Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Need to Heal

I have been ill since my son's high school orientation night, when I could feel myself coming down with it. Symptoms: cough, sinus stuff, lost voice and blocked breathing passages. I'm not sure what you would call this - sinus infection, flu, cold? Not good symptoms to be experiencing with that extrtemely scary movie "Contagion" recently coming out.
Today, I feel the symptoms starting to lift but still feel weak and not myself. Yesterday I went to JC Penney with my son who asked me to go with him to pick out some clothes. With his work earnings he purchased a vest, shirt and dress slacks to wear for his Senior photo. He had researched clothing costs and sales online and deemed Penney's the place to shop. That in and of iitself makes me so proud but also almost wanting to weep (because of the necessity to count every penny...). Anyway, while at the store I couldn't stand but there weren't any chairs to sit down on. Nor might I add, any sales people around to answer questions or help...
Being down and out 12 days has put some perspective on things. I am more aware of the vulnerablilty connected to our health. And how it is more difficult to live on one's own. Being the sole adult in a household and sick is tough no doubt about it.
I spent some early nights in bed unable to sleep because of the congestion and coughing and just wishing I could sleep the next six months away. Being sick saps your physical and emotional strength. Then I'd feel guilty because I had no desire or ability to go to a couple job leads I'd heard about. My son asked me if I was going to apply. Given that I couldn't even talk, I didn't think it would make a good starting impression. Yet despite being legitimately down and out, I still found myself striving toward something not possible. Here of all times, I need to cut myself some slack and allow myself to be sick then heal.
Somehow over the years of hearing people tell me I can't give up and I have to remain strong and yes, accomplish the work of more that one on my own it has morphed into having unreasonable expectaitons for myself. Although, in my view, society holds unrealistic expectations for widows in general.
When we live with someone who is ill, we tell them to rest up, take it easy, take care. We pick up the slack and try to pamper with tea and tissues. I am just doing the dishes which I've left in the sink the past few days, not caring, not being able to stand up anyway.
I have come to believe through the years that all those platitudes that people say to bolster us up are full of air. The crap about being stronger because you've experienced hardship. Or that everyone can keep it up and keep on going. The crap about never ever giving up. Do you know what? I think people do peeter out. That sometimes we give up out of pure exhaustion and hopelessness. And what of it? Is it really so bad to hang it up and step out of the rat race of life for a moment. To take a break from the madness?
In widowhood, we're advised to pick ourselves back up and keep on trudging to make meaningful lives for ourselves. Of course, we need to do that. But I think at the same time, there are times when it is ok to step back and out; to retreat and instead of plodding forward tread instead of moving forward. Or maybe even take a step back. Why do we always have to be moving forward and improve? Getting sick I realize that there are life moments when it may be necessary to hunker down and just be. To maintain status quo may be a feat in itself.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Comfort of Fall

This year I seem more attuned to the approaching Fall season. We have been so blessed the past few days with cooler, Fall-like weather. Here, there is just a hint of the changing season in the air. The tops of some trees are starting to turn. I'd have to say that this is the part of Fall I most love, before it gets full-blown in October. Once the leaves really turn, one heavy rain is all it takes for it to be over. Now I have the chance to really savor this wondrous season.

I love seeing all the advertising and signs in the stores welcoming this time of year. The food choices including apples. I've already tried the new caramel apple sundaes at both McDonald's and Wendy's. Small, simple pleasures to help take the edge away from the worry I feel every day over getting through the next year financially. Now that my son is in college, I have to add some college expenses to the budget and they have turned out higher than originally expected.

Over the years, I have come to realize that for me, one of the surefire ways to ease my anxiety and misery is through nature. A walk in the woods especially. My soul longs for a rural existence and it is where I am relocating when this year is completed for my son in high school.

