Confessions of a Single Mom with Cancer Entry # 20

I’ve been talking about this confession in some shape or form for a while. My girlfriends (as well as random women standing in line at WalMart) and I talk about it all the time. We’re tired, exhausted, overwhelmed, stressed. But today I realized,

20. I’m actually drowning.

I realized it through an AWFUL situation. Immediately you think something I missed, forgot, failed at but it’s not any of that. I’ll try to keep it brief but give you the whole picture.

So this morning I’m in the backyard with the dog and a baby bunny runs from under the deck. Sophie Joe chases it as usual but instead of darting under the fence and getting away. This bunny jumped in the pool. I totally FREAK out. I have to save the bunny. The bunny is swimming for dear life. I get the dog inside. Call for Sydney to help me and I start trying to rescue the bunny. A wet broom, swimming pool pole and a rigged ramp later, I cannot get the bunny out. It’s getting tired, resting between strokes. I’m begging it to hold on and keep trying. Telling it, ‘you can do it’. It’s struggling now. I swear we’re close to saving it and then it stops moving. It’s DEAD.

I was trying to hold it together, but I started crying. I thought to myself, I’m losing my mind. The girls don’t know WHAT to do. Sydney reassures me bunnies die all the time – we do have an overinflated bunny population running around our house. But I just felt so bad for that bunny.

And then I realized, I AM THE BUNNY.

It’s almost like I’ve woken up in my life and I’m wondering…how did I get here? Surrounded by water. This place where the to do list never ends and the pressure to perform is crushing me. Where in all aspects of my life I feel like I’m treading water or falling behind. And this is not a time where I just need encouragement, a pat on the back or someone telling me you can do it, this is REALITY. I have too much on my plate. I have too much responsibility and too many people or projects depending on me. I have too many jobs to do and roles to play.

I have gotten here and I’m swimming as hard as I can but I know I’m drowning and it’s just a matter of time before I’m dead.

There were times last year I actually thought I was going to die. I still live with the fear that the cancer is just dormant right now but it will come back and kill me. But if it doesn’t, anything could. Now, 5 years from now, 10. It’s going to happen, but I feel like the race against the clock has started. I don’t want to spend these years struggling just to survive.

But what am I doing about it? What CAN I do about it? I see people ditching their McMansions and building tiny houses, leaving their jobs and pursuing their passions. I have thoughts, ideas, dreams but something still holds me back. It could be all that responsibility I have, but my faith in God and myself should reassure me that it will all be taken care of. For some reason I’m still SCARED, and in many ways, I’m sort of comfortable in this crazy place.  The water is warm now that I’ve gotten used to it.

But I’m still drowning and I know it. Drowning is different than being exhausted or overwhelmed cause there are only TWO possible outcomes. You get out of the water or die.

I just need to jump out of the water. One good leap and that bunny would have been out of the water -and alive. I need to JUMP.

I have the tools to get out and to succeed when I’m there. They’ve been developed, improved and sharpened for the last 43 years. Shouldn’t I live the next 43 years on the shore, really living and not just struggling until I die?

I want to know my IKIGAI (eek-y-guy) –  “the reason for which I wake up in the morning.” or,  “sense of purpose”.  This is an important concept in the Okinawa lifestyle and was identified as one of the principles that helps make this region a blue zone. If you haven’t heard of this you have to watch Dan Buettner’s TedTalk on it. But he’s identified 9 factors present in regions where people for generations live longer than anywhere else. Knowing and living your purpose was one of those factors. Not only did they live longer, but they lived more fulfilling and rewarding lives. I know my PURPOSE is not just to tread water until I drown. I know it’s bigger than that.

I don’t want NOT knowing to hold me back anymore. I need to bet on me and my ability to find my purpose and make a way. It’s time to jump. If I don’t do it now, I’m afraid I’ll forget the impact this crazy cancer time has had on me. I’ll get comfortable in my CRAZY again and settle in the struggle. I don’t want to settle.

I’m jumping.

