What it Takes to Get Over a Divorce

About three months after my separation, I read a book about divorce. The book said that it would take at least a year of misery before I started to feel better. It also said that denial is the first stage, and that I’d feel like things were improving, only to be hit with the brunt of the “devastation” a few months later.

That book pissed me off.

I didn’t appreciate some jerk telling me I was going to suffer through another nine months of this garbage, after I’d already been through three months of hell. I especially hated being told that I was in denial and things would be getting worse. Screw that guy.

Well, that guy was right.

Actually, he was only mostly right. He said that I’d be grieving for my marriage, and grieving for the loss of my partner. But I truly believe that I did the majority of my grieving for the marriage while I was still in it. I did have to grieve for the Life That Should Have Been, and I also had to accept the Life That Is. I think accepting the Life That Is was harder than letting go of the Life That Should Have Been.

The misery over the next year and a half was related to the personal work I had to do, more than my marriage. I knew I had work to do. I couldn’t simply look at the marriage and say, “well, that was his fault.” I am not perfect. At the very least, I put myself in that position, and I didn’t know why.

I’ve never looked at “personal work” as a hard or negative thing. I actually quite enjoy it (and for a long time I think I subconsciously chased difficult experiences, so that I’d be forced to grow). Nothing, though, could have prepared me for the amount of work I have had to do post-divorce. It’s been exhausting, depressing, amazing, anxiety-provoking, and liberating all at once. There were a lot of things I needed to work on. Self-worth was one of them, along with being okay without a relationship. Creating boundaries was another. But giving up my insane grip on control has been the Big Kahuna.

I viewed my life as a checklist. I was not brave enough to ask myself, “What do I want?” Instead, I went through the motions of what we’ve all been told will make us happy. On some deep level, I thought, “if I can just check off all these items, everything will turn out okay.” I spent my life worrying about things I had no control over, trying to fix things that couldn’t be fixed, and fruitlessly attempting to protect myself from being hurt.

Needless to say, it didn’t work.

When I faced my life, I had to admit: my attempt at keeping the “safe life” I thought I’d created intact failed. I worked at it for nearly a decade, and I couldn’t fix it. If a “safe” life can fail, where does that leave me? Is anything safe? Turns out, my life actually wasn’t so safe.

Some people think divorce is the easy way out. The reality is, divorce is harder than marriage – and I say that from the perspective of someone who did the work required by marriage. In divorce, you have to be brave enough to face the unknown, and you have to rebuild your life from the ground up. It is not for the faint at heart.

Now, in most cases I think this kind of realization would lead to a breakdown. I didn’t feel that I had that choice, though: I had to stay strong for my daughter. So instead of breaking down, I just kept going.

If you’ll bear with me, I’m going to guide you through my Divorce Analogy. (I figured this out after a lot of therapy, haha.)

All blame is a waste of time. No matter how much fault you find with another, and regardless of how much you blame him, it will not change you. - Wayne Dyer

I think about life as a journey with neverending doors that might have something scary on the other side. For years, I was willing to limit myself to a tiny room. When I had my daughter, I took a good, hard look at that room and realized just how tiny it was. I wanted my daughter to see the world, so I opened the door and left my marriage.

On the other side, I found what appeared to be a creepy, haunted forest. Okay, I thought, I can handle this. I walked out the door and into the forest. I figured out a lot of the details of my life – I found some tools, I learned that I have an amazing support system, and I realized I was strong enough to carry the 80 pound backpack I had strapped to my back. I kept walking, and before long I found myself trudging through a giant pond of muck. I had no idea how long it was going to take to get out of that muck, but I just kept walking. I wasn’t depressed, but I was exhausted. I kept thinking it would end soon, and I thought once the legal process was over, I’d be out of the muck.

But I hadn’t actually taken the time to truly examine my life. It all seemed too dramatic. When I told people what was going on, I sped through the story, left the truly horrifying parts out, and quickly changed the subject. I simply couldn’t “sit” in my muck. Sitting with it was unbearable, and I was terrified by what would happen to me if I did. What if I sat in my muck and realized I’d never get out of it? Or that once I got out of the muck, I had a long, rocky road ahead, followed by Everest?

The true turning point was when I finally gave up, looked down and actually examined my muck. I allowed myself to be vulnerable, even though I was terrified. I’m not going to lie – it sucked. I took a solid look at my life and admitted: this is hard. This sucks. I am in this alone and I have absolutely no help. I felt like crap for about two weeks.

But it was a turning point. When you accept things as they are, and you admit that things are hard, you have compassion for yourself. And that compassion is the first step toward believing that you deserve more.

After my two weeks of feeling like crap, I realized I was out of the muck. I actually did have a long rocky road, followed by Everest. It was hard as hell, but from the summit I could see how beautiful my future was. I descended Everest and had another long road ahead. I knew I was getting to close to the end, but that heavy backpack was really starting to wear on me. I recently set it down, examined its contents, and realized this: I forgive him. I forgive myself. And I am thankful for this experience.

And you know what? That was it. It’s over. My divorce is finally over.

My end game is and always has been to create a better life for C. I left my marriage to give her a better role model. But the wonderful part of this process is that I am also a better person for myself. I am really proud of myself! I am truly a strong woman now, not a scared kid pretending to be strong. I am not angry anymore. I don’t sweat the small stuff. I have boundaries and I don’t feel guilty about them. I am happy.

