New Romance and Kids

Steve

I’m dating a man who’s wonderful. He’s very handsome, professional, funny, fun, and absolutely, unquestionably, fabulous in the sack. He cares for me without hesitation and I never have to question the depth of his love.

I left my ex-husband in August 2017, and put my profile up on Match.com in January 2018. Steve saw my profile and, despite his solemn vow to steer clear of anyone without a full-body profile picture, he considered my head-shot selfie and sent me a message.

I don’t remember exactly what he said in his initial text, but it was clever enough to spark my interest. A couple weeks of banter later, and we were meeting for our first date at a nearby restaurant. Just drinks, no commitments.

I figured that I would have to go on a date eventually. Even though I was (and still am) committed to being single for the rest of my life, I didn’t want to be alone. I wanted to have some fun. This date was almost like taking medicine. It was a necessary step towards moving on. There would be many of these, I was sure, before I found someone who was truly compatible.

It was Friday, and I’d just returned from a business trip in Nassau. I was wiped out and, truth be told, probably more than a little hung over. I was lying in bed thinking that a nap would be as good as a date and almost blew it off, but in the end I made myself wash my face, put on some makeup and a low-cut blouse, and drive to Fratello’s.

I sent him a text on the way and let him know I’d be about 15 minutes late. I blamed it on “chick time,” (preparation time in the alternate women-only universe where 1 minute is approximately equal to 15 Earth-man minutes.) I didn’t realize that he took a look at that text and almost left. He’s a fan of punctuality.

The bar at Fratello’s is upstairs. I felt my face go numb as I scanned the downstairs crowd to make sure I didn’t recognize anyone. In case you’ve never had one, that’s the first sign of a panic attack. Usually, after I feel my face go numb, I start to lose sight. Everything just kind of closes up like an old-time movie fading to black. I’m always sure I’m going to pass out, but that’s only actually happened two or three times. Normally, I just stand there and breathe until I can see again. Don’t ask me if I’m okay, because I won’t be able to talk. The hostess kept asking me if I’d like to be seated and how many were in my party. Silence. About the time she was getting ready to ask me if she should call an ambulance, I felt blood start to move upwards through my carotid arteries again.

I made my feet move and, even though I couldn’t feel them touching the stairs, I made it to the top without falling backwards. About halfway up, I looked at the bar and saw him. He’d chosen a corner seat facing the stairway. He recognized me and smiled. He actually looked like his photo, dispelling the first myth of online dating: everyone posts an old photo in order to look five years younger and twenty pounds lighter than they really are.

He has a big smile. The kind of smile that’s as much sparkling eyes as grin. The kind of smile that only a genuine person can have. God doesn’t give those smiles out to just anyone. It makes you feel like you’re something special, like just laying eyes on you has made him truly happy.

I think I kissed him on the cheek, but I was just coming out of my panic attack, so I’m not sure. It could have been a hug or a warm handshake. He had a Martini in front of him and asked if I’d like something to drink. “I’ll have a glass of white wine, please.”

“Really? You want a white wine? Not a drink-drink?”

“No… I really want a Cosmo, but it’s our first date and I didn’t want to seem like that kind of girl.”

“Have it!” He laughed as he flagged down the bartender and placed the order.

Conversation was easy. It’s always been easy. He has a million stories that no one in their right mind would believe, but he can back every single one up with cold hard proof. I’ve never been one to hold back either. You don’t have to know me long before you have a clear picture of my history — all of my neuroses and psychoses.

An awkward couple was sitting on the other side of the corner talking. She was a petite blonde who looked like someone who sells real estate. He looked like he was probably between jobs. We struck up a conversation with them and found out that they, too, were on a first date.

“Wait,” she said. “You’re on your first date? You look so comfortable — you’re a great-looking couple! I would have thought you’d been together for a long time.”

Dating myth two busted: you actually can find someone you connect with, and the connection can be fast and strong. It can be strong enough that even outsiders notice.

The woman’s name was Laurie, and she’d driven up from somewhere in Massachusetts to have a date with a guy that didn’t look too spectacular. It turns out that they’d met on a free dating site. Moral of the story? Fork out the money for the real dating site or you’ll end up wishing you were with the guy on the other side of the bar.

“Listen,” Steve said to me. “I’m sorry if this is a dealbreaker, because I know your profile said you don’t smoke, but I’m going to go outside and have a cigarette.”

“Oh! I’ll go!”

He gave me an everyone-lies-about-smoking-on-Match.com grin, and we walked out into the freezing February-evening air.

“Do you want to smoke in my car?” I asked.

Just in case you’re not sure, only a seasoned smoker smokes in their car. I was busted.

We sat in the car, he with his Winston and I with my Virginia Slim Menthol Ultra-Light. I wish I could remember what we talked about, but it probably went something like, “So what else did you lie about on your profile?”

We finished smoking and started walking back toward the bar. “Do you want to make out in the parking lot?” he asked.

“Yes!” I said a little too eagerly. “Yes, I do!”

He put his hands around my waist and we kissed. You know those movie scenes where the camera circles around and around the kissing couple? It gives the viewer a sense that  the feeling is dizzying. That’s exactly how I felt. Spinning. Completely swept off of my feet.

We made our way back to our seats and I told him that he absolutely had to meet my neighbor. Long story short: my next-door neighbor and I had grown up in the same tiny Ohio town — 700 miles away — and met for the first time when I walked out to see her sitting on our shared balcony. She was my “sister from another mister.” I bonded faster and harder to her than any man ever. “Let’s go get her and make her come to the Wild Irish Rover with us!!”

