo parent of a toddler and you work full time, finding time to run, or work out at all, is nearly impossible. Finding “me time” in general is almost unheard of. When people tell me to take time for myself, I scoff. The other thing that is impossible, however, is being a solo parent and not asking for help. Trying to do everything yourself is a great way to completely burn out. Over the last few months, I have been slowly asking people for help. Family and friends have stepped in and fed my daughter, watched her for a few hours, taken her to school, and invited her for play dates.img_2818

Today was one of those days. My daughter was invited to a play date for the morning with the understanding that I leave her there. So, I laced up my running shoes, drove to my beloved Kelly Drive and walked 4 miles as fast as a snail!! It was sunny and beautiful and freezing cold and it felt amazing. Every biker, runner, walker, and Canadian goose passed me on the trail and I did not care one bit. I listened to the playlist I made for that half marathon four years ago and I remembered the me I used to be. Since I tried my first  bootcamp spinning class two days ago, my legs were solid blocks of painful cement that buckled at every incline, but it didn’t even matter. My body, mind, and spirit were up and moving together for the first time in years.
So, after months of not writing, here I am again. It is not to boast or gain pity. I am here for accountability. I am a writer and I am a runner. If I am truly going to “get up,” I must img_2821do both. This post is about as good as my sloth-like morning stroll, but it still feels great because I am not lying in a heap on the floor under my computer. I’m sitting in the chair and I’m ready to write again.

 

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