Ahead of the Game

affiliate links pic Ahead of the GameEvery year my Mom asks me what I want for my birthday. Most years I do not have a good answer right away. Which is not good, because immediately after I finally decide what I want for my birthday I have to decide what I want for Christmas. This month of gift-receiving stresses me out each year.

And each year I decide to keep track of what I want earlier in the year so I’m ready. And each year I don’t.

Graham has a July birthday, perfectly timed to spread out the gift receiving. Tessa’s birthday comes 2 months after Christmas so she can see what’s missing from her haul and put it on her second list. But for me they’re less than 3 weeks apart and come in a rush. It is the burden of all December/early January babies.

So I figured I’d take a few minutes and sit down and try to figure out at least some things I’d like. Because I have five minutes, which is pretty awesome.

 Ahead of the Game Ahead of the Game
A Webcam

My laptop’s webcam sucks. I need something easier than my fancy camera. So I’d love an external webcam so I can start churning out Need to Read videos like nobody’s business. My future is on BookTube. I can feel it. (Or at least it will be fun.) My eye is on the(affiliate link!) Logitech HD Portable 1080p Webcam C615. And look, Mom, free shipping with Amazon Prime. I know you love that. 

A Haircut

I believe this was my gift last year and it’s very sad that it’s taken me almost an entire year to schedule another haircut. Haircuts are expensive when you have curly hair. Haircuts seem like a luxury I don’t have time for (along with dentist appointments and other such trivialities) I’m trying a different option this time and I have an appointment the evening before my birthday. Perfect timing. 

A Gift Card to Pretty Much Anywhere

I always need things. I still have a sadly small wardrobe that I add one or two pieces to each month. Most of them scored on sale. Occasionally one where I bite the bullet and pay full price because I need it and the sale just doesn’t come. I need clothes, shoes, jewelry, makeup, all those things that I wish I didn’t need but I do. And while I hate spending money on them, I like getting them. It’s nice doing things like this for myself. Plus I’m going to ALT in January and my closet is NOT ready. (Expect some pleas for style advice in about 6 weeks.)

Don’t give me money. Because I will use it to pay bills. Or save up for a deposit on a new apartment. And while I need to do those things, I also  need to have a birthday. I really, really do.

An Audible Subscription

I wish I could just buy books that go on sale for under $5, but I have already used up my one subscription hiatus for the year and I am becoming full on addicted to Audible Ahead of the Game. Audiobooks have been a delight and a source of amusement and happiness. (Right now I am listening to Yes Please and yes I will be writing about it soon. It is wonderful. I am starting to feel like Amy Poehler is narrating my life. I can literally hear her reading this post aloud as I’m writing it.) When the kids are gone it is very quiet in the house for days on end. I walk around with my speaker and listen to audiobooks and feel better. 

A Hardcore Winter Coat

So right now I have 3 coats, which sounds like more than enough unless you live somewhere that has a hardcore winter and then it is not nearly enough. One is my it’s-not-that-cold coat, which is cute and black and only goes to 40 degrees or so. Actually, Mom, you were there when I got it at Costco in Atlanta. Next there is my red peacoat, a go-to for much of the cold weather, especially if I’m wearing a sweater or dressing up. (Yes, this was my birthday present a couple years ago.) And then there’s my warmest coat, a red L L Bean number I got on clearance in Connecticut at the outlet store that insulates so well that I die of heat on the bus.

But the problem is that ALL of these coats only hit my waist or my hips. And when you are outside in the legit cold and ridiculous wind in a coat that goes only to your hips, you learn to hate everyone walking around with their knee-length and ankle-length coats, which were not a thing you knew existed and you lived in the Rocky Mountains for 14 years! These are the coats of the Northeast. They are the coats of Canadians. They are serious and I want one. I am tired of having cold legs. I probably need to go to the store and try some on to pick one, but all of these look so delightful.

A Gift Card Just For Going Out to Lunch

I bring my lunch most days, I eat at home on the days Tessa has therapy. But there’s usually one day each week where I just don’t have it together enough or didn’t get to shop for supplies and have to buy my lunch. Often this coincidentally overlaps with Pizza Friday, where me and some of my super cool work buds meet up and get pizza (even if we’re planning to drink our suspicious-looking green smoothie in a leftover pasta sauce jar that looks like pesto, but end up getting pizza, too, even if we’re allegedly vegan and probably shouldn’t be eating pizza, and yes I mean you, Austin). 