He followed me back to the apartment where we parked and ran upstairs to knock on Heather’s door. She answered in her jammies, a Corona Light in one hand and phone in the other. I didn’t tell Steve at that point, but only 2 hours earlier, when I couldn’t decide between meeting him or a nice snuggly nap, Heather pushed me to go out. She also offered to give me the fake-emergency call at the one-hour mark in case he was a loser and I had to get out of the date.

We made her rally and Ubered downtown. The band at the Rover was great; Heather and I danced while Steve watched.

“Can I buy you another drink?” I asked him.

“I don’t know… if I have another one, I won’t be able to drive home.”

“Have it,” I smiled.

We’ve been together for two years now. They’ve been two of the most tumultuous years of my life – finalizing a divorce and moving and trying to finagle single-motherhood, but he has been my buoy. I can’t count the number of times he’s kept me from going under. Every single time I hear his voice on the phone, I feel the stress flow out of my shoulders like water draining from the bathtub. Every single time I see him, we have more fun than the last time we were together. I’m still spinning, but I’m grounded. Is that possible?

The Girls

My two younger daughters aren’t fans of this relationship. They don’t know him well, but they’ve made it clear that, just because I love him, doesn’t mean he has to be a part of their lives. He doesn’t, of course. In fact, he’s been extremely conscientious about making sure that I always put them first. I wish, though, that they could see and appreciate how happy he makes me – even if they don’t understand why.

I remember being their age. The world revolved around me. No one understood my angst, and I didn’t care about anyone else’s feelings – least of all my mother’s. I was consumed with the idea of going to college and leaving my incredibly tight group of friends. If my mom shared anything with me about what was happening in her life, I don’t remember it. We had an understanding. I worried about me, and she did too – along with everything else.

I can say with surety that the second any of my daughters bring a boyfriend home, I’ll be there to welcome him with open arms and to make him feel like part of the family. I’ll make his favorite food for dinner and put clean sheets on the bed for him. I’ll stay up late asking him about his siblings and his summer vacation plans. I’ll make sure that I have makeup and decent clothes on, so the girls won’t be embarrassed. I’ll probably even clean the house. I’ll go the extra mile.

Maybe it’s difficult because they’re afraid he’ll take all of my time. Maybe they don’t like this because they secretly want me to get back together with their father. Maybe it’s just for spite. In any case, I’m tired of it.

I brought the subject up with Maggie. “Why do you think you and Jillian haven’t been able to give Steve a better chance of being accepted?”

She responded that she thought I could do better. …..Ouch. Her disregard for him hurt me. “Mom, everyone should be able to be single and comfortable with themselves before getting into a new relationship.

“Ok…. I waited 6 months before putting that profile on Match. How long a waiting period would have been sufficient?”

I also thought about the loveless months leading up to my departure from the family home. I had essentially been “on my own” for much longer.

“I just don’t think you had to stick with the first guy you met. There could be lots of other people out there who’d be better for you.”

“Wow,” I sighed. “I feel like Steve and I are a great match! We have a wonderful time together, he always makes me laugh, he cares for me completely, and we’ve never had a fight.”

“See?!” she fired back. “That’s not normal! That’s not healthy! Healthy couples have disagreements! I think he has a lot of the same characteristics as Dad, and you just don’t see them.”

Her whole comment threw me. First of all, fighting is not a sign of a great relationship. The fights I had with their father were devastating, emotionally draining, and ultimately fruitless. It’s okay to disagree with your partner, but you can talk about your viewpoints with an overarching feeling of respect and love.

“What characteristics do you think they share?” My mind was racing, thinking about every single thing that Steve has done with me and how one might liken that to my ex’s actions, which were consistently impulsive and oftentimes downright harmful to my children and me. I couldn’t come up with a single thing.

One thing that I did in the past, was to give up my home and proximity to friends and family to move in with my ex-husband. I was 22, and I was sure that he alone could fill the friend-family void. He was my everything; besides, I could always visit. But, being 11 hours away from Mom and almost that many hours to my best friends had more of an isolating effect than I’d anticipated. When I wanted to go home to Ohio, I would either have to drive the 11 hours or spend money that I didn’t have to fly. To top it all off, he always wanted to come with me. No… it was more than that. He insisted he’d come with me. The few times I went somewhere on my own, he punished me in bizarre ways.

When my grandfather died, he stayed behind while I went to the funeral. I tried to call him that evening, but there was no answer. I tried to call again a little later but there was still no answer. At 2am? Still no answer. As it turns out, he’d gone to The Haluwa, a polynesian dive bar, and gotten arrested for disorderly conduct (drunk) and assaulting a police officer. I know that doesn’t seem like direct “punishment,” but when I was away, he would always behave like a naughty kid with an inattentive babysitter.

When he was with me, though, he wasn’t much better. On a long-weekend trip to the Poconos to see a big group of high-school friends, he was jealous that I was spending too much time with them and ignoring him. Just a few hours after arriving, he started to pack our stuff. He said we were going home (a solid 6-7 hour drive.) Somehow I changed his mind, but I was hurt and frustrated. When I went back upstairs, my friends could easily see from my swollen eyes that I’d been crying. They knew something was amiss.

I suppose I gave up a lot of myself and who I thought I would be and what I thought I was capable of accomplishing throughout my years with him. I don’t regret any of it, because the result is that I have three perfect daughters whom I love to the deepest part of my core. I may always wonder, however, what I would have become under different circumstances….

The girls don’t know all of the details of my relationship with their dad, but maybe they’re afraid that I’m giving up too much for Steve. Maybe they think I’ll lose myself (…again.) I’ve been tossing around the idea of buying a home near Steve, and maybe all of their negative feelings are tied to that idea. Maybe the girls just don’t want us moving in together. Maybe they’re afraid that I’ll lose my identity.

