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Confessions of a Working Mom

The real scoop behind what it's like to be a working mom.

Freedom. It’s Not Free.

I’ve heard all my life that freedom isn’t free. I always applied this in the civil liberties context. My dad served 3 tours in Vietnam (3!) and the scars he came back with made it so very clear that securing the American way of life comes at a tremendous cost. I never expected to apply the saying to the context of a marriage.

A few weeks ago, a good friend of mine bought a Porsche Cayman. It’s a two-seater rocket-type of car that no married with children woman drives, ever. As soon as my friend bought it, I asked him if I could drive it next time I saw him. Without hesitation, he said, “Yes.” I immediately told my husband that I was going to get to drive this ultra-cool car and he brushed me off. I maintained my excitement for the next three weeks until the day actually arrived that my friend and I were both in the same town. We made plans to meet up and I told my husband I was off to drive the car.

Imagine my surprise when my husband looked at me, then walked away without a word. I thought maybe he was teasing me about being angry, so I kissed the kids and off I went. I didn’t really think much of it, to be honest. I met up with my friend at his home where he had the car waiting. He backed it out of the garage (so I didn’t have to worry about the shrubbery he said) and then switched spots with me. I was so nervous I was shaking.

In my experience, many men are backseat drivers. Or, they are overly protective of their cars. They believe they are the superior drivers over women. As I gingerly backed out of the driveway and got going, my friend said, “You don’t have to shift so soon. Rev the engine up.” Say what? Surely I wasn’t hearing correctly. But, yes. So, I let the engine wind a little more before shifting to the next gear. “Are you driving a Honda?” He says. “Let go!”

As soon as I ease my way out of his neighborhood, I am on a familiar, open country road. The windows of the Porsche are down on a sunny spring day, there is quasi-techno music reverberating through the car, and the engine is growling all around me.  The Cayman is a noisy beast and I want to give in.  So I do. I let the car fly.

I punch it and move quickly through first and second gears. The car picks up speed tremendously quickly and my hair is whipping around in the wind. My smile is so wide, I feel like my face was ready to split in half.  As I let the car move through third with the gas punched down, my friend says, “That’s it! This car wants to go fast. You can let go!”

And I do. I’m up to fifth gear when I realize the speedometer clocks in almost at 90. My friend is issuing words of approval and I laugh as I speed down the road. The powerful car is responding to my every touch, the music is soaring through me and I feel free. I’m not worried about my kids, my health, my husband, my marriage, my finances. My friend is telling me to let go, to do what I want to do. He’s egging me on to have fun and to fly. And all I can think is that I’m free.

When I return home to my husband and kids a couple hours later, a feeling of contentment is floating through me. I feel euphoric and so very happy. I am on top of the world. I seek out my husband to tell him my experiences with the car, and how exhilarating it was. When I approach him, he will barely look at me. When I try to talk to him, he cuts me off. “You know that’s my favorite car,” he says. “I can’t believe you drove it and I didn’t.”

Hurt ricochets through me as I realize the person who is supposed to support me and love me has let his jealousy get in the way of our friendship. I’m reminded once again that freedom really isn’t free.

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Just a Dream

My life has flown by so fast. I look back now, at 41, and realize how much time I wasted. I spent so much time unhappy. Unhappy I was fat. Unhappy I couldn’t have the man I wanted. Unhappy I wasn’t living the right life. And now here I am. Unhappy in my body. Wondering if there was ever a way I could have lived the life I wanted. Not regretting my children, but regretting so many of my choices that led me to where I am.

How do I move forward when I don’t feel old but I know that I am. I want those things, still, that young people want. How do I continue on this road when there are so many things I need to rewind and do differently. I want to spend less time of my youth fat. I don’t want to have a wrecked body. I want to get back to myself, the utter confidence of self, the love I had for my life. I realize these things are lost now. They have been lost through the passage of time.

