"If only we'd stop trying to be happy, we could have a pretty good time."
- Edith Wharton

Friday, November 1, 2013

“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.” ― Frank Herbert

I keep a list of quotes in a folder on my desktop. This one is my favorite (it's long, but bear with me):

"I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or de-humanized. If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.” - Haim G. Ginott

I copied this quote a few years ago from Gretchin Rubin's Happiness Project blog. I've read it over at least two dozen times since then. It's pretty profound... and also, god awfully hard to accept. But it's true and I think it might (finally) have actually changed me.

Look, I like excuses. No one wants to admit that, but we all do. We need them to preserve the image we create for ourselves. I'm not disorganized; other people throw too much crap at me. I'm not chronically late; traffic and kids and last-minute work requests keep delaying me. I'm not a difficult person; I'm simply reacting to the idiots around me. I'm no drama queen; the people in my life cause me problems. And so on. I can play this game all day.

Now back to where we left off. I was sad about breaking up with P, remembering all the good times. Shortly after that post, I got hit on by a 19-year-old, and in a roundabout way, it made me see that I can't see myself with anyone other than P. With all his faults and all mine, he still is more interesting and challenging and fun than anyone else I've ever known. At our best, he makes me better; at our worst, well, you've seen what happens.

So we patched things up, as well as you can from halfway around the world, then fought again and then something totally weird happened. Sometime in mid-August, I just was done with the drama. Sure, I've felt this way before but this time, it stuck. And nearly three months later, we're still drama-free.

I can't really explain it other than to say that the quote above just finally clicked. I realized that, while P has issues, I was the one making myself crazy. So I stopped. I stopped stressing about what he was doing and how he was feeling and how often he IM'd me. Within a few weeks, I was genuinely happy for the first time this year. I still talked to him often, but it was no longer the center of my life. Sometimes I even forgot to check to see if he'd sent me a message.

Since then, things have been good all around. P, on his own, decided to come out to visit for our last month in Australia. He arrives next week. I'm excited to see him but I've already warned him that I'm pretty busy and he should expect to be alone a lot. He's good with that. I've enjoyed my friends here more, took the kids on a nice trip to the Great Barrier Reef, and just generally have been happy. That's not to say there haven't been challenges and I am bleeding money like you wouldn't believe, but realizing that I actually do have some control to how I react to challenges that come up has been pretty life-changing.

In my quest to be drama-free, I also stopped blogging. I feel the blog has become kinda whiny lately and I just don't want to indulge that anymore. I am thinking this will be my last post. I want to focus on other writing now -- fiction and journalism -- and once I return to the US, I plan to restart my decorating blog (Amateur Decorator), which has been totally neglected for a few years, but which I think has some real potential once I put some time into posting regularly and upgrading the design. Come by and visit!

Thank you to all of you who have read this blog over the years. See you around!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

If you love something, set it free...

My mom had that saying in a frame when I was little. I always thought it was kind of a stupid idea... "if you love something, set it free/if it comes back to you, it's yours/if it doesn't, it never was". What if you love a pet bird? Or a six-year-old boy? These things don't do so well being set free, and at least in Boo's case, I think it's illegal.

But I digress.

This post has been sitting in draft form for several days now. I needed to get it down but I wasn't ready to share it yet. In fact, I haven't told anyone any of this.

See, I think P and I broke up. I mean, I am pretty sure I told him it was over. He was upset (rightfully) that I was forcing the conversation at a god-awful time, at the very end of my two weeks in the US, every day of which I spent with him, and which was actually a great visit. I think despite how it ended, I'll remember it in a positive light. But, yeah, the timing was horrible, even for me, and I have absurdly bad timing in pretty much everything.

Here's what happened. We had this great two weeks of hanging out and eating at all our favorite places and seeing friends. Then I got sad about leaving and asked him how he managed the distance and if it was hard for him. He gave me a non-answer and when I asked again, he just shut me down and refused to talk. The way I see it is that I just needed a little reassurance, a few words was all I wanted, I wasn't looking for a relationship heart-to-heart. And he just refused to give me anything. It was a little bit cruel.

It hit me then, as it has in the past, but harder this time, that I never entirely feel secure with him. He never says "I love you" -- ever -- even when I say it to him. I think he has said it once or twice in the past three and a half years and that was a very long time ago. I hate that I stopped saying it to him because it was too sad not to hear it back. He never says I look pretty or nice or anything like that. He shuts down the minute I bring up any relationship issue, no matter how small or seemingly innocuous. When I force the conversation, he says he knows he is weird about these things but that he doesn't think he can change.