Each season brings its own comforts, but as the Starbuck's ad relates, Fall is perhaps most special. "Indulge in the comforts of Fall," the ad directs. Makes sense to me. Bring on that pumpkin latte. I am drinking spiced apple tea in the mornings and baked a batch of my Awesome Apple Bread. I gave a loaf to my girlfriend along with a cute apple potholder I knit. My friend liked the potholder so much, she told me she is going to frame it!

The summer was so hot I only went walking in my little hidden forest a few times. Now I can start walking every day again. That will give me great pleasure. I saw my first Halloween outdoor decorations today. A flock of witches in a circle in a yard. This year I will try and focus on these displays with lightness and laughter. Anything to help me stay sane and grounded as we move through this year. I feel on my last legs emotionally and financially. I asked for more hours at work and will have to go out looking for another job next week. Illinois has the highest unemployment rate in the country along with the highest gas prices (Chicago area). Yet my apartment rent just went up $100.00!

The comforts of Fall. More than ever I will use the beauty and hope nature inspires to give me courage and strength. It is free (except for the pumpkin lattes) and abundant. I'm not sure I can say that over the next month I'll be happy (too much stress and strain for that). But I can try and be cheerful despite the hardships. And by making a concerted effort to focus on nature, maybe I can be distracted and propelled on to the beauty of the holiday season.

Getting though one day at a time, one month at a time, one season at a time.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Strength and Reslove

Tonight was the last Fall Curriculum Night I'll have to attend on my own. Mixed feelings but far more positive than negative. I really needed a shot of motivation to help me get through this next year because in a way, I've already checked out. But hearing my son's teachers praise the students and talk about how much they love teaching inspired me to put my nose to the grindstone and just get through this next year. I owe it to my son. I know it is hard for those outside our community to understand how special the boys' high school is but it is the ONE reason I've remained in this town.

Over and over tonight, I heard the teachers state how wonderful their school is, and the principal always mentions this every time she addresses the parents. The teachers all spoke of how fortunate they are to be able to teach at the school, and to have such top notch students and involved parents.

After getting my oldest off to college, I was feeling somewhat down and dreading having to get through one more year in this town. I am so ready to leave and move to a more affordable and rural location. Finances are very precarious for us right now and I am so very, very tired of struggling to barely make ends meet. That aspect of my life is just exhausting. But I have to keep my eyes and focus on the bigger picture. When all is said and done, later in my life, I hope the financial struggles will be a faint memory but that the memory of my sons attending and graduating from such a fine high school will be one of which I am most proud. Proud that I stuck out hardship to give my sons a solid education leading to college. Proud that they flourished and were popular students, especially after the losses in their lives. This school has been a beacon of stability and strength in our lives when that has been so lacking otherwise.

I have no doubt that the next months will be tough on my bank account and nerves. When times get really low I need to remember tonight. And the pride I felt for our little family, making it through hardship and focusing on quality education. My finances WILL eventually improve. What I've given my sons has been priceless and worth it.

My son's science teacher warned the parents (all of senior students) that the kids can't check out yet. College applications haven't been submitted - it isn't safe to slack off now. I thought that some of us parents are feeling the same way as our seniors right now so maybe my son and I can both motivate each other throughout this final year.

One teacher commented that life goes by so quickly. Senior year will be gone in a blink of an eye and to remind our students to enjoy this final year. In some ways I fear the year will go too slowly since we are struggling financially. I do hope it will be a fast year. As hard as it may get, I have to remember to enjoy these final seasons in a town I once so loved. But gosh, I am so ready to be out of here!!!

I was far less focused on being by myself tonight and tried not to look at all all the couples surrounding me. One mother asked a teacher if her kid could get extra credit since both she and her husband were attending. Lucky kid, I thought to myself to have both parents but a pretty stupid request from a silly woman. Then I thought that extra credit should be given to every kid at the school who had an only parent attend. Wish I had had the nerve to make my request like silly, married woman did.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day

When I was a kid, Labor Day really meant that no one was working except at the hospital. If you needed gas or groceries you waited until Tuesday or prepared by buying them over the weekend. No one went out to McDonald's - we had cookouts with our family. Today that has all changed and what makes me feel sad is that the people I think need and probably deserve the break the most - those working in the service industry of sales and fast food, are actually still working on the day created to give everyone a rest!

