Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Eyes to the Sun

Photo Caption: "Eyes to the sun, even when it is setting."

For those of you interested in the quiz I mention in today's earlier post, it is the VIA Survey of Character Strengths, which measures an individual's character out of 24 strengths. It is very interesting and I have learned some new personal insights taking it. You can find it and a whole bunch of other similar tests at "Authentic Happiness," Dr. Martin Seligman's site. He is the Director of Positive Psychology at the Univ. of Penn.

Anyway, I went back to look up my results on the test and after my top strength, "Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence," my second is "Love of Learning." Again, this is a trait I have held since childhood and it probably explains the strong need I've had for my sons to finish out their schooling here in this top notch school district and high school. This result says that I love school, learning, reading, and visiting museums. I have always placed a huge value on formal education but I also believe that there are opportunities for self-insight and growth every day no matter where we are. We don't have to be in a classroom to learn.

Rounding out my results, I have great "Curiosity and Interest in the World," and love to explore and discover. I do have a strong level of "Gratitude" and take nothing for granted. I show my appreciation. Lastly, I live with "Honesty, Integrity and Genuiness." I live my life in a genuine and authentic manner. I am down to earth, without pretense; a "real" person.

Looking over these strengths I would say that being down to earth, living honestly and authentically is right on mark. I value that I am a very honest person and stress to my sons to always be honest and true to themselves. I am proud that I am down to earth and genuine.

I used to be a much more forgiving person. But since widowhood that quality has suffered. Also, since widowhood my self-motivation seems to have weakened. But now is not the time to focus on weaknesses.

If anyone takes this character test and wants to share their results/insights, please comment. I believe we can learn from one another.

Hoping For More Sun

Photo Caption: "Trying to still see a glimmer of sun."

I am providing an update here because I don't want to leave anyone who is following in the dark. I still hope that my words and experiences have some value being put out there, even though my life has been difficult since widowhood. I took a gamble to try and make it through another year in the area even though I knew it would be very hard and maybe even impossible financially. But I gambled so my son could finish out his senior high school year. I did try and find a family for him to stay with here while I moved last summer and fall. But that option just didn't fully materialize. To now look back and try to punish myself by saying I should have done things differently isn't helpful and adds to my misery. I continue to believe as I always passionately have, that people make the best decisions they can at the time, based on their experiences and the choices at hand.

When you are living life to the barest bone, one unexpected or unplanned event can just send you to your knees. The saying that people are only one paycheck away from disaster is true and probably now more true in this unstable economy.

The past week has been emotionally trying. I know myself. When the situation calls for helping others I am able to rise to the occassion. But when I need to pick myself up, I don't do such a good job. I tend to be immobile and shocked into inactivity when I am under extreme stress and worry. I am not able to focus. I dwell on the negatives and am plunged into this pit of dark thoughts, hopelessness and despair. Whereas some faced with hardship propel themselves into a whirlwind of activity, I am not even able to hold a crochet hook in my hand. I become this zombie like creature.

After existing in this state the later part of the week, on Sunday I broke down and called my girlfriend asking her if we could meet for tea or a walk. She scolded me for not calling her immediately when I lost my job and felt I needed two glasses of wine, her treat - forget the tea. She was kind to me, which is what I really think we most need when we're facing difficulties. She told me that in her opinion, I HAD made it and gotten my sons through high school. And she reminded me that as long as she has known me, since my oldest was five, that I have always reached out and helped others. When you're down and out, it is good to hear positives about youself because right now I sure am not seeing myself in a good light. And we need to be reminded of the complete person we are. All of us have strengths and weaknesses. Living through a bad situation doesn't reduce us only to our less desirable characteristics.

I took this personality quiz recently that figured out one's life strengths. I was a little surprised to see that my top strength was seeing and seeking out life's beauty. Now I am not an optimistic person and since childhood have seen the glass half-empty. But I guess seeking out beauty is something different. And since childhood I have always looked for beauty - every day. In puddles in the parking lot, in a store window display, in the cut or color of a woman's coat. Whenever I am out and about in the world, I take pictures with my phone and those photos have included puddles, window displays, clothing and the sun on a recent walk peeking out from the trees. I open a JJill clothing catalog and the photo arrangement of a set of sweaters, highlighting the rainbow of colors, captivates me. I find beauty in the the ordinary and it surrounds me even now. So that is what I am going to try and focus on - my strengths - the little things that do serve to empower me. Be they written words in a novel, the touch and feel of a hank of pure wool yarn or the surprises that greet one taking a late-winter walk as the sun sets and snow melts.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Ripple Effect

My son's Valentine gift arrived in the mail yesterday. I am surprised the decorative rock was not damaged as he used one of those padded envelopes. I found the card and gift very touching and they certainly arrived on a day when I needed some cheering up and hope.

