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I work with the elderly population, many of whom have been in 60+ years of commitment with the same person. Occasionally, when they seem rather happy about discussing that commitment, I will ask them, “so what’s the secret to staying together for that long?” They always say without hesitation:

Compromise.

There is some truth to that answer, it’s really the easiest way to answer the question. However, I think the truth is a bit more complicated. The secret to still loving your partner after 60+ years is kept secret with the answer of “Compromise,” because let me tell you in my experience, compromise alone is not enough. 

Something unexpected happens in the home of your mind while in a relationship… it’s unavoidable if you choose to interact and live with another human… every corner of every room in your house eventually gets visited, often uninvited and by surprise. You get to decide in that moment the door is opened if that room is nurturing and part of what is right about you, if it’s time to remove the door to make the room an open space people feel invited to walk through or if the room can be ignored, if you’re going to put a lock on the door (which can and usually does get broken into), OR if you’re going to take some time to clean it up because the mess is preventing you from feeling at peace in the rest of the house. No door gets left unopened when you are with someone for 20+ years – at least that is the case in my house, where there has been 21 years worth of doors to unlock, open, or break down. I live in a complicated house with a complicated history.

But, don’t we all?

Here’s the thing, I don’t believe you have to be with the same person for years and years for all your doors to get opened at different points in your life. And I don’t think when you are with the same person for years that THAT is the only person who will knock on your doors. I am also aware that many people walk through their lives never feeling the need to go there with those rooms.

Often people will knock on your door, or open it… friends, love ones, your children (who are especially adroit at finding the rabbit hole doors that lead into your own childhood)… and you’ll ignore the knock while you’re adding a few more bolts and directing them to the room that is easy to keep neat. Sometimes, your significant other will stumble into the room by shear accident, and you’ll shoo them out and slam the door as they leave. Sometimes, a friend will open a door to a messy room and you’ll spend some time with them cleaning the space so it’s just clean enough. Sometimes those friendships will change, grow, or even end over those messy rooms. Or, you’ll open the door for a therapist and work together to sort through the stuff worth keeping, the stuff that requires forgiving, and the memories that can be let go of – you’ll remodel the shit out of that room.

Our house can hold a lot of rooms and there isn’t just one person who will help you find those doors or one way to interact within the rooms. Sometimes, it’s not even a person who shows it to you – you’ll find it because of something that happens, something you read or heard, something new that you learned about the world and how you move through it.

The thing about your home and all those doors is that the rooms that are shut are the very rooms we need to spend time in, maybe not right away, but eventually. Maybe not for months at a time, but for moments or days. Sometimes they are dark or crowded or both. And sometimes they are the most beautiful light-filled rooms in the house and we’ve forgotten how beautiful it is in there OR we didn’t know that the room existed in the first place.

Anything or anyone can show you the door, but it’s always a person, either myself or someone else, who opens the door and enters the room – and it’s always me who decides what happens in that room.

Being with Hal for 21 years and still wanting to be with him, still feeling deep love and appreciation for him, has everything to do with him learning how to soften his walk through those rooms. He’s helped me to clean the rooms I was ready to clean and he’s respected the doors I’m not ready to open. He has even helped me find the doors to the rooms that are beautiful, the rooms I didn’t know were in my house in the first place. And he gives me the space to explore my home without him.

But that’s not all… he has given me the honor of walking through his home. He has allowed me to sit in his dark rooms, his beautiful rooms, his messy rooms that need cleaning – work only he can do. He’s learning how to respect me while in his dark rooms and is teaching me how to respect him. I am learning how to respect him while he’s in my dark rooms and teaching him how to respect me. We have both grown into adults who value respect and strive to respect each other as individuals first and interdependent partners, second.

We’ve had some difficult years. We have moments where I think WTF? And he’s like, OH NO SHE DIDN’T. There was that year I thought about divorce (last year). And we’ve had some fucking amazing years. We have some really great days and meaningful moments. We joke around and laugh a lot. We’ve found our amazing years pre-kids, and we have found them with kids – but good gawd, our relationship takes periodical upkeep and maintenance – like any home.