At the end of this journey, I am ready to open another door…and I am thrilled to find out what’s on the other side!

Homemade Hemp and Coconut Milk: a Dairy-free, Soy-free Cow’s Milk Alternative

Make hemp/coconut milk in your home blender. Dairy-free, soy-free, carrageenan-free milk.

As a single mom, most of my choices make my life easier. Reading this, you may think I’m an insane hippy mother who makes her own milk at home, but trust me: I am normal and I swear I’m doing this because it saves me time and money. If you’d like to know why I make my own cow’s milk alternative, scroll down to read the backstory and nutrition information.

C has major intolerances to dairy and wheat, and a sensitivity to eggs and soy. As some of my long-term friends and followers may recall, I discovered this when she was about three weeks old; it was part of the reason she had colic. Instead of soy milk, almond milk, or any packaged “alternative milk,” I make her a mixture of hemp and coconut milk at home, using my Vitamix. Here’s how:

Supplies:

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups filtered water
  • 1/2 cup hemp shelled hemp seeds (in the bulk section at Whole Foods)
  • 1 cup shredded coconut (I buy a 22-pound bag on Amazon for the best price – I know, that’s a lot of coconut)
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup (Subscribe & Save on Amazon)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I buy a huge bottle at Costco)

Directions (photos below):

  1. Put all ingredients in blender.
  2. Blend.
  3. Pour the mixture into the nut milk bag, while holding it over the Pyrex. I now do this in the sink, which is cleaner, because there can be a little bit of spray when you squeeze the bag.
  4. Squeeze the liquid out of the bag. The liquid will strain into the Pyrex, and the pulp will stay in the bag. You can compost or throw away the pulp.
  5. Pour the milk into the bottle.
  6. Enjoy! It’s better when it’s cold (which is why I start with cold water from the refrigerator), and it will separate after awhile, so shake before use. 🙂

Here are some photos of the process:

Steps 1 & 2: Put all ingredients in the blender, and blend:

makingmilk1

 

Steps 3 & 4: Pour the mixture into the nut milk bag and strain into the Pyrex:

makingmilk2

Steps 5 & 6: Pour into milk bottle and enjoy!

makingmilk3

 

Now, for the backstory and nutrition information. I basically listen to everything my friend K says. When she tells me she’s made a decision, I know she’s researched the heck out of it. And that, my friends, is my little disclaimer about this post. I didn’t do the research, K did. But I trust her.

C has intolerances to dairy, wheat, egg, and a sensitivity to soy. As some of my long-term friends and followers may recall, I discovered this when she was about three weeks old; it was part of the reason she had colic. K’s daughter also had a milk allergy, and her story is part of why I recognized what was happening with C.

Fast-forward a year: Everyone in my mother’s group was adding whole cow’s milk to their baby’s diet, and I needed an alternative. I asked K what she decided to do, and here’s her answer:

I give my kids a combination of hemp milk mixed with coconut milk. Here’s why: Hemp milk is equal or superior to cow’s milk in every.single.vitamin and nutrient with the EXCEPTION of protein (more on this later.) There is also no cholesterol in hemp or coconut milk, and there is also much less sugar in both of these than in cow’s milk (cow’s milk has 13g of sugar in just one cup of milk.

The unsweetened hemp milk from Tempt, which is what I get, has 0g. I get “original” coconut instead of unsweetened coconut, because I find that one to be bitter. The original coconut milk only has 6g per cup… so less than half that of cow’s milk.)

I thought maybe almond milk would have more protein, but no such luck. Cow’s milk has something like 8g of protein per cup, while hemp has 2g and coconut has 1g per cup. Almond milk also only had 1g. Go figure. Most adults get more protein than they need, but a lot of kids don’t like meat, so they don’t get as much or enough. Kids between the ages of 1-3 need 0.55g of protein per lb of body weight, so my kids need 13-15 (roughly) grams of protein per day. One large egg, 1/2 cup of beans, 2 Tbsp of nut butter, and 1 oz of cheese (which C can’t do) each have 6-8g of protein. Breads, some cereals, and some vegetables also have protein in them.

The sole purpose of the coconut milk is to give them the same amount of saturated fat that is in whole milk, which is important for their growth.

For about a year, I did the exact same thing, using the same brands. Then I came across an article about carrageenan, which is a thickener used in a lot of “health foods.” The article warned against the risks of carrageenan, citing studies indicating it may cause cancer. I checked our milk cartons, and sure enough, it was in both of them. Add that to the cost of the milk, and I wanted to find an alternative. I may be an alarmist, but I don’t care – better safe than sorry.

I now make C’s milk at home, and it seriously could not be easier. It takes less time than going to the store to pick up the packaged brands, costs less, and is healthier. I use a Vitamix (seriously, worth every penny – I sold a piece of furniture to pay for mine, but I would have ferreted away money for it if I’d known how amazing it is), but another blender would probably work fine too.

As you can see, I add two sweeteners to the milk. I tried it with just maple syrup, and C hated it. I am slowly decreasing the amount of both over time, hoping to have as little added sugar as possible.

Parenting Newborns, Parenting Children

When C was a baby, I had a ton of new mom friends, both online and in “real life.” I belonged to three newborn support groups. We leaned on each other for everything, asking all sorts of questions of each other. No topic was off-limits.

