“You have three kids?!” The question falls out of the mouth of an acquaintance and rings out across the table of a crowded bar. “How do you have time to hang out?!” It’s a question I’m not unfamiliar with. Even when I was “happily” married, people often inquired about how I managed to do anything with three kids. Since my divorce came with sole custody of my children, the question comes more frequently.
I respond now, as I did pre-divorce, with a simple shrug and a joke or two about never sleeping. The reality is that I don’t do it all. My life happens, just as it always had, because I prioritize what’s important to me versus what I or my family wants or needs. How do I have time to run? How do I have time to see friends? Teach my kids? Work? Brush my teeth? Sleep? Get laid? I prioritize what I can do, accept that which I can’t do, and buy stock in Energizer.
Truth be told, we can’t do it all. None of us. “Doing it all” is a lie sold to us to keep us too busy to enjoy this one little life we have. We’re inundated with planners, Pinterest organization ideas, and books about creating a 25th hour in our day. While some of it can be useful, and I utilize a number of tips and tricks to make the most of my time, at the end of my day I still only had 24 hours to use. Those 24 hours are precious. They are little lives inside our minuscule existence. So, what do I do with my 24 hours to give the illusion of “doing it all”?
I trade doing the dishes for a pizza and beer with friends. Sure, I could put having an immaculate house over my friends but, when I’m on my deathbed those dishes won’t mean shit to me. The relationships I have and maintain will, though. Why should I put dishes before connecting with friends in person?
I swap teaching time for meetings and arrange meetings around appointments. School can happen at any time of the day, it’s one of the perks of homeschooling, most businesses operate during traditional business hours. I acknowledge that and adjust our schedule accordingly when needed.
My grass hasn’t been cut in two weeks. It’s not a priority and eventually the autumn leaves will overtake my yard and after the boys and I have shared a fun day of rolling in the piles I’ll care because who the hell wants to bag all that shit up?
I plan weekly runs and refuse to do anything else during that time that isn’t crucial to the health and well-being of my family because my health and well-being are important too.
I delegate chores to my children. I can’t afford to have someone come in and clean my home, cut my grass, or run my errands. But I have three healthy kids who can pick up after themselves, make meals, scrub a toilet, and put the groceries away when I get home from the store. It builds character, plus my pee goes in the toilet bowl so why should I scrub that crude on the bottom?
I’m constantly negotiating with Me, Myself, and I. We’re always having discussions about what’s important and why. There are plenty of people who would, and do, tell me I don’t prioritize properly. In their opinion, the clothes should be folded, my car should be clean, and every single deadline I have should be met ahead of schedule before I plop my ass on the couch and binge watch Netflix while plowing through my kids’ Halloween candy. I wager there are plenty of people in your life who will have something to say about the way you prioritize your 24 hours.
To those people, I say Fuck You!
Yes, a big giant fuck you. Why? Because our 24 hours belong to us and we are free to make of them what we wish. Ask yourself, are my kids fed and cared for to the best of my ability? Are my bills paid? Do I still have a job? If the answer is yes, who the hell cares if you put the dishes off one more night? No, your house won’t be picture perfect, you won’t always get to say yes to that night out with friends, or that second bedtime story but, you’ll be sane and connected to yourself and those who matter most which is far more fucking important than a spotless kitchen.
As someone who has danced with the depression devil her whole life, I’m far more interested in doing what I need to feel human over “doing it all” to appear superhuman to people whose opinions don’t matter in the long run. “All” is an unrealistic goal that no one human can reach on their own. And who of us has the funds for the team of people needed to do it all and do it well? No damn body I know. So say fuck it, prioritize your life based on what you and your family need and in the immortal words of Elsa when it comes to everything else “Let it go”.
Let that shit go.