I’m tired of hoping they’ll come around, and I’m starting to feel a little resentful – which isn’t a good feeling to have, particularly as a parent.

Me

In an ideal world, the kids would love Steve as much as I do. We’d be able to do things like go out for dinner or vacation together, and everyone would feel comfortable, loved, and happy. I’ve always been a people-pleaser. I’ve made it my personal mission to make everyone in the whole world happy. Sadly, that doesn’t always pan out. Most of the time, I have trouble simply making myself happy.

In the real world, I need everyone to be respectful of each other – and of me. In my mind, that respect means that everyone, despite how they feel about me dating Steve (or dating anyone else for that matter), supports my decision by being kind and allowing me the freedom to spend guilt-free time with him. I respect my girls’ advice and appreciate that they want the best for me. I also need to respect my own instincts and feelings.

In the end, it’s just going to be me. My oldest has already moved halfway across the country, my middle is away at college, and my youngest is a few short months from high-school graduation. They’re going to be gone, and I’m going to be alone. If they’ve imagined that I would be with someone different, I may disappoint them. It wouldn’t be the first time, and it probably won’t be the last.

I think it’s time for a change. Rather, I think it’s time to refrain from change. I want to stay with this man who makes me feel so good and brings out the best in me. This time, I feel like I’m going in with my eyes wide open. It might not be perfect. Maybe I would be giving up too much to move in with him. The thing is, I’m ready to put down the white wine and pick up the Cosmo. It’s time to trust the only person who will be with me all the way to the end – me.

When Is It Too Late To Claim Your Identity?

Most people are born with an identity. Parents provide the baby with a name. Grandparents exclaim that the baby smiles just like Uncle Harry, “but that nose! Oh, that’s definitely Aunt Sally’s nose!” Friends comment that the baby is unusually inquisitive. “Look at how she follows the dog with her eyes! She’s going to be a veteranarian!”

As time goes on, parents do their best to manipulate baby’s identity. “He’s such a happy baby! I swear, he never fusses – even when he’s hungry!”

Later, teachers get to take a shot. “Well, I’m not in a position to make a diagnosis, but I can tell you that all of the other children come right to the rug when it’s time for circle, and he just doesn’t seem to listen.” Parents fret that baby isn’t fitting the mold and buy books like “The Strong-Willed Child” to figure out how to fix it.

It’s not until pre-adolecence that we start to figure out that we are able to have some say about our direction. In fifth grade, she decides that she wants to be a tomboy, wear nothing but jeans and flannel shirts, and play kickball on the playground every day at lunch. He decides he’s going to be a Cassanova and sets off on a mission to kiss ten girls before Christmas. We start to push back on the identity that our parents created for us and try to figure out where we fit in relation to everybody else. She doesn’t want to be known as the quiet girl anymore, and starts to hang out with a different bunch of friends. He doesn’t want to be “he” at all, and asks people to start calling him Erica.

I think that’s where I lost the plot. I never created my own me. In junior high, I identified as tall, nice, smart, but not cute – not datable. In high school, I was still tall, nice, and not datable, but I realized I wasn’t smart either. I was slightly above average. I would give myself a 65. Of course, I don’t know who would score themself a 30, so the numbers are probably skewed.

In high school, I was supposed to figure out what version of me I was going to stick with, but I honestly think I was just too tired. Maybe it was because I’m gluten-intolerant, and all of that bread was zapping my energy. Maybe I was on too many committees: yearbook, literary magazine, newspaper, nuclear awareness… Maybe I just was too slow, and everyone claimed all of the good ones before I got a chance to jump in.

For a while, I tried to become interested in politics and social causes; but, being a 65, I never felt like I knew enough to discuss anything in depth. I tried being deep and introspective, listening to a lot of Joni Mitchell and Jackson Brown, and looking at most people like they couldn’t possibly understand. That was fairly isolating, and I got tired of moping.

In college, I still wasn’t smart, energetic, cute or datable, and I was starting to worry. It was getting too late to choose a passion. I was missing the boat. I started smoking pot – and lots of it – because when I was high, I didn’t care if I was directionless.  I was okay right where I was, watching Maryanne, Ginger, and Gilligan put on a talent show for Skipper and the Howells. I was just fine skipping classes and eating bagels in the Atrium, watching the other students go on their way.

Before I knew it, I was a senior, graduating, and going out to find a career for myself. Except, you guessed it, I didn’t have one iota of an idea about what to do with my life. I took a job in the accessories department at Jordan Marsh and got married.  I got a job in sales and had a daughter. I got a Master’s degree in Elementary and Special Ed and had a couple more kids. I opened a tutoring franchise and then closed it 7 years later because I couldn’t make enough money. I got another sales job and a divorce. All the while, I’m still just background. I’m the chorus in the spring musical.

There should be someone who tells you, before it gets too late, that you need to choose a path. Do it quickly, before you get to the fork in the road and discover that doors number 1, 2, and 3 are closed and bolted shut. While your friends are choosing the road less travelled, you end up just headed southbound on Route 95 during the afternoon commute.

Employee Engagement: Giving a Sh*t About your Job and your Company

Haven’t Won the Jackpot Yet?

At this point, it’s pretty clear I’m not going to win Powerball or Mega Millions or even five bucks on a scratch ticket. I’m going to have to continue to work for a living. It seems unjust, I know, but that’s the way it is.

