Tuesday, August 23, 2016

To the mom who jokes about being a temporary single mom

This has bothered me for 2 years, so I'm just going to get right to it.

I periodically stumble across a status here or there on Facebook during my late-night mindless scrolling that says something along the lines of, "Well, hubby is away for 2 weeks, and I'm home alone with the kids. Time to be a single mom," or, "After my afternoon trip to the mall alone with the kids, I don't know how single moms do it."

I can't begin to tell you how deeply offensive this is.

Even if it's followed by a "kudos," it's not a compliment. It stings even worse, actually, because it proves that you don't see us. If you did, you'd never say that.

Being a single parent is not something you choose. It's not something you can turn on and off. It's not something you set out to be. It is thrust upon you, either by person or by circumstance. If you love your child, you'll do it. That's "how we do it." We have to. There is no other option.

It is not a life I would ever wish on anyone. I love my daughter more than life itself, but being a single mom is the hardest job I will ever have. I am physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially stretched 100% of the time. I truly worry that I will die of a heart attack before I'm 40 from stress. I honestly worry about this. I am exhausted day in and day out. I dream of naps I will never, ever get to take. I dream of an empty sink and clean carpets and plenty of washed and folded clothes to choose from on any given day. I dream of a shower.

[Fun fact: I probably only shower 4 times a week at the most. Why? I need sleep more than I need a full shower. I opt for a soap-and-water washcloth wipe all the other times.]

While your little "single mom" charade is temporary, mine is not. Where you have a light at the end of the tunnel (husband, fiance, boyfriend), I have nothing but endless days of sole-responsibility monotony with my highest expectation being that of merely keeping my head above water.

While you may bicker with your significant other about child-rearing, I have to pay a lawyer thousands of dollars several times a year in order to have assistance having a civil, productive conversation with my daughter's father in a courtroom.

While you get to pick and choose when you get solo time away from your kids, I only get it as it is thrust upon me by court-mandated visitation. This is not time I spend in blissful solitude; this is time I split equally between worrying about/missing my daughter and engaging in morning-to-night activities to try to distract myself from such loneliness.

While you get breaks from certain tasks (chores, errands, being "on" as a parent, etc.), know that I never do. Even if my child is away, I'm the only other one who lives here, and I have to do every bit of it.

While you get a literal pair of arms to sink into on tough days, I get only beautiful toddler arms--they are my favorite arms, but these are hugs in which I have to be the strong, sturdy, consoling one. I don't ever get to fall apart.

When you get to unwind sitting next to another human body each evening, I sit silently by myself and marvel at how I've simply made it through another day.

It's not glamorous. At all. I'm a joyful person who seeks out happiness and adventure, despite (and in spite of) this single mom role, and I find it and share it--that's what you see. That's what I get complimented on, and I can't thank you enough for that.

But you don't walk in my shoes on the days when everything around me seems to be an obstacle in my path. The days when I trudge through mud all day long only to go to sleep and do the same thing all day the next day. When I'm one straw away from feeling like I have reached my final limit, and I may actually self-combust from enduring so much stress.

So when someone jokes about being a single mom, yes, I take offense. And, no, I'm not overreacting.

I'm not in the slightest trying to say that I deserve congratulations for parenting all by myself or that I'm better than any other type of mom for it. In fact, I'd argue that I'm a worse mom. My daughter gets the butt end of my lack of patience every single evening when we're both exhausted and fumbling through our bedtime routine. She misses out on a lot of great experiences because we can't afford to do them with our extremely limited household budget. When we're bickering, she can't just go to the other parent for comfort. We're all we've got, and it's not just me doing all the struggling on rough days.

This is not about comparison. This is simply about understanding. If you're lucky enough to be parenting your kids with a partner, I just want you to understand that, no, you don't actually know what this is like. You don't feel what I feel. You couldn't. And I truly hope that you never have to.