On Monday, the restaurant I work at was closed. It was unexpected. I worked that day cleaning the interior and packing. Also, on Tuesday. That helped - being with some of the others I have known the past year. We were able to commiserate and talk to each other. The mood was sad and co-workers were upset. I am surprised at how quickly it takes to dismantle a business. By Tuesday the signs outside the building were gone. I thought of the people I have met and gotten to know - the weekly regulars. How there was no warning and no chance to say goodbye. Even for this piddly little low-level job I felt a sense of loss. This job provided us with groceries for the past year and gave me a sense of direction and purpose for getting up each morning. I was supposed to start serving, which would have given me extra coming in via tips, which were pretty good - some servers were making $500.00 weekly. I would have been happy with anything!

I think about the ripple effect. How so many people will end up being influenced by the close of this restaurant. The ones hardest hit will be the hourly employees and this in turn will impact families having to struggle even more. Despite what news reports state, I don't think we're out of the woods yet economically as a country. Businesses are still failing, people are still out of work, others continue to lose their homes.

Although I fared pretty well Monday and Tuesday, yesterday was a bit of a crash. I had been told that I could "transfer" to another location but met with one of the other managers who told me there aren't any slots open. Another woman my age (server) was also told that there is no guarantee she will receive any hours at a new location. Some co-workers reported that the local businesses and restaurants said business is slow and they aren't doing any hiring now. Then I started to catastrophesize (sp?), as I do when under extreme pressure and fear.

It is a horrible downward spiral - I become immobilized and anticipate the worse - we will become homeless, I'll have no food for my son/sons, we won't be able to drive (no gas or $ for car insurance). "Tsk, tsk'" people wag their fingers. Put on your brave face and smile and start pounding the pavement again. I don't feel inspired, I feel defeated, broken and unable to stand. I was just trying to last a couple more months before I could move. To have to rise up yet again and pull it together...

I am still waiting to hear if they can use me at another location. I think I qualify for unemployment, although it is a very small amount. I am realizing that I am not a strong person in the face of adversity/stress. I do so much better with a partner. In all the years of marriage, I never acted, felt, responded, thought etc. like I do now - empty, exhausted, hopeless and weak. Sometimes I hate this person I have become in widowhood.

The hardest part of the past few days was driving home on Monday and Tuesday knowing there was no one at home to talk to about all this. That is what I miss the most - having a person who has got your back and your best interests at heart when you face a setback.

I am more resolved than ever to upgrade my social services qualifications so I can work with the under-privileged, those hurting and under-served. Having been there, I will never be one of those "tsk, tsking" with disapproval. I also know that when I am out of the woods and on my feet again, I will kiss the ground every day I wake up and say a prayer of thanks. I just have to get there and it looks like the road is still a bit longer - I haven't been given a shortcut for these final, couple months. It sucks, it is hard and I am just plain tired of this life. Widowhood in and of itself under the best of circumstances is a challenge.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Waiting Out the Days

In just six months, my youngest will be on the campus of his college for Freshman Orientation Week! Wow! When I look ahead to that milestone, I can see that time is rolling forward to our new beginning. Yet all the same, time seems to be progressing so dreadfully slowly.

You would think that after everything, these last few months would be a breeze to get through. But I am finding that not the case. It is getting harder for me to wait out these final days. My girlfriend, a teacher, agrees with me on this. She says the hardest weeks for her to get through are the four-day ones, when they should be easier.

As usual, am feeling the winter blues when the "greyness" of winter makes me want to scream! But I am so grateful that essentially this has been a very mild winter season, certainly the most mild that I recall in the past 10 years. Bad PMS again this week. I need to anticipate this better and realize that my low mood and motivation come at this time of the month. Once it passes, I am like a new person, again ready to take on the world.

