The Second Half

Don’t laugh. I think I’m having a mid-life crisis or maybe a self-identity crisis. Whatever. I just know my head is all *&$#ed up.

Before now, I lived my life according to a disciplined rhythm. Kids, work, school, shower when I have time, wash dishes between loads of laundry, feed dogs, rinse, repeat. Some would call this chaotic, but for me it was just life as I’d always known it. And even with all of its flaws, and there were many, I loved that life with all of my being. I knew exactly who I was, and how important I was.

But now, now I just feel lost. Change can do that to you, make you feel displaced, uncertain.

When the kids were younger- including my younger brother who lived with us- we each had assigned kitchen seats, but when we ate out it was every man for himself. The kids always fought over who got to sit beside me. Sometimes there was shoving and tears and I would have to negotiate deals to keep the peace. (“Okay, the girls will sit next to me for dinner, but we’ll get dessert somewhere else and then the boys will sit with me. Deal?”)  The memory of my kids treating me as a prize worth fighting for is a marker in time when their lives were tightly intertwined with mine.

But eventually kids grow up.

With high school graduation behind them, and following their older brothers’ leads, my two youngest children are moving out in August. Then it’ll just be me, a bunch of rescue dogs, and a curmudgeon Asian lady upstairs (yes, yes, my aunty). No daily family dinners, the wipe board menu gathers dust above my refrigerator, and there’s  no need for assigned seating. I can sit anywhere I want. But the kitchen table that once barely fit a bustling family of eight feels too big for me now.

It feels like only yesterday I had a crash course in grappling with understanding who I was after being someone’s wife for 18 years and suddenly not. I got over that, eventually. But this, this seems bigger, the pain much deeper. I mean, after 27 years of parenting, who am I now if I’m no longer a mom?

People tell me, “It’s your time now, Maria. Do what you want – travel, eat out, date.” But that concept of taking care of just me, eating alone at the restaurant of my choice, and traveling to places only interesting to me, that’s all foreign to me. I’m not a saint, I’ve just never done that before, put myself first.

As a woman, a mother, and that once upon a time damaged girl who didn’t learn her self-worth until well into adulthood, putting myself first doesn’t come naturally to me. I have to put a lot of thought into what a life like that is supposed to look like and even then when I envision myself doing it, I feel my brows furrow and my body retreat, as if to say, “I couldn’t do that. That’s too weird.”

When my kids were young, I spent hours just watching them, sleep, eat, play, run around the house like maniacs. I adored them and felt such pride in simple moments like that. I gave them life and in turn they gave my life clarity and a deeper sense of purpose. No doubt those kids are the foundation to the first half of my life, my world.

As the kids got older and started spending more time away from home, creating lives outside of mine, I found myself staring at pictures of them on my phone, admiring them through social media’s lenses and the family pictures we took at birthday dinners. I felt a different pride, at their growth, their beauty, their independence, and the authenticity behind their smiles. I knew then life was changing, and faster than I wanted.

But I knew this day was coming. I tried to prepare for it. I went back to school, got my undergrad, then my law degree, all so I would have something of my own, something I could lean into when it was time to let the kids go. And in theory it sounded so perfect in my head, but in practice not so much. Now I have to learn how to do two new big things at the same time – live like a single person and learn how to lawyer. It’s quite the ride right now.

It feels as though I’m grieving, the end of an era, the end of being a mother as I’ve only ever known, and a version of myself I’ve since outgrown. The first half of my life is over and I’m feeling the pressure to figure out what I want the second half of my life to look like. And no lie, the struggle is real. It’s hard to grow, to let go of who you once were, especially when you feel like you just learned to appreciate that version of yourself. And now the universe is telling me I have to reinvent myself? Seriously?

I should clarify that I’m not so foolish as to believe this place I’m standing is anything less than a blessing. I know it is. Raised 4 good kids – check. Got my law degree and finally passed the bar – check. Survived the first 40 years of life’s obstacles without losing my sh*t – check check. I did good. But still, endings are often as sad as they are joyful and new beginnings scary as they are exciting. And that’s where I am now, standing at the halfway point in my life, trying to convince myself to let go of my yesterdays long enough to see the horizon holding my tomorrows.

