Stephanie Sprenger

  • Hearing the Wake-Up Call of Your Creative Life

    by Jennifer L. Hollis

    When my friend Kris suggested we take ourselves on a do-it-yourself writer’s retreat, I told her she was a genius. We are both writers in our forties and, like so many people in midlife, everything in our lives is growing: careers, children, those piles of unread library books on the nightstand. She’s a fundraising consultant who has shifted most of her professional work to writing. I’m a writer and music-thanatologist, which means I play harp and sing for people who are dying.

    I’ve been around end-of-life care long enough to know that the best place to find happiness is in the here and now, making time for the things, and people, you love. While writing makes me happy in a way that little else does, it is difficult carve out that creative space. As poet Mary Oliver writes, “The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.”

    It’s easy to promise ourselves we’ll get to our writing later, when the children are in bed or the taxes are done, only to find our to-do lists have no end, and never did.

    When Kris and I decided to commit to a weekend writing retreat, I suggested that we go to Martha’s Vineyard, where my husband and I have a house that we use in the summer but is mostly empty in the winter. We talked about dates, and backup dates, and also backups for the backup dates. Once our retreat was on the calendar, we anxiously waited for weather or illness or spouse calendars to force us to cancel. Nothing did, not even my worries about being away from my young son for two nights. My husband planned an exciting weekend complete with a movie and a boat show, and my son hardly noticed as I packed my bag to leave.

    I first met Kris in 2001, when we shared an upstairs apartment in an old two-family house just outside Cambridge, Massachusetts. I was a graduate student at Harvard Divinity School and she worked for a large nonprofit in downtown Boston. One night I woke up to hear her running up the stairs to my attic bedroom. “Wake up, Jen!” she yelled, “I think the house is on fire!” Panicking, I wondered if I should carry the harp outside with me. What about my boxes of photographs and journals? By the time I pulled on jeans and a sweater none of it seemed important. I ran out empty-handed.

    We stood on the sidewalk and watched as smoke billowed out of the downstairs neighbor’s locked screen door. They did not respond to the doorbell and when the fire department arrived we discovered that they had fallen asleep with food on the stove. There was no fire, just a ruined pot. For weeks, the smell of smoke lingered in our apartment, a frightening reminder to us both. There was no fire escape or hanging ladder on the third floor where I slept; if the fire had been real, Kris’s wake-up call would have saved my life.

    A few days before our trip, Kris and I met for coffee to map out an agenda of solo writing time, craft discussions, goal-setting and readings. We were both a little too excited about the poster-sized post-in notes I brought along for brainstorming. On Friday morning, we sped down the highway toward the ferry terminal at Woods Hole, and I told her about an idea I’d heard on the “Happier in Hollywood” podcast, advice that movie producer Robert Evans had received. “You learn from success, kid – not failure. If you’ve only touched it once, a term paper, a temp job, hitting a homer, dissect it. Was it timing, focus, homework? Get to the core. Find the whys, the hows. That’s the key.”

    As writers, Kris and I had plenty of practice worrying over the steps to failure. But success seemed random and uncontrollable. What would happen if we analyzed the steps we had taken to various successful publications? What would we learn about doing it again?

    We arrived on the Vineyard around lunchtime, drove straight to my favorite diner and ordered avocado salsa, eggs, French Toast, and lots of coffee. At the house, I lit a fire in the wood stove and we made a brief timeline for the rest of the afternoon. After a few hours of solo writing, we took a cold walk on the beach at twilight and then came back to the house to make a simple dinner.

    For the rest of the weekend, we found an easy rhythm of writing balanced with conversations about craft and goals. I worked for several hours to shrink an unwieldy essay and Kris helped me smooth out the final transitions. She was researching an article about mushrooms, so we stomped around the damp woods behind the house, searching out local specimens. We both thought that we could channel the shared humor and writing advice of our MFA of Two into a podcast, so we signed up for an online class to learn the basics and Kris wrote an introductory bio for show’s future website.

    On the morning of our last day, we made a third trip to the diner, just before we had to return to the ferry. The server laughed to find out we were leaving; he thought we were regulars who lived on the island. But we had a life someplace else, and it was time to go back to kindergarten pick-up, lacrosse practice, and our never-ending email inboxes.