Why do we so often feel the need to beat ourselves up for being human? This was a weekend where I had plans to be more productive but just wasn't. I am often alone at home with my youngest out and about doing all the social activities Senior high schoolers are involved with. It is a bit depressing for me as I contemplate the life changes being a widowed-empty-nester will bring. My energy level is so sapped I only read, clean, cook, organize or knit halfheartedly. But really, is this so bad? So I spend a couple days moping about in pjs doing not much of anything. Perhaps in the grand scheme of things, this little rest will be restoring in and of itself.

Tomorrow I will try to get out for a walk. Celebrity Apprentice starts, which my son and I will eagerly watch together. I will put more effort into my actions knowing that the work week starts anew and luckily, my hours are being increased at my request. That might help with keeping me preoccupied and active as I wait out these final days of winter and those leading up to my move and new life. Right now I am in a holding pattern. I've put off looking at communities to move to until it is Spring but I think once I am actively involved in the process it will help with the passing of time. This is a limbo period, yet my soul is itching to get going and I want it all now. Enough waiting! Yet somehow when we were little we all made it through the long agony of waiting for Santa to arrive. And even as an adult I have made it through months of anticipation and waiting - for my weddings, college graduations, the birth of my sons.

Only those times I wasn't on my own. I had caring partners by my side to help distract me and support me emotionally. It seems that the days are longer, waiting out the days now as a widow.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Vday 2012

Vday text from son at college:

""Happy vday mom! Love you! Thanks for bein an awesome mom and pushin my ass to get me where I am today! Sent you somethin in the mail you should get it in a few days! Xoxo"

Monday, February 13, 2012

Being Served

My close girlfriend, a divorced mom, got upset with the guy she is seeing. He is not working right now and complained about their "arrangement" of dining out every week. They have had an agreement where they alternate between paying but he indicated that even every other week for him is sometimes too hard to manage financially.

So my girlfriend decided to "model"an alternate date idea, which was picking up a frozen pizza and a movie rental. But then she also discussed with me, her real disappointment over this entire situation. As she put it, her strong desire for going out to eat weekly comes from her need to be served. To have someone wait on her, provide some doting, be the recipient of attention.

I understand this all too well. Living alone, being alone, raising children alone - there isn't a whole lot of "being served" in that equation. As single or only parents, there is the necessity of looking out for others and over time, that becomes draining. Especially because we don't live in an environment that provides for an equal balance of nurturing and being nurtured.

There is something wonderful and restoring about being pampered and looked after. Even just for a dinner. To have the opportunity to let go of the reins and hand them off to someone else who assures you that you are in their able and competent hands - so you can breathe a sigh of relief and relax a little.

Buying little treats for oneself is nice, but it doesn't take the place of having someone look out for you and your interests.

I think my girlfriend needs to have a heart-to-heart with her guyfriend about how she feels in regard to wanting to be served. And instead of "modeling," she can make verbal suggestions for date ideas in lieu of eating out so much. But I do understand where she is coming from. Many years ago I knew of a church that sponsored weekly dinners for single moms and their children. These dinners were free and involved china, cloth napkins and most importantly of all, the opportunity for the women to be waited on and served. Before the dinners, the moms would meet for an hour-long group meeting to vent and share parenting ideas while the kids met for their own session, which also included games and socializing with other kids from single families.

I don't know if this group still meets and I wish I had had a chance to attend some of those dinners. It is a wonderful idea and one that I won't forget. I hope that if I am ever in a capacity to work or volunteer with single/only parents, that I can suggest and perhaps implement this concept. In the meantime I'll talk with my girlfriend more about this. And I'll remember that being served doesn't just mean being waited on when going out to dine. It can mean anything from having someone remember you unexpectedly or having someone assist you when you're in a jam. My girlfriend's guy is very much a handyman and has been fixing a lot of my friend's broken household fixtures. Surely his repairing her doorbell and clothes dryer warrants a glass of wine over a pizza popped into the oven. I know in my book it would.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


A Little Tooth
By Thomas Lux

Your baby grows a tooth, then two,
and four, and five, then she wants some meat
directly from the bone. It's all

over: she'll learn some words, she'll fall
in love with cretins, dolts, a sweet
talker on his way to jail. And you,

your wife, get old, flyblown, and rue
nothing. You did, you loved, your feet
are sore. It's dusk. Your daughter's tall.