When you have a newborn, there’s no shortage of parenting advice. And I, along with every other mom I knew, sucked it up like a sponge. None of us had a clue what we were doing, and we took advice from anyone who seemed halfway sane. We were desperate for sleep and terrified that we would somehow screw up parenthood. It was all very new and terrifying.

At some point, though, that all changed. Maybe we realized our kids weren’t as fragile as we thought. Maybe we started to realize that, aside from figuring out how to keep our children alive, parenting is different for everyone. Whatever the reason, we stopped asking each other for parenting advice.

Parenting advice for newborns is different, too. It’s easy to package up in small chunks: Weird looking poop. The four-month “wakeful period.” Starting solids. There is, amazingly, a “quick fix” for many baby-related problems.

Toddlerhood, though, is a different animal. Discipline is a huge part of life now. And discipline – which is not at all fun to talk about – requires a lot of work and a full-time commitment. Plus, no one wants to hear that they aren’t doing it right. I’d venture to say that a lot of parents know they aren’t doing it right, but they don’t think they have the energy to do what’s required to fix their problems.

And because there’s no such thing as “let her cry it out for three days and she’ll stop climbing on tables at restaurants,” we don’t ask for advice. We don’t want to hear what we know is true: Sometimes you have to leave the restaurant. Sometimes people stare at you in Target when your child has a temper tantrum because he can’t have what he wants. And you have to do it every single time, until they learn what behavior is acceptable and what behavior isn’t. In my experience, there are no exceptions. It is, especially in the beginning, exhausting (especially when you’re doing it alone). But it’s also 100% worth it.

I use a method called Positive Discipline, which I love. C attended a Montessori school when we first moved to Marin, and the teacher is an instructor in this method. Essentially, you treat your child as a person who deserves respect. And you understand that developmentally, your child can’t be expected to behave as an adult would.

I am very kind to C, but I’m also firm. As a result, she says please and thank you. She cleans up her toys before she takes out another one. Obviously we have our challenges, but generally speaking, she is a very easy little girl.

At this point, it’s hard for me to tell whether I lucked out with her personality, or if I’ve been using the same method since she was 18 months and it simply works. My guess is that it’s a bit of both, because I’ve seen her behavior with other people, and it’s very different.

Parents of toddlers – what do you think? Is toddlerhood harder or easier than babyhood? Do you talk about discipline with your kids? Would you take advice (or ask for it, or give it)?

The Spiritual Awakening of a Nonbeliever

I am not a religious person. For the vast majority of my life, actually, I’ve not even considered myself spiritual – I always referred to myself as an atheist-leaning agnostic. But a few months ago, I had somewhat of a spiritual awakening.

I’m 30 now, and I know a few of my friends feel like there’s something missing in their spiritual life. That’s why I want to share what’s changed for me.

As I mentioned earlier, C has had a rough go of it, and she has a lot of fears. These fears often mean that she is terrified to go to sleep. During the worst times, I have to lay with her so that she can fall asleep – and she often sleeps so lightly that if I even move my arm, she grabs onto me, thinking I am leaving her alone.

After a particularly rough bedtime at the beginning of this year, I laid in her bed at 7:45pm with my 25-pound child literally on top of me, clinging to my neck. I was close to tears: It had been nearly a year, and things simply were not getting any easier.

As I lay there, I started to wish I believed in God. People who have faith have lightness about them; how freeing it must be to trust that everything will work out for the best, because it’s not in your hands. Just listen to God, and He will guide you.

The problem is, I just can’t believe in God. It’s not in me. And as I lay there, I felt a profound grief for not having faith. I really wanted to give up control. I needed to believe that everything would be okay. Saying to myself “she won’t be sleeping on top of me when she’s 25,” really didn’t help.

As I continued to think about it, though, I realized that I actually did believe that everything would be okay in the end, because I had my intuition – and it’s always right. I often ignore(d) it, but it’s still right. In that moment, I realized that, as long as I listen to my intuition, things would be okay. Life might be absolute shit at times, but I truly do believe that things will eventually be okay.

And you know what? There is value in the hard times. Every struggle is a gift that makes me stronger and teaches me more about myself. Sometimes I learn right away, and sometimes I need the same lesson over and over until I “get” it. Religious people say that you can’t pray for patience and just have it when you wake up the next morning. Instead, God gives you a problem that teaches you patience. If you don’t learn it the first time, you get more and more problems. I believe that too, minus the God part.

Since this realization, I’ve been trying to listen to my intuition – but it’s a lesson I need over and over again. In fact, looking back on my life, I’ve been getting this lesson for years. Like Oprah says, it’s starts out as a whisper, and if you ignore it, the Universe starts screaming at you.

lifes-whisper-oprah-winfrey-quote

Here’s my problem: I love control. Control has kept me afloat my entire life. It’s the only thing that’s helped me manage the hard times, and it’s helped me accomplish a lot. Unfortunately, Control is the enemy of Intuition. Control talks mad crap about Intuition. For example, take first impressions: Intuition doesn’t like that guy I met on the bus. Control, though, insists on being nice: What do you know about that guy, Intuition? You don’t know him at all, and you shouldn’t be rude. Don’t date him, but there’s no reason not to be friends with him. And when the guy turns out to be a total freak, Intuition wags her finger and says, “I told you so.” Yup, should have listened to Intuition. Another lesson.