Speaking of a rest. My oldest came home from college for the weekend, but this was not a planned visit. He advised me he was coming home while already on the train back. When he texted that he was bringing laundry, I actually groaned out loud. Laundry? I have to do MORE laundry over this holiday weekend? I did the laundry, although one of the nicer aspects of his being away is that there is less to do now. And for those who'd say I should have made him do the laundry, well his girlfriend of 2 1/2 years just broke up with him, and she was the reason he came home in the first place. I let him sleep in and have a bit of a break before heading back.

I've heard of women in my town who have gone to visit their kids away at school and have spent weekends cleaning their apartments. I don't think I'll ever end up doing that. For one thing, I'm just too tired these days for any more 'labor" or any more than I have to do. I do believe that my tiredness and weariness in regard to housework and such does relate directly to the many years I've been doing it by myself.

I just read that having to make decisions on one's own constantly is a huge responsibility and ends up causing significant life stress. I can attest to that. Apparently a lot of the stress ends up being in regard to fear of making the wrong decisions and then having to live with oneself when a wrong decision is made! Anyway, it is hard to always be the one deciding everything and having to make decisions without input.

So as for labor, I'm ready for retirement and a very long rest with my feet up! (I'm not kidding.)

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Awards & Validation

My sons are transitioning well into college and the senior year of high school.

My oldest is considering joining a business fraternity that offers internships to all its members. He claims that the members last year all got jobs within 3 months of graduation. He is doing well socially, but I knew that would be one of his strengths. When he auditioned for admittance into the music dept., the head of the music college was there, and was so impressed he invited my son out to lunch off campus for an opportunity to get to know him.

There was a period of a week and a half, when my son wanted to drop a class he didn't feel he'd do well in and his adviser was against the request. But that has been worked out within the time deadline and my son is much happier with his new class. It was a good exercise for him to have to stand up for himself and go after what he knew in his heart was the right decision. And to accomplish that on his own.

My youngest, went through a few tough days himself at the start of the year when all of his teachers kept making references to his older brother. But he has received a few "awards" of his own. His graphic arts teacher told him that he is one of the top two, if not top graphic artist in the school. As such, he was drafted to design the cover for the Fall Band Festival Program, the Homecoming Tickets and the Fall Play Posters. He has been working on the band design first since it is due on Tuesday and I have to say that the design and format are pretty incredible. I couldn't do what he does creatively and then with the computer. Good for him to finally get some recognition in an area his brother is not a star.

I feel sad at times that the boys' dad isn't here to experience the talents and awards of his sons. When I tell people, the few in my life I do talk to about my sons there isn't the sense of pride and warmth that would come from a parent experiencing the successes of one of their own. When my husband was alive it was enough to share the successes, talents and accomplishments of our boys with each other. With him gone, I find that I make and effort to tell someone the good news about my sons simply because I have to share it with someone. But oftentimes, the end result is one of disappointment because quite simply, no one can love your kids more than you do. They may nod and smile and say "that's nice," but it is somewhat rote and superficial. Just another "loss" to tick off on my list - for my sons and for me. And one that is taken for granted by those married or if not, still with a co-parent in which to share and bask in the joy that comes from having decent and pretty good kids. And I suppose I should add, that most kids are pretty good and decent. And most talented in something. So I do think that most parents share these moments together at certain points in their kids' lives - the soccer goals scored, the academic recognition, the band or orchestra solos...