I can work or pay to get a better body, I can change my path and trajectory, I can do things differently now going forward but they don’t change the choices of the past. They don’t change that I’ll never have certain things, things I’ve always wanted. Is there a point in time where not having what you becomes acceptable? Do I just swallow my dreams and desires down and say, “this is what I have”? I live a privileged life, and I’m selfish. I want to be who I was, free to express myself and not repressed into a role. Yet here I am, pushing forward for my own repression daily. I make ties that keep me into my life. I no longer struggle to pursue my dreams. I merely wish I had and feel sadness that I didn’t.

Fatigue. Not Just Military Clothing.

Have you ever wondered how to diagnose something you can’t see with a scan, can’t physically touch, or can’t prove? The answer to that is by trial and error. The trial part being a lot of different drugs meant to help. The error part being those (expensive) drugs not working for you.

I’ve been battling something for years now. It’s been worsening in recent months, to the point where some days I do not rise from my bed. As an active type-A personality, this is frustrating for me in the extreme. As someone who wants to find out what in the hell is wrong and get it fixed, the lack of desire to leave my room in search of answers is puzzling.

Since Doctor Google is never wrong, I have self-diagnosed myself with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). I have five out of the list of symptoms they list as criteria, with four symptoms being the minimum threshold to “having” CFS. As I lay here in my bed with my laptop, I wonder if it really matters if I am diagnosed with CFS. After all, I’m already taking the medication typically prescribed to help with CFS. It’s not like there’s a lot of options with regard to treatment. Many of the home remedies I already employ just to get through my day. I don’t think I need an “official” diagnosis just to have an “A-Ha!” moment.

So how, then, does one live with something so physically draining and so mentally crippling as CFS? How do you explain to your employer that you’d really like to get out of bed but that today it just doesn’t seem possible? How do you fix this? I need to know because I emphatically refuse to move through life like this. I won’t even call it living, because it isn’t. It’s existing. Coping. Managing. At least guys in the military sign up to be assigned to wear their fatigues. For me, I can’t wait to get rid of them. I’m tired of wearing them day after day with nothing else to change into.

Pause, Then Continue

 

I had heard about Project Semicolon some time ago. The Project resonated with me on a lot of different levels but most particularly because I, too, am a survivor. I remember the first time I thought about dying. I was 13 years old. I became obsessed with it. So much so that my best friend was worried, my mom was worried, my aunt who I stayed with that summer in Florida was worried. I wasn’t worried though, because I knew waiting on the other side was peace.

The thing that held me back from dying was, what if I was wrong? What if there wasn’t peace on the other side? What if it was more of the same? Disruption, chaos, heartache, malcontent. I felt I couldn’t risk it.

As I got older, I started worrying about what would happen to those I left behind. Would they be sad? Would my death cause someone else’s? What would my dad do? Would he blame himself?

During really low times, I convinced myself that everyone would be better off without me. I was sick all the time, I wasn’t any fun. I was no kind of mother, no kind of wife. The insurance payout and the social security my death would generate was surely worth more to my family than me alive.

These thoughts are awful. It’s a pretty safe gamble to bet that anyone who suffers from depression has had them. Yet, when we go in to our practitioners for our prescription the answer is always the same when asked, “have you ever thought about suicide?” We always say, “no”. We (being the Depressed) know what will happen if we confess to these dark thoughts. We’ll be locked away, have a permanent stain on our ‘record’. We’ll be thought of as crazy. Our kids might be taken away.

What I find crazy is that the Depressed are forced to bury these thoughts that are a naturally occurring part of our disease. It’s like saying, “Oh, you’re diabetic but you never have high blood sugar? Wow, that’s awesome!” It just doesn’t happen that way. Doesn’t it stand to reason if you’re sad all the time, you’ve thought about ending it to escape the pain? Of course it does, yet our healthcare system is structured such that admitting to such a major symptom of our disease is cause for shame.

Non-depressed people think thoughts of suicide are a sign of weakness in the Depressed. Something the Depressed can control. Like hell these thoughts are a sign of weakness. I can no more control my thoughts than an amputee can regrow his leg. Does it make me weak? No. Does not taking my life make me strong? No. What choosing to continue makes me is a survivor. Nothing more, nothing less. And I don’t for one second take for granted that I am a survivor TODAY. I might not be tomorrow and I know this. I know it is a possibility of the disease I continue to battle.