I wonder how I will answer when I’m asked, “what’s the secret to being married for 60+ years?”

It takes a lot of work: patience, compromise, self awareness and the willingness to learn and communicate.

HAVE FUN. LAUGH A LOT. TRAVEL: with and without your kids, with and without each other.

“The point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.”

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

*This is my truth – it may not be yours and I’m not declaring it as a Universal Truth. I use the word “you” in the proverbial sense, because it’s useful when expressing my thoughts.

I experienced depression last year. BIG TIME. Hello age 39.

There were times I wondered if the melancholy would_ever_let_up. I had never experienced this design of persistent sadness. My therapist suggested it was Grief. I went to her, um, twice during the year. That suggestion of grieving stuck with me, gnawing at my gut like denied truth tends to do. It was a do or die feeling, I had to know, what the hell is really going on? I began to sit with it. I invited it over for a cup of coffee. And slowly, with help from Hal and a couple of friends who listened as I muddled through the confusion, I began to carefully unpack the most motherfuckingpainful feelings I’d ever experienced. Grief is an insidious little fuck that ignoring only makes louder.

This is what I realized through my unpacking process…

Certain kinds of “freedom” experienced pre-kids and pre-marriage were really over and done for me, never to return unless I leave my kids and/or husband.

I was grieving sexual freedom, that ability to just go for it. I was grieving those experimental days of zero reservations about sexual experiences with strangers and friends – unless Hal and I become swingers or opened our marriage or started a poly pod, that freedom ain’t happening again (none of these options works for me, believe me, I considered them. But I FULLY SUPPORT ANYONE ELSE making these choices).

I was grieving the power to choose a life-mate or a temporary fling or a friendly make-out session or a passionate fuck because I was yet to be hitched with two feet in the door.

I was beginning to see in a different way, TEN YEARS INTO MARRIAGE AND KIDS (20 years into our relationship), that time had really passed. I was grieving the passing of time and a past life.

I was grieving the good years between Hal and I *pre-kids* while living in Chicago, when _every_single_day_ of my life was a walk through a romantic photograph with tall buildings and tulips and symphonies of grand violins with charming snowfalls.

I was grieving the freedom to pack up and move thousands of miles away from home just because I had a wild hair and a friend to crash with in another state.

I was grieving all of this knowing that if I REALLY WANTED ANY OF IT, I could choose to make it happen.

I was grieving all of this knowing that the most sustained and deepest happiness I have ever experienced is in the depths of passionate, non-sexual friendships, and through my commitment and love for Hal and our children.

I was grieving because so many aspects of my past life are no longer a good fit.

The grief went deeper, too. It always does. It went further back to my original family life. I mourned for the girl who was and all she didn’t get to experience as a child and teenager because she didn’t have a choice in the matter. Because kids don’t choose the family they are born into. I comforted my younger self the way I comfort my own children in moments of big feelings. I spoke gently to her and assured her she didn’t do anything to deserve this suffering and that I would stay with her until she felt better. I crawled into that dark cave with her and held her tight. Many of times I cried myself to sleep. I healed her with those tears of grief. I healed.

Time sure can fuck with a woman.

I could divorce Hal. I could be polyamorous. I could have casual sex with or without love. I could move. I could live alone. I can do anyfuckingthing I want to do.

But is that what I really want? What do I want right now? See, I have to ask specifically, “right now,” otherwise I start to contemplate what I may want in 10 years and really, how the hell could I ever know that?

How do you decide what you want? when you know of so many options? because you can clearly see all the possibilities? and you even realize there are some you haven’t thought of? and you contemplate the pros and cons of it all?

Hal would support what-ever I decided I needed to do to be happy – he just wanted me to find that space of feeling good about life (Yes, this was his position during all the muck. I talked, as much as I could. He listened. He stepped back and leaned in. He let me figure it out. He loved me through it all because I didn’t abuse his trust or him during my shit-figuring-out. THAT, I fully know, is some right-as-rain-love.) This time in our marriage was pretty fucking difficult for us both.