But the next time you're about to vent about not knowing how a single parent does it because of your very small glimpse into what it's like to have to do everything all by yourself with no end in sight, I hope that you'll keep that thought to yourself and post something else on Facebook instead.


Friday, August 5, 2016

Why is her hair always a mess?

My little baby Kimmy is about to turn 4, and I've been having a really hard time coping. I've been stewing on this blog for a month or so, watching each day come and go, whirling us unrelentingly forward to her birthday, to preschool, to ballet lessons, to her very last year of being a toddler.

I've finally decided that I just don't have the words to describe how much I love her, how proud I am of her, and how thankful I am to have her in my life, so I'm not even going to try to do it justice. A poem (the title of which was fueled by a hateful comment) [to spite the negativity in our lives] and some pictures will have to do!

Why is her hair always a mess?
She is wild like the sun's rays as they dart through the trees,
like the West Virginia blood that has trickled down to her.

She goes where her heart leads,
following each tug with a brave grin.

She plays and laughs and runs, and each curly
ringlet rises up to meet the next big adventure.

She is born from the deepest need for
healing to a mother who wanted her so.

She is her great-grandmother's great-granddaughter,
fiercely strong and aware of the gentlest among us.

She is her nana's heart, joyful and 
compassionate, unwavering in her beliefs.

She is her mommy's best friend, a soft
landing when our days are full of turmoil.

She is a kind smile and a sweet thought
whenever someone hurts.

She is her namesake through and through.

She is the sun, the rain, the moon, and the stars all in one.

Why tiptoe when we can leap and dance?

Why tame a wild thing when there is laughter to be had?

Why hold back when there is a trail to be blazed?

You can always wear your hair down around me, sweet girl. 

Messy or not, we know what our insides are all about.

3 generations and 1 in the womb

The day I left to check into the hospital to have my girl 
The picture that will forever make me feel the most beautiful

My sweet angel girl, 9 days old

6 months

Kimmy's 1st birthday!

Kimmy's 2nd birthday!

Kimmy's 3rd birthday--at Disney World!

Kimmy's 1st haircut on her birthday at WDW!

June 2016, camping with her momma

June 2016, West Beach of Lake Michigan at Indiana Dunes National Park

June 2016, evening playtime with her momma
And now we're 2 days away from age 4. To say I'm in shock would be an understatement.

But, to say I'm excited for all that the future holds for my beautiful Kimmy and me would be an even bigger understatement. I absolutely cannot wait for all that is to come.

I love you, Kimberly Jarae Strickland!
8/7/12 was the start of the best phase of my life, all thanks to YOU!


Music, inspiration, wandering

I love music so much. I would have already died a thousand times over without music in my life.

I hope to never stop searching for inspiration and wonder everywhere I go. I hope my eyes stay forever wild and never glaze over.

Give me a wanderer whose heart will stay.
Beautifully flawed. Inherently happy.
Unafraid of the free fall.

[Just some thoughts.]


Extraordinary things

I find myself falling into familiar patterns all too often these days. I stumble upon a guy who quickly becomes a good friend, I sometimes develop feelings (sometimes not), and I play it by ear. We talk about everything, laugh a lot, get close, and I think things are great.

Then there's the ghosting (or at least extreme pullback). Reciprocal communication becomes fewer and farther in between. Eventually I realize I'm the only one talking. Then for a brief moment, I hit the bottom of this weird, emotional pit before bouncing back.

I think this a single mom pattern/weakness: happening upon someone who is a good listener, getting wrapped up in that feeling and talking a lot, and then realizing retrospectively that you've shared too much and been too real, and the guy couldn't handle it. This solo parenting thing is a lonely gig. It feels so good to have someone to share thoughts with. But based on my [very limited] experience, I think guys just get confused and scared.

Single parents have lots of thoughts, limited sounding boards, a super high level of stress and responsibility, and like no free time. Oh, and the list of things to do never, ever ends. There is always something, and we are the only ones there to do it. Life never stops, and peaceful pauses are rare. That responsibility feeling rubs off, and I'm sure it's an unpleasant taste for a non-parent guy. I get it. I really do.

I guess the part of all this I need to continue to drill into my brain is what while Kimmy is a normal part of my life, she's not a normal part of any one of these guy's lives. They don't get it--or at least if they get it logically, they don't get it practically because they don't live it. They can't separate her from me and just take me for what I am. I can see how it's all a bit intimidating.

I'm just SO BUMMED about it.

I'm not daddy shopping for my daughter. I don't want to talk about my child all the time. (But let's be real: she's a part of my life, and she's going to come up from time to time.) I just want to feel like a normal 27-year-old woman sometimes. I want a person just for me when I'm entering into a fun, maybe-more-than-friends-one-day dialogue.

I just wish that guys wouldn't assume the worst and be so quick to slam that door. I'm worth the stress and the drama that follows me and the time it takes to get some face time with me. I'm worth it all. The man who takes the effort to discover that will be one lucky son of a gun.


Guys everywhere, take heed:

Do not ghost a woman. She can literally see that you saw that message. It has a time stamp. Say something. If you're not interested, if you're scared, if you're on different pages, if you're going away on vacation for 5 months, if you're just looking for a hook-up, whatever the reason is...

Be real. Be honest. Speak up and break things off.

That's what it means to be a man.

That's the respectful choice.

Sure, you may not feel you owe a woman anything, and, sure, that may even be true, depending on many factors. But at least cowboy up and give her some damn closure. Even if she reacts like a fool, she'll still respect your honesty a hell of a lot more than never hearing from you again, as if she's not worth the ounce of effort it takes to text a 1-sentence goodbye.

When women say all men are the same, this is the type of BS we're talking about--because y'all prove it time and time again. Quit being so damn disappointing and prove us wrong for once!


So this is where "extraordinary things" comes into play. When I land in this emotional pit, I think to myself, "How did I find myself here again?" Then I realize it. My story isn't over--not even close. I am fine. I'm alive and healthy. I still have my friends and my family and my passions. I still have my mind, full of art and depth and dreams and plans. I'm still me. I'm intact. I'm standing. I'm better off.

I will do, see, and experience extraordinary things in this lifetime, regardless of who comes in and out of my story. And I'm actually never more motivated to dive deeply into my passions than when I find myself here over and over and over.

Maybe one great love isn't for me in this life. Maybe these small glimpses of it are enough. I have my daughter through it all, so where has love really gone off to? Nowhere. It's present and constant.

Being in this place makes words flow out of me. It makes me spend more time with my daughter. I'm a better friend. I travel more. I appreciate all the real people in my life even more. I toughen the parts of me that need toughening and settle deeper into the parts of me that need to remain soft. I take a good, hard look at myself and deliberately examine my headspace. So thanks for that. You're actually doing me a favor.

Take me or leave me, but if you're going to ghost me, leave me the hell alone.


P.S. this post has been a draft for months. (I'm not happy with my first drafts lately, so I do a lot of slow crafting before I publish.) It's a culmination of experiences, not a passive-aggressive swing at any one dude. I'm in a really good place right now. If you're in my life, I hope you know we're good, too.

Fearless or nah?

I hear a lot that I don't seem to be afraid of anything and that it's cool that I fearlessly tackle life. While that's an incredible compliment, I'd like to keep things humble and human with a list of my deepest fears:

1. Getting my teeth knocked out on a clothing rack in a store. (Yes, I'm serious. This is fear #1. Clothes racks are at the exact height of my mouth, and I've had several near-toothless experiences. I even have nightmares about it. If I'm in a clothing section, my hand is over my mouth more often than not.)

2. Being 95 years old and not having done every single thing I want to do in this lifetime--but I tackle that fear head on every time I get outside and go adventuring.

3. Eye surgery and dental surgery. Terrified. Absolutely terrified. If I ever have to have either, I will most certainly have a massive panicky meltdown.

