To my friends currently going through the end of a LONG ASS relationship…

Yes, you…

That relationship may have been long…may have lasted all of your adult life, and maybe you let that relationship define who you are without even realize you were doing just that.

You may have given up a lot of things to make that relationship work. Like me, you may have never realized all of the things you were letting slip by, giving the time that could have been spent with friends or reading a book or having a drink with your sister to that relationship or your family instead, desperately trying to force things to work again. You may have not even realized that’s what you were doing or that something was broken.

You’ve probably lost yourself in that relationship. I’m saying it out loud because I’ve been there and it’s worthy of mention. You may be sitting in your kitchen right now, the lights off, the kids finally in bed. There may be dishes in the sink that need to be done but you just can’t bring yourself to care enough that they aren’t done. You may be wondering — “Am I the kind of woman who cares if the dishes aren’t done?” and “What does that say about me that I just don’t care?” or “…that I do?”

And what really sucks is that all of that…all of yourself…that you gave to this relationship? In the end it just didn’t matter. It didn’t work. And here you sit, none the better for any of it.

I’m going to tell you something, though. The fact that you feel your life isn’t the greatest right now? That is enough justification to allow yourself to feel bad about it. You don’t need to be concerned as to whether or not someone else has it worse than you. Yes, someone else probably does. But that doesn’t mean you’re not also suffering — your feelings are legit — so tell your mind to shut the hell up about it already.

And sadly, no matter who you are or what type of life you lead, there will almost always be people who do not agree with your life or your decisions, regardless of the fact that they know nothing about what you’ve been through, or whether or not you actively made those decisions. These judgers could be your brother or your uncle or your mom. They may presume that because things “looked OK” that they were OK. But anyone with half a brain knows that the relationship was between the TWO of you and no one else and there were many things they didn’t see. Many of those people will come back to your life at one point or another, knowing better, but it doesn’t stop it from hurting when they look at you disdainfully, or like you somehow failed. Some of them won’t be back, and that? Is shit but you can’t change their minds.

What I want to tell you — desperately NEED to have you hear is this: beside all of that? Life is going to suck for a while. Sometimes that’s what happens when things change. Whether or not you initiated that change is not the point. I’m not even going to get into the reasons that your relationship may have ended, but trust that the reasons will come with time and you’ll be better off.

Right now, there’s this new “normal” you’re trying to find. And you may still be in that phase where you just can’t stop crying. That’s OK. Let yourself feel shitty. If there’s one thing I did wrong going through my divorce is that I let a friend tell me that I shouldn’t complain about my ex-husband because he was a “good guy”.

Bullshit. He wasn’t good to me and that’s what mattered. Bitch all you want. Write it down if you have to — get it all out. Say the same thing 1,000 times if that’s what it takes. Be angry. Thank GOD for the girlfriends you have that will listen. They love you.

Cry if you need to. Like seriously ugly cry, whenever you need to. It makes no difference if you do it once or if you do it a hundred times. If you’re at work, go to the bathroom. Hell, sit in your car in the parking lot if you need to. Sob until your heart is empty and you just can’t cry any more. That saying? That salt water cures everything? Is true. It heals. And if you don’t ever cry? That’s OK too.

You’re probably going to feel lost. You may find, for the first time in umpteen years, that you have days where you actually don’t need to take care of anyone else. The first times that you find yourself in the grocery store alone will feel completely foreign. You’ll find weekend moments that used to be filled with the mundanity of doing daily chores or running errands that are now empty. You’ll find many more moments when you sit in your kitchen and feel like you have no idea where to go, or that you don’t know where to start on the things you have to do. If you’re at all like me, this feeling will drive you half mad.

But I want you to get yourselves a notebook, ladies. A pretty one, with a colorful cover that makes you smile. And a purple sparkly pen that writes “just so”. And I want you to write today’s date on the top of that first page. And at the end of the day, I want you to take three minutes to think about your day and write down the good bits. Just make a list — nothing fancy. It doesn’t need to be grammatically correct or in some special order. Just write it down. Tomorrow, use the next page. The day after that, the next one.

And don’t worry if someone else might think your list of good things is lame. It’s not their list, it’s yours, and no one else ever has to see this list but you, unless you have a really kick ass day and you want to Instagram that shit. That’s cool, too.

Did you get a soda at the gas station that had just the right combination of syrup and crushed ice? Write it on the list. Was your favorite movie on TV? Write it down. Did your son, the dawdler, the kid who makes you feel like you’re ready to lose your goddamn mind every freaking morning put his shoes on without a fight? WRITE THAT SHIT DOWN THAT’S FRICKIN’ AMAZING.

