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

Slaughter Beach

This morning was a normal lazy Sunday. My daughter and I woke up, went downstairs, and made breakfast. As we ate it, we stared at the disaster that is our house. Toys on every square foot of the floor, a pile of dirty clothes and about four piles of clean ones that were folded but not put away. The dust in the house spread across the light coming in the window and my daughter pointed at it and said, “Look, Mommy! Those sparkles are dancing around in the sun rays.”

A responsible mom would have taken one look at all of this and dedicated the rest of the day to fixing it. Instead, I looked at my daughter and said, “What do you want to do today?” Her eyes grew wide and she looked up at me as if she had been waiting months for me to ask that. “I want to go play at the beach with all the pretty stones and I want to take Dane with us. He needs to go to the beach.” I looked at our poor old dog whose ears had perked up at the mention of his name. He is nearing 12, has terrible arthritis that has destroyed his hips, he is recovering from lyme disease, and he is blind. She’s right. He does need to go to the beach. Despite the fact that it is early November, it was actually a pretty warm day and kind of perfect for the beach. So, we packed up a lunch, a bucket, a towel, and puppy supplies and headed out on the road.

When we got to the beach, we walked pretty far from our car and set up a little private space on the sand. After laying everything out and getting comfy, my daughter told me that she urgently needed to pee. So, we packed everything back up, hiked back to the car by the bathhouse and regrouped. 30 minutes later, we headed back to our space and set everything up again. Bella started to play with her horses making them castles and corrals out of sand and I went right for my phone. After about 5 minutes on my phone, I put it down and looked out at my old dog and tiny daughter playing at the edge of the water. He was barking at the waves and she was laughing at him and telling him what the ocean was. The sun peaked out from the clouds and the only other sound we could hear was the lapping of the waves on the sand. The closest person to us was so far away they were only a speck and the only boats were all the way out on the horizon. I took a deep breath and just took it all in. I decided to be present for a moment and it took effort for me to do it.

I looked at my old dog and remembered the day I brought him home as a puppy and about all of the different houses and people we have lived in and with together. I remembered him putting his head on my belly as I had my first contractions. I felt that feeling of safety he gives me. He has protected me for almost 12 years and I will lose him soon. He barely gets out of the house or plays anymore, but today, he was like a pup again. He played with Bella and slept on the beach.

I looked at Bella and smiled as I thought about the fact that this amazing little person came from inside me. It’s so crazy!! I still don’t totally understand it. This little funny stubborn girl who thinks she is a horse, talks about horses, plays with horses, and wants to read horse books, started as a tiny little bean inside me. That smile that lights up a whole room is part of me. And that feeling I get when I get her something she wants, like a day at the beach, is like nothing I have ever felt before.

I looked at Slaughter Beach. This hidden place we found one day by chance. It is covered in multicolored rocks in every size that have been smoothed out by the ocean. Pieces of sea glass hide in the sand acting as great treasures to be found by little hands. Coral juts above the surface of the water collecting tiny creatures that are eaten up by the bouncing sandpipers in search for a snack. The beach is far enough in the bay that the waves are small and friendly to children and old dogs. The people are few and far between. Most are scavenging the beach for sea glass and stones or simply looking for a quiet place to relax. Everyone takes the time to stop and talk to each other as they pass. It’s as if we all share a secret because we know about this beach, so we are already old friends.  Dogs are welcome and often seen. What an incredible place. 

 

Once I forced myself to take this moment and focus on the present, I realized just how lucky I am and I was filled with gratefulness. It was a connection to the universe, a grounding, a sense of worth. I decided that except for taking photos, my phone would stay in my pocket. I chased and was chased by Bella down the beach, I went on a treasure hunt with her and helped her fill our bucket with sea glass, shells, crab parts, and various colored rocks. I splashed in the waves with her, shared a picnic lunch, and soaked up what may be the last warm sunny day of the season.

Like any day, we had our troubles throughout the day, but it was otherwise a perfect day

FullSizeRender (6)together. We came home to our filthy house and I realized that a responsible mom might clean the house on a day like today, but going to the beach, letting go a little, and just appreciating time with my daughter is just as responsible. My guess is that my daughter will remember our days at Slaughter Beach, but our messy, dirty house will probably soon be forgotten.

 

 

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Going Solo: Single Parenthood, life lessons, Uncategorized

timehopping.

