The Peculiarities of Being A Single Mom

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I love my son. With all my heart. He fills me with joy… and frustration, fear, anger and impatience. Having previously had a partner to help me raise him, I know fully well the benefits of co-parenting. There’s the tag teaming, and the dual perspective. My reactions can be so deeply colored by emotions, that it was often helpful to have a buffer, a touchstone, someone to help take the edge off, offer a sober alternative to my highly charged first instinct.

But now it’s just me. And though I have a boyfriend (a psychologist, no less…), and he offers me keen insights and helpful advice, he’s also really careful not to insert himself into my parenting process with my son at high energy moments, which I really appreciate. In other words, he stays out of our arguments! Which means, I am left to make my own mistakes and then deal with the consequences. It’s a humbling, often painful process, but it’s me, walking the walk and taking responsibility for my actions.

As a single parent, it’s tempting to rely on my son’s strength in ways that have a more adult dimension. It’s easy to forget that even though he is confident and secure in his sense of self, he’s still relying on me to enforce the boundaries in behavior, communication and daily routines that will give him a sense of his own responsibility in the world – accountability for his emotional responses, his actions, and his interactions with others.

Here are some lessons I’m learning through my experience. Perhaps you recognize one or two of them from your own?

1) Children are not our little spouses. Oh, the temptation is great to rely on “my little man.” But as precocious and insightful as he may be, he’s not a man, he’s a boy. And he needs to know that, and know that I also know that. I’m the adult, and he’s the child. I’m in charge. What I say goes. We may share in certain activities, and we can have fun together, telling jokes, cuddling on the couch at night while we watch a movie or reading a good book before bed, but that does not take away my essential role as his primary authority figure.

2) Kids respond to positive reinforcement and encouragement. Its amazing how much they flower under our approval and support. I’m currently dealing with a ten-year-old, rapidly approaching that pre-adolescent phase where he wants to exercise his independence. He likes to be helpful, show me he can handle responsibility, but he’s not quite old enough yet to do certain things without at least a small measure of oversight. I try to give him chores I know he can do well, where the level of detail may not be so essential. That way, he can have the satisfaction of completing the task, and I can have some real assistance. Making his bed, folding and putting away his own clean laundry, scrubbing the bathroom sink and toilet – these are all tasks he can do in his own way and it works for both of us.

3) We (my son and I) do better when I keep my emotions out of it. OMG, this is the single hardest thing of all for me. I’m an extremely emotional person. I can go from 0 to 10 on the fury scale in the blink of an eye. But the release I get from expressing my anger in a moment of impatience or frustration is never worth the look in my boy’s eyes when he’s been stung by my harsh words.

4) Sometimes Mommy needs a time out. Yeah, when I feel that rush and surge of adrenaline that often comes with the anger mentioned above, I am sometimes able to catch myself. If a deep breath will do, I am lucky. Otherwise, I may need to remove myself from the room for a few minutes, have a good cry, get a hold of myself, let my temperature cool down, and then re-approach the situation with a clearer perspective. Or at least, without smoke pouring from my ears.

5) It helps to remember specifics about your kid’s personality. My son doesn’t respond well to sudden changes. I know this about him. Last minute cancellations of plans, especially something he has been looking forward to, can be really disappointing, and sometimes they can’t be prevented. He can usually manage the transition, but it makes it easier on both of us if I am gentle, give him a little time, and don’t try to shove him through it too harshly. I have learned the hard way that often my own guilt about the situation can make me impatient to push through to the other side of the difficult moments. I get annoyed when he pushes back, and the results can be quite explosive. Afterwards, there are tears, hugs and words of forgiveness, but it often feels like the wear and tear on both of us wasn’t worth it.

6) Especially if you only have one child, you may end up feeling very close to one another, for better or worse. And if you’ve suffered the loss of the other parent, well, that brings a whole other dimension to your bond. It’s just the two of you, day in and day out. You will fight a lot, because again, it’s just the two of you. I try to build in ways to blow off steam. Trading off play dates with other parents is a godsend, and it’s often easier to take care of two kids than one (oh right, THAT’s why parents have more children). I try to take full advantage of the times when I get a break, and embrace the moments when another child is around. Having a buddy to play with takes the heat off me to constantly entertain him, and alleviates the guilt of not having the kind of free time that he craves to spend with me. Plus, I learn so much about my child observing how he interacts with his friends.

7) I think it’s always important to recognize that we are definitely going to screw things up. There’s no way we are going to get it right 100% of the time, and maybe not even the majority of the time. There’s just too much on-the-job training in this gig. I think the best we can hope for is that someday, when our kids are in therapy, they will look back through their anger and confusion with a certain amount of kindness and forgiveness towards us, because they know that through all the screw-ups and do-overs, we really did love them. I, for one, am banking on that.