I have lived with all that, wanting to be with him enough that I let it go. Maybe I thought I could love him enough for both of us, pathetic as that sounds. But then there I was, leaving for 5 months apart, and I just realized I can't live with it anymore. I don't want to be in a relationship where I am constantly insecure, never truly feeling loved and wanted. I don't want to be with someone who I can't talk to about my feelings. It is heart-wrenching in the most literal sense of that phrase, because I really do love him very much, and in so many ways he is everything that I want.

Except for those few things, which sometimes feel like everything.

I just couldn't face another 5 months of worrying and being anxious about what he is doing and feeling and thinking. I figure the distance will make it easier to part ways, now that we've had a long break in living our lives together on a daily basis. I hope when I get back we can be friends, or something like that. I can't imagine not knowing him anymore at all. He feels like family.

Now here I am, back in Australia. When I left he said he we would talk about it again the next time he sees me, that he thinks it is ridiculous to say we are done. I don't know if that was out of anger or shock or a real sense of not wanting to lose me. I don't know if I'll ever find out because I doubt he'll volunteer the answer even if I asked. I turned off my IMs so I am not constantly tempted to check to see if he's there or to write him and take it all back. Because a lot of the time, that's what I want to do.

The thing that stops me is not anger or bitterness. It's wondering if maybe this isn't the right thing for both of us. I haven't been fair to P over the years. He has never lied about what he could offer. But I lied about what I wanted, not intentionally, but I wasn't 100% honest. I always tried to pretend I wasn't the insecure needy mess that I actually am, because I know no one wants to be with an insecure needy mess. So it was all well-intentioned, but ultimately a total failure because all my insecurities ended up coming out anyway.

I really do want P to be happy. It will be hard for me when he meets someone else, I'm not going to lie, but I truly want P to find someone he loves so much that he can't help saying it out loud and often. I am devastated that it's unlikely to be me, but a tiny bit cheered at the thought that maybe it will happen for him. He deserves that. I know he thinks it is too late for him, but I don't.

It will be a long while before I am ready to try again myself. I thought I was done with all that after ex-H and it feels the same now. I don't have the energy to start again, to tell my stories and hear theirs, to tiptoe around feelings, to risk getting hurt. And it will take a pretty amazing person to replace P. I think he is the smartest person I have ever known and I have learned so much from him. I want to try to remember all the great things and not the bad stuff.

Here are a few...

  • Hands-down, my favorite day with P was when he played his guitar and sang for me for an entire afternoon. I had asked him to play for me many times over the years and I was so honored and thrilled when he did. 
  • All the nights at Chez and Austin Grill. I can't even begin to imagine how many pitchers of Miller Lite and chicken wings we've consumed together!
  • How sweet he is with Lulu.
  • Getting to know his college friends and their families, they are all really wonderful people. I wish I had a group of friends like that.
  • Sundays yelling at the Redskins.
  • Dancing at the Christmas party.
  • The time we fell asleep holding hands and were still holding hands when I woke up hours later.
  • The week at the Outer Banks.
  • Burning the cord with our impromptu fire pit.
  • My crazy birthday night, yes, it ended somewhat badly, but it was the most fun I've had in years.
  • Dagnuts, the little guy, Cabinet, Chez, the muscles' muscles, gigantic guppy and pogm and the squiggs, JJ and Monster, the Tearps, Bono on the plane, and all our other shared references.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Real-life math

Or should I say "maths" like they do in Australia? Maths is pretty much the worst Aussie word I have come across, I think. And that's a rich category which includes "Facey", "relos", "brekkie", and "footie". I don't have a lisp but I sure sound like I do when I try to say maths. Which I don't. Those poor Aussie kids. When I protest to Australians about this, they point out that it is actually pronounced "mats", which is so absurd that I have no comeback.


I have to tell you that I am in a new relationship. Now, now, don't go feeling sorry for P, I haven't dumped him. This new relationship is somewhat odd, I have to say. I carry him around on my wrist in a bracelet that I like to think of as tech-chic, but is probably just dorky. In return, he judges me on a wide variety of factors that I invariably don't live up to, beaming the data he is secretly collecting on me to my computer and iPad, where it is reported out for me at his whim. He's like my own personal cyber-bully. He reports that I don't walk far enough or fast enough or burn enough calories. Here's a photo. Doesn't he look evil with those little glowing dots?

We are currently in the midst of a spat. I think I should get credit for the 60 "very active minutes" I spend in hell barre class every week and he does not. He only likes fast walking or running. And merely swinging your arm wildly while watching TV doesn't cut it. Not that I would do that.

