The last week has been pretty crazy.  After a few months of warning, my mom had to go in late in the night to have her gallbladder removed.  After the surgery, they realized there were a number of complications, infections, etc. and so my mom and dad came to the Front Range in Colorado to have another procedure done on her.

She seems to be recovering nicely now, but from our conversations, this could be the beginning of a long line of similar procedures for either of them.  Even though I have had my own gallbladder removed, three Junes ago, it seems to be about par for the course.  Your parents get to a point where things start breaking down.

I’ve seen it happen before with other people, starting at my age thereabouts.  This week was my turn.  Taking time off to help out at the hospital, either to offer morale support, discuss procedures with doctors and nurses, or just run block for one parent for the other.

Running block was a lot of what I was doing.

But that’s a whole other thing and it’s exhausting to even think about right now.  So I won’t.  Needless to say, sometimes you have to take one for the team just so one parent can get some rest and the other doesn’t wind up dead of mysterious causes.  I don’t need to see a half hour episode on the ID channel based on my parents thankyouverymuch.

What I will say is this.  You will be much happier in life if you establish good boundaries.  And this is no truer than with your own family sometimes.  Just because someone birthed you, gave you baths, taught you how to ride a two-wheeler, or helped you figure out how to drive is no reason to have bad boundaries with people.  Even with family, if you have good boundaries, you will filter out the bad people.  Bad boundaries allow for bad relationships.

This week, I established some good boundaries, and unlike what years of codependency taught me, my parents still love me.  And most of all, I get to keep my sanity.  I hope one day that my kids understand this.  That they don’t allow guilt, temper tantrums, or lack of boundaries sway them.  I hope that they can learn that they are not put on this earth to be an extension of someone else.  That they need to find their own way, their own path, and that family is there to support you, not to be interdependent with you.

We need to be raising our kids to stand on their own, and know that someone has their back, rather than being incapable of doing anything on their own without the approval, praise, and permission of their family.

Be firm, but be kind, people.



There is no rulebook

Single parenting is possibly one of the most confusing landscapes to navigate.  It’s bad enough when you are married and at least have another opinion or in the case of a relationship that is crumbling, a significant difference in how you think parenting should be done.  When you are a single parent, a lot of what you are going through is done with the guidance of example or watching your friends and family fail miserably.

Honestly, I’m just making up my own rulebook as I go.  I’m hoping some of this helps you too.

Teenagers are hard

Teenagers are dreaded in the world of parenting.  What I can say about them is they will start to smell very bad.  They will test the limits of your love for them on a continual basis.  They will break your heart.  They are supposed to do this.  Otherwise, you wind up with people who are comfortably attached to you and dependent on you for the rest of your life.

I see a lot of single parents who are heading in this direction.  Sometimes I think they miss the point of reproduction and raising kids.  They are not permanent fixtures in your household.  These are human beings and you have been tasked with the job of making them capable and versatile enough to withstand the pressures and hazards of adulthood.  It is not your duty to buy them ice cream, cell phones, stuffed toys, $200 shoes, cars, or any other damned thing they want.  For one thing, they won’t appreciate it if you do and another thing, at some point the idea of the whole thing is they become independent enough to get this stuff on their own.

That’s why they are insufferable jerks to you.  It is a biological drive to push away from you.  The same reason tiny little birds hurl themselves out of the nest and sometimes they fly and sometimes they hop around on the ground until a weasel eats them or they figure out how to fly back into the tree.

Smaller kids

Smaller kids are still fun and cuddly and want hugs and think you are a superhero.  They have not had the overdose of estrogen and testosterone that makes people crazy.  They probably talk to you in a very wise, logical way.  Especially if you are a single parent, because they have been going through the exact same bullshit you have, and they are trying to figure out how to love you both.  They will develop some pretty cunning coping mechanisms in the process.  They also need help with figuring out boundaries since single parents are sometimes bad at those.

They might drag you all over the Renaissance Festival wanting to eat all the food and ride all the animals and throw knives and shoot arrows and all of it, but it is okay to tell them no.  Otherwise, you will find yourself without any food in the house, but your kid has a bunch of experiences they probably won’t remember doing in a few years.

