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Monthly Archives: May 2012

STOP!!! In the name of Love!

As a single parent my life can get pretty full. Perhaps the most dangerous trap that trying to juggle it all can lead to is that the kids can start to feel as if they’re just another ball I’m juggling. As much attention as they’re given and as much they’re told how important they are, they can sometimes get lumped into the chaos of work, home, family etc. It’s easy for them to blame it on the divorce but regardless, as important as it is that they understand the realities of life, the last thing I want them to feel like is just another spoke in my life’s wheel.

Part of the problem is that they don’t get to experience time with relaxed dad or undistracted dad. Even when it’s their turn, an e-mail about a project or a phone call can easily pull me away despite my best efforts not to let that happen. And as an independent contractor, it can be difficult to just “shut off work” at 5 p.m. Sometimes notes on a project come in at 6 p.m. or a call from a client comes at 6:30 and as an independent, there is always the fear of losing a client over a missed call or not being there when they need you.

So you juggle. And sometimes you drop the ball. And sometimes it’s at the expense of the kids.

So what’s a parent to do? Well. Some times you have to make a conscious decision to block out the rest of the world and give the kids your undivided attention. Or at least that’s my opinion.

A few years ago one of my sisters called me with an interesting offer. She and her husband live on one of the finger lakes and they had become friends with the guy who owns three houses directly next to them. He rents them out to vacationers and had an opening. He offered it to them at a remarkably lowered rate since it was the off season and he hated to see it empty. It was an amazing offer but they couldn’t find anyone to take it for that week. So they called my wife and I about it and we decided to take them up on the offer. And so my family and I took off for Lavonia, NY.

It wasn’t Orlando or Hilton Head but personally I kind of liked that fact. We had an amazing beach house complete with canoes, kayaks, and paddle boats in one of the most amazing lake communities I’d ever witnessed. AND I didn’t have to sacrifice 3 months pay to make it happen. There were no lines, no rushing to get everything in, no walks to the beach, no $10 sodas just a full week of nothing to do but play in the water, go boating, fish to our hearts content, barb-b-que hot dogs, sit by the camp fire and make smores. AND they got to know their aunt and uncle to boot. On a deeper level, there was magic in being surrounded by nothing but blue skies and water instead of deadlines and office walls.

What I learned that first trip was the value of leaving work behind and playing with my children. Not just playing catch for 30 minutes, but really playing with them. The resulting benefits were undeniable. Their attitudes were better, their reactions to their mom and I were better. And I believe it all stemmed from the fact that their mom and dad were more laid back and less reactive themselves. The kids didn’t feel like they themselves were a distraction, they weren’t an annoyance, they weren’t “in the way,” they were the center of our universe and as a team we took a break from the rest of our lives to focus on our parent / child relationships.

So fast forward a few years to today. Now divorced, the level of chaos has grown 10 fold as I try to maintain the lifestyle we once enjoyed as a nuclear family. As the annual trip to the lake started to approach I honestly didn’t know how I could afford to do it either financially or logistically as work was becoming more of a priority. And then I realized; as I saw the kids starting their summer vacation without me; as my ex-wife and I started attempting to figure out summer schedules, camps, day care, and seeing how all of it was affecting the kids, I realized then that I couldn’t afford NOT to do it. We needed to launch into summer together. We all needed a break to reconnect and remind ourselves that we as a family are the root of all that’s crucial. And for that to happen, the kids needed to be with fun dad, undistracted dad and less reactive dad.

And so it was that we came up for the first week of their summer vacation. And within 24 hours all of the benefits started to become blatantly obvious. Suddenly the 13 hour drive up here, which had reached new levels of angst and anxiety and had me proclaiming that I’d never do it again, quickly demonstrated the value of every mile and every “don’t make me pull this car over.” Even the trip itself became its own battle that we conquered as a team, high-fiving each other as we exited the mobile prison that desperately needed more elbow room.