 

Confessions of a Single Mom with Cancer Entry # 19

I’ve been thinking a lot about dating lately. I have a strong desire to be in a relationship and truth be told,

19. I want someone to fall madly in love with ME.

I mean the REAL me and all of me.

The me whose garage is totally messy cause sometimes to clean out my messy car, the stuff gets piled on the table in there.

The me who has a semi crazy life cause I have 2 daughters who I love but also drive me crazy and I birthed them so they’ll drive someone  else completely insane some days.

The me that’s bossy cause I’ve always been the boss and in the end I really want what’s best not just what I want and sometimes I can’t see that the two aren’t the same.

The me that has an awesome, big job I love, but secretly wants to be a stay at home mom.

The me that leaves dishes in the sink cause I hate doing the dishes.

The me that hasn’t fully unpacked from the last trip but will before the next.

The me that wants to spend every holiday and vacation with MY family.

The me that wishes I could still eat McDonald’s.

The me that has a dent in her car but doesn’t want to fix it yet cause really…who cares.

The me who has clothes size 4-14 and everything in between.

The me whose kitchen has more than one ‘junk drawer’.

I guess I’ve FINALLY accepted that I’m never going to be perfect. And as much as I knew that, a part of me believed that THAT’S what people fell in love with – people they thought were perfect. And maybe, deep down, I believed it WASN’T happening for me BECAUSE all of these imperfect things and many more.

On top of it all, cancer has created many NEW, physical imperfections. My man made, cancer free boobs will never be perfect. My body will always have surgery scars and port scars and drain scars. Thank God for clothes and the dark 😉

But this isn’t a pity party, like why not me. It’s me finally letting go of the me I imagined was lovable and accepting the me I KNOW is lovable.

It’s me no longer fantasizing about married people and how perfect they seem together.

It’s me focusing more on what I have to offer versus what I’m lacking.

It’s me accepting that two people come together and actually make each other better.

It’s me recognizing that truly being myself is the only way I’ll have a lifetime, loving relationship.

It’s me understanding that the man I fall in love with won’t be perfect either, but hopefully perfect for me.

It’s me taking this new found openness and vulnerability and, although terrified, letting it infiltrate my love life too.

I never realized I was creating this barrier. I believed I thought I was ready and I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t dating. But my expectations, not of the guy, but of myself were not realistic.

And maybe the cancer idea of ‘damaged goods’ actually makes it easier for me to accept ALL of my imperfections. It all adds character, right? It also makes for some really great stories, that make for PERFECT date night conversation 😉

 

Confessions of a Single Mom With Cancer Entry #18

About a week before surgery, a friend of mine said to me, “You haven’t posted anything in a while. I miss your confessions. What’s going on?” So I thought about why I hadn’t written anything in almost a month and I had to confess this to her:

 
#18. I can’t do it all.

 
I know the world would like women to believe that they can. I’ve even tried to convince myself of it for many years. But the truth is, there are times when we really need to focus on something and other things suffer. For me, I’ve been really focused on my health and not just treatments and meds and procedures, but my health – I finally got my act together in regards to healthy eating, working out, reducing stress and while doing it I discovered why so many of us don’t. We don’t have time and if we make time, something else loses. For me, it was my quiet writing time.

 
At the end of the day, after I’ve come home from work, cooked dinner, done homework, spent some time with the girls, cleaned up at least one of the rooms in the house and put them to bed, I pretty much have one hour before I can no longer keep my eyes open. In the past several months that had been my confession time. But as I prepared for my surgery, it became very important for me to get more physically active to improve my recovery. It was necessary for me to lose some of the weight I had gained during treatments but more importantly to get moving again so that my joints weren’t as sore and achy (side effect of the maintenance drugs). So that hour was spent on the treadmill and juicing for the next day.

 
And it was worth it. I had a little guilt at first about not writing, but I started seeing the benefits of my new focus and frankly, just stopped beating myself up. I knew I could pick up and start writing again at anytime, but our health will not always be there. I think about all those times I made excuses to not work out or to eat things I shouldn’t and on top of feeling bad about my choices, the little voice in my head would start in on me, making me feel even worse.