If you want to show your kid you love them, give them a hug.  Take them on a walk and listen to them.  Amusement parks are awesome, but goodnight hugs get you more miles.

New Relationships

There is no rulebook.  When someone new comes into your life, one of the things you will want to do as a single parent is to shelter your kids from the possibility of more heartache.  You are projecting.  You went through a lot of pain either in your divorce or other failed relationships.  You should protect your kids, but also, don’t shelter them.  This is a nice time to show them a couple of different things.

First of all, you can show them that people can be affectionate and communicate and not be at each other’s throats constantly.  This is a good time to model what they might pick up one day when they start dating or beginning healthy relationships of their own.  What they saw before when you were married was not healthy.  If you are in a relationship and you have doubts that you want to model that kind of situation for your kids, you might reconsider if that is the kind of relationship you should even be involved in.

I know a woman whose kid never met her boyfriend of 5 years.  I think he met him when they finally got married. I can’t even wrap my head around that.  I dated someone who didn’t meet my kids for a few years and by the time she did, they were happy to include her in their lives.

I soon learned that her hesitation had more to do with her inability to commit more than it did their capacity to welcome someone new. Her departure made me reluctant to let my kids meet anyone in the future.

But kids are resilient.  They have a lot of love to share, even if our hearts have hardened off a little bit and we have become jaded.


The other thing that is vital to show your kids is something many of us might have been fortunate to have been equipped with when growing up: the ability to give up.  The reality of long term relationships is how so many of them don’t last.  The divorce rate is well over half in the US right now.  That is not to say that the 45% who stick it out are happy either.  When adults are committed, sometimes they do everything they can to “make things work.”  When things fall apart, they get bitter, they fight, they play petty bullshit games.  They poison one parent against the other, because they can’t accept that their kids can be happy without a personality disorder to keep them from making good connections with others.

So, people continue on through their lives, hopping from one failed relationship to the next, like stones in a raging river.  Mostly they keep going for what was familiar, which was dysfunction.  Their kids see this.  They take it to heart.

What kids could see is a healthy adult not forcing themselves to “make this work” and instead saying “I’m not putting myself through a bunch of crap anymore.”  Maybe if kids saw this more than they did the emotional devastation, settling, or allowing one adult to push their will onto their parent, they would be able to make better boundaries.  And not repeat the mistakes of their parents.

The Takeaway

What I’m trying to say is this.  If something isn’t working, it’s okay to let it go, even if your kids are used to that person.  And if something is working, you don’t have some timeline or a rulebook to follow.  It’s very binary.  It’s either working, or it’s not.  Trust that.  Trust that people come and go from our lives every day.  The good ones will stay, the bad ones should leave.

If you haven’t done the work to recognize which is which, then don’t subject your or your kids to either.  Stop, figure it out, be single if you must.  But be content.  But don’t rely on your kids to fill that void either. They are not a replacement for a partner.

One day, they will grow up and go away.  That’s the entire point.


Dreams, Memories, & Captain America

I watched Avengers: Endgame with my son on Saturday.  I won’t spoil anything here, but Captain America, is, and has always been my favorite superhero.  He has a strong moral code, he always does what is right, he loved only one woman with all of his heart, and when he gets knocked down, he ALWAYS gets back up.  Some might think he is the ultimate Boy Scout/Do-gooder.  But I think he represents what is best in us.  What I’ve always taken to heart in myself.  Help other people at all times.  Keep yourself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.  These aren’t just words they make you say when you are a kid.  This is a code to live by.

I am cursed with having a long memory. It is genetic.  I come from a long line of people who value their grudges.  They forgive almost no one and as a result, I also come from a long line of people who are isolated, have very few friends, and warm themselves by the fires of the bridges they have burned throughout their lives.  I married into what was familiar.  The confluence of two angry rivers.  But being the true black sheep of my family, I hated living like that.  I tend to lean on the side of mercy, indulgence, second chances, and forgiveness.  The storm that was my life when I was married had no room for that.  It was considered weakness.  Disloyalty.