Just a couple of days in, the kids and I have been reminded that our lives may have many spokes, but we as a family are the bike. The kids are not balls I’m desperately trying to keep in the air along with work and the home and the finances. We’re all jugglers working together. We are a team and sometimes the team needs a break to bond and reconnect, away from the stress. But most of all, I think the kids needed to see me blow everything else off to be with them. Yeah, I still have to clean a bit; do a little laundry; make meals; be responsible etc. Yes I answered a couple of work e-mails and did a couple of quick project fixes to keep things moving back on planet earth. But I’m the one leading the charge as we jump off of the dock into the lake. I’m the one jumping in the Jeep to go by night crawlers and hooks for their rods.

You’ll be able to come up with 1,000 excuses not to do it. But I can’t tell you how crucial it is that you do it. Especially if your family is experiencing a new reality of two households and new routines. Because as important as it is that your kids know you’ll blow off the world for them, it’s not just the kids that need to be reminded that you’re still a family.

 

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Perfect Attendance!

Through 16 years of school I never once achieved perfect attendance. I could usually count on at least one good old fashioned cold to keep me home at least a day or two. I could always enhance the symptoms enough to get the sympathy vote. Alway loved that moment when mom would say the magic words; “OK, I’ll go make you some chamomile tea; you stay in bed and rest.” An hour later I’d be on the couch under 5 blankets watching Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers Neighborhood on a UHF channel eating a Snickers bar.

Sadly, the experience is one that my own kids may not never look back on with such fondness. For you see, today all three came home with Perfect Attendance Certificates. All three! It still amazes me that through the course of what was most likely one of the most difficult years we’ve ever experienced as a family, we somehow by the grace of God managed to get the kids to school every single day.

It got me thinking. I realize we do what we do out of the love of our children. But would it be so wrong for the parents to get some kind of an award for having the kids at their desk every single solitary school day? Would it hurt to receive a $10 gift card to Krispy Kreme or maybe an oil change? All of those mornings when at least one of the kids refused to get out of bed, the arguments over whether the chosen shorts were too, um, short, or the mornings one of them would try to get out of having to hand in a report that wasn’t finished. All of the lunches, getting them dressed, teeth brushed, shoes tied, the mad dashes to the bus, the days having to drive them because we missed said bus. Yet, we made it every time. Both their mom and I somehow managed to pull it off. So why does the kid get all of the praise? Seriously!

If you feel jilted, if you feel you deserve and award, I have just the thing for you. It’s your very own perfect attendance award. Print it … sign it, frame it and hang it on the wall. Let the world know that every morning at 6 a.m. you were the one the kids woke up to make breakfast. It was you who embarrassed the kids by standing out by the bus stop wearing your raggedy pj’s, your sweat stained baseball cap and a pair of flip flops … in the snow. You can click on the image for a printable version that’ll look great on the mantle or just hanging on the fridge long enough to make your kid’s eyes roll.

And don’t fret moms. There’s a version for you too. Hang it with pride. Let the kids know who really deserves the credit for making sure they had enough children’s Benadryl to get them through the day without anyone realizing they were contageous.

Maybe you didn’t get your very own version in school 20-30 years ago. But now’s your chance to make up for it. Live vicariously through your kids with your own award that lets the world know you were there. You may have been half asleep. Hell, you may not even remember most of the mornings, but you got them on the bus with or without a scarf.

O.K., being serious for a moment. It’s a lot of work being there day in and day out. If you’re fortunate enough to have a good relationship with your ex and you live close enough to each other to help each other out, there are a ton of benefits to be had from a positive relationship. Not the least of which is making sure your kids are prepared for school every day. And I don’t just mean getting there. There are the school supplies, ensuring one of you is there for every school event, every class performance, field trip, maybe lunch once in a while. Anything to let the kids know you’re there for them and that even though their mom and dad aren’t together anymore, that doesn’t mean they’re not going to get the love and support they should expect from their mom and dad.

Look, all kidding aside, it’s impossible to be a perfect mom or dad. But just being there is a great place to start. Usually that’s all the kid is looking for. To know you’re there. To know that you care and to know you’ll be there when they need you and some times even when they don’t. If there’s any certificate to strive for, it’s the lifetime perfect attendance award for just being there day after day.

 

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Oh Death.