It would be nice to not feel guilty about Pizza Fridays. Because everyone could use one day a week where they don’t have everything all together and let one little thing (like lunch) slip. 

 

Wow, this was actually a lot easier than I expected it would be. Maybe I just need to write a blog post about what I want for my birthday every year.

Also: I would love some Christmas Eve pajamas. Every year when I don’t come home and I don’t get pajamas and everyone else does it’s wicked depressing. It’s already depressing I’m not there, and missing this one tradition makes it that much worse. However, this doesn’t mean you should get me some ridiculous pajamas, I know you love doing that. So we’re clear, this is about as festive as I’m willing to get.

I have to say, it felt kind of nice to gratuitously talk about stuff I want in a blog post.

Under the Yellow Umbrella

A week ago Saturday I was at my other other job, driving out to a delivery, and as I generally do in that situation I had the radio on. There was an interview with a musician, and she talked about one of her songs about the quintessential American woman. Somewhere along the way she said, “You can’t keep her down, you can’t hold her back,” and my already-low heart sunk a bit.

I wondered, When did I become the opposite of that?

I have been feeling pretty kept down and held back of late. I am often too busy to feel much of anything, and when I get a moment, the feelings I have are usually sadness, frustration, anger, and other negativity. 

Sure, there are explanations. Being financially unstable, working constantly to try and make up for it, being pulled in all directions, having too much to manage, and there’s also the fact that I’ve been off my antidepressants for over a month.

It sucks to have less serotonin when things are so legitimately tough. But I also know that I’m not feeling the way I’ve felt when I needed to get on meds. There are plenty of times when I’m comfortable, relaxed, happy… when I have a good day with the kids or when I’m at work (the regular job). Still, I was starting to worry. Every day I’d leave work and feel my stomach start to clench. 

If you asked people if I’m the kind of person about whom you could say, “You can’t keep her down,” I’m guessing most would say yes. And yet, it wasn’t happening. 

I decided I needed to do a little brain intervention on myself. I’ve done one before that worked out quite well. It’s basically a decision to refuse to let my brain go down certain paths, or at least to refuse to let it get stuck there. 

And luckily last week I also had a quick 2-day press trip. I knew it could be fun, different, a break in the routine, but I mostly thought about the fallout in my schedule, the craziness that would surround it, and the stress of travel.

But then I stopped myself. Take it, I thought. Take this time and use it. How often lately have you wished you could just have a few hours with nothing on your to-do list? So take them.

And I did.

I had 4 hours between the wrap-up on Thursday and my drive to the airport. With the downtime, my gracious hosts encouraged me to rent a beach chair and an umbrella and enjoy the beach. They didn’t have to tell me twice.

beach 1 e1413751082885 Under the Yellow Umbrella

20141016 131418 e1413751118661 Under the Yellow Umbrella

It’s been years since I sat on a beach. I kind of forgot how to do it. At first I wasn’t sure I could pass 3 hours just sitting there with a book and the ocean. 

But I remembered.

The key is that you don’t really concentrate on anything. You let your brain float wherever it floats. One moment you read your book, and if you look up and watch the waves for a while, it’s okay. You just watch. There’s the book, the sun, the people, the waves, the occasional doze. 

It’s almost trance-like, there’s something about letting your brain go like that. It’s not exactly what you’d call happiness, but it’s not far off from it. It’s a kind of calm that knows nothing but the moment you’re currently in. I’m guessing it’s kind of like meditation. My mind wasn’t empty, it was taking in everything around me, but it wasn’t picking things apart, it wasn’t getting distracted by anything. This was the really amazing thing, not my gorgeous surroundings, but the fact that nothing was nagging at me from the back of my mind for once. 

I felt better afterwards. Calm, clean, collected. 

On Saturday I did a delivery shift and didn’t spend the whole thing feeling bad. 

Sunday didn’t quite go so well. The work was frustrating and my shift went too long and by the time I picked up the kids I could tell that whatever peace I’d picked up was mostly gone. 

I’m still hoping that I can tap into it. That was my main goal while I was there, getting so enveloped in that feeling that I could summon it when I needed it. Or at least build up a long-empty reserve. 

I don’t really expect it to last, but it doesn’t mean I won’t work on it. 

Next time I get an opportunity for a vacation, it could be years, but whenever it is, I know a beach will be on top of my list. Sure, I love sightseeing and museums and exploring. But I get something from a beach that I can’t get anywhere else and it’s more than worth it.

