It’s packing day! The last day before our trip up north to the Cabin, where we’ll be off the grid for the next week.
In the absence of my usual means of self-help support (podcasts, online articles, meditation app), I’m making mental cliff notes for myself, which basically boil down to the following:
Before reacting, stop, pause, observe.
This is ongoing advice I’ve been absorbing from self-guided meditations (dealing with observing how you feel, the changes in your body, staying detached from your thoughts and feelings), and also from the books & articles I’ve been reading that relate with both adult and child relationships. When you feel overwhelmed/angry/stressed, take a deep breath and try to observe the situation as an outsider before making a choice about how to react.
Try empathy first.
Taken from a couple parenting books & articles that have been in the brain pan lately, I find this advice covers all relationships – not just those between a parent and child. Everyone wants to be seen and understood, not just kids. Before any change can occur, a person needs to be understood.
Sometimes, staying quiet is best.
Not anything I’ve learned from a book, this is just something that Life is trying to teach me right now. So I’m trying to listen.
The next week will be a mix of fun and exhaustion, similar to our camping trip. It’s supposed to be 90+ degrees while we’re there, and I’m looking forward to swimming in the pond and hiking around with the boys. Can’t wait to see my family either. As always, even in the best of families, being together can be stressful. In anticipation, I’m hoping to keep these cliff notes front-of-mind while we enter this adventure.
I feel like I need to offset yesterday’s accusatory post with a more flattering one about C. Because of course, he is a mix of good and bad like the rest of us – and the good can be really good sometimes.
Last night, after tucking the boys in, I came downstairs feeling out-of-sorts and honestly, looking for a fight. I found him sitting on the couch with a notepad in hand, planning out the meals for our upcoming trip to my folk’s remote cabin next week.
My dad is retiring, and my whole family will be in town to celebrate. Various siblings and other family members will be overlapping our stay at the Cabin while we’re there, so a few of the meals will include extended family. And C cares about making an enjoyable meal for everyone (with only some amount of internal pressure to impress my family).
So there he was, working away, trying to figure out how to make meals that don’t take a lot of prep or fridge space (the Cabin has no electricity or running water, just a propane-fueled stove & small refrigerator), that will be yummy for both kids & adults, and that satisfy non-dairy & vegetarian appetites.
It’s not easy.
But he feels the weight of that responsibility because meals are “his thing”.
And guess what. That’s pretty awesome.
He’s also a really involved dad. Not perfect, but he’s there, present, caring, down at their level. And it’s beautiful to see their relationship developing over the years.
He has a very caring, sensitive side. He cares about social justice, about helping those less fortunate, about supporting causes we believe in. And he’s generous.
When we are out & about, he’s very equitable with his sociability, talking with anyone from the hotel staff to the head waiter as though they were his brother.
When he cares, he really cares.
I need to be careful not to focus too much on the negative or that becomes all that I see. As I sat quietly next to him instead of picking that fight, it was helpful for me to see that sometimes, being quiet is best.
I’ve been mulling over a conversation from Sunday evening, during “Family Meeting” (where C & I talk about the logistics of the week ahead, and anything else beyond the usual superficial conversation).
I think it was a minor win? And I’m going to chalk it up to the heightened awareness and continuity sobriety has given me.
Over the weekend, we invited a girlfriend of mine and her son over for dinner. It was wonderful – everyone getting along well, boys eating without prodding, and even some adult conversation mixed into the usual kid chaos. At some point, the boys said something innocent that implied something a bit disrespectful toward women. C laughed uproariously for a minute or two, in spite of the fact that my friend and I weren’t laughing along with him, then turned to me and said “You’ve lost your sense of humor.” I replied, “It reveals a side of you I don’t like.” And then we moved on past the awkwardness of that interchange.
At the end of Family Meeting, I brought it up. Quietly, gently, I brought that incident back up (he had forgotten about it) and said, “I found it disrespectful. And the fact that I didn’t laugh doesn’t mean I’m lacking in a sense of humor.”
Then, without anger (although possibly some intensity), I told him that over the years, I’ve noticed a side of him that is disrespectful toward women. And I didn’t like it. If I see any of this language or behavior in the future happening around our boys I will point it out, because I don’t want them growing up thinking that is okay.
He was noticeably angry after I said this, and following this conversation has been giving the usual cold shoulder treatment, without any followup conversation.
Everyone is a mix of good and bad, and there is nothing better than the mirror of a close relationship to reflect all of it back in our face. I know I need to get better at turning that reflection back on myself instead of focusing on his faults.
But there are times when I wonder if the pros outweigh the cons.
If it weren’t for the drinking, I would at least feel like we could have an adult conversation about it that wouldn’t get buried under a haze of alcohol. There might even be a chance of self-improvement on both of our parts!
Too hopeful? Maybe.
But we are playing Gin Rummy again, so there’s that.
Wow. It’s been over a week since I last posted. Apologies for the absence, my dear imaginary readers! Rest assured, I am still 100% sober (not counting weed).
