Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Not today... just not even close.

Most days ... that's probably not true... some days, sometimes even some weeks I not only have my act together, but I juggle two high-demand jobs, committees, commitments, physical endurance training, parenting and planning for the future like superwoman.  I end the day with a tall glass of ice cold, unfiltered pale ale. I bring the glass to the bathroom and sip my beer as I remove my makeup, carefully, with the facial wipes specific for my skin type - the ones I researched online, smelled in the store, comparison shopped for and remembered to bring from the car into the house, and then later remembered to bring upstairs to the bathroom.  I swab my face and neck with the 15% glycolic acid wipes, skipping the more sensitive spots. I dry brush the skin of my legs and arms. I pull on baggy shorts and a tank top, and with my hair in a top knot, I lounge in my sweet smelling, freshly laundered bed linen, under my giant down comforter. I pull my computer on to my lap and I return emails. I post in forums. I read, take in, understand and carefully respond to my friends' stories and ideas. I journal! I play soft Enya or Einaudi in the background, to remind me of the peace I feel at the end of a genuinely productive day. I remember to bring my empty glass back down to the kitchen. I set the timer on the coffee maker (for 445am, so it will be brewed by the time I wake up). I brush my teeth and add peroxide to my water pick, and use the entire reservoir full, really doing it right.

And on those nights I think: this wasn't hard. It was actually very easy. The more I do, the more I feel capable of doing. The more accomplished I feel, the kinder I am to myself. I have time for everything - tonight proved it. Today was a good day. A productive, well-lived day. This is the day that regular grown adults have - every day. This is the day my mother had, plus some extra children, plus a husband, minus a couple of full time jobs and sports. This is the day a normal adult is supposed to have - every day.

But after a few days, my energy starts to lower. My linens aren't as fresh, the cats' water is getting old, the plants are peaky, dust bunnies are accumulating on the stairs. I can't maintain the perfection of effort and endurance every day. I start to surf gossip sites, my comments to friends become argumentative and petty. I don't return calls, because talking to someone takes up too much energy. I avoid my work email account, knowing the time it will take to sort through - and a few days of this avoidance creates a ticking time bomb of stress hanging over me. I keep up with my skin routine because I can be vain and shallow about my looks and I'll find the extra time to make that routine happen, but I'll do it while watching Law & Order SVU with my laptop propped on the bathroom counter, my third beer in a glass next to me, avoiding my own tired eyes in the mirror and becoming enraged with the cats for getting increasingly loud in their need for attention. I fall asleep with lights left on, the latest SVU victim working their way into my dreams. I awaken unrefreshed and guilty at the magnitude of my to-do list. A day off could be productive - and I take it - but I lounge all day instead, rationalizing everything.

The thing is, on days like that - and they might actually be half my days, if I can admit that - I know how much better I'll feel if I grimly pen a to-do list and grimly march my way through the top 5 things on it. It will scare me, annoy me, make me resentful at first - and then the magical transition happens, when the momentum feels good. I think: this is how it works. This is how the good times begin. You make a list, you follow through. You are not afraid to read your email, answer your phone, see your boss walking up to your office door. You don't regret your dietary decisions, and you don't watch a low-def youtube videos of a netflix series because you don't want the people who share your account to know how much time you've invested in TV that day. You run at the break of dawn, you feel smug and accomplished about that all day - go on, you deserve it, it was hard - and you tackle things, and you feel powerful and accomplished and more worthy of self-care.

However today is simply not one of those days.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Focus past your goal

It's probably occurred to me at some point, but not recently - and not in this context.  Rather than focusing on my goal at the moment, I should be focusing past my goal, to the next thing on my mind.

This makes sense on a lot of levels.

1. I always do better at something tricky and/or requiring any amount of subtlety if I don't look right at it. If I'm distracted, disinterested, thinking of something completely different - any of those things, or all of them - I usually nail exactly what I'm looking past. The job I didn't really want. The opportunity I had already dismissed. The project I thought was never going to happen.  It's like The Secret, only the opposite. Or "only better"?????

2. It's always nice to have a dream in reserve. It's weird to say, but I've said it quite a bit to my family and friends: I've really done all of the things I've wanted to do in my lifetime. No I don't mean that all my useful days are over, but that each time I have a big dream, I seem to meet that dream and live it. And then on the other side of living it, I realize (with some sense of depression for a few months) that I haven't yet build a new dream to work for. What can make us happier than being on the cusp of all we wanted? Actually having all we wanted! And then how do we follow that act? By being the person who is looking back with excitement and awe, but not looking forward? I need a reserve dream, so when I overshoot my current dream, I have a soft landing.

3. I need to stop obsessing about some of my current situations. Since I am a born and bred obsessive thinker and worker, this means I need to substitute obsessing about one situation for obsessing about another. This would work well ONLY if I had more than one thing I was genuinely dreaming of.

4. I need a plan. Desperately.  I don't often think more than one step ahead, and I am lonely right now, and I need structure. I don't know that the dream-beyond-the-dream would help my loneliness, but it would definitely ease my need for structure.

For the next few days I'm going to think more about this. Focusing past my goal. The dream beyond my dream.

PS. Tomorrow is a big interview for me. For the "current dream".  In the car on the way there, I totally have to come up with the Next Big Thing so I can look beyond what I so desperately want. (this is where it starts to sound a bit made up.... )

Now that I have all this free time to better myself....

Every article I read on the subject of Empty Nesting seems to imply that I'll suddenly have a lot of extra time on my hands, now that young Ky is out of the house during the school year.  Some of their suggestions are downright silly: "Take your first uninterrupted bath in decades!!"  -- as if my teenager had been banging on the bathroom door, demanding my undivided attention at 10pm? More likely teens in high school treasure the time they have to themselves, and assuming there are enough bathrooms to go around in your house, they certainly aren't sitting around wishing that you were hanging out in their room instead of taking a bath. 

I really don't have all that much "extra time" now that Ky's in college. What I have is the same, if not more, responsibilities for chores and activities and meetings and work, but without the guilt that while I'm doing what needs to be done, I *should be* also hanging out having heart to hears with my teenager. So I've left some part of the parenting guilt behind, but to be quite honest, the guilt didn't take up much time. Just head space.

However I have to admit I've been looking forward to guilt free evenings to indulge in one of my favorite things to do - learn about something academic that falls outside my main profession.  Never more than since I've been in charge of creating college classes from scratch have I appreciated what a gift it is to sit back and let someone TELL ME about an interesting subject. Someone who has weeded through all the trash, the outdated information, the misinformation, the boring information, and summarized a new subject for me before handing it to me in 45 minute increments in an engaging and organized way. Dude, that is like Christmas morning to me. I can't say enough good things about being taught something by someone else - preferably a good teacher.
Not being able to afford the time or money to go back to school (or, frankly, having the desire to get another degree in my lifetime) I was super psyched to read about free online courses offered by various Universities around the world. I subscribed to a bunch of different ones and ended up settling on a few offered by one of the big organizations (it's called Coursera, but I'm sure there are tons of others I haven't found yet.)

I'm currently "taking" 3 classes. I download the video from the class, extract the audio part, upload it to my phone and listen to lectures while I'm running. That's how much of a dork I am - I love getting lectured to while I run. 

I find myself learning a lot though and wishing I'd realized what a gift a good class really is, back when I was in college and grad school. I'm one of those students the statistics are talking about who sign up for a course, but never "finish" it.... I don't care so much about participating in forums or taking quizzes. Despite all the assurances of how much "extra free time" I have now that my nest has been emptied, I still don't seem to have time for 2 jobs plus multiple classes. Go figure...

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Reminder.... (to myself)

Knowing that Ky's fledging from my warm, loving nest is also a fledging time for me. I have always been a parent, first and foremost. I'm also an individual who, way back in the day, used to stare up into the tree in my back yard, watching the wind blow the leaves around and get hypnotized by their motion, dreaming of my future.

I never dreamed of specifics, but more of feelings. What I wanted my life to feel like, what I wanted to feel like in my life.