I now practice meditation as a means of hearing the whisper of my Intuition. I suck at making sure I actually do it, but I’m getting better – anytime I feel off center, I sit down. Yoga is also helpful. (On a side note, I use an iPhone app called Samsara for meditation, and My Yoga Online for yoga, because my schedule doesn’t allow for classes. I highly recommend checking out Dina Amsterdam’s videos if you join My Yoga Online.)

Overall, this has brought a sense of peace to my life that I really needed, especially because the past year and a half has shaken me to my core. And the best part of it? Everything I need is inside me, which makes me feel stronger and more capable. And that’s a great lesson to teach C when she’s older.

I’ve talked to a few women who are going through a spiritual awakening right now – my divorce attorney said it’s the Saturn Return. I have no idea what it is, but I’d love to hear your experience if you’re dealing with anything similar!

Leaving the Cult of The Busy

For most of my life, I have been a very busy person.

Even when I took a year “off” from my doctoral degree at 22, I was constantly on the move. At the time, a friend of mine commented, “You are the busiest unemployed person I’ve ever met.”

In this country (and really, around the world), busyness is almost like a cult. Everyone worships The Busy as if it’s somehow going to save us. We keep adding hobbies, activities, jobs, and commitments to our To Do lists, and we’re constantly rushing around trying to juggle it all. We are work-a-holics at work and in our personal lives, and we’re very proud of it.

When I was running my business, I spent a ton of time working. And like most people I know, I walked around proclaiming how busy I was; I wore “busyness” like a badge of honor.

But busyness is not a badge of honor. In my case – and in most cases, I’d venture to say – it was a sign that I was profoundly off center.

I was distracting myself with busyness because I was in denial. Had I slowed down and had the courage to look inside and listen to myself, I might have realized earlier that I was on the wrong path. But I wasn’t ready to do that yet; I think I knew that if I truly stopped and listened, I would have to change my entire life. And I simply wasn’t ready yet.

These days, though, I am not busy.

I realized quite a while ago that if I wanted a life of meaning (which I do), I needed to stop being so dang busy. And no one was going to stop the busyness but me. Essentially, I needed to SIT DOWN and SHUT MY MIND UP. I needed to do nothing.

There are two types of “doing nothing.”  First, there’s putting an end to the physical overscheduling: Rushing from one thing to another, adding and completing nonessential items on a never-ending To Do list…that sort of thing. Then, there’s the mental overstimulation that keeps you from living in the present moment. Multitasking, analyzing problems, scrolling through social media…these things make for a busy mind.

I don’t feel centered all the time, but I’m light years ahead of where I was a year ago. For me, being centered is about listening to myself, and knowing deep inside that I’m on the right path. It also means that, as much as possible, I try to take that tight feeling in my chest as a sign that I need to sit down and do nothing. And I accept that doing nothing for a while is both okay and totally necessary.

A big life lesson for me was this: Anxiety is not the universe telling you to do more. It’s telling you to STOP.

anxiety-is-a-sign-you-need-to-stop

I used to be terrified of my inner voice, so I refused to stop and listen to it. Changing my whole world was a Big Deal and parts of it really sucked, so I suppose I did have a reason to be afraid. But you know what? My life is so much better now. I am a genuinely happy person.

It was 100% worth it.

Thankfully, I am no longer afraid of my inner voice – though I admit I am still learning to hear and trust it. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what it’s saying, and at times I still get Intuition confused with my old frenemy, Anxiety.

Then there are the times that I flat-out don’t like what it has to say, because listening to it would mean leaving my Comfort Zone yet again. And holy crap, living outside the Comfort Zone can be exhausting. After awhile, though, I remember that it’s worth pushing through the fear of leaving the Comfort Zone.

Last week, I found myself uselessly busy. My house was really clean, the dishes were always done (that never happens)…I’d even organized and returned our library books before the due dates. I felt a small amount of satisfaction when I looked at my spotless shower, but emotionally I felt out-of-whack.

So I stopped and tried to figure out why I felt messy inside. And I figured it out – but knowing why didn’t help, so I found myself obsessing about how to fix it. Which clearly wasn’t helping. So I stopped doing that, too: I sat down and did nothing. And then, interestingly enough, I felt much better. What a nice reminder.

When you’re too busy, you’re exhausted. You’re spinning around in circles, without any real direction. Being un-busy doesn’t mean I’m lazy. It means that I am purposefully taking time for myself, so that I can have the energy to propel myself in the right direction…and not waste time on the wrong path. It’s a big lesson I learned…and one that I will happily wear as a badge of honor.

What about you? Do you belong to the Cult of the Busy? Do you take quiet time for yourself by practicing yoga, meditation, or something else? I’d love to hear!

Sense and Sensitivity: Why there’s no such thing as “too sensitive”

I am not "too sensitive" and neither are you: why sensitivity is an asset, not a handicap

When I graduated from college, I had a bumper sticker on my car that read, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” At the time, I struggled with being “too sensitive” and taking things “too personally.” Part of the reason I had that bumper sticker was to remind myself that, when I was feeling “inferior,” it wasn’t about the other person’s words. It was that I was too sensitive. Looking back, I’m pretty horrified by this: holy let’s-blame-the-victim, amiright?

At the time, my ultimate goal was to develop such a thick skin that I would never feel inferior, no matter what someone else said to me. I viewed sensitivity as a negative trait, and the bumper sticker reminded me to suck it up and get over it.