If you have kids chances are you’ve seen the Shrek series. If you’ve never heard of Shrek, well look at the picture to the right and just follow along. You’ll get the point relatively quickly. There’s a scene in “Shrek 3” where Fiona’s father passes away. As the family gathers around the little amphibious father, it takes him several “last breathes” to actually pass on. Several times the family starts to weep thinking he’s gone, only to have him gasp one last breath and utter one last final thought.

I’ve thought of that scene several times over the past year as I witnessed what I thought was the death of my marriage. I think I was under the impression that once the papers were signed and the judge said, “yer done” it would be over, wrapped, the end. We’d give a little eulogy, the casket would be placed in the ground, the priest would spritz a little holy water, we’d have a glass of wine and move on with our lives. Annnnnddddd scene.

Well, apparently it doesn’t work that way. But then if you’ve ever had a relationship crumble, you already knew that. The closeness of a relationship, the intimacy of a relationship, the bond of a relationship may be torn. Your heart may be heavy and beat up. But the relationship continues on some level the rest of your life. You learn from it, you grow from it, you evolve because of it. The marital union may be eliminated, but the history can’t be erased. Some of it may be tucked deep in the confines of your mind, but it’s still there. And that’s o.k.

And of course if you have kids, it’s all the more true. While some parents choose to pass the kids back and forth like a football without ever huddling to make sure they’re executing the same play; on some level the co-parenting thing is a tie that bonds eternally. When children are a part of the divorce, there is a life long connection. What you do with it is up to you. How you choose to approach it and carry it is your choice. Therefore, a positive approach to moving forward is given even more weight as it’s much easier to work through schedules with someone you’re on good terms with rather than someone you’re continually at odds with. And don’t forget; the kiddos are watching. Oh … are they watching.

Is it always easy? Hello no. Was it easy when you were married? Seriously, parenting is hard. Moms and dads inherently have different styles. There’s a reason my mom always said, “you wait until your father comes home.” There’s also a reason I asked my mom if I could go out rather than my dad. So what makes you think it’ll be any easier when you’re not under the same roof discussing game plans? It’s hard. Especially now that you’re both physically parenting solo. The kids are aware of this. But it’ll be easier if the kids know you’re still working as a team on some level. The bonds of matrimony may be broken, but the parenting bonds are still going to be there and it’s up to you and your ex to ensure that the kids recognize that you have each others back when it comes to them. Even when you completely disagree.

So, what were we talking about? Oh yeah. The death of a marriage. You can look at it that way; a death. But honestly no relationship ever really dies. It just changes form. My best friend passed away when I was 22. When he died, we had a little eulogy, the casket was lowered, the priest spritzed a little holy water, we drank a lot of wine and attempted to move on with our lives. That was 24 years ago. And to this day I talk with Gary from time to time as I’m driving to a video shoot or running trails. His friendship lives on within me and affects me and how I approach life. And so will my marriage. And that’s not a bad thing.

Every relationship, good or bad, is a part of us. We are the sum of our experiences and relationships are perhaps the most significant experiences we can have. So embrace them. Even the ones that caused or continue to cause you pain. You have a choice whether to make it a cause of stress and angst, or a source of motivation and a means of growing. Ain’t easy. But the payoff is huge.

I’m sorry, what were we talking about again? Oh yeah. Death. So skip the eulogy. Put the shovel back in the shed. Poor yourself a glass of wine. And move on with your beautiful, ever evolving life, carrying all of your experiences with you until the day you die. But then, we never really die. Do we?

 

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Bluebird on a Wire

Quick post this morning to share a moment.

I consider bluebirds a sign of great things to come. Throughout my life, they have appeared during times of great strain and transition, almost as a sign of faith and hope that all will be o.k.

This morning during a run through the country I caught a glimpse of a bluebird as it flew in front of me and landed on a wire as I was running by. It then joined another bluebird as it flew off over a nearby field. Fortunately I was able to grab a snapshot of it with my i-phone before it took off.

I share it with you in hopes that this particular bluebird will spread some hope and good faith your way.