In college I rarely took notes.  I relied on my memory to get a decent GPA.  I retained a lot of what I learned.  Becoming a parent fried some of those synapses.  Three kids.  Two with colic and months of sleepless nights.  Stress.  Money problems.  Being the sole breadwinner as our ship circled the drain and I was the only one paddling.  I remember all of that too.  I remember the nights I held my children at the ER in the middle of the night with high fevers.  The nights I cleaned up vomit and went to work the next day with only a few hours of sleep.  The days I turned the garden myself.  The dogs I petted until the vet administered the serum and they were no longer in pain.  I did these things alone.

I remember the fights.  The times I tried to leave and came back for the kids, because they needed me.  I remember the sick feeling I felt in my stomach.  I refused to look back at who I had been not long before.  A man unafraid of the world.  Surrounded by friends who were closer to being family.  Someone who wanted to join the Peace Corps and see the world.  Someone who took two years of Japanese so he would know how to order noodles in Osaka.  I had been in love once (my first) and made a poor decision to see how green the grass was on the other side of the fence.

Many times I was told I wasn’t good enough for those dreams.  That I deserved the life I had.  I was an accessory in the house. Nothing more than another appliance.  I cooked.  Cleaned.  Took care of the kids.  Worked.  Built and fixed things.  None of it was good enough.  And none of it ever ended.  I kept a tally.  Every task.  Every birthday we couldn’t afford a present for me.  Every Christmas photo where the kids were screeched at to smile.  I remember the darker days too.  All of them. The things you wish you could forget.  I lost sight of who I was many times in those days.

I put my memory work. I used it to write.  No, I used it to escape.  Every experience I have had can be diffused into the tincture of a solution called a story.  When you read one of my stories or blog posts, you are seeing a facet of my life.  These are all things that really happened, or I heard about, bent a little bit and given a fresh coat of paint to fictionalize them.  The jewels of my life, set within a golden fitting of fantasy.

My first kiss was at Niagara Falls.  I was 17.  Yes, a little late considering when kids get started, even back then. I remember the heat of the June night, the spray of the waterfall raging near us.  The glow of the lights on the water.  I think it was worth the wait.  You have to be crazy to not keep that around in your head for a story.

The hardest thing for me about having a long memory is when things end, you get to remember all of it, but it is only a memory.  There is nothing new.  Like pictures, even a good memory begins to fade. So, I write my stories while the paint is still fresh and vibrant.  The details are caught and when I go back to them, it rekindles everything about that moment.  Even if it has been dressed up with dragons and sword fights.

My last relationship is still working its way into the stories.  Only now, taking a step back do I truly appreciate the good and the bad things about it. I held back a lot.  I started doing things because I was afraid I might lose her if I didn’t–or worse yet, if I did.  I treated our moments like secrets.  I didn’t infuse my stories with some of the best moments because I deferred to her discretion. I held back in ways that weren’t good for me.  Out of fear of losing her.  Given the chance, I might have done some things differently.  When I lost her, it was a hard blow.  I blamed myself for a very long time.  I blamed her.  Then I stopped blaming.  I started looking at what was lost.  Not only her, but the possibilities of new experiences with her.  New memories to join the old ones that were already fading.

But I also lost a part of myself too that I really loved being.  With her, I felt like I got to be the man I was on my way to becoming back when I was 17 and I was ready to take on the world.  I got to leave grudges behind.  I got to abandon anger.  I laughed a lot more.  Took chances.  Challenged myself.  Often surprised myself too.  Surprised her plenty of times! The man I was with her was the best of me.  Thoughtful, kind, romantic, supportive, intelligent, strong, inquisitive, confident (but not overconfident), creative.  She woke me up from the nightmare that my life had been before.  And she woke me up from the dream of her when she left.

But then I also lost the man I was when I was with her.  I really liked him.

I felt the ground of the Arena rise up to meet my face.  The cold mud and sand in my beard.  The taste of blood in my mouth.  I lay there for a while, listening to my pulse rushing in my ears.  The roar of the crowd was like that waterfall on a moonless night.  And I pushed myself back up. I might not be that man anymore.  This time I get to be better.