Retrospective is everything

“Every five years or so I look back on my life and I have a good laugh” – Indigo Girls, Watershed

“Perspective is everything” – Aimee Mann, Invisible Ink

My friend Foxglove surprised me with a phone call one day. She’s a special ed teacher who deals with challenging kids all day and while going home she was thinking about how the parents of her students were going to manage over the weekend. This led to thinking about parents and parenting and how difficult it was to be “on call” 24/7, and her various friends who were now parents.

Gusto ko lang sabihing ang galing mo!” (I just wanted to let you know that you are awesome!), she had said, and when I asked where this was coming from she went into a discussion of Katie and me and all we’ve been through and just that she was happy about where we are and what we’ve become. “Biruin mo, a few years ago kung san san lang kayo nakikitira tapos ngayon.. basta ang galing mo!” (A few years ago, you lived from friend to friend and now…you’re just great!). Thanks Foxglove!

My friends have always been encouraging, and are the type to freely give a kind word. But lately, these affirmations have been resonating. It’s always pleasant to hear and gives me a certain high to be told I’m a good friend/listener/mother, and that someone believes in me especially from people who know our story. But for some reason, I feel I am really only hearing and believing this now that the shitstorm we went through is over.

The thing about difficult situations is that it is hard to find their value while you are in it. Five years ago, I didn’t think I was a good person– I was dragging my almost 2 year old from couch to couch, scrounging for food money, wallowing in debt and self pity and all I could think about was how to get to the next day and that I would have to do it all over again. I felt I was being unjustly punished. I felt bitter and that life would never be the same. I felt hopeless and that I would never be happy again. More days than not I contemplated “the end” and the relief that ceasing to exist would bring. I prayed I wouldn’t wake up. I prayed my ex would be struck by lightning. I prayed one day that God would stop hating me.

Dark days indeed.

During these days my therapist would tell me to focus on what I was doing as accomplishments. I was navigating a system foreign to me, as best as I could. That I was in an temporarily unpleasant situation but was doing extraordinary things. That I was doing the right things: getting help for depression and trying to get our life on track. That time would bring healing and that someday I would look back at all of this in awe.

Just as the newborn days are a haze of sleep deprived never ending hours where much happened and little is remembered, so are my dark days. We survived with the help of many, but also (as bestie Maya often reminds me) through my sheer determination and stubbornness. Now, 5 years later, I feel vindicated, validated and strong. Above all, I feel more human: more able to accept my mistakes and more likely to reach out to someone else who might be in the middle of their own dark days.

This is not the last shitstorm. Things won’t be smooth sailing forever. But retrospective is teaching me that life isn’t crummy all the time. And that somehow you become a better person because of what you’ve endured.

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In search of Samantha

Santa is my weakness. My parents made Santa so magical for me that I am compelled to do the same for Katie. I remember the awe of coming back after late night (not quite midnight) Christmas Eve mass to find presents under the tree. Santa always seemed to know what I wanted and later on, I would write letters to help him out. He never disappointed.

Now Katie has never been a fan of Santa or any mascot in costume. Take for instance my attempt at a Christmas photo with Santa in 2009:
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However, Santa did give nice presents so I guess from a distance she was able to deal with him.

Two Christmases ago, Santa brought K her favorite toy: Magnatiles. It was quite miraculous, not only because the delivery was magical but also as it required going halves with my ex-husband because I couldn’t afford them on my own (awkward but chalked up to “for the good of the child”).

As early as December 1, K already knew what to ask for
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American Girl. I never understood how dolls could be so pricy and I had hoped that we would be able to dodge this bullet because K prefers stuffed animals over dolls. Apparently they are all the rage in elementary school starting 1st or 2nd grade. Splitting with the ex was out of the question (“Oh, hell no!”) so I was going to be on my own.