Let me tell you, this barre class is 50 times harder than walking. It's 105 degrees in there, for one, (not 'like 105', actually 105) and you never get to put your arms down. Ever. While holding two 1kg weights and doing a million plies. You try that for an hour, Mr. Fitbit. But I can walk briskly to 7-11 for a fountain Coke and chocolate-chip cookie and consume them while I briskly walk back home and he happily doles out a smiley face for achieving 30 "very active minutes."

I know, he's only trying to help. He just wants me to be a better person. Don't we all? But it's exhausting trying to please him. I have enough to do without him.

Let's take a look at my weekly goals, shall we?

1. Work out 3x per week
2. Write 7 pages (500 words per day) of my novel
3. Blog once per week

Now, these are only things I would *like* to do. The list of things I *have* to do every week looks something like this:

1. Get children to and from school
   - 1a. On time
   - 1b. In clean clothes
   - 1c. With somewhat nutritious lunches
   - 1d. With completed homework

2. Work
   - 2a. Enough not to get fired
   - 2b. Maybe a little more so I can get the raise I've requested

3. Feed children
   - 3a. Regularly
   - 3b. Something that does not come out of a can or box

4. Shower
   - 4a. Once in a while

Notice I did not include cleaning the house, talking to P, sleeping, or socializing, as those have all been relegated to the "nice if it happens, but let's be honest it usually doesn't often enough" category.

Most weeks, only one or two things in goals category even have a chance. (Sorry blog readers.) I do work out, because otherwise I feel horrible, but since crossfit makes me twice as sore as yoga, I calculate that one crossfit class is worth two other classes. So crossfit and barre? Workouts done!

I write, too, which is better than what I did before, which is not write. But 500 words a day is a lot of words when you're used to writing none. So really, I calculate that any writing counts.

Blogging? Well, you know how that usually goes.

I read a cheesy quote today that said "You can wish for it or you can make it happen." It may sound ridiculous, but I have only recently really understood that concept. I spend a LOT of time wishing for more money, wishing I was a writer instead of working where I do, wishing my jeans fit a little better, wishing I wasn't so tired all the time. Only in the past few months has it occurred to me to do something about any of this. Of course, I'm trying to fix everything all at once, which as you can see, doesn't always add up.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

It Gets Better

The last month or so since I've written have been... not entirely horrible. P came to visit for a few weeks. It was great to see him, and we had a really nice time. The kids were off of school nearly the whole time he was here, so we took lots of long walks on the beach with them scootering along ahead, spent many an evening with C and her husband at a fancy poolside bar drinking far too many beer towers (100 ounce of beer! In a giant test tube with a tap! With a massive icicle in the middle!), and just enjoyed doing a lot of nothing. P's aversion to sight-seeing, which would irritate me if we went to, say, Paris, worked out quite well on this trip.

Then we flew back home with P for a week to see my mom and stepfather. It was incredible, and exhausting, and I'm glad we did it. I got some invaluable time with P, my sister, and a few dear friends, cheered up my mom (and I hope, helped her a bit), and got to enjoy some of the best weather Washington DC can serve up, along with a lovely side of cherry blossoms. Lulu and Boo saw their friends and teachers and spent tons of time with exH and L. It was good for them to go. I wish I had a picture of Boo walking into his old K class to overwhelming shouts and applause from his classmates and teachers. For a kid who usually HATES being the center of attention, he couldn't have been more thrilled.

Most important, my stepfather, M, is doing well. He has now gone through a round of radiation and another round of chemo and is really improving, at least physically. We're not sure yet what the cancer itself is doing, but he went from not being able to walk when we were there to being able to get himself into and out of a wheelchair, and now can use a walker pretty well. He is in such amazing spirits. My mom was more of a worry for me. She seemed overwhelmed and exhausted. I tried to help out, organizing grocery and other deliveries and buying and setting up a new computer when hers died, but even though I know our visit helped, it's nothing compared to being there all the time.

ExH and L continue to help out. I am really stunned at his continued generosity and kindness to my mom and M, even while L's own mother struggles with breast cancer. It's really amazing. I wonder if I would do the same for his mother, and I think I probably wouldn't.

It was very hard to leave. The night before we flew out, P got the news that his father had died a few days before, alone, and he may never know what happened. P was in shock and we stayed up all night as he tortured himself over not being there enough, not knowing how his dad had died. To lose two parents in three months, even as an adult, is unimaginable. I wanted so much to do something for him, anything. I offered to stay but he said no, there was nothing to do.