It all started with a halfhearted promise. “I’ll make things better,” he said while kneeling in the muddy field. He loved me I told myself. He got a ring, he promised things would be better once we were married, so surely he loved me. Over the next eight months I inquired about wedding details, “I don’t care about that stuff” he would mumble before rushing off the phone. On my 18th birthday, I moved in with him. This was the beginning of the rest of my life I told myself. A life full of fantastic adventures with my best friend, or so I believed.
Our first attempt to get married a few days later was deterred by the incorrect birth certificate on my part, because there is a big difference in a certificate of live birth and a birth certificate, apparently. I slunk home depressed in my pretty floral spring dress. He looked relieved and eager to get out of the khakis I had requested he wear because “It’s our wedding day we should look nice”. “It's a waste of time”, the words lingered in the knots of my hair I had spent an hour fighting with. He thought it looked a mess. But, I knew he loved me, so I simply needed to try harder next time.
When the proper certificate arrived in the mail a couple of weeks later I was thrilled, he was annoyed. “When do you want to go get married”, the words danced from my heart and oozed through my lips. “I don’t know”, he replied. I shook off his indifference. Another couple of weeks passed before we had a discussion about expectations. I had no desire to shack up for an undisclosed period of time and needed to know if he really wanted the same thing I did. Blame my Catholic conservative Christian upbringing. Blame personal standards. But after a month, you’re either buying the cow or getting your milk elsewhere because I refuse to play house. After some grumbling, he lamented that he did want to get married and we agreed on a Friday afternoon. He didn’t want to wear anything nice or take pictures. I granted his wish with the hope that we’d have a nice wedding one day. I spent that Friday on edge. My heart and stomach jumped, jived, and wailed with each tick of the clock. I had to remind myself to breath as the hours turned into minutes and those minutes into the moments that would define the rest of my life.
The judge who married us was buried in a sea of child support filings and petty crimes when we walked in. The defeat of his day shone on his face as I slid the marriage certificate onto his desk. Immediately, he became animated and leaped from his seat with the joy that only the creation of marriage and new life can illicit in humanity. He retrieved his crisp black robes from the nearby closet and announced our impending nuptials to the collection of depressed bodies that were waiting their turn to plead their various cases. Then the judge reached for his phone and attempted to contact a buddy of his who worked at the local paper. He had no luck. My groom squirmed in his seat at the thought of having someone from the newspaper present at our nuptials. Even a small wedding announcement had been out of the question. After hanging up the phone the judge asked if he could read a bible passage during our ceremony. Still being some version of Christian I had no problem with this but, I turned to my groom to ensure it was ok. He nodded in that dismissive way only someone who is indifferent can and the judge smiled as he opened his bible. Clearing his throat he asked us to rise, I jumped from my seat attempting to catch my heart as it leaped with excitement and turned to my groom. He was still seated.
My mind always slows this moment down. I’m sure it was less than a minute, but in my mind, it becomes an eternity. An eternity of chances to run. An eternity to dance through the reel of what actually became a 12-year marriage plagued with abuse, infidelity, and loneliness. An eternity to live again.
An eternity to see every player clearly. The judge with his confused and apprehensive glare. The groom’s parents exchange of knowing looks for they kept his secrets better than he did. The groom’s disdain as he willed himself from the seat and my wide-eyed naiveté. As the reel plays in my mind, I always freeze this moment and stare at the child giving away her youth to someone who didn’t want to stand next to her. I look through the eyes of a woman at the life of a girl who simply wanted to know she was loved, and I know she never was. The woman knows that which the girl can not. She knows of the lonely nights ahead of the girl, whose tears will stain every pillow she would ever own. She knows the pain of her husband’s hands pressing against her pregnant belly. She knows the way his words will hang heavy in her heart for a lifetime. She knows the way laughter sounds when she’s in pain. The woman can never save the girl.