 

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The Metamorphosis

I’ve spent a lot of time in recent weeks concerned that I’m slipping. Not in any one particular aspect of my life, but in attempting to maintain the life I had before my divorce, I’m finding myself working feverishly without a sense of getting ahead. What’s odd is, my level of productivity is at record levels, and yet I still have a sense at times that I’ll never get it all done. I have become incredibly efficient with my time, mastering the art of doing laundry while editing a television series as the dishwasher enters another cycle. I’ve been told men are horrible at multi-tasking, but divorce is like a crash course for those who have any hope of moving forward. And yet, despite my ability to accomplish so much in any 24 hour period, whether it be domestic or professional, I’m having a difficult time establishing a sense of progress. Instead I feel as though I’m stuck in an endless state of purgatory.

When I got divorced I took on a lot and was determined to hold it together. It was important to me to do everything I could to maintain what my wife and I had worked so hard to build. At the same time I was building a business, which can be equally consuming both in terms of time and emotion. It’s been a lot to juggle and for the most part I’ve managed to keep it all above water.

But a year of this pace will no doubt take its toll. As a person with high expectations, I anticipated that by this point I’d have it all together and be settled into a new routine, or if nothing else, a new ‘norm.’ And yet, despite my best efforts, I still feel myself transitioning. And as accustomed as I’ve become to transitioning, quite honestly I’m ready for this one to end. I’m ready to find a new groove. And yet instead, at times I feel drained with a lack of direction; afraid that if I stop it will all come crashing down around me.

During the past year, I’ve made a distinct point of changing the way I approach just about every aspect of my life. My goal was to surround myself with positive people, positive experiences and force myself to approach life calmer and with a sense of openness. I wanted to become more open to trusting the universe and accepting in life what I felt I truly deserved. It was through that, that the universe brought many new people into my life with one or two of them being distinct spiritual guides of sorts.

And so it would happen that I would express to one of my new gurus my sense of slipping and lack of progress. I explained how this feeling continually got me down and had me questioning so much of what I was doing and my abilities to keep going. And then I heard a word that I wasn’t expecting. I was told I’m not slipping, I’m simply going through a metamorphosis. It was explained to me that by changing my way of thinking; by eliminating old habits and attempting to establish new ones; by adjusting the very core of how I viewed life; that which was my old life would naturally begin to crumble as room was made for a new world.

That’s some scary stuff right there. The word crumble had me in the fetal position within seconds. As elated as I’ve been with my new mentality and outlook, the thought of my old life crumbling before my eyes was not something I had been hoping to see happen. Letting go of it wasn’t something I had prepared to do either. But could there be freedom in letting go? Could there be rebirth?

When we’re married we establish a lifestyle. We build a world that suits us and with our spouse we create a universe together. Once that co-management team is gone, attempting to maintain that universe can be quite a struggle for one individual. In many ways it no longer fits. And yet the fear of the unknown, the fear of what will happen if we let what we’ve worked so hard to build up fall to the waste side can be overwhelming and at times crippling.

And yet, somewhere in the back corners of my imagination, I’m beginning to see what may be possible. As I open my heart and my soul to new possibilities, I begin to get glimpses of what’s possible and begin to accept that perhaps it’s time to let go of the world I’d come so accustomed to.

Knowing that there are three other little minds that will need to take this journey with me, adds an entirely new level of concern to the mix. But perhaps the positive approach I’ve taken with their mom may help. Maybe, just maybe there can be a team effort to get to that next plateau.

I remember when the kids were a little younger and the joy I experienced attempting to get them to transition from the house to the car; from the car to the store; from the store back to the car etc. When a 3 year old is comfortable and content, getting them to change their environment was perhaps one of the most excruciating experiences of my parenting life. I’d look at them and be like, just get up and go already. How difficult can this be? What’s the problem? Don’t you see we’re going some place better? And yet here I am; needing to transition, but oh so comfortable in my old environment, afraid to transition to the next phase.

The next few months should be very telling. Am I slipping or indeed in mid metamorphosis? Will I come out of the cocoon a butterfly ready to spread my wings and soar? One can only hope. It’s scary to think about change. But sometimes life forces us into it whether we like it or not. Perhaps the trick is embracing it and recognizing that there’s a greater good on the other side.

As I’ve said many times, this is indeed a journey. And I’m told it’s one not to go on alone. And so I invite you to continue on with me. I’ll do my best to be honest with you about my experience and would love to hear from those of you who are going through similar changes. Perhaps together we can help see each other through this metamorphosis.

 

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