That attitude caused me to excuse a lot of very inexcusable behavior from others.

Sensitivity is often used as a weapon in the Blame Game. In my experience, I’ve been told I’m “too sensitive” by people who want to excuse their own bad behavior – and that’s not fair. But it goes both ways: some sensitive people expect others to tiptoe around their feelings, and that’s not fair either. Untangling the role that sensitivity plays in your relationships can be really difficult.

I obviously felt a lot of shame around my perceived “over sensitivity,” which is why I let people treat me like garbage. It’s taken a long time, but I now embrace sensitivity as a strength rather than a handicap.

In fact, if you use it correctly, sensitivity can be your greatest asset. Look at it this way: Having emotional intelligence can help you a lot in life, and it’s much easier to understand your own emotions (and those of others) when you’re sensitive.

Sensitivity also is a feedback system. It can tell you a great deal about yourself and your experience of life, and about the people around you. In my mind, sensitivity is a great blessing.

And that’s what I didn’t understand at 22. Sensitivity isn’t something to change – it’s a skill to develop. It’s not easy, though: Learning to honor and “handle” sensitivity is, at least for me, a battle. Turning “too sensitive” into a source of strength and pride requires a lot of personal work. But if we work hard enough, we sensitive folk can thrive in our relationships, because we can communicate on a very deep level. And if we take the added step of sharing our feelings…well, that’s real strength. Vulnerability is the ultimate Big Scary Thing.

Developing a thicker skin is a necessary life skill too, but I actually think it can be a byproduct of honoring sensitivity. I don’t feel shame over my sensitivity anymore, which has allowed me to respect my own feelings and opinion. I can now (usually) tell the difference between my own “stuff” and somebody else’s “stuff,” which means I don’t blame myself for other people’s issues as much.

It took me years to develop a thick skin, and when I look at my daughter, there’s no doubt she’s mine. She is exactly as I was as a child. It’s not a matter of being thin skinned – it’s a matter of having no skin at all. Other people’s emotions deeply affect her, whether their feelings are directed at her or not. As I child, I remember being wracked with guilt at the very thought of someone else’s hurt feelings. I constantly apologized for things that were not my fault.

One of my main worries as a parent is learning how to help C develop boundaries and a “thick skin,” but also simultaneously recognize that her sensitivity is a gift. Empathy is a beautiful, beautiful thing. It is what makes this world tolerable. People without empathy hurt others; people with empathy help the wounded.

Like me as a child, C is very perceptive, and is affected by what she knows other people want her to feel or do. Quite frankly, I think it’s pretty remarkable to see behavior like that in such a young child (there’s more of that innate temperament I was talking about, right?). As she grows up, it will be a challenge for her – as it was for me – to find her own honest and true voice, and to speak up despite other people’s opinions. I want her to feel safe and comfortable to be her own, genuine and beautiful self: no fake laughs or holding in her tears.

What about you? Have you been called “too sensitive”? Do you see it as a positive or negative thing?

Picture Books for Troubled Toddlers, Post #1: Separation Anxiety, School, and Divorce

Books for toddlers dealing with separation anxiety, divorce and starting school or daycare

Over the past year and a half, C and I have amassed quite a library of books for anxious toddlers. A few of them are great, but most of them were less than unhelpful. Some of the better-known books (like the Invisible String, for example) are aimed at older kids. Overall, it’s pretty slim pickins out there, lemme tell ya. 

I debated whether or not to review each book in its own post – I think each book deserves a few words to explain the rating. It seems, though, like it would be too hard for people to wade through individual posts. Instead, I’ll break it up into a few different posts and review six at a time.

The star ratings aren’t so much about the quality of the book, but more about its appropriateness for this age group (1.5 -2.5 years).

1.
When Mama Comes Home Tonight, by Eileen Spinelli & Jane Dyer.
Topic: Separation Anxiety. 5/5 stars. Ages 2+

This book is fantastic. The book starts with, “When Mama comes home tonight, dear child, when mama comes home tonight, she’ll cover you with kisses. She’ll hug you sweet and tight.” The book talks about all of the wonderful things Mama will do when she gets home from work. I love that it reinforces the idea of a routine and helps a child know what to expect. In fact, I love every single thing about it – a must for working moms! Side note: the inscription from the illustrator makes me cry.

2.
The Kissing Hand, by Audrey Penn.
Topic: Separation Anxiety/School. 2/5 stars. Ages 3.5+

While the idea behind this book is great (Mama gives her baby a kiss on his hand, which stays with him all day), it’s just too complicated for little kids. There are too many words, and the concept of a nocturnal animal is something for older kids. I had to paraphrase a LOT with this book so that C could understand it, which made it hard for me to read. I don’t think C found the story very helpful.

3.
Llama Llama Misses Mama, by Anna Dewdney
Topic: Separation Anxiety/School. 4/5 stars. Ages 2+

I love the Llama Llama books – they’re so fun to read! C understood this book – which is about starting school and missing Mama – a little before age 2. It helped her process her BIG feelings about going to school. I first realized how the book made her feel when she started ripping it apart (this one and “Owl Babies” both got torn up), which made it good for talking about “big feelings.” Though there are a lot of words (the only reason I’m not giving it 5 stars), I think the pictures help illustrate what’s going on. Poor little Llama looks really sad.