No matter how many times I play this reel over in my mind, no matter how many times I reach for that young girl, no matter how many empty bottles I attempt to watch it through; I can never save the girl. She always stands there eagerly awaiting her groom. She always takes his hand. She always says her vows with sincerity and passion as her brown eyes bore into his hollow blue eyes seeking confirmation that his heart beats as fiercely for her and her’s does for him. She always signs her name. She always stays after he pushes in her stomach and gleefully declares that hopefully he killed their unborn child. She always runs interference and handles everything as to not upset him. She always fixes the holes and stops asking about the stories that don’t mesh up. She always makes sure the children believe they're loved by their father. She always makes excuses for his noninvolvement, for her tears, for the sadness that hides behind her brown eyes. She always stays. Until she becomes the woman who doesn’t. The woman with the movie reel in her mind and scars upon her heart.
Divorce is easy. You pay someone to file paperwork and fight with your spouse’s paid henchman/woman on your behalf. You sign some papers. Then a judge, worn and weary from a life dedicated to law, declares you free from the shackles wrapped tightly around your left finger.
Healing. Now, that’s the hard part. Accepting your part in the chapter that was your marriage is hard. Acknowledging your ex-partner for who they were and always will be is hard. Stitching the holes in your heart with the rusty needle you find in the pile of your belongings is hard. Getting up each day and putting one foot in front of the other is hard. Smiling when you want to cry is hard. Living in spite of the pain is hard. Fighting your demons by yourself and realizing there are far worse things than being alone is excruciatingly fucking painful. The healing is hard and the tunnel to the light is long. But, there is beauty in the struggle. Even if we can’t always see it right away.
Since it's a new year, for shits and giggles, I'm going to take some time to share 10 simple truths about myself. So buckle up, readers!
1. I love the word fuck. I use it every fucking chance I get. It’s a beautiful word. It’s linguistic magic.
Even my Facebook statuses reflect this love:
Yes… fucking and people were my top two words in 2015…
2. Fucking people annoy me. The results of this annoyance are either well-crafted blog posts or rants on my personal Facebook page *hence those being my most used words*. If you are hip to that whole Myers-Briggs thing, then it makes sense based on my personality. I’m inclined to think it has more to do with the level of stupidity in the world than my actual personality but, hey it’s kind of fun to know which Doctor Who character you are.
3. Of all the fucking people that annoy me, I annoy myself the most.
4. My inner circle is full of people whose mere existence brings me so much joy that I don’t even care they’re humans.
5. A debate over Prop 8 is what finally knocked me off my fence of doubt and into the field of godlessness. Even though I’ve been an out and proud heathen for 7 years I still listen to K-Love on occasion. NEEDTOBREATHE’s song Brother was one of my favorite songs from 2015. Seriously, Google it! It’s fucking fantastic! Better yet, enjoy:
6. I was offered a scholarship to Mars Hill College to study Youth Leadership (youth ministry). I had lofty ideas about what young people should learn about love and acceptance. I still have those ideas, minus the Christianity.
7. Losing my religion was one of the most painful experiences of my life. Losing the top spot to a 2009 pregnancy lose and the ending of my marriage last year.
8. I never planned to homeschool my kids. We’ve been at it, officially, for eight years.
9. When it comes to parenting I have no fucking idea what I’m doing.
10. I’m fairly certain my children are aware of this fact.
What are some of your truths? Do you have the adulting parenting thing figured out or faking it until you make it? Are you still dancing in tube socks to Bruce Springsteen? Tell me more, tell me more, right down there in the comments.
Cognitive Dissonance: the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.
“We have a term for that, it’s called cognitive dissonance”, the words excitedly leaped from my therapist's mouth. Some days, I believe people who work in mental health get more joy from being able to label a behavior, than those of us they are labeling get from finally having a term for our mental state. I sat there, digging my nails into the delicate Styrofoam cup rim, leaving evenly spaced indentations of anxiety behind. Cognitive dissonance. The words swirled in my mind as she went on. I’m familiar with the term, I’ve used it to explain unyielding and illogical religious beliefs. Surely, I'm immune from such a label, I thought. But I’m not. In at least one way, or another, we all fall victim to cognitive dissonance. For me, it’s been my marriage and the repeated belief that if I waited long enough, and loved hard enough, the man I married could and would change the hurtful behaviors he exhibited. In the process, I ignored my own harmful mental gymnastics.