In my own small way to show that I survived today, and all the days before today, I tattooed onto my body a semicolon in a VISIBLE place (something I said I’d never do). I put it on the inside of my right ring finger to remind myself that I’ve had a lot of pauses in my life. I could have chosen to end my sentence but I didn’t. Instead, I chose to continue. I can only hope that when I reach one of those low points again in my life, I’ll look at my finger and know that I have the choice to end my story or to continue it – and that because I once had the ability to survive, I will find it again and will choose to keep writing my story.

Selfie, anyone?

I hate handing over the photo gallery on my phone to just anyone. And it’s not because there are nudie pics on there or anything like that, because there aren’t. It’s because I have enough selfies in my gallery to rival a 14 year old.

I’m not vain at all. But I lived so long as a “fat girl” that it’s still shocking to me to see my new face. It’s even more shocking to see a size 4 body instead of a size 18. I love it, I do! But anyone who didn’t know me “before”, doesn’t really understand who I am “after”. The assumption is that I’ve always been thin and now when I go out, I meet women who were just like I used to be. Insecure about their weight and intimidated by my thinness. I can see how they feel because I used to be that person. I’m sure snapping selfies helps reinforce their thoughts that I’m nothing but a shallow weight-obsessed idiot.

I’m part of a private bariatric chat group where we share our weight loss problems, our concerns, and our progress. It’s a very uplifting group and, yes, we do post lots of selfies. We’re all in varying stages of weight loss in this forum. Some of us are still “fat”. Some of us have lost so much weight that we have saggy skin. Some of us just look “normal”. What we all have in common, though, is that we tried to avoid the camera for many years because we hated how we looked. We are now trying to learn to love our bodies, imperfections and all, and can do this through taking and sharing multiple selfies. We were never voiceless because we could all be anything we wanted over the phone. Our voices weren’t fat. But we never had faces. Now we do.

One of the women on the site accidentally posted her forum selfie to her regular Facebook page this week. She then reposted to the right place and said, “I’m so embarrassed – I’m sure everyone on my regular page thinks I’m so vain now!” And that’s just it. People who haven’t gone through what we have DO think we’re vain for taking and posting so many selfies. But if you had felt like you’d been wearing an ugly mask for most of your life only to have it removed, wouldn’t you want to show it off too? It’s too bad that we have to turn to private groups for support and understanding because “regular” folks just don’t get it.

Next time you ask to see my gallery and are surprised by the number of photos I have taken of myself because you didn’t think I was so vain, remember that I’m not. I’m learning to love myself. And instead of running from the camera, I now say, “But first, let me take a selfie!”

My Empire of Dirt

One of the hardest things I face as a mom is looking my 4 year old N in the eyes, listening to his sweet voice tell me he loves me, and not see echoes of Z. Z was such a loving child, full of kisses and hugs. N is like him in many ways and some days, like today, it is so painful I ache with wondering where I went wrong. Where was it that I failed Z? What could I have changed to give him a better outcome? And as I hold N close to my chest and squeeze him extra tight, I can’t help but wonder if N will hate me too. Is my time with him even more finite than I thought? How long will he love me? I find great irony in the fact that I pushed myself so hard to succeed in life to provide my family with everything they need yet all of my successes mean nothing if my family isn’t happy. What has it all been for? And I lay here and just hurt as I worry about the future in ways I never knew I needed to when Z was my sweet 4 year old.

You’re joking, right?

Sometimes things happen that are simply unbelievable. This can be a good unbelievable, where you’re thrilled to hear the news. It can be a bad unbelievable, where you just shake your head and wonder what the hell just happened. When you get several of those head-shaking events in a row it can make your foundation shake like a building in Frisco during an earthquake.