Hello existential crisis, you fucking painful gift of sight, thought, and awareness. You stayed for about 1.5 years – long enough to pry open my mind a little more.

And then I turned 40.

And then I started to look at what feels good and right. A list I am not going to make for you because it is long and this post is long enough already.

I started to look at the choices I have made to lead me to a good life and the choices I CAN STILL MAKE to enrich life.

I can still make choices! I am not stuck! What a concept to fully realize! I can even LOVE OTHER MEN. I CAN LOVE MY WOMYN FRIENDS, TOO!

I meet the most amazing people and fall in love with them. Being married and having children has not changed this part of who I am. I fall in love with people differently than for the reasons I love my husband. I fall in love with my male friends differently than I fall in love with my womyn friends. I experience my sexuality and my sexual orientation on a spectrum that is fluid. My romantic orientation has been consistent throughout my life. I have a poly heart and a monogamous yoni. The origin of my marriage is a different story than the origin of any one of my friendships that induce feelings of wild-glow-around-them LOVE.

After about a year and a half, the depression started to lift. I was activity participating in the lifting of this depression. I DID THINGS to help myself through it because that’s just how I am about emotional stuff anyways.

I fully realized that I can have a multitude of experiences and that I do not have to run away to have them.

I do not have to run away.

I made it to the other side, a little better off for the experience of depression.

It is through friendship that I see multitudes in myself. I contradict yesterday’s realization though conversation today because different people connect to different parts of who and how I am. So fuck the either/or dichotomy. Fuck consistency of the internal world. That is a goal I will not have. I will hold the edges of inconsistency with softness and might. I am all things and I am emptiness. And that is okay.

I have a lot of grounded organization in the day to day. That is no accident. This order supports and provides safety in exploring, knowing, and appreciating the landscape of my mind. I recognize that I don’t have a looming overarching worry about the day to day workings of life. I don’t have to worry about basic needs being met. Like most people, we are a few paychecks away from loosing everything. But, unlike many, we have everything we need to survive and thrive. The day to day order of basic needs being met assists in freeing the mind for exploration, growth, and self care. When basic needs are not being met, that is a barrier for growth of all kinds. For all, I wish for the basic needs of food, clothing, shelter, and healthcare to be met.

The personal is political.

I feel so fortunate, privileged, and really grateful that I have job flexibility. I can work at various locations and make my own hours. PRN COTA work is ideal for a person like me who enjoys seeing different people daily, doesn’t want full responsibility over anyone other than herself and her family, enjoys the therapeutic relationship while helping folks to rehabilitate, and wants to make good money. I have come to accept that the need for alone time is strong and vital for my overall well being. I’m a thinker and a dreamer. I’m a mom and a life partner. I’m a woman who loves her solitude in order to contemplate life or to simply do nothing. I am a woman who uses her time to watch TV, without guilt. I’m a woman who writes. I’m a woman who loves deeply and takes care of her family before all others. I am very sensitive but I’m not afraid of seeing and speaking of harsh realities. I take long walks alone. I read a lot.

These are truths I’ve come to know about myself. Truths change with time. I create new paths in directions that interest me, always flowing to the heart of a river, always returning to the comfort of home: my children and life partner who is the rock supporting my flow as needed. I am the river base of his life ride. We compliment one another’s existence by protecting one another’s sense of wholeness.

I’m 40 years old. I’ve created a life that looks very ordinary. Married. Home owner. Two children. Two cars. A dog. But I don’t feel ordinary. I feel complex and wild. I dream about fucking others as much as anyone else. I self identify as monogamous by nature. I fantasize about solo living in the woods with all my favorite amenities and a lover who visits when called upon. I have a slutty mind and raise my glass to the all sluts enjoying their body however_the_fuck_they_want. I wonder what life without young children will be like. I am in love with being a momma. I want a room of my own. I know I need the love and acceptance of others. I love the fatties and I am a self-proclaimed fatty 4 life. I love women. I love men. I love to love.