When it came to religion, I could easily examine the inconsistencies and toss the breaks in logic into the wastebasket where they belonged. Eventually, leaving nothing but godlessness and unabashed skepticism. With love, oh love, it hasn’t been that easy. If there was a disconnect between words and actions, then I clearly wasn’t seeing it correctly. A belief supported by my spouse. I simply needed to look at everything differently. To be patient. To hold on. Give him time and trust. Always more time and trust. I could do this. To give superficial change, that quickly faded, more weight than years of peer-reviewed data. Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them; the first time.” We rarely do, though. Why do we do this? Why do we allow our hearts to cloud our logic? How can we observe years of behavior, and at the mere notion of change, throw all our chips in and declare this time around it will be better?
This isn’t a post with answers. Because, frankly, I don't have any damn answers. So, if you’re waiting for that you’re going to be shit out of luck. I’m still tracing the rim of a Styrofoam cup attempting to make sense of this one life we’re given and fighting with the cognitive dissonance emotional attachments create.
I’ve spent months dissecting why I allow myself to distort things until they are easy to swallow. Instead of, accepting them for what they are and cutting the cord.
He says he’s never hit me. So, despite everything else, I should be happy. True, he’s never hit me. But, when did that become an acceptable bar to reach instead of an universally unacceptable behavior? And why is physical abuse the only recognized form of domestic violence? Do the words and actions that don’t leave physical scars not count? And if they don’t count, why do I have to do mental gymnastics to reason them away? If this is a person I can feel safe with and trust, why does simply typing this fill me with soul-crushing fear? I’m doing wrong by sharing the truth. Is love when the truth is an act of rebellion?
The emotional part of my mind says yes. It also wants to say people change. It wants to believe the fantasy.
You’re not seeing it clearly, Rayven. His words. Or are they mine? It’s hard to determine whose words they are. I can only determine that they suffocate me. They whisper in my mind, “you’re not perfect, how can you expect so much”, “calm down, you don’t see things how they really are”, “no, you’re just crazy”, “it’s not control, it’s concern”, “I love you”, “so much of this is your fault”, “you’ve brought this on yourself”, “just fix you, try more, bend more, give more, you don't do enough" "learn to take a joke", "I'm only kidding", "stop complaining this is the best you'll ever get”, "no one would want you anyways", "it's not settling, it's being smart", "don't be selfish", “don’t you see how it’s all your fault”. The words work to choke out the discrepancies. The discrepancies exist because of me, I deduce. This notion makes my mind an Olympic performer in mental gymnastics. Always in search of a reason for the unreasonable.
Therapy works to give the discrepancies the oxygen they need to breathe, so I can acknowledge them and move forward. But still, I sit rubbing the anxiety indentations in my cup, waiting for the oxygen to reach my lungs so I can finally breathe, too.
It all started with a boy. Well, that’s not entirely true. It started with a long hot summer in the time before smartphones, wifi, or even a desktop with dial-up. My children compare this time to the dark ages, it was simply 1994 to me. During the sticky summer of ‘94, my acquiescent neighbor and I sat on his bedroom floor debating the possibilities of our day. Watch television? No, his mother’s soaps were on. Go for a bike ride? Ugh, much too hot for that. Being military brats, our homes were filled with random knickknacks from around the world. As we ticked through the list, and our options faded, I observed the knickknacks in his room. My eyes eventually landed on the large Japanese glass float that rested in the corner of his bedroom. “Let’s put on a play", the words danced from my lips as my brain began to piece together bits of dialogue.
An hour later, we were calling his mother and sisters into his room to watch our play.