I’ve been trying to come up with ways that I can become more engaged with my job and company. I sell headsets for a living – like the ones you see the operators wearing on late-night commercials when they say “Operators are standing by.” I sell a LOT of headsets. My quota is over $2M annually. Believe me… that’s a lot of headsets.

Remarkably, I didn’t dream of being a headset salesperson when I was growing up. I dreamed of becoming a teacher, but I got my Master’s in Elementary and Special Ed, and then I couldn’t afford to teach and pay for three kids in daycare. As Grandma Hazel used to say, “It’s not right, but it’s so.”

I’m a good employee; I always make “President’s Club” for achieving 100% of quota annually. I’m not a great employee, though. For example, I’m writing this during business hours. I have plenty to do, but my motivation is at the bottom of the pit of despair.

Why wouldn’t making a good living, a decent wage, be enough to motivate me every day? I guess it should. I should also be extremely grateful that I have a job with health insurance, dental insurance, and a 401K matching program. Without my job, my family and I would be in big trouble. Someimes the threat of losing your job isn’t enough to make you really care. It would certainly make you show up, but it’s not going to make you put your best foot forward. I want to be motivated. I want to be productive. I want to truly care about my job.

I’ve been doing a little digging around to find out how employees become engaged with their jobs and companies and thought I’d share a few nuggets of inspiration. I’ve listed five ideas for employers and then five ideas for employees.

What is an Engaged Employee?

First, I should explain that “engaged” means more than “happy.” An engaged employee will go the extra mile – just because. An engaged employee is motivated and productive.

Walk around your office for a minute. Take a gander at your coworkers. How many of them look engaged? Here’s a scary statistic: about 17% of employees are engaged in their work. That means, if you look at a workstation containing 5 people, 4 of them will be watching YouTube or surfing social media or daydreaming about the lottery or… (sigh)… writing a blog. That’s so sad — for the company and for the employee. The one person who’s engaged is probably generating 90% of the revenue/productivity for the group.

How Do Companies Engage Their Employees?

So, you want 100% of your employees to be engaged and productive? Here are five ideas for employers.

  1. Physical Proximity. Remote work is the trend right now. Working from home or on the road is good for your work-life balance, eliminates commuting time, and increases productivity by decreasing interruptions from colleagues. It also makes for a solitary existence. Why should I really care about my colleague who works in California whom I’ve met twice? If you have a remote team, you are going to have to work hard to make sure that it’s really a “team.” That means spending more time together than on weekly staff-meeting calls. Find ways to physically bring your team together. If that’s impossible, find reasons for them to all be together on the phone or a video call for very informal sessions where they can just chat. Bringing teammates together forms a sense of compassion for one another that wouldn’t otherwise exist.
  2. Talk about something other than work. People crave caring. People who feel like they’re cared for at work will have an emotional investment and interest in seeing the company succeed. We spend more time with coworkers than we do with our own children. Rather than encouraging a sweat-shop mentality where people just punch in, do their job, and punch out, try to develop a family mentality — one in which colleagues will look out for each others’ wellbeing.
  3. Make sure your employees know exactly what you want them to do. What does your employees’ success look like? If your end-game is to increase sales, what are some measurable goals you can develop together to achieve that increase? Have the employee put some skin in the game, though. Allow them to work with you to develop the goals. Goals should include steps that the employee can check off their to-do list every day and which will lead to their success.  During my review, my boss suggested that I work to clean up my pipeline. I would love to see an example of a clean pipeline. I would love to know the specific steps I can take on a daily basis to keep my pipeline clean. Would you like to see me set an activity so I touch base with each account on a bi-weekly basis? What makes a pipeline clean? How can I better estimate the size of the sales and the timeframe in which they’ll close? Give me specific examples so I can focus on tackling some piece of that goal every day.
  4. Find out what motivates each of your employees. It’s easy to say that money is a good incentive, but there’s something more that they want to earn. There’s something more that’s important to them. Ask them to really think about it and let you know. It sounds funny to suggest having everyone read “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman, but it might help them discover what fills their emotional tank. You can even just have them take the quiz here. Be prepared, though. They might all have different answers, and you need to be able to come up with rewards that suit each individual on your team.
  5. Say thank you. So simple, and yet, so rarely done. Write it in a note; it’ll mean more.

 

How can employees develop their own sense of engagement? Here are five ideas for the employees’ side of the coin.

 

  1. Get up and get grateful. Before you even get out of bed, lie there for just a second and be grateful for any part of your job. Are you grateful that you have a coworker who’s funny? Are you grateful that you’re getting paid today? Are you grateful that you get to go out for sushi at lunch time? There has to be something — at least one thing — that you’re grateful for at work.
  2. Look good. Putting on a nice outfit or spending a few minutes to polish your shoes is actually tied to higher self-esteem. If you don’t want to upgrade your clothes, just put a smile on your face when you walk into the office. People who smile are more attractive. When you look good, you feel better.
  3. Think about where you want to be in your company (or in another company.) What does that position look like? What skills will you need to get there? What type of person holds that job? What qualities make them successful there? Write those qualities on sticky notes and pop them up around your desk. “Creative.” “Analytical.” “Relationship-focused.” “Collaborative.” Make it your life’s mission that others perceive those qualities in you.
  4. Organize your day. Ever tried using a bullet journal? It’s a great way to keep track of anything and everything. It’s a task-list, a calendar, and a journal all in one. I combine both work and personal life in my bullet journal. Not sure if that’s how it’s supposed to be, but it works for me. Think about what your manager’s image is of the perfect employee. What specific steps can you take to get there? Write ’em down and mark them off as you accomplish them. Kendra from “The Lazy Genius” has a good guide to creating and using a basic bullet journal. Find a link to her site here.
  5. Get in the zone. Have you ever had a day where you sat down in the morning and the next thing you knew it was time for lunch? You were in the zone. It’s much easier to get in the zone when you’re busy. Open your bullet journal, put on a great noise-cancelling headset (see what I did there?), and do the first task. The longer it takes you to get settled and going in the morning, the harder it is to get into the zone. Go in, say hi to your friends, sit down, and get going. Tell yourself that you’ll get up at 11 to step away from it all. If you have a “Darrell” who wants you to go buy a lottery ticket with him, tell him that you’ll go at 11. Pretend that the president of the company is coming to your desk at 10:45 to inspect all that you’ve done during the morning. You want to impress her. Get in the zone and get ‘er done.