I’ve mentioned my beloved Z. My beautiful, frustrating, much-loved bipolar son. In July, he moved out into his own apartment. He had gotten a job and it seemed to be steady. His girlfriend moved in with him (cringe on that one), but I accepted it as part of his life. For a few months, things seemed to be great. He didn’t ask me for money and seemed happy. He still didn’t have his driver’s license, and was biking everywhere, but it seemed to work for him. Life was good, but as with many bipolar folks – when they feel good, they go off their meds and that’s exactly what he did.

Although Z graduated in May of this year, he was only 17. His 18th birthday was not until this past October. Upon his 18th birthday, he became able to access a small trust that had been set up for him. Without my help, he accessed the trust and withdrew the entire amount of money. He then purchased a car, purchased a handgun, and took his girlfriend on vacation. He didn’t tell me any of this. We talk weekly, and I had just seen him on a Monday when I took him to DMV to get his state identification card. Still no driver’s license. On Saturday, the police show up to our home because Z’s girlfriend’s dad has filed a missing persons report on her. I try to get ahold of Z. Nothing. Sunday rolls around. No response. I call our cell provider and the last time his cell pinged to a tower was three days prior. I really started to panic because what 18 year old doesn’t use his phone for 3 days and filed my own missing persons report. The police did a well-check out to his apartment where they found a guy living there who is a known meth user. According to neighbors, since Z has been gone, there have been a steady stream of people into the apartment carrying out Z’s belongings. Stealing from him. Both Z and his girlfriend were nowhere to be found, but the “roommate” said they’d gone on vacation to Malibu. This partially makes sense to me because Malibu is where Z went to rehab and had very fond memories of his time there. I could see him wanting to take his girlfriend down to check it out and say “hi” to everyone there. My panic lessens somewhat.

Monday rolls around and I finally get a call from Z. It comes through an automated provider telling me that I was getting a call from a Los Angeles county inmate. I load on money to be able to talk to him, and after several attempts, I’m finally able to talk to him. He tells me that he bought a convertible mustang and drove down to Los Angeles with his girlfriend. While there, they got lost in Compton. Because of their car looking out of place in the neighborhood, the police pulled them over. Of course Z had no license or insurance. Of course Z had drugs in the car. This, I expected. This is something I had prepared myself for because of his lifestyle. What I hadn’t prepared myself for was the face that he had a loaded 22 pistol in the glove compartment. He cries as he tells me he just bought it to protect himself. Regardless of the reason he bought it, my beloved boy was arrested on felony counts and booked into jail. Hearing his story made my heart sink.

As Z and I are talking, he is in hysterics because his girlfriend is stranded in Los Angeles. The car is a stick and she can’t drive it. She has no way to get home and is stuck in Compton. At this point, she’s been there for four days. She has no phone and we have no way to find her. I make my promises to try everything possible to locate her, and spend the rest of the day calling every motel in Compton. We finally track her down, I call the police and let them know I’ve found her, and they call her parents. Her parents pick her up in the early hours of Tuesday morning because Los Angeles is hours away from where we live. They bring her and the new car to their home. They won’t let her go back to her apartment because they, too, know about the meth user crashing there.

On Tuesday I talk to Z. Tuesday is his arraignment day. I tell him to plead not guilty because we don’t know the penal codes he is being charged with. Z tells me he is going to plead guilty so he can get out quicker. I beg him not to so that we can figure out what the exact charges are and plan our move from there. He tells me he’ll think about it. By the time I talk to him Tuesday afternoon, he’s pled guilty to a felony charge. He still isn’t sure exactly what the charge is, but according to him, the other inmates there tell him he’ll be out in 30 days and that’s all he cares about. My beautiful stupid boy has no idea how this felony conviction will impact him for the rest of his life. All he can see is the here and now. He firmly believes that he’ll be released at his sentencing hearing the first week in December. I am devastated, but this too is something I can work around. I love him and know he can overcome this at some point. All of this behavior is not unusual for someone with bipolar disorder who is off their meds. They make impulsive, reckless decisions and I know this. I accept this as part of who he is but it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with the fallout.