Ultimately? Just. Keep. Going.

It gets easier, I swear.

And after a month, you’ll have 30 pages in that pretty notebook that you can flip back through that I promise will make you smile.

After two or three months, the little “good bits” you’ve been jotting down will get better and better. They’ll become bigger good bits, and the shitty parts…the parts I talked about at the top of this post…will seem further and farther behind.

Cherish those friends who let you cry or complain without complaining themselves. They love you. Cherish the feeling of a job well done. You matter. You’re making a difference. Cherish the sticky little hugs around your neck when you’re already dressed for work and now you have toothpaste on your black sweater. Those sticky little hugs will save your life a thousand times, without the attached sticky little faces even realizing what they’re doing.

Be happy about the Saturdays where you are alone but aren’t lonely. Be happy about the Sunday when you buy a new print for your living room wall and you hang it by yourself in *just* the perfect spot. Be happy about the Tuesday where you juggled kids and work and after school activities *and* still fed them a somewhat healthy meal that they didn’t whine about eating. Be happy about the Tuesday when all of that failed but you still had wine in the fridge.

Find joy in the fact that you may have left a house you called a home, but that you are now in a little apartment that’s all your own that you can clean top to bottom in less than an hour’s time. Find joy in the fact that you no longer have to have HIS (or HER) crappy recliner in the corner or lame ass framed movie poster hanging above the sofa and you can piece together a decor you really love.

Geek out when you find a kitchen table on Craig’s list for $100 to replace the card table you had there originally. Geek out further when you get a friend’s husband to pick it up for you. Pay him with beer or a ham sandwich or whatever you have on hand that’ll let him know he’s one of the good ones. Geek out when you can finally afford a new Blu-ray player that connects to the Internet and you discover you can binge watch every episode of Sons of Anarchy on Netflix. Geek out further when you discover you have a pint of ice cream in the freezer to eat while you watch and there’s no one around to judge you for farting while you eat your Häagen-Dazs and swoon over Charlie Hunnam.

This is not the end of your life, friend, merely a bump in the road. A shift in gears. Another page in your autobiography. YOU WILL SURVIVE THIS.

You are so much stronger than you know. Poor or rich or somewhere in between, it doesn’t matter: In a year you’ll look back and wonder how you could have possibly come so far. You’ll wonder why you were so worried about all of this in the first place.

I have faith in you. You got this.

The dream about the babies

The dreams continue. Either I can stop watching American Horror Story and end the dreams, or I can keep watching and keep writing them down, and possibly make something of the crazy stories in the future. Or at the very least entertain my five readers.

This one was brief. I had found out I was pregnant…with not just one or two, but FIVE BABIES.

My family was over at my place so that I could share the news, and for some reason I did so while in the hallway of my apartment building next to the mailboxes. I was newly pregnant, but somehow knew that two of the babies I was carrying were identical twin girls. Two of the others were boys and the fifth another girl.

I remember my brother Jeff being over-the-moon excited when I told him, and he was throwing his head back and laughing and whooping it up about all the great babies that our family was going to have. My other brothers just stood there going, “Whoa, that’s like, a LOT OF BABIES, DUDE.” TJ was like, “YAY! NO BIG DEAL!”

I was more of the mind that, “HOLY SHIT YOU GUYS. LIKE FIVE BABIES ARE GOING TO COME OUT OF ME. THAT’S A METRIC FUCK-TON OF BABIES.”

And then I woke up, thank God.

The dream about the RV

I have crazy weird dreams – lots of them, and in lots of detail. Maybe it’s more correct to say that I tend to remember my crazy weird dreams more often than most, but either way, I often wake up filled with intense emotions and thinking that whatever I was dreaming would probably make a good movie. So I’m going to tell you about this one.

Now, this particular dream may have something to do with the fact that I started watching season 3 of American Horror Story the night before (seriously, is that the craziest season yet?!?) but I had this dream early Wednesday morning.

TJ and I were driving in an enormous RV across the country. Like, enormous like a multi-story house. None of the kids were with us, and I get the feeling that we weren’t happy about that. We had been on the road for some time, and had stopped to visit several friends. On one occasion, I gave a friend a tour, taking her downstairs in the RV to show her our guest bedroom. I had pointed out a huge nautical display that covered one wall of that room, saying that I hated it and that if I ever had time or money I was going to redecorate it. (Yeah, I don’t know…)

Then the scene changes in that way they often do in dreams where there’s no logical transition but your brain just accepts that you are someplace else. We pulled into a mall parking lot. TJ was going to stay in the RV and I was to run in and pick up a bucket of fried chicken.

In the middle of this mostly empty mall, which seemed to have been plucked from the 80s somehow (I mean, I don’t remember passing a Sam Goodie or anything, but somehow it seemed very 80s-ish to me), I went to the fried chicken place and placed an order.

I had been waiting for that order for what felt like FOREVER, passing the time by watching TV on a small old set that was propped up in a corner. The news was on, and I remember there was a woman anchor on assignment, dressed in an 80s-type jacket and skirt, holding a microphone with a cord. (I even remember her suit was pale yellow with puffy shoulders and she wore a white shirt underneath with a tie at the throat. By that I mean the collar of the shirt tied in a bow — if you were alive in the 80s you know exactly what I mean.)

Finally, after being very patient, I walked up to the counter to ask about my order. At first, the lady tried to brush me away, but I persisted. I then said something like, “Look, can I at least write you a check for my chicken now, so that I can just take it and go when it’s ready?” and I pulled out my checkbook and flipped to a blank check on the counter. I had my pen poised to write, but she pointed her finger where I was going to write.

“I have a better way for you to pay,” she said. I looked up at her and she made her eyes go wide. “BOMB,” she mouthed silently, then looked to her right. There I saw a suspicious looking man who I just knew had a gun. “RUN,” she whispered, looking incredibly scared.

At that moment, an oblivious teenage boy brought my chicken out and put it on the counter. I grabbed it and ran. I was running as fast as I could but I didn’t seem to be moving very far very fast. It seemed an insurmountable task and I was absolutely panicked.

Finally, I got to the exit and the RV was parked in the nearest spot. Without hesitating, I jumped in the passenger’s seat and shouted “DRIVE! DRIVE! DRIVE!” at a shocked TJ who had been napping.

He jumped up, turned the key and backed up quickly. We tore out of there as fast as we could, the RV up on two wheels as we frantically turned right out of the lot.

When we were many many blocks away, I remember sighing with relief, then realizing…

…the mall never blew up.

The time Nick got kicked in the throat

(Alternate title: I may just be a horrible mother.)

Something unbelievably ridiculous happened the other night, and I want to write it down so that in 20 years, I can remind my children that yes, it really happened.

Let me set the scene for you. This past weekend, the midwest got hit with a pretty big snowstorm. Southeast Wisconsin got between 10-12″. It started snowing Saturday night and didn’t stop until 2 or 3 a.m. on Monday. That meant that Sunday was a “hang at home” day. Nick, my athletic rough and tumble boy who wants to play anything that’s outdoorsy, lasted only 20 minutes out in the weather. The wind and snow were that bad!

Sunday night was the Superbowl, and we stayed in and watched together – cars had been getting stuck on my street all day, and there was NO WAY I even thought to attempt to leave in my little Honda Civic.

Monday morning I didn’t think much of it. Getting a lot of snow around here is just not news. You clear it, you scrape off your car and move on. If we let snow keep us from going places, we wouldn’t go anywhere for more than half the winter.

So I was shocked when, after getting through our regular morning routine, we walked out the back door to find my little Italian old man landlord with a shovel and an entire parking lot filled with snow.

“Oh, you’re not going to get very far today!” he said in that jolly way that only little old Italian men can pull off. “The plow hasn’t come yet. I think most folks are taking a snow day!”

I know my eyes went wide. Seriously? Nothing closes for snow days any more. Certainly never my office or my kids’ school. The school’s policy is that they’re open, and if you’d like to keep your kids home the absence is excused, but otherwise they keep driving through those days of school so that there aren’t any to make up at the end of the school year.

I may have muttered something like, “Well that’s just NOT acceptable,” which I can’t say I’m very proud of now, but still…it’s not a “thing” we even consider here any more. The three of us turned around and went back into the house.

Long story short, we stayed home. The boys were ecstatic, of course, but I not so much. I have paid time off I can use, so I really shouldn’t complain, but two solid days in the house with two boys isn’t easy for anyone.

We played board games and cleaned out the toy box and I made hot dogs and cheesy fries for lunch. (Looking back on it even now it seems like a pretty fairy tale day.) The boys had ski club that evening, and since the plow finally showed up around 9:30/10:00 that morning, they were able to go. It was a really needed break away from the house and the bickering that accompanies many hours of siblings being together.

I grocery shopped while they skied, and when we got home that night they helped me carry all of the bags in the house as they always do. Because it was late, I told them to put on their pajamas while I put all of the groceries away.

Which was what I was still doing when I heard them playing in the living room. I wasn’t really paying attention, so I was surprised when at one point, Nick came into the kitchen, bent at the waist, hands at his throat, crying like crazy and coughing and sputtering something that clearly wasn’t English.

“OH MY GOD WHAT IN THE HELL???” Knowing Nick to be the king of all things over-dramatic, I was more annoyed that they were fighting again than I was worried he was actually hurt.

At hearing my response, Will began to cry and ran into his room, leading me to become even MORE annoyed and confused. “What the–?”

Nick kept sputtering and coughing and holding his throat. “HE! KICKED! ME!” was about all I could get out of it.

Furious by the time I got to the boys’ room, I shouted at a crying Will who was cowering on his bottom bunk, “YOU DID WHAT???”

Which led to much more crying and blubbering from Will who clearly thought he was communicating something back to me.

“OK OK. Slow down. WHAT DID YOU DO???”

Will took a deep breath, then sobbed one more time before answering. “Well, he told me to!”

I shouldn’t have been surprised.

“What???” I looked at Nick, still holding his throat, tears in his eyes.

Speaking like his voice was raspy and he could barely breathe, Nick said, “Well I told him to kick at me so I could show him how fast my reflexes are.”

[Insert that meme with the chipmunk turning his head all dramatic-like]

Oh. My. God.

“You WHAT?”

Will, still trying not to cry and figuring he’s still in the biggest trouble of his life, says, “I just kicked at his face like he told me to–” and I cut him off because I started laughing like a crazy person.

After a few seconds of me laughing, each boy cracked a smile. “Oh my god you guys — that’s the stupidest thing I’ve heard all day. You KICKED at his FACE,” I pointed at Will, then turned to Nick, “because YOU thought you had some sort of ninja skills and you could CATCH HIS FOOT?!”

Nick, miraculously cured, started to laugh, too, with tears still in his eyes. “Well yeah. It worked last time.”

Holy geez-o-pete.

Call me crazy.

I’m not really sure how to start this.

It seems a regular thing for me — to let life get in the way of my writing, of my therapy, of being part of my online tribe.

I know that’s not what I want for my life. I’ve been writing since the beginning of what feels like Internet time about my need for a better life balance. But what I want and what I have to do to be responsible for my kids, myself…my life…are two entirely different things.

I hope to one day soon strike that better balance, and construct my life into something more suited for ME.

I’m working on it. I’m trying not to get impatient…these things take time. I’ve nearly paid off two large debts (my car and my student loans) meaning that very soon (within four or five months) the total amount of income necessary to support myself and my children will be much less than what I’m accustomed to living on right now.

Which is kind of scary.

But kind of not. You see, in the years since my divorce, I’ve made more thoughtful choices as to what I fill my life with. I no longer pay for cable. I carry very little credit card debt. The stress of having to make so many ends meet at the end of each month is just not something I want as part of my life.

So I don’t do it.

And yes, so many of my friends have these beautiful homes and cars and everything in their lives is decorated JUST SO and I have none of that. But really, I don’t miss it, and for the most part, never really had it. My home does NOT look like a Pottery Barn catalog, but in reality all I want is a cozy space called home. I’m hoping that one day soon I’ll have time to “hack” a living room together that merely gives the illusion of put-together-ed-ness.

This isn’t the first time I’ve tried to make a “go” at a more balanced life. Six or seven years ago, I began taking Web development classes for work. At one point I began designing simble Web sites and designing blog templates, thinking that I might augment my income for a while until I made enough at it to make it a real job.

But then I gave up on it. I told myself I wasn’t a “real” designer. I was only an art student for two years in college — that doesn’t really count, right? I sit here now, imagining where I’d be now if I hadn’t doubted myself…

Not long after that I left the corporate job I’d had for many years for another that paid much more. Only I HATED it. Hated the people I worked with, hated the environment. So I left. I put in my notice with every intent to just stay home with my kids for a while. They were still so little — two and four at the time, and I had the luxury of a second income (my husband’s) to soften the blow.

When I put in my notice that I was leaving they begged me to stay. Instead, I worked out a schedule where I worked for them from home for a set number of hours per week. That arrangement was lovely for the three or four months it lasted.