 
But I realize now, something has to suffer. There are only 24 hours in a day and that’s not changing anytime soon. So it goes back to choices. Most women I know who workout to the point of being triathletes don’t work or don’t have kids or aren’t married. There’s only so much one person can do. Before I was willing to admit that, when I was trying to do it all, MORE than one thing was suffering. I was stressed, so I’d yell at the kids more, I’d make unhealthy eating choices, I’d go to work events that weren’t necessary, and I’d feel guilty about all of it.

 
This trying to do it all, ‘my life is so busy’ stuff is for the birds. So many of us wear it like a badge. Busy is not the answer to How are you! Good, happy, tired, excited, sad, anxious, peaceful, even stressed – those are answers to how you are. Busy is a description that people use 1)because they are, 2)because they want to seem important, or 3) because it’s what everyone else is saying. Once being busy becomes how I actually FEEL, I think it’s reaching a tipping point and not in the good, Malcolm Gladwell way!

 
I saw a sign the other day that said, “Do more of what you love.” At first I thought, yes, that would be nice. But then, I thought, wait, what will I NOT do? If I could, not work and do more of what I love or if I could, not work out and do more of what I love, then I’d have to suffer the consequences of not doing those other things.

Then I realized, I came in on the middle of the conversation. Do more of what you love is preceded by doing a lot of other things first, so that I can do more of what I love. I work out and sacrifice other things so that I can BE HERE with my children because I love being with them and want to see them grow up. I work so that we can go on vacations, share experiences, and create memories because I love doing that with them. I do a lot of things so that I can do more of what I love and that’s what I balance. I don’t do it all. I can’t do it all, not all at once. But my life is filled with give and take.

 
I’m working on NOT beating myself up when I make a choice not to do something or let a certain area of my life lapse. I’m trying to make those choices consciously, recognizing and accepting the downstream effects of it. I know this is going to be very difficult for me. Doing it ALL has been a way of life for me for so long, but it wasn’t a good, healthy life, and that’s what I want – MORE than anything.

Confessions of a Single Mom With Cancer Entry #16

I’ve said it before but being diagnosed with cancer makes you very reflective on how you’ve lived and are living your life. When I started looking back, I had to admit:

16. I have some regrets.

It’s hard to say that because it carries such a negative weight with it. But if you’ve lived at all, I’d bet you can say this.

I have some big regrets and some small ones. Some of them are things I wish I would have done, some are things I wish I wouldn’t have done or done differently. All of them come from choices and decisions I made. They are things like:

I wish I hadn’t been so anxious to start working and would have gone to live in California or overseas right after college.

I wish I would have married young and for love.

I wish I would have pursued singing more seriously.

I wish my kids were growing up in a more traditional family structure.

I wish I would have finished my masters.

That’s just a sampling. There are others. But when I start thinking about these things I look back on them and realize the flip side of any of these situations would have had consequences and likely a different set of regrets. I understand that the grass is not greener on the other side. It’s just different. I also know that many of the choices I did make had wonderful results that I may have missed out on if I had done things differently.

Some of my regrets were really just flat out mistakes – bad choices or decisions. But everyone agrees we can learn a lot from our mistakes. As I’ve become more willingly to be vulnerable, I think I’m learning a lot from my regrets too. But if we focus on them too much, they can create sorrow. They can also create envy. This state of reflection has sometimes created more envy in me than I had before cancer. Not wondering why I got cancer instead of someone else, but wanting to have some things in my life that I haven’t yet, before it’s too late. So I have to work on not coveting now, more than before. I have to work on being faithful that those things will come.

I can’t aspire to the idea of living life without regrets. I have them. But, I’ve decided what I can do is try to live going FORWARD not creating new regrets.

This means facing some of my old choices and trying to be sure I don’t repeat them. It means really acknowledging what I want and not accepting anything short of that. It means taking counsel with people I know love me, even when I’m afraid they won’t agree with me. It means taking more risks. It means following through. It means believing in myself and a great plan for my life….without the burden of NEW regrets.