I finally ask him about the trust. It’s the elephant in the room. He wouldn’t have been able to buy the car without accessing it. He tells me that he withdrew the entire amount of money last week. He bought the car in cash, and then stored the rest of the money in a drawer in his apartment. I ask him exactly how much was in the drawer and he refuses to tell me, just says “a lot, mom”. He says he knows it is gone, that based on everything he’s heard that the roommate has stolen it. I don’t say anything, but I don’t understand. He had two bank accounts where he could have safely stored the money. Yet he made the choice to leave it in his apartment with a sketchy guy while he went on vacation. I sit on the phone just wanting to cry because I worked hard to make sure that money was put into a trust for him at a time when I didn’t have a lot of money and could have used it to support us. Instead, I did the right thing and the money I saved for him was gone in the blink of an eye.

I just want to shout up to God, or whoever is pulling these strings of life, “You’re fucking joking, right?”

Peanut Butter Jelly Time

Okay, total mom rant here.

I just got a note in my first grader’s backpack that states we cannot bring peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to school. What?!?!!?!?

Apparently this ban on the most tried-and-true staple of childhood lunchtime is the result of one child’s allergy to nuts. So, logically, every child in the school is banned from eating nuts rather than teaching this ONE child what foods to avoid. Truly, I’m all for sensitivity, but at what point are you going to stop trying to control your child’s environment? Middle School? High School? Will you hand out notes in his college dorm? You can’t possibly hope to control every aspect of your child’s life based on their allergy (or even worse, a disability). You have to teach the child how to cope and move through life in spite of the challenges they face. Teach them to OVERCOME and not SUCCUMB. Instead of empowering your kid, you’ve made him the reason why every other child at school can’t bring their favorite lunchtime meal. And you think that’s going to turn out well? I hope your trip down de Nile is smooth sailing.

Heart. It’s that spot that aches to the left of your chest.

When you go with your husband to the hospital ER to visit his dying grandmother, you hardly expect him to come out after visiting with his half-wit sperm donor to tell you he has a brother. Yes, you read correctly. Over his dying grandmother’s body, my husband learns that, “oh, by the way, about 8 months ago I was approached by this guy who said I was his dad. And don’t you know, he looks just like me.”

Needless to say, this rocked our world. My husband has always been an only child on that side of his family. His mom (being a smart woman), ditched the sperm donor and found a lovely man to marry. One who adopted my husband and then subsequently produced his sister, M. To learn that there was a man out there who was his brother was shocking. The fact that sperm donor had known for 8 months and not said anything was angering. Finding out that the brother knew about my husband and hadn’t reached out, bewildering.

After much conversation, we determined that the brother had no idea my husband had been adopted and so was probably searching for some guy with a different name. With a little sleuthing, we were able to track him down and start conversations. My husband is very excited and we are going to meet the brother this weekend.

My problem? Since all of this has occurred, my husband has withdrawn into himself. He had laid out a plan of action. He wasn’t going to tell his mom until we’d gone through the DNA process and had a definitive answer. But, as soon as I go out of town last week, the first thing he does is tell his mom and his sister. He does it without me. This hurts because I feel excluded. Then, his grandmother passes away and I take some time off to be with him. He tells me there is no funeral. But, this morning (as I’m again out of town on business), he sends me a picture of him and our kids dressed up to go to the funeral. His withdrawal and complete exclusion of me from all of this hurts terribly. As his wife, aren’t I supposed to be by his side? I tried explaining to him last week how I felt about being excluded from dropping this news on his parents and how badly it hurt me. To have him immediately follow that up with excluding me from the funeral just makes my chest ache.

If behavior like this had been a constant part of our marriage, we wouldn’t be married. I can’t exist with someone who doesn’t involve me in their life. I know none of us expect to find out we have a sibling at 42 years old – and that this has absolutely rocked his life – but my fear is that he’s moving down a path that doesn’t include me in it. And really, where does that path end? With a life where I’m not a part of? Because that’s what I’m afraid of and that’s why my heart just aches and aches with the choices he’s making. I want my husband back but feel like he’s on the other end of a call that keeps breaking up due to static – you can’t really understand what’s going on and continuing seems pointless.

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