I enjoy my friends. I enjoy my life. I enjoy being lazy thankyouverymuch. I don’t believe in any god. I know I’m a good person to the core. Even my dark side is good.

I am always learning. And changing. And growing.

This. And more.

Anti-racist parent, anti-homophobia/transphobia/biphobia, pro-chose_what_makes_you_happy/do no harm.

Part I

I’m about to get a little confusing, welcome to my inner world.

Letting go of Assumptions about others is the most difficult of The Four Agreements for me to practice. Sometimes, it doesn’t feel emotionally safe to ask questions. I get scared. I’m not ready for the truth. It’s not really appropriate. What-ever. But I know asking questions is the slaughter’er of Assumptions. This means, basically, that sometimes I will never know and that has got to be okay. This is the hard part.

There is a difference between acting on an Assumption and acting on honoring feelings about my observations on what is going on externally and internally.  One has to do with what I am assuming is going on with someone else and the other has to do with what I am observing in me as a result of what I am observing outside of me. Ugh. The thought knot.

Every once in a while that line of difference gets fuzzy and I don’t know what the hell is really going on, if my feelings are based on assumptions or observations. When this happens, I err on the side of honoring my feelings regardless of the actual observations and instead of worrying about what is going on with the other person/situation. I let go of Assumptions this way and just honor my feelings.

I honor my feelings by letting them be present in my mind and whole body – by being present with them – for however long this need to be. It’s not easy. I have to practice this consciously because it doesn’t happen naturally. My learned way of dealing with uncomfortable/painful feelings is to react to them or suppress and ignore them.

Whether my feelings are in line with what is really going on or not, is irrelevant. That is the hard part to accept. It feels like a lack of control. IT IS A LACK OF CONTROL. It’s the reminder of the inherent chaos of our world and how I’m a small part of it that only has control over how I respond to both my external and internal world how I move my body and speak. Double ugh.

It’s interesting, honoring my feelings is actually harder than letting go of assumptions. I’m working on this with learning how to care for myself. It’s dawned on me that self love IS all about self care. One way to show love is by some kind of action (providing the ability is there – which in my case it is). Love is a feeling to share with kindness. Anyways. That’s all.

And because I’ve been away for so long… Hello.

Update…

It’s been a while since I have felt the need to write. I recently finished occupational therapy assistant school and have obtained PRN (on-call) employment at two different healthcare facilities. I enjoy the work. It entails helping people physically, mentally, and emotionally to regain their independence to whatever their max abilities are. It’s heart-work.

Full-time school was hard, but manageable. Second only to childbirth, it was one of the most difficult challenges of my life. Hal was supportive and encouraging during the process. If I were a single parent, there really is no way I could have completed OTA school. I’m not saying that it cannot be done. In fact, I know it can be done because a couple of my classmates are single mommas. I’m saying that it would not have been realistic for me. The key ingredient that my single mama friends and I had in common during those two grueling years, is that we have support from those who love us and want to see us succeed in our goals.

I’ve had a lot of shtuff going on during school and most recently this past Summer that I’m not ready to write about, yet, but it’s percolating and words are forming.

Right now I just want to write about Friday.

I spent the day with an old friend. He and I have known each other for about 11 years. There was a lull in our friendship but we found our way back to one another. At one point in our lives we spent nearly every day with each other socially (by choice) and because we worked at the same book store. We partied together, he was there for me when I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, he was there for me when my first child was born. I was there for him in many ways, too. The lull isn’t important. When you really see someone and they see you, time isn’t important at all.

So anyway, On Friday, we went to this park called Lettuce Lake.

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We walked and talked and sometimes just walked and stopped to stare. This is one of my favorite things to do with friends. Good friends reflect your best qualities and remind you there is lots of love in the world. To be a good friend, you give your goodness to them. This, in turn, makes your goodness visible to you and this quality, when nurtured, slowly becomes what you give to everyone. This is why we love our friends and love to give to our friendship. We receive what we put out there. I value my friendships as much as my romantic relationship with Hal. Having intimate friendships actually helps to nurture my relationship with Hal and our children.