So now we're back, and settled into something of a routine. I am trying to make the best of it, I really am. I decided that I might as well start on all those self-improvement projects I've been putting off. I drag myself to yoga three or four days a week and try not to eat too many carbs. I started actually writing the novel I've had in the back of my mind for a few years and wrote an essay for a magazine contest. I got a haircut and am contemplating bangs for the first time since I grew mine out at age 13. We spend Tuesdays at my friend M's house and Wednesdays are ice cream days. It's the little things. On weekends, we do at least one fun thing, and a few weeks ago we flew to Sydney for three days. Gazing at the Opera House and the famous Harbour Bridge almost made the last four months worthwhile.

I still want to go home. I miss my little house and my big bed and my cats. I miss kid-free nights out with P and having someone to sleep next to. I miss driving on the right side of the road and American accents and Starbucks on every corner. I miss Lulu and Boo's happy little classrooms and great teachers. But if I can focus on writing and getting in shape and maybe if P comes back for a couple months and nothing horrible happens with my mom and stepdad, and maybe if I can get back to Sydney at least one more time, then maybe I can stick it out until December. Maybe. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

I Take It All Back

I take back all the whining and complaining and general dourness over the past few months. I'll gladly go back to just being homesick and tired and overwhelmed. Cause that now seems like a dream compared to where I am now.

Just when I thought things were looking brighter -- a tough work project was a huge success, I was starting to feel like I had some friends, P is on his way to visit -- I got some pretty terrible news. My beloved stepdad, M, devoted (and only) grandfather to Lulu and Boo, and possibly the real-life Most Interesting Man in the World, is very, very sick. Like maybe only months to live sick, maybe a year or two if we're very, very fortunate.

I was so scared something like this would happen when I decided to come to Australia. M is 82, albeit in very good health, especially considering he had quadruple bypass surgery 18 months ago. But 82 is 82 and I was worried something would happen to him and I wouldn't be there. And it has. After some nagging back pain, he went to the doctor and was told the back pain is caused by tumors in his spinal column. They are also in his ribs and lungs.

I have such a range of emotions, I don't even know where to start. Of course there is the grief and sadness that we may soon lose M. He has been so kind and loving to me and my kids, and most important, my mom, who desperately needed and deserved a good marriage. Then, there's the parental anxiety of knowing that my kids are going to be very sad and wanting to both prepare and protect them. There's anger at being so far away and so helpless. Gratefulness for ex-H and L, who I emailed for help and who rose to the challenge splendidly -- staying with my mom and M through a very scary few days of roller-coaster medical opinions and decisions. They are family, however odd or unconventional.

Finally, panic at the flood of emotions this all brings back. I was only 8 when my father died and the aftermath was traumatic, to say the least. My mom was depressed and angry and scared, and as much as she loved my sister and I, and as hard as she tried, I never really felt she was OK. It was terrifying to think she might not make it through. I don't know how close she came to that -- probably not as close as I feared -- but there were days she just disappeared and I was so scared I wouldn't see her again. I don't have many childhood memories, but those days I remember like they were yesterday. I feel like I have a bit of PTSD... and I don't want to go through that again.

For now, I have to sit and wait. Depending on the news, we will go back for a visit as soon as we reasonably can, and we may even go back for good. If M only has a short time left, I want to be there for him and my mom as much as possible.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


"Doing it tough" in Australia means something akin to "having a hard time." That pretty much sums up the past few weeks. But if you've been following along, that probably comes as no surprise. So I thought I'd ruminate on another topic today: friendship.

This is not one of my favorite topics. Of course, I love my friends and value them more than I ever remember to tell them. I just don't have very many of them because I am really, really bad at friendship. I make friends well enough, albeit with massive effort to avoid my introverted tendencies. But I don't always put in the effort to keep them. Or I try, usually reaching out after much too long, and they grow tired of waiting. So they drift away, sometimes almost immediately, sometimes over years, even decades. And I am left with the few friends who have accepted this colossal character flaw of mine and made the effort for both of us. A, you know who you are.

So that's my fatal friendship flaw number one. There's another, sadly, and possibly worse. I am horribly inept at first impressions. I don't know what's worse -- how wrong I've been about people or that I never seem to improve. Some of the dearest people in my life are ones I either dismissed or hated at first sight. I won't name names (other than P, but you already know that story) because I would like to keep these friends. But what if I had never had the chance to correct those impressions? It's tragic the wonderful people I might have never known.

Moving to a country where you literally know no one forces you to make friends or else hide out alone in your apartment for days on end, depressed and staring out at the ocean while pretending to work. I tried that option the first few months. It was not a success.