Employee engagement leads to lower turnover, higher productivity, higher customer loyalty, lower number of sick days, and a more positive office environment. Do a little more research and find a way to engage your employees and yourself. Do you have more ideas about how to engage? Please leave them in comments below. Thanks!

Judge and Judgment

Like many Americans, I spent the morning fixated on the testimony given by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and the afternoon mesmerized by Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s rebuttal. Part of the reason I was so transfixed is that I was sexually assaulted during the fall of my freshman year in college. I’m not going to talk about my attack, mostly because, 34 years later, I still can’t bring myself to think about it – let alone write about it. I didn’t say a word when it happened, and I didn’t say a word for probably ten more years when I finally told my husband. Very few people know about it… my therapist, some very close friends, and my daughters. That suppressed trauma came back to the surface when my daughters started going to college. I found myself crying – constantly – because I was so worried that it would happen to them, too. Sending them off to school was tearing me apart.  I decided to tell them a very vague abbreviated version of the story as a cautionary tale. I told them that nine hundred and ninety-nine out of a thousand guys are perfectly safe, but there’s going to be one… One who looks normal on the outside, may belong to a fraternity, play lacrosse, or be an excellent student; but whom, under the right conditions (a late night after too many drinks), becomes a monster. Make sure you always always always leave a party with a friend. Never abandon a friend, and never let them abandon you. Find someone who will have your back, and you take care of them just the same.

I watched Dr. Blasey Ford tell the story of her assault and the consequent post-traumatic stress she still experiences. The entire time I was watching (in awe of her unfathomable strength and courage), I was trying to picture myself in the same situation. Frankly, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have said a word – despite my “civic duty.” Her entire life is upside down because she came forward. I didn’t have the guts to say anything 34 years ago; I can’t imagine it would be any easier today. I was so sure that I would tell the police or go to court, and the whole thing would be turned around. I would be the one defending everything from what I wore that night to how much I’d had to drink to how hard I tried to stop him.  I pictured myself on trial.  “If there was no music on downstairs, why do you think no one could hear you calling for help?” For 34 years, I’ve cursed my cowardice and prayed fervently that my fear and inaction didn’t result in another woman’s (or women’s) trauma. How many times did he get away with it, just because he could? I’ve also fantasized about having him on the witness stand, attempting to defend his indefensible actions. All of these years later, I relish the image of him sitting there in his suit and tie, sweat pouring down his face, in front of his wife and friends, twisting.

Why on earth should someone be punished for something they did so long ago? After all of this time, isn’t it just water under the bridge? Hasn’t he proven himself to be an upstanding citizen? Hasn’t he proven himself to be one of the most upstanding citizens in the entire country? That was just kids’ stuff. He was drunk. He didn’t go all the way. It doesn’t count.

What would you say if your daughter were the victim? Would it count then? Even a little bit?

I love that women are finding our voices and attempting to put an end to this injustice. I worry, though, that people (men and women) are developing emotional calluses around the subject. I have seen more than one man roll his eyes at the mention of the #metoo movement. I know they’re hoping this is just a phase. They’re thinking that this is like being gluten-free. It seems okay, but we’ll be back to normal before too long. I’m hoping it’s just the beginning. I’m hoping my granddaughters (and grandsons – I get that this goes both ways) grow up in a world where they’re safe and their words are both heard and respected.

My daughter’s college showed a magnificent short animated video to students during orientation. In the video, the narrator is explaining that having sex is a lot like having tea together. You can offer your friend some tea, but if they don’t like tea, or don’t feel like drinking tea at that moment, you are not allowed to pour the tea down their throat. A person can say they’d like some tea; but, if they change their mind – even after you went ahead and made the tea – you’re not allowed to pour it down their throat. Similarly, someone who is passed out cannot tell you whether or not they’d like tea, so you may not pour it down their throat. It gets the message across very clearly. Sex is something that must be agreed upon and consented to by both parties.

I watched the whole hearing, and they are both credible. I happen to believe Dr. Blasey Ford, but I fully recognize that I am biased. The situation is horrible for everyone concerned. Of course, the situation’s already been horrible for 34 years for one of them. I hope that the senators dwell on the testimony they heard and vote according to conscience rather than party lines.

 

The Break

I didn’t know what my dream looked like. I’d read about visualization…. “You have to see your dream if you really want it to come to fruition.” I saw flashes of it – images of the Eiffel Tower and my feet on a beach, but I couldn’t picture what my perfect daily life would look like. I guess the only thing I knew for sure was that the dream didn’t involve 2 hours of commuting time, sitting at a desk for 9 hours, dragging myself home to make dinner for myself and my very-unhappy daughter, scooping the cat litter, or crawling into bed alone.

I had been working at the same job for 4 and a half years – selling headsets. It wasn’t a bad job, as jobs go… I worked with nice people and was paid a fair wage. They had a 401K match and tuition reimbursement. If a person wanted to work in an office, they would have been entirely satisfied.