This past week was filled with activities with the twins – camping, time with friends, cookie-baking, craft-making, swimming at the pool, and of course, beach and more beach.
All of it, especially the camping, was energy-consuming and a mix of sweetness and complete exasperation. At the campgrounds, shortly before I threw in the towel and headed home early, an older woman commented “It takes a lot of energy to camp with kids at this age!” I replied, “Good thing we only remember the good parts!” And she agreed, “So true!!”
Let’s hope that’s the case with this trip. We headed out, filled with excitement – just me & the boys for 3 days, 2 nights in my friend’s pop-up trailer at a local campground. Weather forecast looked perfect – sunny and warm, great for swimming in the 17-acre “lake”.
Then, things changed. The temperature crept up to 95 degrees, with thunderstorms predicted for our first night. We found out no swimming was allowed in the pond. And the boys, feeling the freedom of a new experience, started testing the limits.
The first day, it was just a lot of “Please come back, I can’t see you from here!” and “Please don’t hit your brother over the head with a stick”. The second day, after a restless and rain-filled night and even hotter day, the risky behavior increased and when I found myself asking them to please leave the jackknife alone already, and stop tomahawking each other with the rusty screwdriver they’d found on the campsite, having run out of the patience necessary to deal with one child running ahead while the other dragged behind (and then switching roles just to make their mom crazy), I threw an adult-sized tantrum, cried, and then packed up our stuff and headed home.
When we arrived, I was sweaty, dirty, covered in mosquito bites, frustrated and still chagrined from my earlier tantrum, and processing the idea that C would probably be saying “I told ya so” inside his head as we arrived, defeated. Given what I know of C, I also expected that he would not be helping me unload the car or unpack any of the stuff I’d pulled together for our trip, to “help me learn a lesson”.
The boys piled out of the car and ran into the respite of air-conditioning, and I started unpacking the back of the van.
In the garage, I felt it.
A pang of longing so strong it was physical, like a pulling heaviness in my chest.
What I wouldn’t do for a cold, stiff G&T right now. OMG. I wanted it so so bad.
I allowed myself to feel it fully, and even think about it a little bit.
And then I got back to unpacking, a chore that kept me plenty busy long enough for the desire to pass, and a sparkling ice water to replace it as the carrot at the end of the stick.
I haven’t had a moment like that in a long time.
Aside from all the fun we’ve had over the last week, the recent news has been weighing heavily on my mind: the immigration crisis, recent celebrity suicides, the ongoing dumpster fire of our current president’s administration. Of course, as could be expected this triggers all the usual escapist reactions, which I have been indulging in more this past week than usual, thanks to a vacation mentality. Now, it’s back to the usual routine, reserving the green for weekend use only.
One nugget to share: I felt this article on Anthony Bourdain was well-written, and am considering sharing it with C given all the similarities – not sure if he would be receptive to reading it or not:
Alcohol “works” for the alcoholic until it doesn’t. It promises and delivers what we seek from it for years, until it stops working. Yet still we want to drink like everybody else. Drinking is fun, right? It goes with culinary delights, correct? It enhances life, isn’t that so? Well, yes, and no. Certainly ultimately “no” if you have the malady, which quietly marches on and in time takes our joy, even our will to live and carry on and pretend we’re OK. We’re not OK. We are just good actors. He perhaps was one of the best. With alcoholism, we make rules by the way, to prove we have control. We also break those rules. We take life by the tail, but, dare I say, some weary of the show and let go.
Happy to report back that Friday evening dinner and Mavericks show was super fun, sans alcohol. There was a moment sitting down at the restaurant – a seaside eatery with mediterranean style entrees and excellent cocktails, where I felt a strong pang of desire. Just one fancy cocktail, to celebrate. It would taste so good, and we’re headed into a fun evening of music, would be nice to get a little buzz on… etc etc.
Then C said, “I really respect that you’ve stayed quit with this whole alcohol thing.” And that was it. No drink for me!
I’d even thought about bringing a little bud to eat before the show, but instead stayed fully sober through the whole thing. To be honest, I don’t think I missed any of it in the end – had a blast, and doubt it would have been improved with alcohol or pot.
Anywhoo – I’m busy prepping and packing for three days camping with the boys. C opted out, so his Father’s Day gift is a reprieve from the family Crazy. Off to go grocery shopping for camping food, then back to a full evening of packing.
No alcohol allowed in the family campgrounds. Of course, a rule I would have read and immediately ignored had I still been drinking. But no worries, park ranger, we’re all dry over here.
Headed out for a rare date night with C… dinner, then the Mavericks show in Asbury Park. I’m ready for it to be a fun night although things haven’t been the most fun between us lately.
This is now the 4th or 5th concert I’ve been to since quitting, so the thought of staying sober is not as pressing, but I will admit to considering eating a bud before we leave… Not going to do it for a number of reasons, but the thought was there.