My first friend here was my boss's wife, L. From a few pre-move Skype talks with her, I was sure we wouldn't really hit it off -- she is as outgoing as I am not, a bit pushy, and very opinionated. And while we are very different and ultimately not destined to be besties, she couldn't have been kinder and more welcoming to me and my children. I can't count the number of times she has fed us, babysat them, answered questions, introduced us to other moms and kids, and just generally served as cruise director on this little adventure of ours.

Thanks to her, I now have the beginnings of other friends. E is the mother of four gorgeous blond boys, and got the first impression of her spot on. She's smart and funny and hilariously OCD. How does a mom (of 4) (BOYS) have the time or energy to iron sheets? But she does and when the other moms teased her about it, she held her ground instead of backtracking with a "oh, well, I don't do it all the time" disclaimer like other women might. She irons sheets and she's proud of it. I like that. She and I go to the same yoga studio and giggle over the speedo-wearing (male) students and commiserate over how we have not lost weight despite 3-4 hot yoga classes per week.

M is another mom I met through L. Her daughter ended up in the same class as Boo and we bonded a bit over our mutual skepticism over their teacher and our kids' ranking at the bottom of the readers in the class. We took to chatting after school every few days while the kids ran around and one day while we were killing time before Boo's gymnastics class, she invited us over for tea (this can but does not always actually involve tea, my American friends -- we would call it afternoon snack). Now this is one of those times when all my inclinations pointed to declining politely. There was only half an hour before class and I didn't know where she lived. But I liked M and was charmed by her little twin boys, and I couldn't really think of a decent reason not to go. We had tea and were late for gymnastics, but now I have another friend.

Finally, there is C, who I have known for a few years. We worked together in the US a bit -- she worked for P before he left -- and we were friendly, but never beyond a wave in the hall or the occasional happy hour chat. I was always jealous of her because she's smart and witty and P likes her so much and she has great style. Now she is here as well and in her I have found a solid ally against all the strange and unsettling things about living here and being so far from home. Her life is very different from mine -- she is married and has no kids -- but we are the only ones who understand the challenges of the work we do, our colleagues, and our mutual homesickness.

I imagine in time some or all of these friends will drift away -- it will be harder to keep in touch once we go back home, after all, and the things that draw us together now may turn out to be based more on our situations -- jobs, kids -- than on a real bond. But maybe that is OK. I have come to think that people come into your life at times that you need them or they need you, and sometimes that is only temporary. But whether or not I still keep up with all the friends I've had through childhood, high school, college, various jobs, they all have contributed a part (sometimes small, sometimes extraordinary) in who I am now, and I am grateful to them all. Even if I only ever see them on Facebook.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Longest 43,300 Minutes Ever... Part 3

So it's been about a month since our story left off (about two weeks into our journey). And that month has been, well, not so much fun, as you may have guessed from the title of our little series.

Now that we've adjusted to our new apartment, gotten Lulu and Boo settled in their new school, and generally found our way into a semblance of a normal life, it turns out that my life in Australia is a lot like my life at home... only without family, friends, bagels, or decent Mexican food.

Sure, there are good things... Boo, always a little monkey at heart, has started gymnastics and is already quite the star, outdoing even some of the instructors in pull-ups. The weather here, while in the middle of the"wet season", still affords me the ability to wear flip-flops and tank tops every day. There are at least five kinds of mangoes available at even the most prosaic of grocery stores. All important things.

But mostly, I am stretched thin trying to be a good mother and a decent employee while occasionally making time to exercise, run errands, and sleep. As at home, I never feel I am doing very well at any of these things, and there I have the benefits of a co-parent, a school bus stop a block from my house, after-school care, and a boyfriend who drags me to the gym several times a week. Oh, and margaritas. Also all important things.

What that all boils down to is simply: I'm not having any fun. I have, I think, succeeded in helping Lulu and Boo make the transition relatively smoothly, but I vastly underestimated the toll that would take on me.

So I've been neglecting work and hauling myself to hot yoga several times a week, where I attempt to sweat out all the stress. Of course, then I don't get enough work done, which causes more stress. Back to not having any fun. And now I'm sore and dehydrated too.

Yes, yes, I know I will survive, and it may all in some way be worthwhile eventually. For one thing, everyone should live as a stranger in a strange land at some point in their lives. It does wonders for one's patience and tolerance for others when you know what it's like to have no idea how anything works. I certainly have more appreciation for my family and friends, especially ex-H. He makes me crazy at times, but I really miss his contribution to the kids' lives for better and worse. And I have some insights about myself that I will share at some future, less exhausted time. 

For now, sleep.