Three

You know those stories you hear from someone who’s successful and accomplished and they tell you about how they grew up disadvantaged and you’ll hear them say something like, “My mom worked 3 jobs to put food on the table.” You know that story.

It’s a nice story. A story of sacrifice and reward. You think of that mother and you see her as someone noble.

Well, right now I am working three jobs to put food on the table and make sure our bills are paid and we have a place to stay. I have my 9-5, I have freelance writing projects due nearly every week, and I have my new part time delivery job. 

I’m writing this on Saturday night. I spent all week doing my 9-5 from Monday to Friday. On Monday and Tuesday nights I took care of kids. On Wednesday night I came home and worked on freelance projects. On Thursday night I took a shift on delivery. On Saturday morning I got up and took a delivery shift, a longer one than I expected. I was working until 3, then I took a few hours to run errands, then I came home and started working on freelance jobs. On Sunday morning I’ll get up, work another delivery shift, and then pick up the kids and start the week over again. The only time I wasn’t working this week was Friday night.

So let me tell you something. Working 3 jobs to put food on the table sounds noble.

Working 3 jobs doesn’t feel noble. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing it for your kids, it doesn’t matter if it’s to put food on the table. You don’t get to feel noble, you don’t get to feel fulfilled or satisfied. You don’t get to feel like it’s all worth it, or at least it will be eventually. 

You’re too tired and busy to feel those feelings.

All you feel is tired and busy. That’s pretty much it.

And honestly? If I had the time and capacity to feel my feelings, I don’t think I would feel particularly noble. Other people have a place to live and food to eat and clothes to wear without working 3 jobs. It’s not like working harder or longer makes those things any better or more worthwhile.

I’m taking a break from my work at the present moment because I’m fading. The deadlines don’t care that I’m fading. The hours I have to put in don’t care either. These things must be done and that’s that. Tomorrow will be another day, and after that there will be more days, and the days will just keep coming. I have a tiny blip in a couple weeks, a period of about 30 hours where I’ll be mostly off the hook. It won’t be enough, and I won’t be able to stretch out and relax enough to feel ready to get back into the grind again. But that’s life. That’s how things are right now.

 Oh, and “now” has morphed into Sunday night. Because I went back to work on my projects and then collapsed of exhaustion around 10. My morning of work and afternoon of kids has me beat enough that I’ll probably be in my bed at 8:30, which is coming up soon. Tessa is making little noises from her bed. She wasn’t feeling well at her dad’s house and it’s possible I’ll be sharing my bed with her tonight, which will be a setback for the week for sure. 

I wonder if I’ll ever tell the kids about this time. Will they ever ask me what it was like after their dad and I split up? Will they ever be curious about whether we went through hard times? Of course, all this assumes that eventually times won’t be hard. I force myself to think that way. I think that I could meet someone, get married again, and go back to the bliss of a household where two people can share the responsibility of meeting financial burdens. I think that the kids’ dad could be making a lot more money in a few years, which would mean my child support payments could go from miniscule to actually helping. I think that maybe we’ll move somewhere that I could find an apartment at half the price I’m paying now. I think that things could change at work, or maybe there will be a different job in a few years, or whatever other tricks of fate could have an impact on my monthly paycheck.

Part of me insists there’s no need to tell my kids about my struggle. But most of me disagrees. Most of me thinks it’s important to show that adulthood doesn’t mean you’re free from trouble. It doesn’t mean you can’t make mistakes or that bad things won’t happen. Things go wrong, life takes turns, you shouldn’t judge someone for their misfortune. If I tell them, that’s how I’ll do it. 

And who knows, maybe one day, years from now, one of my kids will be at a microphone, telling the story of their single mom working three jobs. I’m hoping if they do, at the end they tell everyone about how thanks to their unbelievable success they’ve sent their mother off to a beach to retire in luxury.

Those Five Years

There are only a few periods in my life that I look at and feel grateful to have behind me. Those chunks of time were unpleasant but necessary and while I came out of them better and stronger, I mostly feel glad they’re over. 

I’m guessing most of us have those times. One of them was the three years of middle school, and I’m guessing I’m not alone there. I was a new kid at school, awkward and tribe-less. I never got anywhere close to comfortable in those years.

The other was the 2 years or so that took me from faithful Mormon to dedicated Agnostic. Those were some hard years. It was a long struggle, mostly internal, that I couldn’t share with anyone. There was a lot of denial, the occasional self-destructive streak, and plenty of times when I just shut my brain off so I didn’t have to think about anything anymore.