So, yeh, I have some regrets, and I think that’s ok.

Confessions of a Single Mom with Cancer Entry #5

I don’t know if I’m alone in this or not, but it’s not really nice. So I’m just going to go ahead and say it, I’ve always thought my daughter had a sort of annoying personality. She’s really excitable and over the top about everything. She has to be the center of attention. Loud. Goofy. Unfocused. And I’m not going to lie – I can get easily annoyed with that personality. And rightfully so, if she was 25, 30, 35. But she’s 10! What was wrong with me? The truth is, I think it was more about me.

5. I’m projecting my own insecurities onto my daughter.

I’ve been using this adult gauge to judge and measure my daughter. She’s SUPPOSED to be all those things – loud, easily excited, goofy. It may not even really be her personality. Some of it may just be attributed to BEING A KID! She’s still searching for who she is and what she will be like. Of course she is. So am I! But I’ve been acting like she should have already arrived. How unfair. And it took me 10 years and cancer to realize it.

I now recognize that I actually get uncomfortable sometimes thinking about how she appears to others. Does she seem well parented, well disciplined, smart, polite, dressed well, clean? That’s all about me. I’m really thinking about what others think about me as a person and a parent, not her as a child.

I think about what she wears and how it looks – not if she’s comfortable and how it makes her feel about herself.

I worry about if other kids like her or not or if she’s difficult to be friends with. And some of that could be valid, but it’s still not about how she feels. It’s about how I feel cause she’s never once come home saying she doesn’t have any friends and nobody likes her.

My daughter is not insecure and somehow hasn’t been programmed to even care that much about what people think about her, which is a gift. So why am I practically teaching her to burden herself with these thoughts and concerns?

Today as I watched her on the volleyball court, I saw an excited, sort of uncoordinated, overly dramatic, loud 10 year old flailing around the court. For the first time, I didn’t wish she’d act differently. For the first time, when she looked back at me, instead of giving her the look to settle down and chill out, I smiled at her and encouraged her excitement.

Despite me, my daughter wants to enjoy her childhood, which she deserves. She wants to not be perfect and worried about how people perceive her. She wants to be loud and snort occasionally. I’m not sure when I stopped celebrating who she was as an individual or enjoying her childhood with her, but I’m happy to say I started again today.

Confessions of a Single Mom with Cancer Entry #4

I spend a lot of time telling my kids what to do. It’s second nature. I don’t even notice it. I’m sure it’s what we all do but the more I think about it the more I started worrying that it’s all I do. The truth is:

#4. I’m missing the bigger picture.

Let’s take a look at all the things I nag (discipline, correct, redirect) my kids about during the day.

What they eat

What they don’t eat

How they eat (smacking, too much food, too fast)

Watching too much tv

Not reading

Doing their homework

Cleaning their rooms

Using their manners

Being nice to each other

Sharing

Being respectful to me

Brushing their teeth

Getting to bed on time

Being careful

Covering their mouths when they cough

Washing their hands

Not forgetting their lunch

Being on time

That’s a pretty good list from today! I really am not a nag. That’s just regular parenting, right? We lead them. Teach them. Show them the way. But, I wonder if on their side, it just feels like they can’t do anything right.

Well, I’m sitting here today, the last day of school in the strangest year the girls and I ever could have imagined. Actually, we couldn’t have imagined it. My 10 year old says it’s been ‘this’ way since Thanksgiving. And she’s right. Our world was turned completely upside down when we returned from Houston after Thanksgiving and I got the call – it was cancer. And ‘this’ way is the cancer way, which has been a crazy roller coaster ride. One that as a kid was probably really hard to be on, cause as a mom in a totally new situation, sometimes I didn’t know when or how much information to give them. I didn’t know what they could handle or understand. I didn’t know what they needed to know or deserved to know. How would they trust and feel secure in me when I didn’t have all the answers? The one who guides, directs, tells them what to do constantly.

And I made some mistakes along the way. I gave them premature information about my treatment plan and it then changed drastically. I would come home from doctors appointments and say it went fine, even though every appointment seemed to bring to light a new development and often new concerns. Finally one day, my daughter said, ‘You said your appointment went fine when the doctor told you it was cancer’. She was right.