Parents can get off on bragging about their offspring to each other. I sometimes fear that I may come across as a braggart or overly involved with my sons because when I talk to people I do mention the successes of my kids. But it's not like I'm going to dwell on what isn't going well for them (which thankfully has never been that much). Still, you know how there is always that PTA mom out there that has to brag about how her kids are in the gifted program (real example from my past). When she spreads it on thick it can get annoying. I spread it on because if I don't, I just might burst - I have to not because I'm overly singing my sons' praises. I think that when our kids do well, we can feel validated that we've also done something well. And boy of boy, do widows need to feel and hear that praise.

Friday, September 2, 2011


When I dropped my son off at his dorm, they had a Route 66 decoration theme that I thought was very clever and cute. To me it is representative of these freshman students taking off on a road leading them to a new future. All summer long, we prepared for this adventure. I heard some of my friends complain that their kids were acting out by being defiant and rude. I struggled with my son being out til 2 a.m. hanging out with his friends. But otherwise he was a good kid all summer. Working hard at his job and playing baseball on a college league in his spare time which wasn't much. When I brought up how some of his friends were acting out, he scoffed and replied that our family didn't need him to be creating such drama - we'd already seen our share and we wouldn't put us through anymore.

I read in a book about parenting teens headed off to college, that the summer before departure is one of realigning relationships within the family. They also talked about this during our orientation at the college saying that kids act up to create distance between their families, which then makes it easier for them to leave.

One point in the book that I found especially interesting stressed that for single parents, this transition is especially difficult because of the multiple roles a single parent plays. Whenever I encounter a point like this I feel so validated. Someone out there understands how hard it is to be an only parent like I am. I am not crazy feeling so tired, drained, exhausted and frustrated after years of raising my sons on my own. Yes, there is a great part of me that is so proud of how successful my sons are turning out. But it is often trumped by those other feelings which seem to overpower the good.

In my opinion, based on personal experience and my training in psychology, widowhood is far more complicated than people expect or acknowledge. There are so many conflicting layers such as this one: a parent taking on multiple roles. Most people don't stop and think of the complications. They just make comparisons based on other parents. It is rare to come across anyone who makes the distinction between a two-parent unit and a single or only parent one. I just find it an added burden to always be compared to the status quo when I'm so far from it. And I continue to wish that more people were aware of the issues facing only parents. I'm not sure any great changes would come of it. But simply for the public to have some more awareness of what only parent families face, may garner some sympathy and compassion for them in the future. And maybe that would be enough of a change to be helpful for others traveling this road that will follow me with younger children to raise.

Harvest Time

I passed these bursting berries on a tree and thought that they were a good representation of my sons being launched off into the world. Here it is harvest time and all of nature's bounty is ready to be harvested after the growing season and nourishment of Mother Earth. I guess I see myself as this tree, caring for and helping these berries grow until they reach their potential. The tree has done its job, as have I. One boy is off to college, the other leaving in a year for his college years.

As an only parent, mothering two fatherless sons for almost 10 years now (counting the two my husband was mostly hospitalized), I know that I have pretty much devoted my entire being and focus to raising these young men. It has really taken a lot out of me. Would I do it all over again? Without a doubt but I know first hand the challenges and hardships facing only parents and how much better a situation it is for all involved when two parents are actively raising a family vs. only one.

I am somewhat at odds with my life at this point. Realizing now for the first time how much I need to create a new life for myself because once this year is over, my primary job and focus will no longer exist as I have known and lived it for a decade. I have no hubby to distract me or plan trips with or retire with - I have no career to fall back on. My sons have been my everything and now I'm about to set them free into their first years of young adulthood.

What I am saying is that I need to get a life for myself pretty darn quick! I have a year. I am sure people could point out that the world is my oyster right now and I can dream to accomplish anything. But I don't think it is so easy sometimes. I'm very tired and drained from the past 10 years; I don't have a hubby to support my efforts to go back to school, move or get updated job training. My circle of friends has diminished to a very small circle indeed so at this point the world seems very immense and the oyster seems very, very minute in comparison.