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 #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.

Make lemonade!

I just got home from an awesome staycation with the girls and the families of my closest girlfriends. I was already to blog about the value of girlfriends. However, after the girls bath, I realized my computer won’t turn on and it’s not cooling off in here!

I’ve tried everything but the air conditioner is  really not working. It’s 80 some degrees in here. So I’ve put pallets on the floor, turned on a movie and stripped the girls down. Tomorrow, I’ll call the home warranty people and that leads me to my tip.

Every single mom should have two things: Triple A and a home warranty. We’re sweating tonight but for $60, tomorrow, someone’s going to come make a hundreds of dollars repair on my A/C. It’s peace of mind. Most people don’t realize you can get a home warranty even if your house isn’t new. And although I know many think its unnecessary, it can save a single mom in a bind when you could never afford replacing or repairing some of the appliances in your house.

So tonight we have a not so cool but fun sleepover. Tomorrow it will hopefully be a cooled off bedtime as usual!

We’ll talk more about triple A when I’ve cooled off!

 

 

Single Mom’s Lean In! Tip of the Day!

Don’t eat lunch in your office!

I know it’s tempting cause you have a lot to do, but lunch can be an important connection time. And don’t just wait for someone to ask you. Take the initiative and ask one of your peers. It will show you’re interested in them and open to do more than just come to work. You’re leaning in, building relationships and showcasing all that you bring to the table.

That’s how single mom’s lean in!

Stop complaining!

Alexander Kjerulf, aka The Chief Happiness Officer and best-selling author of 3 books, published a list of the Top 10 reasons why constant complaining is so toxic in the work place. The #1 reason: It makes thing look worse than they are. 

I know things can be hard as a working, single mom trying to lean in, but let’s face it – focusing on it all the time, mentioning it in every conversation definitely makes it seem worse. It can also have a direct negative impact on what you’re trying to accomplish.

In general, most women like to share and in many cases, this sharing takes on the form of complaining, especially at work. We complain about spouses, ex-spouses, kids, teachers, coaches, coworkers. Women bond over mutual misery. So sharing is a way of connecting for us. However, complaining also tells people an awful lot about ourselves. For everything we say, there is interpretation and conclusions drawn.

Complaints can: Impact others perception of how much you can handle

As you describe situations that have overwhelmed you with your children or your ex or your household, you are painting a picture of yourself for the listener. You are showing them that you cannot handle your current situation. Some people, particularly men, will believe what you say. If you say you are too busy or never have time for yourself, then they are unlikely to invite you to after work or weekend activities. It is very likely that they will exclude you in the spirit of helping or supporting you.  They may also jump to conclusions. If you stress about getting the kids or not having anyone to keep them during certain times, a manager may assume you cannot make an early or late meeting. They may even decide that it is too difficult for you to travel. These assumptions (again in their mind, they’re being considerate) will limit your access, exposure and opportunity.

It’s important that you stop the complaining about how little time you have and start showing how great your time management skills are because they have to be. Or show how you have creatively surrounded yourself with resources, friends and family who can help alleviate some of your time conflicts and pressures.

Complaints can: Make you look weak

How do we handle people we feel sorry for? We pat them on the head. We coddle them. We don’t tell them to get up and make something happen. We don’t give them more to do or more responsibility. If people feel sorry for you, they see you as weak, or at least weaker than themselves. Successful people seem strong. It is hard enough as a woman to ‘look’ the part when it comes to high powered jobs, as Sandberg talked about in Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. She even talked about it being okay to show emotion at work, but only when that emotion was based on passion, which is a strong emotion. It was not from weakness.

Weak will never be a word used to describe a leader in any situation. So it cannot describe you – personally or professionally.

Complaints can: Reflect on your ability or inability to handle your own consequences

There are two sides to every story. If you are divorced, understand that no matter what happened, your divorce is a consequence of your choices. You decided to marry the person you did or you decided to divorce the person you married. Either way, your current situation is a consequence of your decisions, not your coworkers or your boss. When you complain, it can send the message that you do not believe or understand that certain consequences should have been expected or even planned for.  Many women will say that they didn’t want the divorce. Although this may be true, it does not matter in the end. Your personal situation is your own burden to carry, not the burden of those around you at work.

When you handle the consequences of single motherhood and working with grace and poise, it will do one of two things, make you, being a single mom, a non-issue in regards to professional growth and development or make you a rock star. Either one is the result you want. 

Nobody likes a whiner, even if your complaints are valid

The truth is you are handling a lot and that is an asset. A single mom has to wear many hats as all mom’s do, but for a single mom, there’s no choice. If a child is up all night, you have to be the one to stay up with them and still go to work in the morning. You can handle one more thing because you don’t have a choice. This is the positive perception that can be created as a single mom. Stories from your everyday life, told from a place of strength and pride – not complaining, will likely make you seem like a superhero. Those stories may even put others who have a hard enough time just getting themselves out of bed and dressed in the morning to shame. Most importantly, it shows that you really can handle a lot – at home and work.

That’s how single mom’s lean in!