And that’s a little bit of terrifying. I have to navigate this second half alone and find a way to be comfortable with that. I have to learn a new normal, develop a new rhythm, absent kids or a husband. I already know it’s going to be a bumpy road, with plenty of trial and error moments, and epic fails. Beginnings are full of those. I have a lot to do, a lot to learn. I don’t feel ready, I don’t. But I’ve come so far, I’ve worked so hard. It’s never really been my style to let fear paralyze me, although for the first time in a long time it is so tempting. I have to believe that the next half of my life is going to be even better than the first. I have to trust this process of growing and evolving. I’m not lost, I can’t be, this is just transition. I have to keep moving, forward, always forward, never ever back…

Okay, okay. Deep breaths. Inhale. Exhale. I’m going to let go now…

Categories: Uncategorized

The Single Parent’s Anthem

January 14, 2019 11 comments

I’m the one who explained why you left, the one who dealt with their anger, their frustration and tears.

I have defended you because it’s better than telling them to give up on you.

And because it hurts less than hating you.

I have paid for all their flights to see you, and even some of yours, so you saw them at all.

I reminded you to call them on their birthdays, to text them during their bad weeks, and then pretended I didn’t.

But I am the one who has been there, since day one and every day in between.

I’m the full-time mother, the part-time father, their financial advisers, their #1 fans, their Lyft service, their advocates, their therapists, and their life teachers.

I planned all their birthday parties and checked off their Christmas lists.

I reemed them when they missed classes, praised them when they got As, and consoled them when they didn’t get the grades they thought they deserved.

Then I helped them look at colleges, filled out their financial aid, and edit their college applications.

I signed their car notes, reviewed their leases, scheduled all their appointments, taught them how to budget and even cook themselves dinner.

I have had the hard conversations with them, the ones about sex, heartbreak, adulting, and how to care for their mental health.

I watched and hurt with them for every single disappointment they’ve had since you left, and to be honest, even all the years before that.

I have taken all of their calls, including the scary ones that came in after 2am.

I picked them up, literally and figuratively, when they were lost.

I taught them about love and loyalty, and also what bull shit smells like.

And while you complain about child support, I creatively find ways to pay the other 90% of their expenses you think you shouldn’t have to cover.

I am the ride-or-die parent, the real-deal-superwoman-single mom, who has sacrificed much to give them lives that don’t lack, despite your absence.

So, when you ask me with callousness and undeserved annoyance, “What the hell do you want,” my simple answer is this –

Be a good dad, a better man.

Respect the mother of your children.

And show some gratitude that while our children may carry your name, they bear all of my heart.

img_7395

Categories: Uncategorized

Chasing Hope

I’ve been pretty good about checking my expectations with dating, so much so that I have none. You meet, have dinner, drinks, and hopefully there’s some good conversation to go with it. And you cross your fingers the guy looks like his pictures and pays the bill. To be honest, dating has become a drag and at 43 in the last year plus I’ve actually weaned myself off. I’m happy to Netflix and chill by my damned self.

But several weeks ago, and absolutely at random, I met someone. He came out of near nowhere, wasn’t at all in my wheelhouse, but there was something about him and I thought there was a click. He said there was a click. I felt it, so I believed it. The conversations, and everything that came with, were great. For a little bit, it was euphoric. And I was, for the first time in a long time, hopeful. Read more…

Categories: Uncategorized

Tonight I Finished Law School

After 4 ½ years, tonight I finished law school. I’m thankful for 4 amazing and loyal kids who sacrificed a lot to get me here, 7 faithful dogs who waited well past their bedtimes until I got home safely from class, an employer I love that worked with my schedule so I could attend school, and the dozens of family and friends who played an active role in supporting me. That kind of love humbles me to my core.

I used to say that I lived my life backwards. I had my kids in my teens and early twenties, but didn’t get my undergrad until my 30s, and now my law degree in my 40s. You could say I gave the first half of my life to my kids and former husband. I don’t regret that, but I have since given myself permission to live the rest of my life for me.

I was wrong about living my life backwards. I took the path I was meant to, lived life the way God intended me to, and it may have taken me a while to get here, but I know I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be and not one minute late.

Look out world. I’m aiming to make my mark on you and I am one determined woman. Just look at my track record. Single moms, raise your glasses. And cheers to me.

25189078_583798248619657_284873400503241985_o

Categories: Uncategorized

This is 42

 

This is what I know.
There’s life after the kids grow up and your marriage ends.
It’s never too late to be what you might’ve been.
If I miss a deadline at work or get a bad grade so I could spend more time with my kids and dogs, I’m still winning.
Dating and meeting new people lends me hope.
I can still make the right guy melt.
A room full of books, a pen in my hand, and a fresh sheet of paper under my fingertips is still my church.
You find your truth when you own the extent of your worth, the breadth of your capacity, and the impact of your roar.
When it feels right, lean in. Always.
This is 42. Happy birthday to me.