So I had to learn a new way to guide them. I had to be transparent in ways that seemed beyond their years. I had to be honest with them about what I did know and what I didn’t know. I had to be vulnerable with them. All while still being mom and running down my nag list – make your bed, clean your room, do your homework, be nice to your sister – many times shouted from where I laid in my bed- bald.

And guess what? They survived this school year. This crazy, upside down, topsy-turvy, unpredictable school year. Grades were fine. Behavioral stuff – fine. 2nd and 5th grade- here we come!

But truthfully, they did so much more than survive. They changed the list. The things they do everyday- changed. And in my new situation instead of directing, I watched them:

Have faith

Trust

Believe

Stay positive

Encourage me

Support each other

Love harder

Show appreciation

Develop compassion

Share their story

Grow stronger

Express their feelings

I realize now that so many of our days had been strung together by orders barked by me from the list of things I felt like they needed to do to be, I don’t know – good? And they are important. Many are things that have to get done. But they aren’t the most important. My kids were showing me so much more about who they were as people and I was missing it. Blinded by the nag list. But I’m not anymore.

Confessions of a Single Mom with Cancer Entry #3

I’m just going to get right to the point on this confession.

3. I don’t spend enough time with my kids.

I know a lot of people don’t like to talk about this one, cause often times there isn’t a good solution to the problem. But if you don’t face it you’re not even going to try to improve it.

I hadn’t faced it until it was thrown in my face. During this cancer journey, I’ve had the luxury of being home more and spending more time with my kids. And even though there were times I wasn’t feeling so great, I learned Me at less than 100%, 90%,70% vs. No Me – is better for them. For us.

With my busy, full time job, I spend very little time with my kids during the week. Let’s do the math.

Mornings!

They get up at 6 am and we’re out the door at 7:30, so 1.5 hours every morning. And that clearly can’t be considered ‘quality time’. Most of it is spent rushing them around, getting them ready, fixing lunches and breakfast and finding out about things that should have been done the night before. It may just be my house, but the mornings are more like a little hurricane than a trip to the park.

Evenings!

On regular days I get home between 6-6:30 pm. Bedtime’s at 8:30 if we’re lucky, so 9 at the latest. So I get 2-3 hours with them after school.

Daily Total!

Anywhere between 3.5-4.5 hours altogether. Unfortunately my job requires at least 2 evening events a week. On those nights I may be home by 8 pm or 11 pm. Either way, I hardly get any evening time with the girls those days and only a total of 1.5 hours of their 14 hour (minus sleeping) day.

Weekly Total!

At that rate, on an average week, I spend a total of 15 hours a week with them. Sometimes, I spend that much time with my employees in one day. Am I raising employees or my children? Yes, I know I get the weekends, but as a single mom, we don’t even get all of those!

There are a lot of issues with this situation.

~Who are my kids with during the other 10 hours of the day? At school, in the after school program, with the sitter, at activities. Do I believe the messages they’re being sent support the way I’m trying to raise them? Are they being poured into with love and positivity, appropriate discipline, learning and health. Not always. I know that.

~I find the more time I spend with my kids, the better people they are. They are nicer to each other. We share more love, smiles and hugs. It’s not because I’m perfect. It’s because I’m what they need. I’m who fills their spirit up. That’s important to acknowledge and therefore try to impact.

~Some people will argue it’s about ‘quality’ not ‘quantity’. You don’t get quality time when you have NO time. Quality time defines HOW the time is spent, so it has to start with TIME!

As my cancer treatments are coming to an end, I have some choices to make. I already see people trying to pile on the night events and travel. I have to set boundaries for myself and my family. Even something as simple as committing to only one night event a week and max 3 for the month. And sticking to it! I have to take a long hard look at how I can build more flexibility into my work schedule and ask for it if necessary. If it’s not possible, I may need to start thinking about if it’s time for a more drastic change.