    Kris had not exactly rescued me from a burning building this time, but she called my attention to something vital to us both: our writing lives and how we are going to live them to their fullest. After all, how do you know if your creative life is on fire unless someone wakes you up and invites you to look at it once in a while? Her idea for a do-it-yourself writer’s retreat cleared out the smoke of my every day routines and helped me set real goals for the coming months. Those three days of giving “time and power” to our creative lives made us both so happy that we have decided to build on our success, and we just put another retreat on the calendar.

     

    Jennifer L. Hollis is a writer, music-thanatologist and the author of Music at the End of Life: Easing the Pain and Preparing the PassageHer articles and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Progressive, the Christian Century and other publications. She is at work on a book about what she has learned (and refuses to learn) from her work in end-of-life care. Jen has a master of divinity from Harvard Divinity School, where she previously served as an assistant director of admissions. She lives in Somerville, MA with her family. 

     

  • After the Urgency

    By Elizabeth Neumann Fuller

     Every other week, an early morning bell sends me racing from my classroom out to the elementary school parking lot, donning my whistle and zipping up my reflective vest en route. I stride boldly into the white stripes of a crosswalk to face three lanes of cars that stretch the hundred yards of the lot and snake out to block traffic on the road beyond. I shiver, or sweat, depending on the season. And I squint into the sun, not daring to shade my eyes with a hand that is needed to either wave a car on, or make it stop.

     Often, I nod and smile in return to a parent’s friendly wave or good morning greeting. But just as often I have to wag a finger at parents for cutting another car off, or for driving over pylons to change lanes illegally. No doubt they justify these behaviors because they are in a hurry—to get to work, to go grocery shopping, to get an older sibling to middle school.

     I can see them drumming the steering wheel with impatience while they wait in the approach to the drop-off zone. Their hands fly up in frustration when the little girl in the vehicle in front of them struggles to open the back door of an SUV. She pushes her slight weight against it, and it pushes back, like a reverse tug-of-war, until her mom has to take the time to unbuckle, and get out and walk around to assist. I can lip read parents’ curses through their windshields when a little boy hustles out of the car in the drop-off zone, only to lose his grasp on his lunch bag and have his grapes scatter as if hit by a cue ball, and his water bottle roll and then rest under the exact center of his family’s car, where everyone behind them in line must wait while it is retrieved.

    Oddly though, for all this impatience, this rush, this PG rated road rage, there is—more often than not—a period in the coveted drop-off zone where time is suspended.

    After the urgency to get to the front of the line, to drop their charge and get on with their day, parents will wait for the slam of the car door, and then pause. They will rest a foot heavy on the brake, and swivel in the driver’s seat to watch their child walking away.

    They are suddenly reluctant to separate. They crane their necks to keep their child in sight.

    They slide the passenger-side window down and lean towards it, waving or blowing a kiss, or yelling a final “Have a good day” or “Remember to eat your snack” or “I love you.” I can see them willing their child to look back before disappearing into the school’s inner sanctum.                       

     I confess that as the teacher on duty, this delay in the drop-off zone has always annoyed me. For twenty years, I have had to do parking lot duty, and I have been in a hurry just like everyone else. I have started my day rushing, to get my own children dressed, to pack their lunches, to grade a few more papers. I have been antsy to get back to my classroom before the final bell rings and the onslaught begins. Before my students burst into the room and jockey for position to tell me that they forgot their homework, or their cat had kittens, or they ran out of lunch money but can they still buy a corndog? So in the parking lot, I wave with extra vigor and a hint of irritation at the drivers causing delay in the drop-off zone. I beckon them to move forward faster. “Keep the line moving,” I mutter. “They’ll be back out here again at 2:30.”

     But then this fall, I myself was the parent in a different drop-off lane. I drove my youngest child to college. We got up in the wee hours, and loaded her school backpack, along with Hefty trash bags full of clothes into my Subaru. We drove six hours down the I-5 to a cinder block dorm set back behind a well-manicured lawn. We found her room, put sheets on her bunk bed, laid a shag rug on the floor, and hung her clothes in the closet. We attended an orientation where we sat apart, then went out to dinner where I asked about her classes. She had registered for a Kafka class, and linear algebra, and there wasn’t much I knew or could say about those subjects.