My son's poetry teacher handed out this poem on curriculum night and I fell in love with it. But I also laughed out loud reading the title, because I have been having nightmares about losing my teeth and thought a poem about teeth was kind of an eerie coincidence. I told the teacher how much I liked it because it described so succinctly, the passage of time and a child growing up - so appropriate to be handing out to the parents of seniors on their way to graduation and college. Wow! The power of words to convey meaning and emotion. It is why I blog and read as much as I can. And it is why I am trying to "talk" less and listen more.

I am struck by the beauty of poetry as an art form - I've kind of lost sight of that in recent years. How many of us really read much after we are out of school? I am inspired to try and read more poetry and fill my life with more art and beauty.

I love the description here, "flyblown," although the definition means tainted or spoiled. Also, the the words "rue nothing," or having no regrets.

Poems speak to us because we can identify with the words and connect to their meaning. Maybe this poem speaks to me so strongly because of the last two lines. If I change the "you" to "I," I can certainly say that I too, rue nothing and that I did, I loved, and my feet are sore, in fact very, very sore right now.

Curriculum Night

Attended my last high school curriculum night last week. Most parents of seniors don't go and even my son was surprised I was going. But I felt it was only appropriate to do so as it marks the end of a long, enduring journey.

During the night as I toured my son's last semester's classes and met his teachers, I heard over and over how special the high school, community, parents and students are and how honored the teachers and principal feel to be a part of the school. I've been hearing the same thing every curriculum night for the past five years. And indeed, I truly believe as well, that our community and the high school are unusually rare, special and valuable. It is the reason I have stayed in the community - so my sons would be able to remain members of this special place despite their dad's death - and that they would complete their entire pre-college education here.

Attending the night confirmed for me that the decisions I've made to stay here were the right ones for our family. Many years ago, when the boys were just starting school and a few years before my husband became ill, we considered moving to a more rural community. In fact, we were going to bid on two houses but offers had already been made on them. At that point, we made the decision to stay put, despite our longing for the rural life because of the great school system in our community. Just a year later my husband was diagnosed and I remember feeling grateful that we hadn't moved. If we had, I would still be a newcomer in the community and my parents would not have been able to watch my sons when I went to the hospital for months on end. I wound up thinking that fate had intervened and made it impossible for us to get one of the houses we wanted. That we weren't meant to move at that time because of my husband's impending illness.

So staying here was for my sons but it also became kind of a promise to my husband to stay the course and make it for the sake of our sons because it was what we had both determined was the best learning environment for them.

I did it! We all made it! This IS a special community and my sons were privileged to live here through college. I will never regret my efforts to focus on keeping them in this school district. This educational foundation will set the tone and pattern for the rest of their lives.

Over the weekend, I ran into a mom who was once a closer friend. My oldest son was in Kindergarten with her youngest son. Her family even attended my second wedding and the boys had a garage band together in middle school. Her family has moved into a rental after losing their home so we talked a bit about that and I told her about my desire to move. Then I asked her about her son. He is not in college, worked a seasonal job at Target but is not employed now although he has a few band gigs. Her daughter, a few years older, works at a retail store but isn't in college.

Now I know kids bloom at different points and that college is not for everyone. But I called my oldest son immediately after chatting with this woman to tell him that I am proud of him and to thank him for being in college and doing so well. Then I came home and thanked my younger son for doing so well in school and told him I am proud of his plans for college. Perhaps my two sons represent the truest sign that the sacrifices made to remain in this community were worth it.

A lot of times on life's journey, we choose a path and hope for the best. And sometimes we don't get the satisfaction of knowing that a certain course was the best or right one for a long time. It is not to say that had we moved, my sons would have turned out to be delinquents. But after a parental death, there is so much turmoil, and fear of the unknown, it seemed only logical for me to remain in the community for the social and educational stability it offered my sons. Coming to the end of this phase and seeing that the results are so positive make it easier for me to leave this area with a lighter heart and more hope for the future. It is hard to move in the middle of a chapter and that is probably why I have been so resistant to relocate before. But now I truly have reached the end of a book with a very satisfying conclusion to the plot. And I can move on with a clear conscience, my head held up high and pride besides.