19399832_483188955347254_3638963905328696004_n

Categories: Uncategorized

An Ode to Weeds and Tantruming Dogs

IMAG2281On this morning’s walk with the Fab 5, we were forced to stop several times as each dog tried to graze weeds and my girls and I tugged them away. At one point, and with the indignation of a collective set of 5yo children in the toy aisle, all of the dogs simply refused to move.

Instead, they all stood there looking at me, leader of their pack, heads tilted and suspicious eyes demanding to know, “Why? First, you tell us we can’t lick our butts, then not even our own privates, and now you say we can’t eat weeds. We deserve to know why!!” So, on the side of the road, and in the rain, I launched into a tirade against weeds.

Weeds are a source of frustration for homeowners who have a life outside of grooming their front lawn and a false sense of superiority for homeowners who think a bright green lawn, free of weeds, is synonymous with a perfect life. (Lies!) Weeds are a steady source of revenue for HOAs (kind of like those failure to make a complete stop tickets are for the city). Weeds like to taunt grass, their self superior and goody-two-shoes cousins, by reminding them how much taller they are than them. And some weeds are even poisonous to dogs, like the ones Dexter ate last year resulting in a $2000 emergency vet bill I’m still paying off. So, no boys, weeds are a lot of things, but they’re certainly not dog food.

And yet, despite the logic in my lecture, and ironically with the stubborness of a patch of weeds that refuse to bend into submission, the dogs retained their stance, unpersuaded by my words, and still staring me down like the enemy. It reminded me of the good ole’ days at my house when my kids and instigating younger brother dubbed me the ‘Fun Police’. So, like a parent succumbing to defeat in the Target toy aisle, I pulled out treats and bought their temporary obedience, and we got to finish our walk.

If this lawyer thing doesn’t work out, maybe I’ll just become a professional dog walker.

 

Categories: Uncategorized

My Sister’s Keeper

August 21, 2016 5 comments

Earlier this month I was in San Francisco helping my mom move. My sister was at the house, smoking up a storm and leaving her cigarette butts everywhere. At night she’d have loud, animated conversations with herself and left the house for hours at a time, but no one ever knew where she went. A police officer once told my mother she was a regular in the Tenderloin district, a high crime area in San Francisco and frequented by the city’s homeless population.  One morning she returned with a pair of new baby shoes and clothes that she must’ve bought, or more likely stole, from a shop in the Mission. She handed them to me and told me to give them to our daughters. I thanked her and promised I would even though our girls are 15 years old. It never gets easier seeing her like this, but sometimes I just go with it because there’s not much else I can do.

One morning I went into the room she was staying to close the door. She was snoring softly and I watched her sleep from the doorway. I was tempted to lay next to her just like when we were younger, when we were 6 and 9 and built forts out of blankets and slept under them together. Or like the countless times in our teens and early twenties when we would fall asleep next to one another talking about nothing and everything  the night before. I wanted to pretend for just five minutes that everything was okay, that she wasn’t sick, but instead I softly closed the door and let her sleep.

I’m a strong woman. And I can get over, and through, a lot of things. But not my sister. No matter what I do, I can’t seem to get over her. I don’t know that I can. Believe me, I’ve tried. I moved 1700 miles away. I started over. I talk to her. I bargain with her. I plead with her to try. And every time she doesn’t, I hurt with her. I hurt for her. Because until the end of my days, wherever she is, and however well she is or isn’t doing, my sister will continue to mean the world to me. My love and loyalty are hers, always and unconditionally.

And that doesn’t mean I condone how she chooses to live, it only means that I love her despite it, despite what she does and has put our family through, and despite her mental illness. It means the ties that bind family are real and for as long as I am strong enough to, I will forgive her, for who she is and isn’t, and what she’s allowed herself to become. And that even now, after everything she’s done, even in my moments of frustration when I don’t think she deserves it, I still love my sister with everything I’ve got. I don’t doubt for one second that had the roles been reversed she wouldn’t have done and felt the same for me. I know she would. It’s what the best of sisters do.

My sister’s battle with mental illness has been a vicissitude of emotional, physical and financial highs and lows, and she hasn’t ridden the waves alone. My family has spent the better part of the last 14 years never knowing what to expect from her, never knowing if she’s safe, if we’re safe, if the most recent episode will be the last, or if it’s possible for them to just keep getting worse.