     When we pulled back up in front of the dorm after dinner, dusk was settling over the front lawn, tingeing it a grayish-green. I kept the engine running at the curb, and we leaned awkwardly into a hug between our bucket seats. As she climbed out of the car and walked away, my foot was like lead on the brake. I thought about how she wouldn’t be waiting outside the Taco Bell for my ride home from high school the next afternoon. How I wouldn’t be studying her face as I drove toward her, discerning how her day had gone from her expression. How I wouldn’t ask, “How was school?” and she wouldn’t shrug and answer, “Fine.”  I craned my neck to watch her walk across the grass, squinting to keep sight of her in the deepening dusk. She turned slightly, and I’m pretty sure she blew me a kiss, before she pulled her key card out of her back pocket and disappeared through the dorm door.

     The next Monday morning, my house was quiet, allowing me plenty of time to read the paper and drink my coffee before work. Back on parking lot duty, I wore my whistle and my neon vest, and waved my hands and wagged my finger. But when parents paused in the drop-off zone to watch their children, I turned to watch them too. I saw the little girls with hair tightly braided and the boys with defiant cowlicks headed into classrooms where they would learn about action verbs, and explorers, and Harriet Tubman, and the planet Mars. They would collaborate with classmates to solve 2-part story problems, and swap celery sticks for Doritos at lunch. And they would emerge at the end of the school day with hair tousled and sweaty from the effort of learning. They would know the product of 9×9, or how to tie their shoes, or how to read a compass rose, or the meaning of the vocabulary word chasm.

    They would be that much closer to making their own way in the world. 

    Because it happens that fast, under the watch of a teacher, or a lunchroom supervisor, from 8:00-2:30. I can see that now. So I decided that for the time it takes for a child to walk, under the weight of a backpack, from the parking lot to the inside of the school, I will lower my hands and I will let the parents linger.

     

    Elizabeth Fuller is a teacher and writer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her essays have appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, The Denver Post, The San Francisco Examiner, and other publications. She loves a good coffee shop, and hiking in the East Bay hills.

  • Mouths of Babes

    By Jennifer Golden

     

    Children, especially our own, seem especially competent at guilelessly pointing out our flaws and insecurities. “From the mouths of babes,” is, after all, a proverb for a reason.

    For a few months not long ago, my four-year-old took to drawing portrait after portrait of her loved ones—stick-figured, crazy-haired, one giant black eye staring right at you and one slightly smaller eye staring off the page, a demonic Cookie Monster of sorts. And always, always: a purple dog, a red ice cream cone, and a brown blob of poop floating between the person’s legs. I once asked my daughter why she insisted on the poop. “I need to use the brown marker,” she informed me matter-of-factly.

    She papered the walls of her room, floor-to-ceiling, with these pictures—an unsettling gallery that will surely be recalled by friends and family should she ever end up on the wrong end of of a 20/20 investigation. And, although each picture looked almost exactly the same as the one on either side, she could tell you at first glance which one was Mommy, which was Daddy, Uncle Matt, a bear, a unicorn, whomever. As long as my portrait had me also looking like Uncle Matt or a bear or a unicorn, I took no offense. I was, like any mom, proud to accept my child’s artwork and display it for all the world to see, future psychological profiling be damned.

    Then she got more sophisticated. The poop, mercifully, went away. The images started to have distinct characteristics. “What is that?” I asked one day, pointing to the large, wobbly oval bisecting the trunk of my latest stick-figure likeness.

    Her: Those are your hips.

    Me (gulping): And what about those little circles sitting on top of the hips?

    Her: Those are your boobies.

    Me (voice pitched an octave or two above normal): Shouldn’t they go up a little higher, closer to my head?

    Her (irritated, as if I’m crazy): No.

    My eight-year-old’s artistic abilities are more advanced, but she is nonetheless similarly skilled at innocently highlighting one’s insecurities. This morning, eating breakfast, I noticed my eldest staring intently at my face.

    “Did you have stitches? You look like you have a scar here,” she asked, gingerly pointing to the corner of my right eye.

    She is stitches-and-scar-obsessed these days, coming off a deep gash in her knee that resulted in a trip to the emergency room and an army of stitches marching like ants across her puckered skin. I see her sometimes, fingering the purple line that now bisects her kneecap. “Will I always have it?” she asks me, but not with trepidation. With hope. I think I understand such wistful attachment. Her body is unleashed, bones stretching seemingly overnight, so that a pair of pants that fit last week don’t cover her knobby ankles today. Her tiny, pearlesque baby teeth have been pushed out by aggressively serrated permanent teeth that shift around in her mouth, searching for a place to settle.

    And vaguely, she seems to sense what is just around the corner, a body curving into womanhood, adhering like some ancient mystic to the rhythms of the moon. It must be a confounding state of impermanence, constant flux for which she is just along for the ride. I can understand, then, this affection for something that is enduring and singularly hers.

    Or maybe she just thinks it makes her look bad-ass, like a Ninja Warrior.

    No, no stitches, I informed my daughter, with a dose of defensiveness her question didn’t really deserve. Fortunately, the Soduku on the back of the cereal box had captured her attention in a way my not-scar failed to do.

    Later, just out of the shower, I wipe away a square of mist from the mirror to study my reflection. The crease isn’t hard to miss. It’s not a scar, it’s a Grand Canyon-esque wrinkle. I have always thought of myself as someone who would “grow old gracefully” as the Olay ads of my youth encouraged.

    I think I, more than most people my age, understand the great gift of old age, the harsh reality of the alternative. I knew only one grandparent. My father passed away when I was in my early twenties, my roommate died in hers. My son celebrated a single birthday.

    I will embrace this wrinkle, I silently command myself. It is a physical badge of honor, a laugh line that marks the joy I have had in my life. I arrange my face into a smile, but the wrinkle is untouched, not activated even a tiny bit by my deranged grin.

    Well…I’ve had a lot of sadness, too. I pantomime a frown, then full-on crying. Nothing.

    Standing before the mirror, I run through a panoply of emotions: surprise, fear, anger, consternation, befuddlement. The wrinkle is stoic, unstirred. I am, however, deeply impressed by the acrobatic abilities of my eyebrows.

    As I turn to leave, a final possibility seizes me…I sandwich my face between my hands, recreating the effects of lying on my side in bed, right cheek smashed against the pillow.  The wrinkle deepens like the San Andreas fault. No, it’s not a laugh line, or a cry line, or any other emotionally-earned line. It’s a pillow smush line.

    The foggy mirror has started to clear, revealing a clearer and regrettably more troubling view of the landscape of my body.

    Oh, God, I think. I’m getting jowly. Like Churchill, but without a World War to my credit.

    I note a stomach gone soft and doughy from carrying three babies, the three skin tags lined up like soldiers at the crease of my arm,  a wiry hair that springs from my chin. (“Are you a billy goat,” my brother exclaimed once, in front of all our friends, as he reached across a table to pluck a rogue whisker.)

    I am, it seems, slowly ceding parts of my body to the passage of time.

    My bravado withers. I reach under the sink for the free-gift Clinique bag filled with free-gift moisturizing creams of varying shapes, sizes, and potencies. I select a tiny glass tub of “Moisture Surge” and apply it more than generously to the wrinkle and its brethren, all of whom have churlishly carved themselves into my face sometime while I wasn’t looking in the past eight years.

    A knock on the door stops me just as I am circling the drain of self pity.

    “Mommy?” calls a tiny voice from the other side.

    “Whaaaattt?” I answer in the breathy growl my kids are no doubt used to hearing when they disturb me in the bathroom.

    “I want to show you something.”

    I throw open the door, my face glistening like a madman’s under a desperate sheen of Clinique-branded hope. My daughter is holding an orange piece of construction paper, another drawing scrawled in crayon on the back.

    “It’s you!” she cries with glee. And there I am: one huge, gaping black eye, one slightly smaller, googly eye. A mohawk of orange hair, hands that look like catchers’ mitts. But no poop and—here I breathe a sigh of relief—no boobies.

    “Isn’t it beautiful?” she sings as she twirls round and round, holding the picture to her chest. Then she stops suddenly, walks over and wraps her arms around my leg. “A beautiful picture of my beautiful mommy.”

    I feel her curled around me, cheek pressed into my soft belly. Can you believe that you once lived in my tummy? I have whispered to her time and again, watching the wonder bloom in her eyes. My body grew you.

    I think of her birth, laughing and crying as I pushed her into this world, the doctors and nurses laughing and crying, too, for they knew that I had buried my son not eight months before. This child, the one I never thought I’d have, this great gift bestowed on me during the darkest hour of my life, she thinks I am beautiful. I will choose to believe her…From the mouths of babes, after all.