K initially wanted Samantha, the orphan girl who grew up with her grandmother, befriended a kitchen maid and stood up for child labor in the 1900’s. In the looks department, she was cute (as long as you got over the, um, creepy eyes and rabbit teeth) and had brown hair and eyes like Katie. I scoured eBay for a used Samantha in decent condition ($70+$20 shipping) and by mid month was all set. After a quick trip to the Natick/Boston store doll spa for a cleaning ($5) and hairdo freshening ($10), the previously unavailable retired doll was ready to go under the tree. Of course at some point in December K had also switched her choice from Samantha to Saige (2013 girl of the year who fought to have art classes funded in her school despite having stage fright and being quite shy –$119 in store) but Santa had already depleted her budget and didn’t want to get stuck with 2 dolls.

The result was magical (<– link to video). And as always, worth the effort. P.S. 3 weeks later, she is still playing with Samantha every day. That is totally a win.

Merry Happy Holidays from us!
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Four Birthdays and a Wedding

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To say that this weekend was busy is an understatement. I will admit to some shock when I was looking at my trusty google calendar and found it a mess of color blocks. In addition to it being the last week of school with 2 early release days, we had committed to attending 4 birthday parties and a wedding.

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what a difference a schoolyear makes!

There was a time when I would not have attended any of these events. When even just being around people was unpleasant and having to interact, painfully excruciating. I see our (disclaimer: I say “our” when it is really Katie’s social life that is rockin’) busy social life as an indication of my improved mental health and a return to “normalcy”. These days, when I tell people, “I’m back!” I really mean it and I feel great!

Besides, who doesn’t love birthday parties? The kids have fun and get tired. There is cake and a chance of excellent free food. Some parties (my favorite kind) even save me from having to cook a meal. Between mom’s group/baby playgroup friends, a church community that is ever expanding, and school, there are a lot of birthdays to celebrate. I wouldn’t say I recommend being this busy every weekend but then again, the laundry can be folded some other time. After all, it has already been sitting on Katie’s bed for more than a month.

We were also privileged to be invited to my ex-brother-in-law’s very intimate, simple yet classy and heartfelt wedding. Because of the deception I underwent at the hands of my ex-husband, I felt I could not trust any of his family. Even worse, I was afraid they would try and take Katie away from me. Pat and Ally were the first ones to reach out, and kept trying to include us when I gave excuses like “too busy”, “too far”, “not a good time” or even when I simply ignored the invitation. They didn’t give up on someday having a relationship not only with Katie, but also with me. And you know what? Persistence pays off and thanks to them, Katie will know that side of her family. Which is in part why I was determined to swallow the awkwardness, embrace the weird and be part of their special day.

But of course I employed the help of my Fairy Gothmother to be extra pretty 🙂
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Doing the right thing is really really hard. I only hope one day Katie will see that I did this for her: so she won’t be wondering about the other side of her family and she can form her own opinions about and relationships with them.
When I see her face, I am glad I didn’t take away moments like this no matter what I feel.

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6

For her 6th birthday, my daughter had 2 requests. The first one was “Please pick me up from school and take me to the beach

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Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Walden Pond was the nearest “beach” and katie spent a good afternoon splashing and playing with sand. Her teachers thought it was a great way to spend a birthday. Her classmates, in a sugar high from Keyks cupcakes, all wanted to come along.

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The second request: “I want to have dinner with my whole family” was a bit more tricky.

Katie’s father and I separated when she was a little more than a year old. At that time I didn’t think I wanted us to have anything to do with him or his family ever again. But if years of therapy has taught me anything, it is this: there are no ex-parents. No matter what happened between us, if she wanted to she would be free to get to know him and his side of her genetic make up.

My friends think this is heroic of me but let me tell you, it ain’t heroic at all. It is AWKWARD and WEIRD. But it has only gotten less so over time. And hey, single moms need all the help they can get– this at least was a dinner that I didn’t have to pay for or cook.
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the birthday girl with her Boston family

Happy 6th birthday to my light and joy!
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