A minuscule glimpse of the lows of my sister’s mental illness includes: the time she took her three year old daughter from foster care placement and led the police on a televised five hour police chase along the west coast; the several times she was detained at a random airport thousands of miles from California because she was removing her clothes in one of their terminals; the half dozen times she sat cross legged at a busy crosswalk trying to direct traffic; or even the time she was found at 5am wearing shorts in 45 degree weather and digging in the neighborhood dumpsters. That’s just a minuscule glimpse. I’m saving you from the worst stories because those stories hurt too much to tell.

My sister’s episodes come in waves that last anywhere from weeks to months. Similar to many others whose lives are affected with mental illness, she doesn’t take her medication. In her case, she chooses not to. She’s in and out of mental health facilities and only takes her medication for as long as the involuntary psychiatric hold lasts.

As much and often as I wish I could find a legal loophole to force her to take her medication, and even when I think those meds might just be what saves her, I realize that whether she takes them or not or accepts treatment at all are supposed to remain her choices, not mine or my mother’s or the numerous doctors who’ve treated her over the years. No, as hard as it is for me and my family to accept, how my sister lives her life, for better or worse, is her choice and all we can do as her family is hope she finds the strength to eventually choose the life she deserves. Ultimately, managing her mental health has to start with her wanting to be better and then doing what it takes to make that happen. She’s either going to save herself or remain unsaved.

As I prepared for my mother’s move to Texas, and since my sister moving with her wasn’t an option unless she proved she could take her medicine regularly and consistently, we arranged for my sister to live in an assisted living facility in the Bay Area. The week we were supposed to check her in she vehemently refused to go and literally ran off. My mother and I flew back to Texas before we could find her. We eventually found out she was, and still is, rotating sleeping from one relative’s house to another some nights, with whomever is willing to help and tolerate her for the night, while other nights no one is quite sure where she sleeps. We have no idea where she spends her days. So it’s fair to say that my sister has consequently just joined the close to 6,500 homeless people living in San Francisco.

That it’s all come down to this breaks my heart. I would go to the ends of the earth for my sister – the ends of the earth. I would do more for her than most people would be willing to do for a sibling, for anyone. And I, and my mother, have done exactly that. Numerous family members and a handful of her friends have tried to help. Still it’s not enough. She has to want to save herself, but she doesn’t want to, or maybe she doesn’t have the mental capacity to decide that she does. I don’t know. I only want my sister to be happy, safe and healthy. I wish I could help her find that, but I don’t know how.

I have a lot of days when I pine for my sister, the sister I knew growing up, the girl I used to tell all my secrets to, the one person who never judged me because she understood me, the sister who was once the only person in this world I trusted and could rely on. I have yet to know anyone else I can trust and rely on more than I ever did her. She was always so bold, incredibly funny, loyal and just fierce. I see her boldness in her daughter everyday. She was my “ride or die,” the best one I’ve ever had. I miss my sister, I miss her more than you can imagine.

My dear friend and mentor, Denise, once told me, “I don’t have wise words or sound advice for next steps.  I would only remind you that no one loves or will love your sister as much as you and your other family members.  You guys are always her first and last hope.  You may not understand her illness and it may distance you from her from time to time, but at the end of the day, somewhere at the essence of our humanity, down at the place where God’s creation is a work, she is yours and you are hers.  I’m not sure what that this love is supposed to look like after repeated bad episodes and months of erratic behaviors, but surely it’s there and it will always be extended toward her and calling her home.”

In my moments of despair, I cling to the wisdom and hope behind those words. And when I lay my head down each night I pray. I pray that somewhere beneath the haze of my sister’s mental illness she can still feel the breadth of our family’s love. Between the bouts when the chemical imbalance in her brain undermines the logic in her mind, I pray she has moments of clarity, however brief, when she’s aware that she is not alone, that she is loved deeply and missed dearly. We have not given up on her. Her life matters, it is valuable and it matters. And God help, may she never stray so far that she can’t find her way back home. Until then, my family and I will be here, waiting, full of hope, so much hope, and always with arms wide open.

One in five Americans live with mental illness. Please help change the way the world sees mental health. Take the StigmaFree pledge. 1) Learn about mental health issues. 2) See the Person and not the illness. 3) Take action on mental health issues. Click here to learn more.  And if you’re in Texas, click here. #OkaytoSay #EndtheStigma #LetsTalkAboutMentalHealth

**Folks, don’t forget I gain a large portion of my readers by word of mouth. If  you like what you read, if I made you laugh, even cry, please do share my blog post. Forward it via email, Tweet it, Like it, Facebook post it, talk about it.** Much love, MS

Christmas 2004 016

Christmas 2004

Categories: Uncategorized
%d bloggers like this: