Sometimes happiness comes under the most unexpected of circumstances.

The Challenge of Being Alone

Posted: July 31st, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: challenges, happiness | Tags: , | 4 Comments »

 

Private time

When I lived in Northampton, I never really felt alone because every time I went downtown, I would run into someone I knew. Plus, I was never away from my kids for more than two days, so my alone times were short-lived.

During this two-week spurt of childlessness (and partnerlessness), I am diving much deeper into the experience of solitude. I wrote last week about my day at the De Cordova Museum and my solo matinee (it’s kind of easy to hide alone in the dark). Sunday, with none of my friends available to join me, I drove 35 minutes northeast to the Lowell Folk Festival by myself. To be fair, I thought that a friend of mine from Northampton might be there, but I still had to motivate myself to get out of the house on a gloomy day that looked like it might rain to go to a part of the Boston area that I had never been before. I was definitely tempted to veg on the couch and watch the Olympics instead.

When I got to Lowell and wound my way through the rather large crowds, I felt a peculiar elation. My ex hated crowds, and so does my daughter. I’m not a huge fan of them either, but I found that they are a lot easier to manage when you are alone and don’t have to worry about losing anyone (or someone feeling tense about them). And of course there is that old adage about the freedom of being alone in a crowd. I did meet my friend and ended up having a really fun afternoon drinking a little beer, eating Filipino food, and dancing to some great music.

I can’t say that I always like being alone. Yesterday, I chose to go to the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain and saw a couple staring romantically at each other on a bench, and kind of thought it would be better with a date. However, once again, I found some benefits. When I am not busy chatting with someone else, I am more observant of my surroundings. I notice more of the subtleties of my environment.

After the arboretum, I stopped in for lunch at a local restaurant where they had a special of a burger and a beer, which reminded me of Spain, where I drank either wine or beer with every midday meal. Then I headed to JP Licks, which is an ice cream store in the rest of the city but is a real café here in Jamaica Plain, complete with comfy leather armchairs. I enjoyed watching my fellow MacBook users, inventing stories in my head about what their lives were like.

The more time I spend alone, the more accustomed to it I get. It no longer feels strange or awkward, and instead of self-conscious, I am starting to feel empowered. On that note, I have decided to set myself a challenge of going to more new places alone. I haven’t taken myself out for dinner before. There are some local bars that I would like to visit alone. As with most goals, I get a kick of satisfaction just from accomplishing them.

In the meanwhile, I’ll keep you posted on how these things go. And I’d love to hear about things that you have done alone that maybe took real nerve. Maybe you hated them or maybe you found that it was a lot more fun than you thought.


Filling the Void

Posted: July 26th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: challenges, happiness | Tags: , | 6 Comments »

St Paul´s Tube, August 2011

It seems as though my current theme is how to fill the void created when your children are with your ex. It was fitting therefore that I ended up going to a matinee showing of a movie with that same topic, albeit in a very different manner. “Take This Waltz” was billed as a movie about a happily married woman who finds herself inexplicably drawn to a man who lives across the street from her.

As I watched the film, I couldn’t figure what message it was trying to send because for most of it, it seemed as if it were about the protagonist resisting the urge to cheat. That would have been a novel topic although perhaps unsatisfying for the viewers who had endured numerous sexually and emotionally charged moments with the illicit couple. Spoiler alert: the woman eventually leaves her husband and falls ecstatically into the arms of her beloved only to find that he too eventually becomes mundane and boring (demonstrated by bathroom scenes where they urinate and brush their teeth in front of each other).

There is a subplot of an alcoholic sister-in-law that eventually brings a denouement and reveals the film’s message. When she falls off the wagon after a year of sobriety, she accuses Margot of being the fuckup, saying that life has a gap in it and you don’t go trying to fill it like an idiot (which of course is ironic from a woman who has just tried to fill it with alcohol). Margot then realizes her mistake and asks her husband to try again, and he refuses, thereby letting the viewers know exactly what she has lost in her attempt to fill her own internal void. The film’s last scene is of Margot on an amusement park ride smiling, leading us to believe that she has temporarily found an innocuous thrill so that she doesn’t have to go looking for another illicit affair.

I don’t want to start preaching about how we shouldn’t have extramarital affairs because most of you have probably already figured that one out. However, the truth about us all having some kind of need that we are trying to satiate, a gap that requires filling did really resonate with me. I have felt that gap on many occasions in my life, especially since I have returned from Spain and my kids went to spend time with my ex. I briefly tried to fill it with an old flame until I realized that was not going to work. Now I am trying to be more mindful and simply content with the space that is currently in my life. Maybe I’m trying to cram it with lots of exciting adventures and activities, but I certainly know that museums and matinees are healthier experiences than, say, drunkenness and illicit sex.

Nevertheless, I am aware that even simple activities like talking on the phone while I drive are a way to make sure that I don’t have a quiet and dare I say boring moment. A novel that I am reading, The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris, made the following observation that I found to be quite thoughtful:
“Email and PDA, cell phone and voicemail were extensions of the ruinous consuming self. They made thoughts of the self instantaneously and irrepressibly accessible. Who’s calling me, who’s texting me, who wants me, me, me. The ego went on every walk and ride, replacing the vistas and skylines, scrambling the delicate meditative code.”

As I watched the movie, I noticed that that there were several other single people in the theater. The woman next to me seemed quite affected by the film, as she cried during a particular scene in which the protagonist was trying to explain her ennui and vague feelings of discontent to her husband (who replied “What. The. Fuck. Are. You. Talking. About?). I couldn’t help but wonder what void she was experiencing and how she might be trying to fill it.

So I am curious, what do you do to fill the emptiness that sometimes resides either inside your heart or simply within the structure of your life? Are there productive ways to fill it? Right now, I am heading to yoga class, which is both an activity that helps my fill my time but that also helps me just accept the gap as a inevitable part of my existence.


Traveling as a Single Mom

Posted: June 3rd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: happiness, parenting | Tags: , , | 14 Comments »

Often, there is no better way to get to know someone than by traveling with them. You take them out of their everyday lives, away from responsibilities and distractions and into new surroundings. You get to see what they notice and how they deal with unexpected events and unfamiliar circumstances. This phenomenon is even more heightened when you travel to a different country that has its own language, food, and customs.

 

A week ago, my kids and I left for Spain to spend six weeks in Madrid. My university sent me to teach a literature course for American students who are studying abroad. This weekend, we went to Sevilla, where my two little ones, 7 and 10 years old, were part of a group of 60 university students and a handful of adults. It was a strenuous trip, as they were forced to keep up on a two-day walking tour of Sevilla’s most important sights, the Cathedral, the Reales Alacazares, historic neighborhoods, the Fine Arts Museum, and the Guadalquivir River, which allowed the city to become the doorway to the New World. On top of that, we ate at several restaurants that served authentic regional cuisine, and we stayed out until all hours catching the local culture. Many of the college students were worn down by all the sight-seeing and activity, and I won’t deny that my kids had their moments where they couldn’t walk another step. At one point two girls flagged down a taxi and took the kids back to the hotel where I met them and we headed to a rooftop pool overlooking the city, where they got to swim and splash around with some of the students.

 

Jonah and Layla are like any other kids in that they sometimes get cranky, especially when they are tired, uncomfortable, or hungry.  Nevertheless, they are amazingly resilient and adventurous. Jonah was especially interested in the Andalusian food, as he tried various kinds of fried fish, including sardines and mini squid with their heads on, Iberian ham from special pigs that eat only acorns, and deer stew, which he said was his favorite dish.  Layla is partial to the cold cuts (embutidos) that Spain is known for. Last night, at a tapas restaurant, she requested that we order a certain sausage. She ate the whole serving herself, and then immediately put her head on the table and fell asleep. She woke up just in time for dessert and then walked twenty minutes or so to track down a local secret, a neighborhood club that has nightly flamenco shows. We didn’t make it home until about 1 am.

 

Before we left for Spain, I bought them some journals that gave them several recommendations on how to make the best of a new culture. One of the suggestions was to try the dish that seemed the least appetizing on the menu. I am sure that fish heads would probably qualify in that category. Others were to talk to the locals wherever you go and listen to their conversations as they talk to others. One afternoon we had a waitress that was quite taciturn and short with us. However, I was finally able to engage her in conversation by asking her questions about the food and the neighborhood. Layla looked at me and said that she realized that while sometimes people seem grumpy, they can be very nice if you are the first person to break the ice.

 

I have always considered Layla to be my shy child, but one of the students commented on how outgoing she was.  As we were waiting for the train back to Madrid, another student bought some coloring books of Sponge Bob, Hello Kitty and Strawberry Shortcake. The next thing I knew the kids were on the floor of the station drawing with a group of students, chatting and laughing amongst themselves. It was a very sweet moment, and it made me realize what a great opportunity this trip has been for them, not only to experience a new culture, but also to bond with people of different generations.

 

I’ve learned a lot about my kids in the last week, and they have learned a few things about me. The other day Layla told me that I am the funnest mom ever, and even Jonah, who has been going through a tween moment of being too cool for his mother, said that he was impressed by my Spanish. I’m sure that when we get back home and he is with his friends, he will once again be embarrassed by me, but for now I am enjoying the love and admiration. And I am profoundly grateful for this opportunity to bond with them abroad.