One day, out of the blue, I got a phone call from my old boss. I’d thought it was a joke at the time to be honest, but he was calling to offer me a job left vacant by another ex-coworker who was leaving the firm. At the time, it seemed a ray of light had shone down from the heavens. My marriage hadn’t been good for some time and I was under some serious stress. It would be many months before I could even begin to imagine it being possible to leave, but I knew in my heart at that moment that taking this full-time gig would mean a guaranteed income…something quite useful if I did, indeed, leave. (I did and it was.)

So I went back to the full-time corporate world. Looking back at these few failed attempts I see that I let fear drive me. I can justify it and say it was out of necessity, but really it was fear.

Here I sit, almost exactly five years after my last self-employed attempt, in the same boat, AGAIN. Feeling like I waste my time and talent sitting at a desk for 40 hours a week when I KNOW that I can make just as much money in less time doing something that’s more fulfilling. I need that balance — I need that ability to say, “You know what? There are a lot of kid activities going on this week. I’m going to push some of this work off until next week.” The ability to say, “I really want to refocus my business — I’m going to take on this new project and push myself to learn something new.” The ability to say, “Why yes. Yes we *can* go to the cottage for a week and let our little boys be little boys while they actually ARE little. While they still believe they are going on adventures in the “woods” when really we can see the neighbor’s house through the trees.”

I know I’m being tested. I KNOW IT. Since I’ve made a more concrete decision as to what I wanted for my career life, I’ve gotten multiple emails through LinkedIn from recruiters, hawking jobs that are really good fits for me and my career. I’ve had a co-worker who’s leaving offer to pitch to his boss ME as his replacement. This is both a huge compliment and would mean a big bump in pay.

I’m proud of myself for saying “no” to these people. I also think I’m somewhat crazy…but I’m proud. In my heart I know that those jobs aren’t what I really want. I just have to be strong and not let fear get into my head and make me doubt myself.

I swear it’s true — those who succeed in life are just those people who are crazy enough to think that it’d work.

Henry

A friend of mine died last week. He was 32. Henry was a peacemaker. He was a big man with a huge heart and an even bigger laugh. He was intelligent and had an amazing singing voice and could karaoke Sinatra like no one’s business. Often when we were together he and I would find ourselves talking — just the two of us — and laughing about ridiculous things. Like — do you ever wonder if Helen Keller found the meaning of life on the surface of a basketball? And she just couldn’t communicate it properly? THAT ONE had us laughing so hard I nearly peed.

We were at dinner together when we heard that Whitney Houston had died. We sang “I will always love yoooooooouuuuu!!!!” to each other and laughed even harder when the rest of our friends at the table looked at us like we were out of our minds.

He and I would make Starbucks runs on Sunday mornings after a night out. We’d offer to pick up drinks for our friends and take our sweet time coming back with them. The truth is, we’d have some of the deepest, most comforting conversations during our Starbucks runs. We’d talk about God and love and families and crazy life. We called it “church”.

They’re not really sure what happened with Henry yet. From what I hear they found him unresponsive on his couch last Thursday. And like that, a beautiful wonderful soul…well, I’d like to believe that he’s in a better place. A place where he knows he’s loved even more so than he might have ever known in life. I’m sure he’s watching us right now, seeing us all mourn him. Watching us share photos of him on Facebook and offer each other words of comfort in his absence. I’m not quite sure what Henry would say to that, but I can almost feel him giving me one of his big bear hugs.

Henners, I’m at Starbucks having church right now as I write this. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to go to a Starbucks again without thinking of you. You had an amazing soul. An infectious laugh. Courage to live your life the way you wanted. The way that made you happy. If there’s anything I can do in your memory, it would be to live my life in a way that makes me happy.

May you forever rest in peace.

Me & Henry, Nashville (2012)

Me & Henry, Nashville (2012)

Some days

There are days that I set aside time to write here, only to have the reminder sound on my phone and go, “UGH.”

UGH as in “I just can’t.”

UGH as in “I’m in the midst of nine hours in the office working on extremely complex technical projects that have drained all sense of creativity from my brain.”

UGH as in “My brain is just fried and later I still have to drive 40 minutes to pick up my boys after work and grab something to eat at a drive-thru before baseball practice and God help me if I eat another damned cheeseburger.”

UGH as in “I woke up with the birds this morning so that I could shower and dress enough to have all of my indecent parts covered before waking my children at God-awful-thirty, coerce them into eating breakfast, cajole them into brushing their teeth and fixing their hair and convince them into sweatshirts, backpacks and then the car.”

UGH as in “After all that, I drove an hour and a half round trip to drop them off then drive all the way downtown before my day even got started.”

UGH as in “Some days I just can’t.”