After pulling an all-nighter to eradicate the fleas from my house(the downside to having a neighbor with a huge heart who likes to feed all the neighborhood strays),  I sleepily walked downstairs to load up on coffee. I walked into the kitchen, looked down in the sink where my coffee cup was soaking in water, only to find our hermit crab, Bernie, looking right back at me. There he was, just hanging out in a coffee cup full of water, completely out of his locked cage and looking at me like it was any other day. I gently removed him from my favorite cup and returned him to his habitat. I decided to use a different coffee cup this morning as I was pretty sure no amount of cleaning would get me in a mindset of being ok with drinking out of this one.

I took my coffee upstairs and began my one child and pet-free ritual of the day: a shower. That glorious 5 minutes where I am covered in steam and suds and happiness. This moment of bliss ended when I pulled the curtain back to find my cat sitting there waiting for me. The cat who has a weird fetish of trying to lick my legs immediately following my shower. I have never understood it and it is one of the many behaviors he possesses that make it constantly awkward to have him as a roommate.

IMG_4592Since I refuse to let him take advantage of me once again, I did the only rational thing and jumped over him landing on my slate floor with my wet feet and slipped catching myself by grabbing my daughter’s dragon towel hanging on the door. I quickly recovered and ran down the hallway to my room. The cat followed in quick pursuit and before I could close my door, he swooped in and rubbed his entire body against me leaving a huge clump of hair on my freshly shaven legs. I rolled my eyes, grunted, and proceeded to get dressed.

My daughter, who instantly begins talking the moment she opens her eyes in the morning and doesn’t stop until she passes out in the evening, miraculously slept through all of this despite my screams. I decided to take advantage of the few minutes of quiet I still had and sat down with my coffee and looked through my Timehop app. Such a lovely invention; an app that shows you every picture you took for the last decade or more. I usually love this app because it shows me the chunky squishy photos of my daughter when she was an infant,  photos of my past life as a marathon runner, and photos of my rounded pregnant belly. Today it reminded me that not so many years ago, I was out to brunch, sipping mimosas, and eating a salmon benny with friends; single friends without kids. And there it was: the old me. I was going to be the forever-single girl travelling the world in my 20’s, 30 and flirty, and never, ever, settling down or having kids. The biggest care I had was whether I was going to order another mimosa or switch to bloody marys.

Now, I am two months away from my 40th birthday, and I am raising a strong, independent, opinionated, smart little human being, a cat who is my nemesis, an aging blind dog with lyme disease, and a hermit crab who is an escape artist. This morning’s shenanigans have basically been my life for the last four years. I am comfortable here now. I live in a sitcom and I like it. Still, I am fully aware that five years ago I would have scoffed at the me I am today. I am still in awe of just how different I am now and am forever grateful for the curve ball life threw at me 5 years ago.

While there are some days like this morning when all I want to do is curl up in a ball and cry(and sometimes I do just that), I try to just laugh about it. I have a kid who loves animals, so sometimes that means dealing with fleas or hermit crabs in my coffee cup, or dog poo on my bare foot. It’s all part of my new mom life and I’ve grown to love it.  I’ll be the first to admit that I have moments when I long for those carefree mimosa mornings, but all in all I like the excitement and unpredictability of this mom life and look forward to the continued craziness yet to come.

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Going Solo: Single Parenthood, life lessons, Uncategorized

No matter what.

YesIMG_5163terday, I arrived at pick-up for my daughter’s school and her teacher told me that she needed to speak to me. She informed me that Bella got a warning for spitting on one of her classmates. The teacher asked her why she would do such a thing and Bella told her that the student sat in her friend’s spot. As a result of her actions, Bella got a warning card. The first and only one of the year in her class. As someone who was bullied, I refuse to raise a bully. I was so embarrassed.

Once we were alone, I told her how embarrassed I was and disappointed in her behavior. I asked her for an explanation and she told me she didn’t want the other student sitting beside her because she wanted her friend there. The student wouldn’t move, so she spit on them. I explained that spitting was always unacceptable. Also, if someone she didn’t know sat beside her, a good alternative to spitting would be to say, “Hi! What is your name?” I also informed her that she would lose TV privileges every time the teacher needed to speak to me about her behavior, but she would get a sticker for all the days she did the right thing.