 

I’d be curious to hear from other single parents out there with your own words of wisdom! What unique lessons have you learned parenting your children?

Photo courtesy of essie82

How to Chill Out and Enjoy Life

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It’s not easy, I’ll tell you that. I can’t tell you how much guilt and aspiration I’ve accumulated over the years. It’s a toxic mix. And a stimulating one. So yeah, it can get confusing.

I start off thinking about all the people I know and love. The ones in my family, and the ones I grew up with, and the ones I met along the way. The ones I remember, and the ones I’ve forgotten. The ones I tried something with. The ones I just watched from afar and wished to be more connected to…

And that’s where it starts to go off the rails. The minute I get sucked into the past and start to attempt rewriting the story. At a certain point, it ain’t about rewrites, I’ll tell you that. It’s about being in a different place now, and just owning that. Seriously..

It’s not about being mad and harping on all the shit that has happened to me along the way. We’ve all got our shit. Lord knows. It’s about just watching it float by in that river of memory and being soothed by the bouncing, bobbing current of yep, there it goes…

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Bruce Lee chilling out in a meditative pose (figure by Eric So)

And OK, now this part is important, so pay attention. I am learning to stop myself from just making up scary stories. You know, the ones that block you from saying yes to yourself.(Note: I do NOT have this part completely worked out, so please don’t ask me for advice. This is a total work in progress.) I refer once again, to the great words of my therapist, Roberta, who said, many years ago, in response to my inordinate concern over what other people were thinking about me at any given moment: “You’re just not that important.”  Thank you. I am forever grateful.

OK, would you prefer a list? I know that’s more the common parlance these days.

(sigh)

If I must…

1) Quick tidbit of advice for parents of pre-adolescents: Tell them that the more they do for themselves, the less they have to rely on other people. That ought to chill things out a bit and maybe motivate them to take a few steps away from you. Or make you feel better. Either one.

2) It’s almost impossible to not come across as snarky in writing these days. Everything is sarcastic and referential and mostly detached – it’s in the air. It’s the style of our times. How did all this unchecked psychic disassociation develop such strong literary and pop cultural roots? Is it even literary? Or is it just ubiquitous? I think my head is pretty far up the ass of social media, so I’m not sure.

3) When you look at your child, and you see the awkwardness of a mature soul struggling with a half-formed body, you realize how far you’ve come as an adult. Imagine, having survived all that, made a ton of mistakes, and still come out halfway cool.

4) It’s funny to me that there is this whole science of being “queer.” There’s an academic discipline built around the concept of not being easy to categorize. I should have majored in queer studies.

5) OK, to be clear. It’s not that I don’t recognize the need for boundaries. Quite the contrary. It’s just that the kinds of boundaries we’re fed as the important ones may not necessarily be, if you know what I mean.

6) Recognizing the inevitability of interruption is essential to inner peace. You will never have the amount of unbroken time you desire. It is impossible. Life is infinitely more unpredictable and challenging than any of us imagined. Even more than that. Deal with that, accept that, and you are halfway, no make that most of the way there. Seriously.  

7) Put 5) and 6) together and you have what is known as “controlled chaos.” Learn to love it.

8) When you give things away, they’re not talismans. They don’t give you power over the current owners. You let them go, and they go on to their new place in the universe. It’s a beautiful thing.

9) Just shut up about it already.

10) You might need to take a nap.

Twelve Things I Learned On My Summer Vacation

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Here are some reflections gleaned over the course of the last several months, in no particular order, because that’s how life comes at you.

1) Life in transition is the new normal. Natural disasters, deaths, various forms of domestic upheaval… these things only continue as we get older. I’m getting used to it. I’m teaching my son to get used to it. Nothing is permanent.

2) It is so easy to make homemade mayonnaise. Even easier to make homemade ketchup.

3) Cape Cod is a treasure. In fact, any community in proximity to a shoreline is pretty fantastic. Unless your house gets swept away in a hurricane. Then it can kind of suck.

4) Reuniting with old friends is one of the best things in the world. It brings a long overview to life, and helps give perspective on the gentle passing of the years. Plus, it’s fun to gossip about people we used to know…

5) It’s OK to spend some time away from your significant other. Coming back together after missing one another is kind of like making up after a fight, and we all know how fun that can be.

6) Moving. Is. Hell.

7) I have muscles I did not even know existed. (see #6)

8) Barbecues. Are. Heaven.

9) I only want to work with people I really like. That is my new professional goal.

10) September will always feel like the start of a new year to me. Between the Jewish holidays and the beginning of school, that feeling was cemented in me a long time ago.

11) I’m working on transforming 9/11 into a healing day. I am drawn to exploring how grief and trauma can co-exist with a celebration of life. This year my company published a very healing book on 9/11. To me, this felt like a big step in the right direction.