It’s a beautiful cycle.

Reflection

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Hmm, “CAUTION”

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These little creatures were everywhere above us. They really tested me.

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Friday was a full day. I was gifted with homemade vegan/gf peanut butter chocolate chip cookies that my friend managed to not devour before I got to his house, lunch with soul showing conversation, adventure (we totally got lost and couldn’t find the car, I feared for our lives. It was awesome), and nature.

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“No, I cannot.”

BellaGrace is sick, today. Her tummy is hurting. She’s been crying, yelling in pain, and vomiting a lot this morning.

I was hungry, feeling dirty from not showering, and had a laundry list of stuff to do when I woke, but it soon became clear I’d have to rearrange the day’s plans. For-sure, I squeezed in the shower and a quick meal [FTW]. There was a moment when I thought about how her illness affected my day, damn, this sucks.

Oh well.

Time went on and the day began to revolve around nurturing my girl. I guess in theory, it’s always about the kids. But sometimes, when they really need you, a shift in awareness occurs and you’re there with them in ways you don’t have to be on typical days. Completely there with and for them.

As I laid with Bella, I thought about the many times as a child I felt alone. I also thought about the times I felt nurtured. Sometimes these two events occurred simultaneously or as a result of one another. My mom, a single mom during those early years, worked full-time as a waitress to provide for us. She couldn’t always be with me. Sometimes, she had to work holidays. Once when I was around age 8 or 9 (making her 26 or 27 years old), I was home by myself on Christmas Eve until 9 pm, because mom had to work. While curled up alone on the corner cushion of our couch I watched the classic movie, Frosty the Snowman. It wasn’t the first time I watched the holiday cartoon. It was, however, the first time I watched it alone. That night when Frosty melted I cried my eyes out. Losing Frosty was painful for some reason. When mom got home and asked what I did, I told her about Frosty and she began to cry. She held me close and cried. Her reaction surprised me, as a child I couldn’t understand it. But deep in that knowing place, I felt her love for me. Now, as a mother, I understand the kind of pain she felt and know intimately the love its borne from.

Bella snuggled up to me, her hand in mine, my hand on top of hers, and I felt grateful that I am here for her when she needs me. If you could pour love into another person the way you pour water into a glass, Bella would be drenched. Both my kids would walk around all the time, the hearts of mine that they are, soaking wet.

The love I have for Max and BellaGrace doesn’t protect me from fretting about whether I’m doing enough for them or saying the right things to them. Those doubts in my mothering linger in the undertow of the day.

Little by little, however, I am letting go of those distorted little thoughts of worry.

I let them go by forgiving myself for not being ideal (read: perfect) in all that I do, in all my relationships, in all that I am. I tell myself that I am enough, in all that I do, in all my relationships, in all that I am. I am a good enough parent. I’m learning to think about what I’m doing without attaching judgement to it.

I’m leaning into the grey of my unknown to let it be, instead of trying to push it into the black and white of certainty and definition.

 I try to keep in mind that staying open to change and growth and improvement doesn’t have to be on the back of “I’m not doing it right so I’m not right the way I am.”

I’m learning to think, “yeah, I did/said/thought that, prolly could have handled it better or differently,” then looking at alternative ways of handling life, and trying to remember it for next time that issue comes up. And if I don’t remember it next time, “thank you for another opportunity to learn,” is what I say.

I hear people say they know perfection is not obtainable, but I don’t think as a society we really believe it, not deeply, anyway (“Practice makes perfect” after all, right? Good = rewards, Bad = punishment). Like many, I also struggle with the pressure that accompanies unrealistic and high standards of always “doing the right thing” or “looking the right way.”

With Bella’s head snuggled into the corner of my arm,  in some strange way, as I stroke the hair out of her face, I’m comforting the little girl inside of me. I notice this happens often while mothering Bella.

Bella is up now, having had a nice long nap. She asks for food and we talk about what groceries mommy needs to get later – Boca Burgers because “those vegan hamburgers are my favorite” she says. She’s still under the weather but with more energy than earlier.

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We’re all connected.

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