I didn’t want to do it anymore, though. I found myself unable to get out of bed in the morning, dreading the day that lay ahead. It wasn’t normal depression. I was stuck.

I started thinking about why I felt so stuck, so tied to a job that I felt like I was the caged tiger, my zookeeper-boss watching my every move, her cattle-prod at the ready. I’m sure other people felt trapped in the job, too, but no one ever discussed it. I never once heard a coworker complain that they needed to get out – to be free.

The reason was so clear. FEAR. I was petrified of leaving, because I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to support my kids, my cats, or myself. If I didn’t have a steady paycheck coming in, I was going to let the WHOLE WORLD down. The conflict between my secret yearnings and my expectations was a full-blown, life-long, Ultimate Fight Night. I didn’t have any problem when the world put these responsibilities on my shoulders. I accepted the expectations and responsibilities as the next step in life’s process. I even  added to those burdens myself. I thought, “only someone who was completely immature, selfish, and irresponsible would live outside these tidy boundaries.”

I have gossiped about people who’ve walked away from their jobs as if they were shooting heroin in the alley.  I’ve judged them and condemned them to serve a life sentence in the little box in my mind labeled “disgraceful.” I have talked to other people about them and said the words: “how could they?” I have pitied their partners and their children. Not once have I ever wished them success.

If they were successful having moved outside the envelope, then the only thing holding me back from doing the same thing was me.

I can’t tell you how long I might have stayed in status-quo-land. I probably could have made it through another 15 years and then retired with some piddly little retirement fund and moved to a condo in Boca, but my daughter unwittingly became the catalyst for the biggest life-change I would experience.

Jillian is a magnificent girl. She is everything – truly everything – that a mom could want in a daughter. She’s loving, smart, evolved, beautiful, hilarious, and just plain good. She stands up for the things that mean something to her. She supports her friends. She challenges herself every day to become a better person. She challenges me to become a better person.

It wasn’t all-at-once, but I saw her start to fall apart about a year ago. She hated being the last one left at home, the only one left to navigate the chasm between ex-spouses she called “mom and dad.” Her sisters had both moved away, one to Boston and one to college in Vermont. I knew it was wearing on her. She would grudgingly pack her bags to get ready for “Dad’s nights,” not because he was a problem (he was a problem, but that’s another story), but because she had to pack her worldly belongings twice a week – every week – and move to another home.

She had a great job at a farm stand with a bunch of other people who, like her, came from broken homes and slightly fucked-up lives. They worked together, played together, and made their own family. I realized she was spending extra hours at the farm. She would be there after closing and never seemed in a hurry to get home. Her grades started to suffer which led to further depression and anxiety. In her entire life, she’d never gotten any grade lower than an A minus. The classes were hard, though. She was taking a bunch of AP and Honors classes, and she couldn’t slide through them like she’d been able to do in the past.

A lot of things happened and a lot of things changed over the course of the last year, but her inability to reach the level of academic perfection she’d set for herself never subsided. When they announced the Class of 2019’s top-ten students, and her name wasn’t on the list, she was devastated. This time she wasn’t bouncing back. I was afraid that her lightbulb had finally burned out. How can you continue to make that big an effort if you’re not going to end up being the best?

Before you start judging me, please know that I told her the same thing that I’ve said throughout her whole life. “Your grades are fantastic and I couldn’t be more proud. The only thing that matters to me is your physical, mental, and emotional health.”

The thought hit me like rubber hitting the road. I needed to put my life where my mouth was. I needed to stop saying this stuff to her and start showing her that I meant what I said.

Making a huge change at the beginning of her senior year wasn’t easy. She was bound and determined to get into a great liberal arts college. What would they say if she withdrew from her high school in October of her senior year? What about the AP classes she wouldn’t be able to finish? AP Psych, AP Gov, AP Spanish, AP Anatomy…? How would a college look at that? How badly would she be penalized?

Could we have an adventure that was cool enough and academically-enriching enough to allow her to qualify through the rigorous admissions process? Or would I just end up looking like another one of those hippy-freak home-schooling moms? What if they thought I’d withdrawn her because I was a religious zealot who didn’t want her to attend a school that taught about safe sex? I was worried about what other people thought, but not as worried as I was about Jillian.

I went online and looked into homeschooling. The idea seemed preposterous to me. I didn’t know how to teach Calculus – or any other subject for that matter. Who did I think I was? Except, guess what? I wasn’t the first person to home school a high-school student. There were so many options, so many programs, so much potential.

It was time to start thinking specifically about my dream. What did I want my life to look like on a daily basis? What did I want for Jillian? I could live with less, but not a lot less. I mean, I didn’t have cable, what more could I give up? I didn’t want to move to a yurt, no matter how much money it would save me. A personal bonus for me (go big or stay home) would be to go someplace warmer – a place without boots or shovels or snowplows. I wanted to start somewhere new, but I didn’t want to isolate Jillian. I wanted her to have friends and activities – a real teenage life without the stress and drama.

I started thinking about how I could create that life for her. How could she start over in a new place where she didn’t know anyone or know where to find the best coffee-house? I realized that she didn’t need to start over. We weren’t talking about a lot of time before graduation. Her real new start would be when she went to college. I was looking for an interim place. It would be temporary for her and permanent for me. She’d need some friends, though, and it’s difficult to make friends your age if you’re not enrolled in school. But it’s not too hard to make friends if you have a job doing something that you love and you’re working with people who are also doing what they love. With the flexibility of homeschooling, she’d be able to get a job during typical school hours. She’d be able to get a job at the best coffee-house in town. She’d probably also get a discount. Killing all the birds with one stone.