12) Ten year old boys will teach you everything you need to know about tackling life with gusto. And fart sounds.

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Look Ma, I’m Publishing a Book!

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One With All of Thee book cover art and design by Jennifer Dopazo

BlueViolet Press, the digital publishing subsidiary of Project Mavens (the company I founded with my literary partner, Lillian Ann Slugocki), is proud to be sharing the word about our first e-book, due to be published on September 15, 2013.

One With All of Thee: Growing Your Sacred Connection is a practical book of wisdom that follows in the steps of other divinely inspired books such as A Course in Miracles and The Four Agreements. It offers sacred text for modern spiritual seekers, in the timeless spirit of The Gnostic Gospels and The Mahabharata.

Author Celine Koropchak has been receiving divine messages for nearly her whole life – words of empowerment and guidance that resonate on many levels. In One With All of Thee, she’s sharing these messages with all of us. This collection offers readers a sense of connection to the larger web of life, reminders that we already contain within ourselves, the spark of divinity that makes all things possible.

In language that vibrates with both grace and common sense, One With All of Thee offers a practical pathway to  navigating life’s challenges with a light heart.

We are grateful to Amit Verma and ModernLife Blogs for helping us spread the word about this exciting new project! Visit us on Facebook here.

Post holiday blues

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old willow tree for post holiday blues post

After every holiday comes the dreaded day after. The low after the high. As I get older, I think I’ve learned how to navigate those crests and dips a bit better, but inevitably, there comes a moment where I think, this is too low, I can’t do this… and then, gratefully, that feeling also passes…

I’ve lived a life of extremes. It’s true, I’ve seen my share of loss. Yet, I continue to get very excited about things – special times with family and friends, sharing pieces of writing, seeing my son achieve something important that he’s been working on… how can I not allow my emotions to run across the full spectrum of possibility?

And yet, you and I both know, the higher you allow yourself to be, the lower you’ll feel on the back end, in comparison. It’s simple physics. How can we navigate those lows? Surprisingly, having already banked a bunch of really awful experiences, I have a handy compass that has given me instant perspective on bad times. At this point in my life, I can honestly say that it takes a lot to rattle me. It doesn’t take the actual sting out of current pains and sorrows, but it does provide a buffer that prevents me from getting too deep into a pity party.

What I do find continually challenging, though, is witnessing the struggles of others. Sometimes it’s very hard to know what to do, especially when you know that you can pray, you can send love, and you can share a kind word, but the person you love will still be in pain, will still wrestle with their demons, still face their own fears head-on. It’s hard to accept the fact that we really can’t fundamentally change the substance of another person’s experience. We may be able to mitigate the effects from time to time, but that’s about it.

One place that can be particularly heartbreaking is in the experience of being a parent, especially as my son gets older, and I realize that my ability to intercede on his behalf out in the world grows progressively smaller with each passing day. I can’t tell you how much I treasure the time-stopping moments we share with one another, cuddled on the couch reading a book together, or watching a movie. At the same time, I realize that it’s my job to share as much of (what I consider) my wisdom with him, to arm him for the increasing task of facing the world as an independent human being. Wow. Talk about letting go…

Something that also continues to tug at my heart is the ongoing challenges of my adult friends and family. The older we get, inevitably, the more health problems we all face. Even as I work to manage my own issues, I’m acutely aware of the battles all around me. Some of them are more daunting than others. Taken together, it’s a strange collage of trial and tribulation.

Listen, I know that there’s a thin line between empathy and unhealthy identification. We can lose ourselves in the negative experiences of others, thinking that we can fix them or make it all better. At the same time, there is the danger of swinging in the opposite direction, of being so frightened by the struggles of another that we run in the opposite direction, as though mere association with misfortune is enough to bring it on one’s self.

As always, balance is key. I’m starting this day with a real sense of gratitude for my current state of well-being, and the hopes that my loved ones will each see their way through their immediate and long term challenges. I do know, from personal experience, that we are each capable of surviving things so much worse than we’ve ever imagined. You don’t know until you get there, just how strong you are. It’s something to keep in mind.

Photo courtesy of MarilynJane

Summer Love

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It’s the end of the school year. I have a child, so my time is once again defined by the academic cycle. That particular kind of seasonal division had faded during my 20’s and 30’s. My cycles were much more defined purely by weather then, and not by the activities that were wrapped around it. But now, there’s a whole bunch of stuff bringing me back to my youth. On every level. He’s 10. Around that age, I was just flirting with buying my first bra. Things were just about to get really confusing.

But here and now, him having a girlfriend in his class still only means, “We like each other, and we’re friends.” Honestly, isn’t that really the heart of it? I mean, we should all be so lucky to have that as the center of our most provocative and consuming relationships.