    But I’m holding on to that moisturizer.

    +++

     

    Jennifer Golden is a mother of two daughters and a late son. Her writing has appeared in The Washington PostScary Mommy, and The Best Women’s Travel Writing, among others. Find more of Jennifer’s writing on mommibomb.com.

  • The Friends Who Got Away

    by Caryn Berardi

    I had just found a seat in the spacious hotel ballroom where the conference keynote address was about to begin when, despite an overabundance of empty chairs, another woman sat down next to me.

    I know professional conferences are for networking, but I usually like to sit alone at the keynote program. In case the speaker is boring, I can scroll through Facebook without feeling self-conscious. But instead, my new neighbor said “hi.” I put my phone down and said “hi” back.  

    And so began a beautiful friendship between two women who lived in the same city, worked in the same profession, had babies the same age, and were both trying to figure out how to handle it all. We shared like worries: Are we taking care of our kids the “right” way? As we approach midlife, are we where we want to be (or thought we would be) in our careers? We even had an identical complaint about traveling with kids that we were convinced we could turn into a business idea. Somehow, we talked through all of this during a three-day conference. It was simpatico.

    Flash forward two weeks: After a back-and-forth of emails and vows to report back with research for our business idea, the messages stopped and the friendship was over before it even began. We never even made it to Facebook friends. I don’t remember her name.

    Though short-lived, I still think about this meeting several years later because it is emblematic of some of the “friendships” I have regretted losing most during this season of life: the friends who could have been. Or as I like to call them – the friends who got away. These are women I have connected with because we could connect the BIG parts of life together, like parenting, careers and marriage. But a lack of time, energy and/or proximity kept these relationships from fully forming.

    Friendships feel so fleeting right now, popping in and out of life like dolphins breaking the surface in the ocean.

    Instant connections are easy. They are based on a common thread like the t-ball team, music class or professional trainings. But once that class or event is over, there is so little time to invest in maintaining the relationship (especially when you haven’t even made the time to call your best friend from college who rubbed your back for four years while you cried over a break-up and/or eliminated that extra tequila shot you should not have taken).

    And it is not just with chance meetings, but with people I see regularly, like the other mothers at daycare. I have met such wonderful women through my sons’ school and I do feel that a few of them have moved past the acquaintance zone (meaning, I actually know their names and do not only refer to them as “Billy’s Mom”). But recently one of these friends changed her child’s school and we no longer saw each other at drop-off, pick-up and Halloween parades. Our common thread was cut, and despite the best intentions, we have barely spoken since.

    I know it can sound silly to mourn the loss of people I may have only known for one year, six months or even two weeks. This is especially true when research studies tell us that women lose touch with their old friendships in their 20s and 30s as they focus on career and family. As we enter our 40s, we begin to reconnect with those friends as both our children grow up and nostalgia for our younger selves grows stronger. In other words, we start calling our best friend from college more regularly again.

    I’m still in the trenches with my kids, but as I get older, I understand the research. Revitalizing my older friendships has become more important as we begin to care for our parents, navigate marital changes and re-think our professional paths. Sometimes it’s nice to ask the friend who has known you since you were both 10 years old if her hips hurt as much as yours when she stands up.

    And perhaps that’s what makes these friendships that got away different – there is no real foundation for reconnecting like there are with ones from the past. There wasn’t enough time to form a bond strong enough that it can be wheeled back in when life opens up again. When they’re gone, they’re gone.

    And after wondering why I kept thinking about these encounters, I realized it was because I don’t want my days of making new friends to be over. It seemed like one more entry on the list of “firsts” I won’t ever experience again.

    When I reflect on the people I’ve met in the last few years, they are not all just beginnings of relationships. A precious few have endured to become treasured friends, confidantes and supporters. It takes time, saying yes to a coffee when I’d rather read a book, and cleaning my house to host a Sunday afternoon barbecue so our families can also get to know each other. But as I watch these fledgling friendships develop, it is well worth it.

    ***

    Every time I’m at the airport, wrangling my twin boys and all of our stuff through the gate, I think about my friend from the conference and our business idea. I wonder if she’s had more children, if she’s still a counselor, and if her husband got into the MBA program he was applying to when I met her. I don’t know enough about her to wonder about anything other than what came up in those two weeks.