And what about me? What was I going to do? I really mulled this over. I was making so many changes and there was so little security. I held fast to the fact that I felt very certain that my decision was the best I’d ever made. My job, however, was one thing that didn’t need to be rushed. I needed to keep my job and work remotely. That would give me time to figure out how to homeschool and  provide me with a paycheck.

First things first. Where were we going? My friend, Lisa, has a house in Hilton Head, SC. I’ve been down to visit and loved the area. It was much warmer, but not crazy-Florida-warmer, and the beach was a stone’s throw away. I saved a search in Zillow: condo, townhouse, single-family house, garage, 2+ bedrooms, 1+ baths, under $300,000. I didn’t want to throw money away on rent anymore. I wanted to buy something, and do it quickly before I quit my job and ruined my credit.

The house popped up in the search that very day. It was just what I wanted and it was just the right price. I sent Lisa a note to make sure I wasn’t moving to the ghetto of Hilton Head, and she confirmed that it was a great area. Turns out, it’s hard to go wrong in that community.

I called my boss and told her my idea. She confirmed that, although the company couldn’t pay for relocation, they would allow me to work remotely.

I went to the high school and sat with the vice principal to discuss homeschooling. The paperwork was easier than I could have ever imagined. She was able to sign up for VLACs (online learning) classes and take most of her classes remotely.

Once I knew this could really happen, I met with my bank and got pre-approved for a mortgage. I called the realtor and made an offer. Sight-unseen.  Closing date: December first.

I called my landlord and invited him over for coffee. I didn’t have a lease, so we were operating on a month-to-month basis. I was nervous about giving him the news, but he understood, and my 60-day notice was official.

The funny thing about fear is that it isn’t real. It’s a dream you have in your head. It’s no more powerful than excitement or happiness or peace. You’re writing the story of your life and you can change it up to be fun or challenging or, yes, scary. You’re writing it. Make it turn out the way you’ve always dreamed it would be. Every morning you wake up and choose what your life will look like on that day. Most of us have become complacent. We’re too tired or overwhelmed or bored to think of anything different when we wake up. “Today’s going to be just like yesterday, with the same stressors, the same funny moments, and the same food for lunch. I’m not going to change, because this is how I’ve done it before. Even though I’m not particularly happy, I’m safe. It’s always worked in the past, and it’ll work again today.” We let the fear – that made-up feeling – dictate how we’re going to act and how we’re going to live our lives.

I’m no different, no better no worse, than anyone else. I just let the bigger fear – the fear that my daughter would drown – outweigh the fear I had of rocking our little boat. What I began to understand, is what fear-itself is afraid of. Fear fears action. Fear loves complacency. Fear loves watching people get stuck – in jobs, in relationships, in life. Fear hates it when you wake up and say, “I’m going to do my very best today. I’m going to challenge myself to move beyond my status quo. I’m going to write a different story for myself.”

I’m still not sure what my ultimate happiness looks like, but my vision is becoming clearer. It involves action and proximity to a beach and a daughter who is confident and healthy. It’s a fuzzy vision, but I’m pretty sure it looks a lot like where I am right now.

 

Mrs. Bed

I love my bed more than is natural. Have you ever heard about people who fall in love with inanimate objects? I saw a video once about a man in Japan who fell in love with a doll. He’d dress her up, take her out to dinner, and order her a drink. He pushed her around in a wheel chair and dressed her appropriately for the weather. She was a true companion for him, and he clearly loved her enough to withstand sidelong glances and snickers from passersby.

There are people who take it further than that, though, people who fall in love with their refrigerator or their garage door opener. “Objectum-sexuality “is the term which refers to intense feelings of love, emotional attachment, and sometimes sexual attraction to things.  In 1979, a Swedish woman married the Berlin Wall. In 2006, a woman named Erika Eiffel married… can you guess? (Last name is a big hint.) You are actually free to marry whomever or whatever you want to marry. Will the state recognize it as a legal marriage? Sorry. You can’t marry your lawnmower and have your accountant complete your taxes as “married, filing jointly.”

My bed and I are not getting married. We’re still just dating, but we are definitely sleeping together.

I think I got off on a tangent there…

What I really meant to say is that I love to sleep. I particularly love to sleep in my bed. It’s so comfortable, and the blankets are just the right thickness, and the 25-year old sheets are super soft. I recognize that it doesn’t actually speak words, but it surely calls to me. It’s worse in the morning, right after I slap the snooze button on the alarm clock. (I have absolutely NO romantic feelings about my alarm clock.)

“Come back to me…….”

I have a really nice bullet journal. Someday I’ll write about that, but not today. Part of the bullet journal is a habit-tracker. That may sound adolescent, but it makes me feel intensely proud to check the boxes off when I’ve completed a task. My morning routine is right there – written in ink on paper. I know that I need to get out of bed at 6am in order to leave the house by 7. I know that as well as I know my name. I just can’t. I’ve never been able to. It’s a lifelong struggle.

I bargain with myself. Maybe if I don’t shave my legs, I can save 4 minutes. If I buy lunch in the cafeteria, it’ll cost me $11, but I can save 3 minutes packing. I’ll scoop the kitty litter the moment I walk in the door after work. There’s another 2 minutes. Before you know it, I’ve convinced myself that I can spare a 9-minute snooze.

Then the alarm goes off again.

I can hear the whispering, ever so gently, coaxing me.

“Come back to me…..”

And I do it. I’m so weak. I’ll be lying there with my eyes closed thinking about what else I could possibly cut out. Makeup! That’s five minutes right there! I’ll just put it on in the car… Maybe I can be four minutes late to work. Would they really notice?