4.
The Invisible String, by Patrice Karst
Topic: Separation Anxiety/Divorce/Death/ Fear of Being Alone. 2/5 stars. Ages 3-4+

This book is very well known and is often recommended for kids experiencing divorce. The book is about twins who wake up in the middle of the night because of thunder. They want to be with their mom, who explains, “even though we’re apart, our hearts are always connected by an invisible string.” It’s a great concept. Like the Kissing Hand, though, it’s too advanced for little kids. C didn’t know what “invisible” meant when she was 2, and even the concept of twins is a bit much. There are too many words for toddlers.

5.
Little Monkey’s One Safe Place, by Richard Edwards
Topic: Trust in parental figure. 3/5 stars. Ages 2+

Little Monkey is asleep by himself when a storm wakes him up and scares him. He finds his Mom, who tells him that he always has “one safe place.” He spends the book trying to find his “one safe place,” and at the end the reader discovers his one safe place is in Mommy’s arms. The concept itself is good, but I’m not sure how I feel about Little Monkey having only one safe place. Parts of the book were a little scary too (the places he looks are scary, with a crocodile in one place and scary eyes in another). C understood this book, but I don’t know if it made her feel any better. I will say, though, that it helped her talk about how scared she felt all the time.

6.
Hug, by Jez Alborough
Topic: Separation Anxiety. 4/5 stars. Ages 18 months+

This book has only three words: Hug, Mama and Bobo. The entire story is told with pictures, which makes it ideal for younger kids. The book follows Bobo the monkey as he looks through the jungle trying to find his mom. He sees all the other animals giving hugs to their babies, and he really wants his mommy. This book was really hard for me, because it covers a topic that I had a lot of fear about as a child and I know C does too: not being able to find your mother. As the story goes on, Bobo gets more and more panicky and sad, and is so relieved when he finds his mom. The book brings up feelings, so it’s good to talk about them (“Sometimes little kids are scared when they don’t know where their mommies are, but Mommy is always there. Mommies always come back”). I admit to being a little uncomfortable with how long it takes Bobo to find his mommy, and there’s no real explanation for why she was so hard to find, which seems kind of scary (this is why I knocked off a star).

A Divorced Blogger: My First 1.5 Years as a Single Mother

I want to begin writing again, but I will confess that I am beginning with some trepidation. Figuring out how to begin this story has been very difficult. I mentally crumpled up draft after draft and threw them in the digital waste bin, unable to properly articulate what C and I have been through. Re-reading this, there’s so much I have had to leave out about my personal experience—my divorce has been shockingly dramatic at times, to say the least — but I really think it’s for the best.

This will likely be the only post where I discuss C’s experience in detail. There is a very fine line between too little and too much information. I hope I have managed it well.

***

In January of 2012, I left my husband of five years. Out of respect for both his privacy and my daughter, I will not go into great detail about the reasons I left, but the important piece is this: Everything C knew of life, from the womb up until the day we left, was tension and anxiety. Any time I think of what C’s life must have been like, I think of our poor dog, who lived much of her life with her tail between her legs.

C held it together through the upheaval surrounding our separation, even though it included a lot of change. She and I traveled to Oregon to stay with my parents, took a ten-hour drive back to California, lived in a motel for nine days, and found a small new apartment where we shared a room. Everything fell apart four months later, though, when I got a job outside of the home.

Starting Daycare

I have been the only constant in C’s life. To this day, she has never spent a night away from me, and I am the only one to ever comfort her at night. For a child who often struggles to go to sleep and doesn’t sleep well at night, this is a big deal. She is two-and-a-half and still wakes up at night, scared. The first time she spent more than three hours away from me was her first visitation day with her dad at 18 months. At the time I went to work, C was a little over 18 months, and she had never been away from me for any real length of time.

I found a job, specifically looking for something flexible. I was very lucky to find something that allowed me shorter-than-average days (thanks Joanna!), so that C wouldn’t have to be away from me for 10 hours a day.  The job is also four days a week, which has proven absolutely necessary for C’s well being.

Once I found a job, I started looking for a daycare. I did a ton of research, trying to find the best possible place for her. When I found the daycare I settled on, I felt confident that she would be in a loving environment. There were 14 kids and 5 adults. The caregivers assured me that she would be well cared for emotionally and that they would help her through a difficult transition.

The transition to daycare was far worse than I ever could have imagined. I prepared her for it ahead of time, explaining what would happen, and taking her for visits. The first day I left her, she screamed “MOMMY! MOMMY!” and had a look of total terror on her face. I again assured her she would be fine, exited quickly per the Internet’s advice, and held it together until I got outside, where I literally collapsed on the sidewalk. I felt horribly guilty. Thank God for my mother, who reminded me that I truly had no other choice—I had to work to support us.

You never know how strong you are until you’re forced to be.

C’s experience at that first daycare was so traumatizing for both of us that it literally pains me to recall it. The daycare provider tried everything she could, but she couldn’t comfort C. During the first week, she cried most of the day and refused to eat or drink. By the second week, she was withdrawn and quietly depressed. When I came to pick her up after work, I would find her sitting in an outdoor swing with the primary caregiver, staring off into the distance. I started calling this behavior “going to her happy place.” Every once in awhile, she still goes to her happy place, but luckily I recognize what’s going on and can talk to her, which helps a lot (man, am I ever thankful she can communicate now!).