    I still attend the annual professional conference where we met. Perhaps we will find ourselves once again sitting next to each other at the keynote address and invite each other over for a barbecue and a second chance of friendship.

     

    Caryn takes her 10+ years of experience in higher education as both an instructor and career coach to write about personal and professional development, as well as help businesses and universities tell their stories. A mom to twin boys, she also writes about her own parenting experience as a way to make sense of the joys and challenges of motherhood. Her work has appeared in national and local magazines, as well as sites such as HuffPost, ScaryMommy, Modern Loss and as a contributor to the anthology, Multiples Illuminated, Volume 2. Her home on the internet is here.

  • I Am So Glad My Friends Don’t Understand Me

    By Magnolia Ripkin

    You know when you really connect with somebody? The moment that happens with a friend or a romantic interest when you simply click? That is when you identify them as one of your tribe. They join your crew of people who get you, who understand what drives your thoughts and reactions. Isn’t that the greatest thing?

    Over time, that instant connection grows into something more. A deeper knowledge with shared stories and life events. Shit happens, and for the most part your people and you know each other better for having gone through it.

    I had that with some pretty special people for a long time. The people who knew me from the “before” and very much understood how I moved through the world, how I would react to situations, what made me mad, happy, sad, all of it. I still have those people, mostly, but now they don’t really get me anymore, now that I am in the “after.” I am so glad they don’t.

    When you are living with cancer, the inside of your emotional structure goes through a deep and violent transformation.

    Much like other types of trauma. You look and sound like you, but you aren’t you anymore.

    I am currently in that new place, and I know I have changed on a fundamental level. It probably doesn’t show so much on the outside because I still look like I care about most of the happier and superficial minutia I always have. But in the deep down, I care much less about some things, and so much more about others. Some of the pressing issues I care about now never even crossed my field of thinking before my diagnosis, I took them for granted.

    For instance, I used to care about having nice shoes Now I wonder how this could possibly have been a priority and it boggles my mind. I also cared what people thought of me. I worried that I might be too much. That concern has also been punted out of the metaphorical trapdoor.

    Now I care about a new list of items. Not dying is the number one priority. It is followed closely by dreams for my children, including being at their life events live and in person, and not as a photo in their wallets. I care about every minute with my husband, deeply. I care about helping and loving the people in my life more than I ever have.

    All of this keen focus on trying to live life comes with an evil and relentless accomplice. Cancer people worry on a subterranean level all….the…time. It is like a deep thudding that you feel in your heart, but hear in your head. It makes us almost seem to be elsewhere. I can tell you that it is because we actually are someplace else. We are having a deep tongue kiss with our terror, and it is possible we have forgotten that you are in the room.

    I know my friends notice that I am no longer who I was.

    And because they are decent people, they don’t mention it. There are times when I can see they don’t get me, but having cancer privilege they ignore it. I enjoy a bubble of tolerance around me. Nobody cares if I am too tired to show up, and I cancel at the last minute. They know that the fatigue hits like a dump truck. I love them for that.

    But the times when I am suddenly cantankerous for seemingly no reason, they don’t see it coming, or understand. When I am ill-tempered, they can’t see a cause, but usually stay on and talk me through it. They can’t possibly comprehend what mechanisms are misfiring in my brain, but still they soldier on.

    Sometimes I look at my nearest and dearest and am so glad they carry on being happy with new shoes like it matters. I love that they are still my people, and that they have no idea what it feels like to be me. The now-me, not the me that was me before.

    I don’t wish my inner monologue on anyone. It can be a pretty dark place sometimes, and I want them to stay in the sun.

     

    Magnolia Ripkin is sort of like your mouthy Aunt who drinks too much and tells you how to run your life, except funny… well mostly funny… like a cold glass of water in the face. She writes a flagrantly offensive blog at Magnolia Ripkin Advice Blog answering pressing questions about business, personal development, parenting, heck even the bedroom isn’t safe. She is the Editor in Chief at BluntMoms. Other places to find her: Huffington Post,  The Mighty and Modern Loss, The Mid, and Scary Mommy. You can also check her out in two amazing compendiums of bloggers who are published in “I Just Want To Be Alone.”  And most recently, Martinis and Motherhood, Tales of Wonder, Woe and WTF Join her shenanigans on Facebook: Magnolia Advice Blog

  • Gen X: Divorce and Dating

    By: Kai McGee

     

    The last time I was on the dating scene, Lauryn Hill was still with The Fugees, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air was a fresh faced, endearing teenager and we all believed that Carrie and Samantha would be best friends forever. A few decades have passed and the Fugees are nothing more than music nostalgia, The Fresh Prince has salt-n-pepper hair and Samantha’s tweets have destroyed any ideals we had about the Sex and the City ladies being BFF’s.