We can’t make more time. That’s a fact  – One a cancer diagnosis will throw in your face, even with an outstanding and blessed prognosis. We can be better with our time. We can be more impactful with our time.

And we have to face it and try. Being present is critical. Again, will my kids turn out ‘ok’ with our existing schedule and chaoticness. Yes. But like I said before OK is not good enough for them or me. Anymore.

Cut Yourself Some Slack!

I’ve slacked off! Not at some point, last week! It’s officially been a week since my last post which is the longest I’ve gone since I started The Single Mom’s Guide to Leaning In.

But the truth is, I was busy! I was at a conference, took the kids to Disney, got one ready to send off to overnight camp all in the midst of my floors being redone and my house being in complete shambles!

There were things I should have done, needed to do and wanted to do, but sometimes you have to understand, you can’t do everything. And frankly, most of it was still sitting there waiting for me this morning.

So how do I get myself comfortable with letting a ball drop here or there? I cut myself some slack! That’s the single mom’s lean in! Tip of the day!

We are our own worst enemy. We keep the ‘to do’ list running in our head. We taunt ourselves if we don’t think we can finish something. We fret over what others will say or do if we don’t respond or deliver when they want us to.

So much of what we do or don’t do is not life threatening, at home and work. We hold ourselves at times to unrealistic standards, which means we’ll never be happy with ourselves. This feeling can lead us down a very negative path. So how do you learn to cut yourself some slack?

1. Surround yourself with people who applaud you for what you do.
2. Prioritize what needs to get done so you can feel comfortable with not checking off some of the things on the bottom of the list.
3. Keep things in perspective. (In most cases, the world will not come to an end if you don’t complete the task.)
4. Change the voices in your head. (Instead of beating yourself up about what you haven’t done. Congratulate yourself for what you have accomplished.)
5. Lean In! What you do get done, knock it out of the park!

That’s right. Lean In! Last week, I didn’t get everything done that I wanted to but I leaned in. I came back with great new ideas for my team and I to pursue for the company. I created great memories with my kids. I prepared my daughter for an incredible experience and I got one step closer to having a livable house again. I did a lot, but there’s still much to be done. There always will be. So, cut yourself some slack.

How do you do it?

A question I’ve heard many times and I know all of you have too. On the face of it, I think it can be taken as a compliment, but as a single mom who’s really trying to lean in, I think we need to think about what this question really means and how we answer it.

In many cases I believe the questioner is really saying, “Wow! I’m amazed at how you are able to do everything you do so well.” I believe another possible sentiment behind this question is just that – a question. “Tell me how you do it, cause I need help effectively managing everything that’s on my plate.” However I also believe some of those asking this question are actually saying, “I pity you.”

This last one is the one we never want. See, that sense of pity will not help when you want to be considered for a new challenge or the next promotion. So, I think we need to be very careful and thoughtful when we get ready to answer this question.

I believe our response should focus on the following:

  • Being Honest and Humble

Acknowledge that it can be difficult at times but you have a village who helps you from

your sitter to your mom to the wonderful team you work with.

  • Be Proud and Promotional

Give an example of something you’ve done recently to balance your life and show how

it helps the company having someone like you who can handle so much with such

grace and effectiveness.

I recently gave the response below to my organization’s incoming board chair at an after work event when he asked me that exact question – How do you do it?

“It can be hard at times but I love what I do and I have great kids who deserve my very best. The most important thing for me has been having amazing people that help me be successful. My kids are with my sitter right now. She has been with us since my oldest was a baby. She’s a part of the family and that makes a huge difference. But there are times it’s a balancing act. This morning I had to drop off at two places, bring cupcakes for my daughter’s birthday and attend a parent teacher conference. All that before I even got to the office! It takes a lot of planning. But it’s worth it. I know in the end, my job is giving my children a great life, full of opportunity and frankly, I think it makes me a better leader.”

Remember – everything is an opportunity to show your commitment to your career and promote yourself. If you can help those around you understand being a single mom is not a hindrance but a help, you’ll pave a better path for you and all the other single moms in the office and those to come.

Now that’s how a single mom leans in!