This morning on the way to school, I asked Bella what she would do if someone sat beside her who she didn’t know. She said, “I will say, ‘Hello. What is your name.” I screamed “Yes!!” and threw my arm over the seat to give her a high five. There were a few seconds of silence and then Bella asked, “Mommy, if I forget and mess up again, will you still love me?”  My heart dropped and I immediately looked back at her and said, “Absolutely! I will always, always love you, no matter what! You could make mistakes all day everyday and i will STILL love you. Do not forget that. Ever!”

“Ok, mommy. I’ll always love you too.”

“And you know what, Belles?”

“What?”

“We are both going to make a lot of mistakes. We will both hurt each other’s feelings and make each other mad. But, you know what?”

“What, mommy?”

“As long as we keep loving each other no matter what, we will be OK.”

Then I looked back again and she looked out the window and her whole face smiled. And that is when I realized that my primary job as a mother is to always remind my daughter that I love her exactly as she is and regardless of her behavior. I heard once that children need to hear the words “I love you” at least 4 times a day to be emotionally stable. I think I’ll up that to 6 or 10 just in case. This kid. This kid is my entire heart and I want this in writing so I never forget to live my life in a way that she will always know that. I think you start losing your child the moment they doubt that you still love them. So, love them constantly.

 

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“There are things in this life I,

Would rather not sacrifice 

You girl I cannot live without

And you know there’s no doubt that

All I mind’s losing you”

~John Butler Trio

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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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gardening, Going Solo: Single Parenthood, imagination, life lessons, writing

My Daughter is a Horse.

My daughter is a horse. I don’t mean she eats like a horse or looks like a horse. I mean she is galloping around the living room on all fours shaking her head and neighing like a horse. She leaps from couch to coffee table pretending she is leaping over a canyon with a rider on her back. She will only tell me once that she is a “running horse” and then I must understand her. She will stay in character for up to 30 minutes sometimes. She remains focused and true to her character and never breaks. She has carefully studied hours of videos of horses and intently watched horses in real life to perfect her character.

At first I thought it was annoying when she wouldn’t talk to me while in character or that she watched so many horse videos. I kept thinking, “ Gah! I have a weird 3-year-old.” But then, as happens a lot now, I learned something from her. She doesn’t just say “I’m a horse” and then act silly around the living room. She commits. She studies. She will not break. She practices daily. She experiments with how a horse might move on steps or furniture. She reacts to our dog and cat as a horse might react to them. She pulls grass from our yard or on our walks and pretends it is hay for the horse to eat. Her focus and commitment is incredible.

I want to be a writer as much as my daughter wants to be a horse. The difference is I just say it, or don’t say it all but think it, and then I go about my business of doing everything except writing. I am just jumping around life being silly and not having any commitment to my passion. How many of us say we want to do something or be something and then fill our lives with silly things that have nothing to do with what we truly desire? When did we lose that sense of play and of really truly wanting to BECOME something. When we were children and played firemen or police officers or queens, we committed to those roles. We really believed we were those things and we gave it our all.

I recently visited the house I lived in in rural Alaska. We lived on roughly four acres of land in a mostly birch forest in a fairly tiny house. There was an old chicken coop on the property that my siblings and I had turned into a play house. My memories of this place ended at age 10 when we moved. I remembered a white birch forest where the trees almost glowed. I remembered our small patch of grass as a brilliant green and the trails through the woods leading into magical lands of adventure. The old chicken coop was massive and looked like the home of the fairy queen. At night, the Aurora Borealis would dance across the tops of the trees with every color of the rainbow and hiss and crackle at us and we stood below it in our pajamas and moon boots. We could see every star and planet in the galaxy. They were so close we could almost touch them. As an adult, I walked around our old property and everything was just brown. There are a scattering of birch trees, but other trees are there as well. The chicken coop was tiny and not the least bit magical. The place from my memory was nowhere to be found. When do we stop seeing the world as a magical place? When does it suddenly become cynical and ugly?FullSizeRender (5)

Life is magical to my daughter right now. She understands play and imagination. She looks at our mess of an urban back yard and calls it our “secret garden.” She finds the tiniest flower growing from the tiniest weed and jumps with joy screaming “momma, look a beautiful flower!! I’ll pick it so we can put it on our table.” My initial reaction is to protect her from the cynicism and ugliness that I see as an adult. As I have been observing her and recognizing my own sadness, however, I think I am going to take a different approach. Instead of trying to protect her, I’m going to let my imagination come back. I am going to welcome her with open arms. I am going to join my daughter as she neighs and gallops and I’m going to see the magic in our little backyard.
And then I’m going to write about it because that is what writers do.

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