    It’s also been over twenty years since cupid’s temperamental arrow was in my vicinity. My ex-husband and I started dating when we were fresh out of college, responsibilities were few and fun was the priority. We married at twenty-eight in a whimsical ceremony in front of family and friends. Ours, after all, was a forever kind of love. Fourteen years, one beautiful child and lots of good times. We experienced the ups, downs, twists and dips that all marriages endure but ultimately, we grew in very different directions. Dissolving the marriage was the most painful decision I’ve ever made but I knew if I didn’t have the courage to break both of our hearts we would remain in an obligatory, passionless union that was quietly suffocating both of us.

    I never imagined that I would be a member of the middle-aged dating club. But here I am and it’s not for the faint of heart.

    It’s been almost three years since my divorce; it feels like it happened yesterday, but it also feels like a lifetime ago. My days are filled with a busy career, car pools, checking homework and finding misplaced shin guards. I haven’t made the time to date or to find a “maintenance” man. My romantic nights consist of curling up on the sofa with wine, Netflix and my fluffy robe. Don’t judge until you’ve binge watched Narcos with a vintage bottle of Pinot Noir.

    As another spring makes its way back around I am reminded that I’m still solo. The thing is, I like being single. It’s not all bad. In fact, it’s kind of fantastic. It’s allowed me the space to rediscover my passions and to explore parts of my personality that were buried and or attached to a different identity. I like hanging out with myself and I’m proud of the evolution and growth I’ve experienced as a mature, single woman.

    Since I’m in the tween mom club, I’ll have to force myself to make dating a priority and allow myself the space to have “me” time. There are moments when I’m in between laundry and soccer games that I let tears flow. I experience mommy meltdowns and feel completely unprepared to enter the world of dating. Eventually, I’ll have to start scheduling mommy play dates with real life adults who are tall, dark and chiseled. Keep your snickering to yourself; I’ve waited this long, chiseled is an attribute worth pondering. Like most of us moms, putting myself first does not come naturally. Quite frankly, it has become a foreign concept. However, I realize that if I don’t, I’ll never leave my couch and no matter how good the bottle, wine is much better when it’s shared.

    I haven’t entered the realm of dating apps, it frightens me. I’m going rogue and will attempt to meet my future love interest through “real life” introductions. Baby steps. I can’t just jump from my couch to the mean streets of cyber swiping. Many of my fellow Gen X friends are divorced and the feedback on the dating scene is not the greatest. Several are swiping their way into carpel tunnel with no matches in site. There are a few that have remarried and are happier than they’ve ever been.

    Ultimately, it comes down to taking this leap into my new reality with courage and grace.

    Companionship (in the romantic form) can be fulfilling, comforting and magical. I’m finally ready to explore opening my heart to love again. I’ve exchanged guilt, resentment and judgment of myself for unconditional love. I’ve learned to love myself unapologetically and it’s invigorating. I’ve forgiven myself for unintentional self-neglect and I’m finally comfortable enough in my own skin to live my life with free abandon.

    It’s ironic that even though I’m divorced and still solo, my life is in full bloom. It is filled with a richness of spirit and a depth of appreciation for finally understanding what it means to live in the moment. It’s empowering to know that whenever I enter a new relationship I’ll be bringing my best self. I’m certain that love will find me again, in many ways it already has. This journey into my forties has been kind of fanciful, despite the inevitable unplanned detours, bumps, and setbacks. When I think of the next fifty years, I can’t help but smile from the inside out. I’m going into this new phase of life with optimism, excitement and openness; if a new love is on the horizon that’s just a bonus. Now that my broken pieces are healed, I’m ready to embrace being vulnerable enough to see where romance will lead whenever the day comes.

     

    Kai McGee, J.D. is a writer whose work has appeared on Hello Giggles, Motherwell, & My Brown Baby, among others. She has started wearing lipstick to Whole Foods just in case she locks eyes with Mr. Right by the organic berries. Connect with her on Instagram @onanaturalkai