4. Finding a tick on my head. Being bitten by a tick? Not so much. The threat of Lyme Disease? Nope. But touching my scalp and finding that there's a tick on there the size of a big, bulgy gray-green grape sucking out my blood and whose head I may never extrude, thus forcing my body to absorb its ticky cranium? HORRIFIED. FRIGHTENED BEYOND BELIEF. If this ever happens, I will go straight to an urgent care clinic to get it handled, not even kidding. It would be the only thing keeping me from burning a hole in my own scalp to make sure that sucker died!

5. Being in another car accident. Ever since Kimmy and I got hit by that drugged-up driver in June, I have had some pretty intense anxiety issues. The sound of the crunching metal and the smell of the leaking radiator and airbag-deployment explosives haunt me day and night. I don't ever want to experience anything like that again.

6. Not death (because I know where I'm going), but the thought of me dying early and leaving all sorts of unfinished business in my daughter's/family's hands. I have a will, but that only does so much to settle the nerves, you know?

Annnnnd, that's all, folks!


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

I want to be better

A lot of my thoughts lately have centered around my goals. What do I want in life? Where am I headed? How can I get there?

In an effort to not be as hard on myself, yet still uphold all my standards and values, I have boiled all my goals down to one goal:

I want to be better.

I want to be a better mother, daughter, friend, listener, achiever, dreamer, student, believer, writer, artist, learner, and adventurer. I never want to stop being better at those things. I will base decisions on that goal, and that will pave my way.


After 2 weeks away from my daughter and a weekend of her time being divided between other family and pet doggies, I felt overwhelmingly disconnected, both from my daughter and just from motherhood in general. Yesterday afternoon, I just thought to myself, "There was just an entire chunk of time where I have no clue how my daughter's life was. There was an entire chunk of time where I didn't get to be her mother." I vowed to be a better mother in our time together and really spend more quality time connecting with her.

Last night, I only used my phone to take a few photos and videos of Kimmy and to look up some silly prairie dog, elephant, and owl videos that she wanted to watch. Other than that, we just talked. It was the best evening I've had in a very long time.

I watched a little girl--who is almost a not-so-little girl about to turn 4--blossom from feeling uneasy about being back home and knowing she has a brand new pre-school routine coming up into my happy little talkative girl full of silly ideas, tons of jokes, and loads of creativity. She was so happy to be home and so happy to have my full attention.

We talked all about my travels while she was at her daddy's house. We went out and looked at the garden together. She had a fashion show and tried on her new school clothes for me. I showed her my trip pictures and surprised her with a few souvenirs. I bought myself a harmonica a few weeks ago and have been teaching myself the basics. She was deeply envious of my purchase and wanted to play it all the time, so what did I do when I saw a harmonica in a pretty blue case at the Biltmore toy store? I bought a harmonica!

We've started a Kimmy-Mommy harmonica band. Kimmy took right to it. She made up a song and consistently plays it over and over. I know anyone can pick up a harmonica and blow into it, but it's actually a tricky little instrument (you can't see where you're blowing and have to rely on muscle memory) that makes replicating a tune pretty hard unless you have a good feel for which of the 10 holes is which note. She's a natural.

After a very long and exhausting day and lots of evening playing, Kimmy got to sleep in Mommy's bed. We slept 10+ hours and woke up feeling wonderful.

I have actually not seen Kimmy so calm or happy in the morning in quite some time. I know the sleep had a lot to do with it, but I also think I was a better mother to her last night than I sometimes am.

It's so easy to get caught up in all the trillion things I need to do in a day that by the time I make it home after work, there's very little of me left to give. My daughter, as my only other household member, takes the brunt of that and sees the worst of me more than anyone, simply because she is there to witness it. It's one of many unfairnesses of single parenting: my child needs me most, but circumstance dictates that I have to be spread out thinly elsewhere before I can get back to her.

So, I want to be better for her. She deserves to see the best of me more than anyone in my life. She is my constant. Friends and dudes may come and go in the years to come, but I will always have my Kimmy. She deserves to always have me, too.

I will be better.