I have to say, the 10-year-old zeitgeist is quite revealing. I remember a few years back, spending time with friends whose daughter was 10 at the time. I found her so winsome and pure-hearted, a sensitive poet with no real idea of how beautiful she was.

I feel the same way about my son. Sometimes, he is filled with a bravado and bullish intensity that clouds his ability to be an obedient boy. I admire him for that, even as I know I must carefully outline the boundaries of what he needs to recognize as the rules of society. But then later, he is recalcitrant and soft, cuddling in my arms as I read him Harry Potter until his heavy lidded eyes disappear from view, and he is all long eyelashes on cheeks, and quiet breathing. I cherish his need of me in those moments. The love we feel for each other is staggering.

Did you know that if you are a parent, you are almost certain to screw it up? You can count on it. I make it a point of singling out moments where each of us can learn from our mistakes. Perfectionism won’t be an issue for my son, if I can help it. I’m doing my best to normalize imperfection. I actually find it comforting. It takes the pressure off in a big way, and allows us to experiment to the point of failure. It’s the best way I know how to learn and paradoxically, to achieve excellence without anxiety.

To me, anxiety is the biggest obstacle in my path. I steer clear of it whenever I can. I navigate it like a seafaring captain of yore. Does that mean an expert from the olden days? Because that’s what I’m trying to say. I hope you can feel the depth of my intention. It’s that important…

The only way I know how to make sense of this amorphous rush of passing time in which my son keeps growing and figuring out more pieces of the puzzle, and I navigate my ever stiffening muscles and bones as though that couldn’t possibly be the thing that is going to define me going forward, is by capturing little flashes of tenderness and wonder in myself and the people I love in a picture or a poem, or even a story.

Here’s a smattering:

In Nantucket a few weeks ago, we shared a banana on the streets. I made silly faces and didn’t act my age at all.

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Later, my son looked too cool for school on the docks.

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Back in NYC, he rehearsed with his dance company, and I wondered what kind of adults they would grow into…

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Our friend Nusha experienced unconditional love with a snake at Tom and Bernadette’s house on the weekend.

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I felt it too. The snake just clung to my warmth and looked like a lush mix of white and dark chocolate.

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The kids gathered around the laptop – the new playtime hearth.

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My friend came over and finished the last of this lovely bottle of wine. I took a picture of the label so I’d remember what it was called the next time I was in the store.

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Tomorrow’s the last day of school. The summer is going to rush by so. very. fast.

Sell Some Shit – A Letter to Myself

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Dear Self,

1) Sell it. Go on, admit it, the tag sale you had last weekend felt great, didn’t it? And even though you got rained out on Sunday, you spent the afternoon throwing out old papers. That was awesome, right? It totally put you on a purging binge. So go ahead, take pictures of those old pieces of flight sim hardware, the box of Star Trek collectibles, and that crate of old Thomas the Train cars, and post them on eBay. People are going to buy them. You can do it.

2) Let it go. Seriously, when was the last time you or your son used any of that stuff. He’s done with it. Sell. It. Make some money and some space. See item #1.

3) Coat o’ paint. You need to freshen this place up. A little paint will make a huge difference. It’s a total facelift for the price of a facial made of cucumbers and yogurt. Invite your friends. Smoke a joint. Make a party of it. You really need a change.

4) Oh cut the crap already. Don’t you ever get sick of hearing yourself? I know I do. You’ve been saying the same shit for decades. Just stop it.

5) I remember stuff. A few important things. Like how intensely it hurt when the boy I had a crush on accused me of wearing an undershirt (I did), and not a bra (I was 10). I don’t mind tripping over this memory occasionally on the way to the store, or watching an angsty movie. But I certainly don’t want to live with it 24/7. Why would I? It’s a memory, not a blueprint for life. See item #4.

Oh, Thank God

6) The Beatles had it right. Enough said. Just listen to everything they ever recorded.

7) Share your stories… But, I’m a little self-conscious focusing on me, me, me all the time... That’s OK, everyone is doing it… It’s too fucking hard looking in the mirror all the time... And besides, the more you open your heart, the more of a chance you have to connect with other people… It feels risky to me… It is…

8) Take a leap. What have you got to lose? Your innocence? Your happiness? (seen both of those come and go so many times already) Your fear? (I’d be more than happy to see that go.) The worst you can be is disappointed – hope may certainly end up that way, but… you’ll never know unless you try.

9) Don’t even think of trying to control things. Well, you can try, but it’s kind of pointless. Here are some more realistic options:
surfing
gliding
leaping
whistling
breathing deeply
humming
singing
dancing
whirling
dreaming…

10) And for heaven’s sake, enough with the worrying. And the guilt. Pointless. Boring. Exhausting. Need I say more?

With much love,
Me

PS – So clearly, I just live in this space where I exist, and experience, and reflect. I’m not sure it really matters what we call what I write… I’m still gonna do it.