In the depths of winter, I discovered there was in me an invincible summer. -Albert Camus

The daycare lasted for nearly a month before I realized it was never going to improve, and continuing to leave her there would just cause more trauma. The daycare had a caregiver entirely dedicated to C, but she still couldn’t cope. They gave her two more days until she was essentially kicked out, but none of us (me, C, or the caregivers) could take it anymore. My mom flew down from Oregon (again) to stay with C while we tried to find another option.

Thus began the search for a nanny we could afford. The nanny I found, Cyndi, was sent from heaven above, I swear. She is kind and patient, super experienced, and willing to work with C—but even she was blown away by the level of anxiety that C was displaying. She became completely hysterical by the sight of bark chips, sand, shadows on the ground…and a lot more. It was heartbreaking.

Cyndi worked very, very hard with C, and I credit her with much of C’s improvements during that period. Part of their time was spent in a nanny share with Cyndi’s son, which was ideal because C was also afraid of other children. By the end of their time together (Cyndi and her family moved), C walked right up to a group of kids playing in a sandbox at the park. That absolutely never would have happened just a few months prior.

Since our time with Cyndi, we have slowly worked our way into a preschool setting. After Cyndi, C had another nanny, attended a Montessori school with only six kids, and is now in a very calm, structured preschool with 12 kids. Although making that many transitions is far from ideal, we had a lot of unexpected issues arise that made it impossible to find the right situation immediately. In the end, I think it has turned out perfectly, because her school is fantastic. She will be able to stay there until she starts kindergarten, and, for the first time, she is thriving in a school environment.

***

A child who grows up with a baseline of stress develops a fight-or-flight response to any negative emotion. I did my best to create as relaxing an environment as I could for my daughter and I, and in some ways this made life even more confusing to her at first. One time, about a month after we left, my mom realized she forgot her glasses at my house and made some sort of exclamation like, “oh crap!” From the backseat, C started crying: “Mimi sad, Mimi sad.” My mother felt awful, and of course C picked up on that, too. Her life had become very calm, and she reacted to even the slightest bit of arousal.

Trying to Find Help

Soon after I started work, I went to a Meetup of “freshly single mothers.” One of the women in the group had a horrible experience with domestic violence. Her son was in therapy at a clinic specializing in early childhood trauma, and had made great strides. I called the clinic as soon as I got home.

It took awhile to start the treatment, but C’s therapist has been incredibly helpful. She’s taught me how to communicate with C in a way that she understands, and in a way that offers her comfort. She’s also provided me with a long list of books (which I’ve added to), which have helped.

As her ability to express herself has developed, C’s inner turmoil has become more and more apparent. While it is heartbreaking to hear what’s going on inside her little head, she’s now able to understand my explanations more, and I’m able to ease her fears—currently focused on bugs, goats, and polar bears—more than I could before. I am so thankful that I found professional help for her when I did.

We are now a year and a half past the separation, and I have been working outside the home for over a year. It’s been about nine months since C started with her therapist, and I’ve found that a calm, relaxed home environment is what we both need to be happy. In many ways, things have improved a lot, but we still have a long way to go. She still doesn’t sleep, has a hard time with certain situations, and needs a very structured routine in order to feel safe.

Through this process, I have learned a lot about toddlers (sensitive toddlers specifically), and would love to share the information with others. While C’s emotions and reactions have been amplified due to her sensitivity and early experiences, many of her difficulties are issues that all toddlers struggle with. Some of the most common are separation anxiety, difficulty with sleep, fears of the unknown, and transitions.

Little kids don’t have to go through trauma to have a hard time with transitions. Despite this, finding resources to help C was really difficult. Many of the books and advice aimed at helping kids are for ages 3+, when you’re able to reason with them more successfully. Toddlers under two, on the other hand, face specific challenges…most notably a lack of ability to communicate. They’re also a lot more aware of their surroundings and other people’s emotions than we give them credit for. They may not be able to speak, but from a very early age kids can understand everything going on around them, and are constantly trying to make sense of it. At times it was hard not to talk about the divorce in front of C, but she could understand everything we said.

The Future

I am sure that we have many challenges to face in the future, but I definitely think things are (finally, hopefully) improving. One of my main goals for C is to help her learn to be a strong woman—to find her own voice and speak her mind, even if it doesn’t please others. This is something that I have found challenging in my own life, and I think my personal experience (and that of other strong women we know) might be helpful to her.

The past year and a half has been very bumpy, and I’ve had to be very vigilant about protecting my daughter, while teaching her that she doesn’t need to be afraid so much. This wasn’t an experience I felt comfortable sharing at the time, but it feels right now. I am looking forward to sharing with you all again.

If there is anything at all you’re curious about, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments. If I don’t feel comfortable discussing it with the entire Internet, I will contact you directly. Thanks so much for sticking around.

Why I quit Facebook and only looked back a couple of times

Right after I left my married life, my friend Mandy told me to leave Facebook.

“QUIT FACEBOOK?!” I said. I knew I was addicted to it, and I knew it was unhealthy…but I didn’t know what I’d do without it. I truly didn’t. I scrolled through my newsfeed in any quiet moment. I think it kept me from thinking about the fact that my entire life was falling apart—or, during my marriage, that I was completely miserable.