I realized the other day as I continued my ongoing consideration of how I’m doing without meds I was thinking how I’d look back and see it as Those Five Years When I Was On Antidepressants. 

But then the picture got a little bigger.

Those Five Years When I Was In And Then Suddenly Out of a Tough Marriage.

Those Five Years When I Struggled Through Babyhood.

Those Five Years When My Career Went Off the Rails

Those Five Years When I Trudged Through Autism.

It’s been a hell of a five years.

And then I had another crazy thought: Those Five Years are just about over.

In a little over 4 months Tessa will start school. No more babies in my house. No more therapy sessions in my living room, so many countless hours of sessions over these last few years that I can hardly imagine life without it. She’s talking and starting to seem like a 2-year-old. I’m officially divorced. I’m in a full-time job.

Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t exactly all roses over here. Life is tough. It’s tough every day. I’m still feeling overwhelmed and overworked.

But.

All these things that have been so hard, these things that haven’t just been so hard but that have been so hard AT THE SAME TIME are just about done. My current challenges aren’t the same ones that have plagued me for these last several years. They’re new and frustrating and awful but they’re new.

And soon I will look back on this period of my life the way I look back now at my difficult faith transition. Those years that are a huge part of my story, a big chunk of who I am, but that are past.

Past.

I can’t tell you the huge figurative sigh of relief that comes with that one word.

I’m still not quite sure if I’m out of the tunnel or just able to see the light at the end of it. There were plenty of times when it seemed like that light would never come. There were plenty of times when the possibility that the light would never come was very real and very plausible. But it’s coming. It might even be here already. It’ll be a while before the lines start to become clear.

This will be a chunk of time. A difficult, harrowing, crazy, formative chunk of time. And it’ll be over.

And I can’t tell you how happy that makes me.

There Must Be (Thirty)Something More Than This

A couple months ago I was very smart and got a deal on Audible that got me 3 audiobooks for 6 bucks and after I forgot about it for a couple months, I finally started using them. That’s how I ended up listening to Landline by Rainbow Rowell (affiliate link) for the last few days. It’s delightful, but also has me all meditative. What’s struck me as I listen is just how much it’s about 30-something life. Especially what you think your 30’s will be compared to how they shake out.

Your 30’s is when things are supposed to start coming together. You build your family, you advance in your career, you settle into your friendships, you find your financial footing.

So far none of these things are happening to me. 

I mean, yes, I have two kids, but building a family is more complicated than procreation. I guess I had this one for a while, but so so much of that hard work got destroyed by the subsequent family-breaking-apart business. 

I have a job, but I have yet to stick to a career with forward movement and progress and expertise. I have a salary, but I am still living paycheck to paycheck. I pay my bills (hopefully all of them) and then hold my breath for a few more weeks. I’ve made friends, but my community is spread out and me being single has only made my connection to the almost-completely-married bunch more tenuous.

I feel like my 30’s were supposed to be my prime in that 30’s-are-the-new-20’s kind of way. The decade when I had myself together enough to enjoy life, where I’d be wise enough to not feel embarrassed about myself in the future, where I’d really come into my own. But so far, nearly halfway through, my 30’s just feel unmoored. Busy, exhausted, and unmoored. So when will my prime get here? Will it ever get here? Did I already miss it? Is there even such a thing?

I have my doubts.

And there’s more. Your 30’s aren’t just the years that life sorts itself out. They’re also the years when things start getting painfully real. In your 20’s you get your first brushes with mortality. Friends die in accidents and get cancer. In your 30’s, that keeps happening, and on top of that your friends’ kids die in accidents and get cancer. At the rate things are going, I expect this to just continue getting worse from here.

Now it feels like 30’s are when you sit down for the first time and say to yourself, “This is not what was supposed to happen.”

But what next? What happens after you say that? I guess on the plus side it’s only the 30’s! You’ve still got time to throw a real life together. You haven’t yet reached the point where you’re looking back mournfully on a misspent life. I’ve still got 5 years to see what I can make out of this decade. And looking back at how much has happened in the last 5 years, I can see just how much time that is. 

It’s a lot of time, but there’s still a lot I’d like to do. I’ll be honest, the thought of entering my 40’s in the state I’m in now is terrifying. Somehow it’s excusable now by the fact that I’m still 34, that this is just temporary, that things will come together. I sure hope they will, because I’ve only got 5 years and a couple months left to get ready for the next decade.