I never lost that, parenting, but it got pushed to the back over the years - as did most things that fell below the level of "necessity" or "emergency" - but it never disappeared.

I think rediscovering that inner dreamer, the person who not only had the time to get hypnotized by leaves, but understood on some level how important it was to let that happen, is one of my own wobbly next steps in my life.

How many times has necessity and practicality taken over my entire life? How many times a day now do I still push down my gut feeling in order to make it to my next stop? How much effort and time do I carve out now that I have this new piece of silence at home, this new empty seat at the table (both literally and figuratively), to change the parts that are not working?

Is 40 young, or old? (I honestly don't know anymore)

Ten years from now, when I look back (as I look back on my 30's, now) will I roll my eyes at my 40 year old self for spending precious time worrying about whether 40 was old or young enough to capture something I was missing?

About me, fledged

I'm 40, a single mother with an 18 year old Ky, and a new and uncertain empty-nester.

I've been a single parent my entire adult life. Over the years I think I've somehow let being a single parent become most of my identity. Not that I only live for my child, helicopter-parent-style - I have a really demanding career, I have two graduate degrees, I have interests that don't involve parenting... it's just that parenting has always been the best foot I've had to put forward and my primary way of seeing myself. And parenting has always anchored me. 

I was a free spirit back in college - I dated quite a bit, I liked to drink, dance, last-minute travel backpack-style, camp on the beach and have whatever adventures presented themselves to me. I was the "try anything once" type. I was just getting into that self discovery stage when I found myself completely unexpectedly pregnant. From that point forward my life spun out in a much different direction than I'd foreseen.  

I made a promise to myself - one of those promises you might make when you find yourself pregnant in your very early 20's - "I will not let parenting become my excuse for not doing interesting and adventurous things with my life - I'll just have to change how those things happen!"  And really, immature and naive as it was, I've held to that promise incredibly well.

Over the years Ky has grown up in various kinds of student housing as I went on to get my advanced degrees, we've traveled around the world together, lived in exotic and completely non-exotic locations, and had so many adventures that I sometimes wonder if that promise I made to myself didn't actually propel me into doing MORE things than I would have done if left to my own, single devices. I sometimes think I've filled my parenting life with adventure just to prove that parenting didn't have to mean letting those dreams go.

One consequence of our lifestyle is that I managed to raise a child who is a complete homebody! Ky LOVES putting down roots and remaining in one place, forming lasting relationships and having a regular, happy, grounded routine. 
Quite often, seeing this homebody, roots-loving side makes me feel a lot of regret about some of the vagabond choices I made for us. 

Other times I rationalize that I gave Ky the best life I knew how to create. I'm a smart woman, but I wasn't a particularly wise parent. In the early days especially, I wasn't very mature and I operated from a fairly self-centered perspective for quite a while. When Ky was in 7th grade I promised that we'd stay in the same town until high school graduation, and it was the best decision I could have made for us. We still traveled, we still had adventures - we just did it from a stable base. 

Now Ky is in college and I'm kind of a bit shocked to find myself an actual empty-nester. While most of my friends have just become parents in the last few years, I'm once again finding myself a bit displaced - pioneering the  next stage of parenting without any guideposts. 

I've read some articles about empty-nesting, and none of them speak to me. I don't have a marriage to re-commit to. I'm already IN the workforce, but I'm not ready to retire or finding myself with so much time on my hands that I need to volunteer to fill it. 

What do single, 40 year old women do when they find themselves empty nesting? 

Reclaim their lost youth?

Travel even more?

Finally have a functional adult romantic relationship??

Career transition? Go back to school (again?!?!)?!?

Take up an all-consuming hobby?
I really don't know, and I feel a bit lost at this point. It feels like, for the first time since I was a naive young thing in college, I'm being offered the wide open world - but I don't know quite what to do with it. I'm going to use this blog to work my way through it, and I hope to connect to some like minded folks along the way.

I like "fledged" as a name because I'm realizing that not only has my chick Ky fledged, but it feels like I'm leaving the nest as well in a way. The safe little parenting nest I've made for myself over the years. 

Strange to think of it this way, but in this strange new world, parent and child have both fledged.