That’s how a good chunk of our summer went before my parents decided that boys and girls our age were no longer allowed to play alone in rooms and his mother reluctantly agreed with them. Those moments of freedom and creativity were the catalyst to my writing desires. I don’t remember any of the plays we created that summer, but I remember how they made me feel. We rivaled Shakespeare and brought our tiny audience to their feet every time. I learned in those moments that the words that lived in my head had a place in the world.
When the playwriting stopped, I turned to a spiral notebook. I kept it hidden under a pile stuff in my dresser drawer. It contained sections of my life. Moments of pain, joy, and fear. It flowed from me and brought me peace. It also hid my fantasy world largely concocted around crushes I had. Romantic comedies were my forte in the mid-90s. While my writing has changed as I’ve aged and become a bit darker, working in a variety of heavy themes, I still enjoy reliving my hormonally charged youth every once in awhile.
In middle school, my notebooks and diaries were taken because my father didn’t agree with the subject matter and fearing further retribution I stopped writing unless required to for school. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, the best laid plans often go awry. My 8th-grade poetry landed me a one-on-one session with my teacher. She was concerned. It was clear to her that I was struggling with depression and my orientation. What was the purpose to life? Was there really more beyond my current existence? Would I ever know love? And could I love boys and girls? And what if I only loved girls, then what? She assured me there was nothing wrong with me and she was available if I wanted to talk. I chose to write. It felt safe to write again and not the fluff, but the nitty gritty of who I was and who I wanted to be. I don’t know what she did with my writings, judging by the fact that my father never left a parent-teacher conference in a rage it’s safe to say she didn’t show them to him.
A year later I had the teacher who would make me a better writer. So, naturally, I hated her class. I understand now why she was so hard on us, I really do. But Ms. Eagles, if you’re reading this, I still believe there is absolutely nothing wrong with doodling during class. I still do it. In meetings, at conferences, and at the doctor’s office. You can’t stop the doodling, but you can make the doodlers better writers. Which you did, so thank you.
For the next four years, my writing life was a blur of research papers, essays, and an occasional creative writing piece that brought me freedom from the world I lived in. Then, one brisk afternoon, a friend sat me down at his computer and introduced me to LiveJournal. He said it was just what I needed, and it was. I longed for a safe space to bear my soul and LiveJournal offered that. Over the next ten years, I posted there, on various social media platforms as they came into existence, and eventually on blogger.
Creatively, though, the stories rarely found themselves on paper or a computer hard drive. Instead, they found their way to my children’s ears. Stories of far off places, knights, friendly dragons, and daring adventures in which they were the heroes. Beautiful stories meant only for them. Over the years, I found great joy in writing about our schooling efforts, secular parenting, a variety of social justice issues, and the few creative pieces that found their way to ink. Then, one morning I awoke to find that joy was gone, stolen by a thief in the night.
Depression is a bitch without a care or concern for the life you wish to live.
I’ve spent the last four years struggling to find the will to write. I doubted myself and allowed the negativity of a select few to impact the one thing that has always been an act of freedom for me. I realized not too long ago, as ideas rolled through my mind, that the will to write will never be given back to me; I would have to take it back. With each keystroke, with each scribble in a notebook or on a wall, I would have to take back my freedom.
You know you've found your passion when you fear never trying more than you fear failing.
This craft has been in my blood since the day they placed a pen in my hand. I’ve attempted to silence it, ignore it, and neglected it out of fear because the pen is mighty. The pen cares not about the thoughts, opinions, and feelings of others or even the writer. The pen simply wants to tell a story. When you’re the one holding the pen that’s a scary and liberating place to be, especially when the story is your own. As I've moved through this journey we call life, I’ve always known the pen is mighty, but now I’m no longer afraid to hold it.
“Writing is a dangerous profession. There is no telling what hole you may rip in society’s carefully woven master narrative.” - Danielle Orner
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