 

One of my friends commented recently on Facebook that I am “rocking the single mom life.” We single moms always have our moments of doubt. However, I have to admit that this trip has definitely made me feel like I am doing something right.


Gray Hair is Okay

Posted: May 13th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: challenges, happiness | Tags: , | 9 Comments »

 

Yesterday was my 45th birthday. As we were cuddling in bed, my 7-year-old Layla, who of course didn’t know that I was contemplating the march of time and the toll that it is taking on my body, looked at my temples and said, “Mama, you have a few gray hairs…but that’s okay.” Apparently, she does know that gray hair means aging and that many of us are NOT okay with that.

Last night I had a debate with a good friend about plastic surgery, namely boob jobs. My first response was that I didn’t want my daughter to even know that people surgically change their physiques because I didn’t want her to start looking critically at her own body. My friend argued that if surgery made a woman feel good about herself, what was the harm? Generally, I’m in favor of people having the freedom to live their lives as they see fit, but I must confess that I had a pang of frustration when discussing it with her. If women resort to artificial means of staying young and perky, it worries me that it puts pressure on our whole sex to keep up with the times, as it were. I wonder, especially with the media’s influence, whether or not, society has a realistic notion of what a 40-something woman looks like. And deep down inside, I am feeling a little insecure as I see changes in my own body that I don’t necessarily like.

Recently I confessed to a married friend that I feel that the pressure is even higher for those of us single middle-aged women who are looking to attract a partner.  Most of the men that I view online say that they will date women ten to fifteen years younger then them, but very few will go much more than a year or two older. Now I know that isn’t just about looks, but when I look at my ten-year-old’s baby pictures, I can’t help but notice that I do look different than I did a decade ago. Nevertheless, I don’t have the financial means to undergo plastic surgery, and even if I did, I don’t think I could willingly put myself under the knife.

Even more importantly, I am philosophically opposed to it. I want middle-aged women to be considered desirable and sexy. I want gray hair to be deemed chic. I hope that we can look at wrinkles and age spots, and say that they are the signs of a life well-lived. Nevertheless, there is that little voice inside my head that wants my 30-something looks back. How do I reconcile those competing viewpoints?

Well, I’m not sure. But in the meanwhile, as my friend Naomi Shulman noted in her NYTimes piece proclaiming the appeals of her cushy tushy, I have a young girl that is watching me age. And you know what, she is right, gray hair is okay. And even if most women I know dye their hair to get rid of the gray, I am going to dare to be unique. And unique can be pretty hot.

One of the lessons that I keep teaching my kids is that they need to make the best of what they have. For example, Jonah struggles with spelling and math, while his little sister is a whiz. Yet as a result, he has learned the power of hard work and persistence. Struggling with our own self-confidence and sense of attractiveness is not only natural but also an opportunity to develop other strengths.

So, here I am at 45, and that’s okay. Not only am I still physically attractive, healthy, and fit, but I also have an inner wisdom and sense of peace that I did not have ten years ago. I am more relaxed and easy-going. Each day I wake up with excitement to see what life has in store for me. I have a great new job in a wonderful new city, and soon I leave for six weeks in Madrid.

My little girl, who showers love on me daily, is wise beyond her years. I am okay. In fact, I am more than okay.

You can't see the gray hairs, but you can see the lovely earrings that Layla got me.


Living Well

Posted: April 30th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: challenges, happiness | Tags: , | 28 Comments »

The great thing about being a blogger that is constantly searching for positivity is that I have a storehouse of posts about finding that silver lining.  Once again, I have been feeling cranky, and I came across this post from February of 2011. It made me feel so much better that I thought I would share it again with you all.

Hidden Mickey Mural

 

I’ve been feeling unwell, not sick,

Just cranky, and not quite myself.

Hurt, frustration and fear have welled

Up inside of me, pestering me.

I tried to call upon wellbeing.

I opened my door up wide

And invited her in, cajoled even,

Okay, maybe I insisted she come,

Which is never the most seductive

Way to attract a desired guest.

So I backed off a bit.

I left her well enough alone.

I put extra effort into my

Teaching and grading and did yoga

And read with my kids and

Made comforting stews and banana bread.

Watched American Idol (a guilty pleasure).

Things that I have control over.

Things I know how to do.

Sure enough, she slowly found her

Way back, like a repentant lover.

I have to declare that living

Well is still the best revenge,

Even if really, truly, you’re only

Feeling vengeful against your own fate.

* * * * * * *

This post was brought to you by Six Word Friday.   One more word of wisdom about living well from my yoga teacher: “Don’t wait until you are dying of thirst to dig a well.”