The only way to save myself is to make the bed right away. Once it’s made, it’s made. I’m certainly not going to get back in it at that point. I’m crazy, but I’m no fool. It’s uncanny though, as I pull up the sheets and adjust the pillows, I could swear I hear a muffled whisper…”Come back to me…..”

 

Dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder: Coping Strategies

Can you smell the pumpkin lattés in the air? For so many people, especially in New England, fall is the most wonderful time of year.

I get it! It’s beautiful. Watching all the leaves change to crimson and gold and drift to the ground, feeling the first hint of chill in the air, fresh apples from the farm stand, high-school football games, getting your cute sweaters back out of the storage bin; it really is a fabulous couple of weeks… until the snow starts to fly again. I just find it depressing.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Like nearly 10% of the overall population, I have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD.) I actually dislike the acronym, because I feel like it makes the whole thing seem insignificant. This isn’t “sad” like when someone finishes the pint of ice cream you bought for yourself. This “SAD” is a pervasive depression, excessive sleepiness, and/or increased appetite that sets in when the light starts to fade in the autumn. SAD isn’t a diagnosis in itself, it’s a subtype of Major Depressive Disorder; the difference between “depression” and “SAD” is that SAD generally recurs and subsides annually. For me, it usually peaks at about Christmastime, just when you’re supposed to be at your absolute cheeriest, and goes away at about the time we turn the clocks forward in the spring.

I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV.

Before you read any further, please understand that I’m not a mental health professional. If you feel like you might have Seasonal Affective Disorder, or any other kind of depression, please contact a licensed therapist to help you with a formal diagnosis and treatment options. Here is a link to Psychology Today’s search bar, so you can find a local therapist. Even the most effective solutions to SAD need to be coupled with therapy. Your therapist can also talk with you about whether or not it makes sense to do a short-term antidepressant therapy. This article, however, focuses on a few non-pharmacological options.

So… What are my options?

Check your Vitamin D level

My doctor told me that it’s virtually impossible for people who live north of Florida to get enough Vitamin D in the fall/winter months without taking a supplement. There’s just not enough natural sunlight. Parker, Brotchie, and Graham (2017) completed an empirical study that showed a correlation between Vitamin-D deficiency and depression.  They also state that taking a supplement helped to alleviate the problem. I had a blood test done which measured my Vitamin D levels and, indeed, it was pretty far below normal. I started taking a supplement about 3 weeks ago, so I can’t provide any feedback yet on whether or not it helps me, but I’m throwing it out there, because it may help you. Have a conversation with your doctor. If he/she recommends it, have a blood test to determine your Vitamin D levels. If you are deficient, the recommendation is 1000 IU daily to bring you up to the right level and then maintain it (Parker, Brotchie, & Graham 2017). You can find Vitamin D-3 at your pharmacy, or if you prefer, you can click the image below to order it on Amazon:

 

Get a Happy Light!

A literature review study in the Journal of Affective Disorders discussed the link between lack of light and depression. In their findings, the researchers determined that Bright Light Therapy is another tool to put in your back pocket. This is pretty straight forward. You’re not getting enough sunlight, so you’re going to have fake it. I purchased a full-spectrum therapy light and use it daily. I make a cup of coffee and read in front of the light (about 12″ away from my face) for about a half hour. The one I bought (featured below) has a timer on it and will shut off automatically after 30 mins.  I find this to be extremely energizing and can definitely see a difference in the way I feel on the days I use it and the days I don’t.

This is an Aura Day Light Therapy Lamp, 10,000 Lux of Bright Light White with Adjustable Lux Dial And Timer- 100% UV Free{2 Year Warranty Includes Bulb and Lamp}

Try to make just one or two lifestyle changes

Finally, I found a terrific list of lifestyle changes in a 2017 article by Laura G. Leahy. These are all great suggestions that could really make a difference.

Develop sleep hygiene habits:
* Adapt regular sleep and wake times
* Minimize blue light from television and electronic devices within 2 hours of sleep
* Maintain the bedroom at a comfortable temperature
* Avoid caffeine and alcohol, which disrupt restorative sleep
* Wake using a light to simulate dawn, as opposed to an alarm
Incorporate daily walks or outdoor activity, even on cloudy days
Incorporate aerobic exercise, approximately 30 minutes per day
Maintain a healthy diet without succumbing to increased carbohydrate cravings
Rearrange the indoor environment to maximize natural light from windows
Increase indoor lighting, especially full-spectrum light
Minimize stress through relaxation and meditation exercises
Make an effort to maintain social connections

You’ve got this!

One of the most important things I can tell you, though, is that you will feel better eventually. Don’t let yourself spiral down into the pit of despair… Know that there really is a “light” at the end of this tunnel!

*I am a member of Amazon Associates. That means that I will receive a small comission from sales of products purchased through the links on this page. I have tried and would recommend every item I post.
References
Leahy, L. G. (2017). Overcoming seasonal affective disorder. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing & Mental Health Services, 55(11), 10-14. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.snhu.edu/10.3928/02793695-20171016-03

Menculini, G., Verdolini, N., Murru, A., Pacchiarotti, I., Volpe, U., Cervino, A., & … Tortorella, A. (2018). Review article: Depressive mood and circadian rhythms disturbances as outcomes of seasonal affective disorder treatment: A systematic review. Journal Of Affective Disorders241608-626. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2018.08.071

Parker, G. B., Brotchie, H., & Graham, R. K. (2017). Vitamin D and depression. Journal Of Affective Disorders, 20856-61. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2016.08.082