I eventually did decide to quit Facebook. I was shocked to find that I actually did not miss it at all. I logged back in a couple of times, thinking “huh, maybe this isn’t so bad,” only to find myself feeling unhappy. For me, it wasn’t as much jealousy or sadness about my lack of a perfect life (which I know is the reason a lot of divorcees quit). It was more that I felt disconnected from people when I looked at my newsfeed. Here are all these people, living their lives, who I haven’t talked to—really talked to—in months…sometimes years. Looking at all these "friends" had me questioning who really cared about me, and who I really cared about.

When a friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer, I thought even more about Facebook’s worth. She and I are going through really hard times in our lives right now, and really hard times have a way of showing you who (and what) is really important to you.

If you had cancer, who would you want to know? Or, better yet, who do you actually think would reach out and call you? It’s easy to leave a comment that says “OMG I am so sorry,” but it requires an actual friend to pick up the phone and call you. And beyond calling you, who is going to bring you a casserole? To me, quitting Facebook made it easy to see who my “comment” friends were and who my “casserole” friends were. And at the end of it all, I realized I have zero need for “comment” friends anymore. I feel much more fulfilled with a handful of casserole friends than 500 commenters. In fact, my life feels much more sane without that peanut gallery of 500 commenters, period. It’s not that Facebook doesn’t add anything to my life—it actually feels like it subtracts.

A few months ago, I sat and watched my daughter play in front of a group of people who were taking photos and videos with their phones. It was like she was on television. The whole purpose of it was to show what an awesome time they were having with their lives, with this adorable girl—but they weren’t actually interacting with her. And what must it feel like to be on the other side of that? To grow up in a world where you are constantly on display?

C is still too young to be “connecting” with her friends this way, but kids who are in their 20s now are used to connecting with people artificially. There’s a whole generation of children growing up connecting with people via various media outlets, but not actually able to live their lives.

I feel very strongly that Facebook does not connect people. That social media, in general, does not connect people. I think it gives people a false sense of friendship and creates laziness in relationships. Why bother actually connecting with a human being if you already know what is going on in their lives?

What do you think, dear friends? Could you ever see yourself “quitting” Facebook? Do you think it’s helping you connect with people, or hurting your real friendships?

Marriage and Divorce: Sharing the Details

When sharing the news of my divorce with people, I feel very awkward. People usually have the same look of shock on their faces, and I can tell it makes them uncomfortable – especially if we aren’t very close. They want to ask what happened. They want to ask what happened really, really badly. But they don’t, because they don’t want to be nosy. And I appreciate not having to talk about it in detail – but I still feel awkward: should I tell them? Should I keep it to myself? What is the protocol in this situation?

In the very beginning, I really didn’t want to tell people I was getting a divorce at all, let alone the reasons why. My emotional state was a super healthy combination of fear, shame, and embarrassment. When you get married, you check off a certain box on the Success Worksheet, and unchecking that box feels like a huge step backward. And announcing it? It’s like saying to the world, "hey world! I have failed! Look at me!"

It’s especially difficult when you don’t know many other divorced people. From the outside, everyone else’s "Marriage" box is checked off in permanent marker. It remains to be seen how many of my friends are actually happy in their marriages, and how many are serving themselves up a big ole plate of denial for breakfast every morning. In short, I’m the first one to get a divorce, and being first sucks. It’s embarrassing.

But, as my mom predicted, I got over the embarrassment pretty quickly. Now I’m just sort of matter-of-fact about it: “Yep, I’m getting a divorce. No, no one cheated.”

People have different reactions. Mostly they want to know what happened, because they never saw us having any problems. Sometimes they want to know simply because they’re curious…but mostly I think they want reassurances: did you always know it wouldn’t work out? Did you guys mean "forever" when you said, "I do"? Marriages are hard – are you just quitters? Basically, they want to hear that our relationship was fundamentally different than theirs is. They want to know that nothing is lurking in their marriages, ready to jump out and cause the D-word. They want to know that divorce isn’t contagious.

I can’t give them any of those reassurances, though, because I have no idea what is lurking inside their marriages, just like they didn’t know Divorce was lurking in mine. All we see of one another’s lives is what we choose to share – and most people only share the good stuff. After all, marriages are made up of good, bad, and mundane, and it’s hard to paint an accurate picture of what your marriage really looks like when you can’t share every little detail. I think people are afraid to talk about anything negative because they worry they’ll regret it the next day when the fight is over. Or they’re afraid their friends will judge them. Or that everyone else’s relationship actually is as perfect as it seems, and they’re the only one with major (or not-so-major) problems.

Plus, talking about marital problems can ruin friendships – everyone has a different opinion about what’s acceptable and what isn’t, and you might get a whole lot of unsolicited advice that you don’t agree with if you do choose to open up. And of course, most people only want to hear what they’re willing to confront – and some people will get angry if they hear anything beyond that.

I wasn’t ready to confront the issues that led to the end of our marriage, so I didn’t tell a single soul about them. Sometimes I worry that my friends and family feel betrayed because I was so silent.

I could end this post with a call to action: “let’s not be quiet anymore! Let’s tell the world every little detail, in the name of empowerment! Let’s blog about it!”  But I’m not going to. I actually think it’s a good thing that people aren’t sharing every single detail of their married lives on the Internet. In an online world where people can tweet faster than it takes to second-guess themselves, it’s good to know that some things are still sacred. Or if not sacred – at least private. Because too much honesty can come back and bite you in the butt.

Thoughts?