Tomorrow is a beach day, then Sunday the same – plus Father’s Day celebrations, with some family coming into town. Should be a solid summer weekend with lots of good family and outdoor time mixed in. Thank god for hangover-free mornings!
New day, new mindset. This journal is helpful in reminding me that nothing lasts forever. After last night’s loneliness, I’m back to being self-sufficient today and open to soaking up the joy of a perfect sunny summer day.
Do we have our problems? Yes, absolutely. Could they be helped with some sort of counseling? Probably. Is any of that going to happen right now? No.
So then its on to the dinner-time routine for me… I’m cooking tonight, which is usually C’s job, and am excited to try a new recipe. Fingers crossed it’s savory enough for the boys to enjoy:
Boys and I maneuvered our morning without mishap, primarily due to the fact that I was able to get coffee & meditation in.
Work was its usual ball of crazy, went late today… rushed home to three over-tired boys, relieved one to go play volleyball and tucked the other two in.
C and I exchanging maybe 5 words.
We’re not on the same page much right now, it seems.
I find myself falling into the hopeless spiral and then catch it. No, Self, we’re just not seeing eye to eye on a couple topics, and we’re both struggling to communicate with each other right now. It’s not forever, its just right now.
I feel like I have so much I want to share with him, thoughts about our life together – our kids, plans for the future, ways we can improve things for each other. But he doesn’t see me like that. He sees a different version of me and maybe there is some truth to that version, but it’s not a positive one. I don’t feel like he really SEES ME.
Refocus. The boys need me more right now anyway.
I’m working on getting better with my interaction with them, working to really SEE them and reflect it back positively. And they reflect love like little beaming rays of sun, which fills my heart, so that can be enough.
In the end that’s all any of us want, anyway. To be seen and understood for who we really are, the good and the bad.
“The human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed — to be seen, heard and companioned exactly as it is.” – onbeing.org
Another area where I see minor improvements is that of personal flexibility. It’s not all the time, more like 1 in 10… but I’m getting there.
This morning, tired after a late night struggling to fall asleep and 4am “snuggles” with W (see also: kidney kicking), I dragged myself out of bed to meditate and get a cup of joe into my system before the boys woke up.
On my way down the stairs, I was intercepted by W, looking slumpy and sad. I tried to comfort him quickly and get him back into bed – for my own sake mainly, but also so he could get more rest as we were still almost an hour before their usual wake-up time. It didn’t stick, so I made a deal with him that if he got himself dressed and played quietly, he could get up.
While he puttered around procrastinating or ignoring our agreement (or just lost in his own imagination land who knows), I downed a cup of coffee quickly and got into my meditation spot.
W padded downstairs and started pulling out toys, still not dressed of course. When I reminded him of the need for quiet play, he pulled out the electronic drum set and proceeded to turn it on full-blast. Little C’s sleepy face then appeared at the top of the stairs.
Oh NO. I saw my meditation time slowly slipping from my grasp. I watched as the anger built up inside, fueled by tiredness and frustration.
Then, the magic happened.
I decided to change course. W obviously needed my individual attention right then and his acting out was his way of asking for it. So I dropped my expectations and with it, my anger, and called him into my lap where we snuggled and talked quietly about a bad dream he’d had.
After a couple minutes, he was fine and jumped down. Little C was thankfully playing independently at this point so I was actually able to fit in a few short minutes of meditation, in spite of the interruption.
In the end, it wasn’t the easiest morning, but I didn’t yell or lose my temper and we got to daycare on time.
Just a small gain, but captured here to remind myself I’m making headway.
Two of the more enduring things I find myself saying lately are:
Enjoy the process
Find comfort inside
Yesterday, I spent a couple hours weeding the front and back gardens, a somewhat tedious and back-straining task. I found myself working in a frenzy, hunched over in an uncomfortable position and feeling stressed about getting it all done before the boys woke up from their naps.
Then I stopped.
Why was I flying through this activity when there were so many reasons to slow down, be present, and actually enjoy it? So I did exactly that. I enjoyed the quiet alone time, listening to birds singing in spite of the rain. I felt the sprinkle of cool rain in the warm air, bringing the temperature to a perfect point – not too wet and not too dry, making everything in the yard a brilliant green. I enjoyed the texture and smell of the dirt in my hands, and the satisfaction of the slow but sure progress behind me.
ENJOY THE PROCESS, I reminded myself.
Don’t fly through it unconsciously or you’ll miss out on life. Life IS the process.
In a similar way, when I notice myself falling into an uncomfortable mindset or situation (usually some sort of internal stress relating to the boys or C), I remind myself that I’ve created a room full of pillows inside my mind… at least that’s how I visualize it.
And I can go there whenever I want. It’s the quiet space created through meditation. I don’t need to sit in a lotus position and chant OMMMM or close my eyes to get there either. Sometimes just reminding myself that it’s there is enough. Other times, a deep breath or two will interrupt the mental and physical auto-reaction and allow me to make a more conscious choice to react in a way that doesn’t stress me out as much.
Because I am my world. Might as well make it a good place to be!