by Conlee Ricketts
I'm not sure if it is fake, false, pretend, or just plain award-winning acting, but I have appeared far more courageous when my child is watching than I really am. I have kept my shit together so my child would feel calm and safe while on the inside I was screaming or crying. Each illness, bloody knee & nose, or broken bone (mine), I plastered a calm “everything is going to be just fine” smile on my face. I'm certain this has helped me grow as a person, but at the time it was exhausting.
I can pinpoint two events where my courage was 100 percent fabricated! One event was a temporary kind of “hold it together” and the other was more of an ongoing “holding it together.”
Short term holding it together: Eleven-year-old daughter
Walt Disney World: Animal Kingdom; Expedition Everest ride: (Spoiler Alert; read at your own risk).
I had never been to Disney World before and I had done all that I possibly could to save for this trip. I wanted my daughter to enjoy a last hurrah before "stay at home mom" became "working mom" again. We decided to be brave and ride the roller coaster Expedition Everest. We waited in line, read all about the Yeti, finally got buckled in and we were off!
The roller coaster was chugging up to get ready for its first big hill. I’m laughing and enjoying my daughter’s screams of enjoyment. Then all the cars came to a slow stop as we reach the peak. I’m cool, sometimes reaching the top of that first big hill a coaster slows as it clicks its way up, so I give my daughter a confident smile.
Something is wrong, we have stopped for way too long. Suddenly the cars chug and slip and we begin to start flying backward down the track. My daughter grabs me and screams. I look down at her with a giant smile glued to my face while trying to memorize her face in the last few moments of our life together on Earth. I was certain we were going to die and I wanted to remain calm for her. Inside I was scared shitless. Period. Convinced we were going to die on this %#*ing roller coaster.
It took me a few moments to notice that the scenery was different; we were no longer outside in the sunshine but inside the Yeti's cave. The damn ride was supposed to go backward! I was unaware. Not being a “Disney Pro” I had no clue what this ride was about.
I never told my daughter I thought we were going to die that day until last month and her "high schooler" response, “Oh my god! Really Mom? That’s hilarious and so sad!”
Long-term holding it together: Six-year-old daughter
The year my marriage ended and I lost our house was all about fake courage and putting on a brave face—for my child and basically for the entire outside world.
I had to schedule time to cry. Hiding my sobs and screams locked in my car alone in a parking lot, or on the front porch at 1 A.M. while my daughter slept. She was so young, and while I have no problem letting my daughter know that emotions are healthy and that crying is okay, this type of raw emotion from me was not something a six-year-old would understand.
I am the “Mom” and moms take care of shit, moms are protectors and problem solvers, and moms, dare I say it, are magic. We can kiss it and make it better.
All the details of my life at that time were all very grown-up problems that had absolutely nothing to do with my child's health and happiness. I refused to burden her with my grown-up problems and emotions. All she needed to know was that we were going to move into a very cool new apartment, life was still going to be great, and that I would take care of anything and everything. Nothing to worry about.
Looking back that’s exactly the way it turned out and everything was fine. I survived it all, and for the most part, I did an okay job at keeping my shit together. I wasn’t perfect and I’m sure there are a few scars that remain for my daughter from that period, but I was as courageous as I could possibly be.
I think trying to help our kids feel safe and protected creates many opportunities for this “courageous parenting” which feels like a giant game of pretend. I'm not sure if others will agree with my choice to schedule time to cry or putting a brave face on things to get through them, but it’s how I have chosen to help my daughter enjoy childhood. I don’t want her to feel responsible for me, or my problems, or my happiness. She is the child and I am the parent, and I’m supposed to be able to handle all the bullshit tossed my way. How I choose to handle the rough stuff helps her see how to deal with her own future struggles.
Right now, she just needs to enjoy her childhood. And truth be told, after twenty-seven years in a classroom, I could re-write this entire essay for teachers. Teaching=Fake Courage. Years of illnesses, bloody knees & noses, fire drills, tornado drills, and every lock down, my face must display the similar “everything is going to be just fine” face that I’ve mustered for my own child because I’m protecting someone else’s child. This is one of those rare skills that actually translates very well to the classroom.
So, as our kids head back to school we put on that all-knowing face of courage for our kids to let them know everything is going to be just fine. And if it isn’t? Well, as the grown-ups in charge, we need to work to support our children through the “not fine” in a calm, all-knowing, and courageous way—whether we feel that way or not.
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My Morning Coffee or Understanding Longfellow
by Conlee Ricketts
I’m sure most of us can point fingers and blame someone guilty of taking us for granted at one moment or another across our life. That isn’t what this is about.
I was dissecting the phrase “taken for granted” the other day over and over in my head as I have a habit of doing. There are so many things that I simply had the assumption of “continuous presence” in my world. I had an expectation of permanence. A completely unrealistic expectation that is so obvious on the surface, yet I clung to the expectation blindly without question, and I neglected to enjoy something or someone or some moment. I neglected to savor it, say thank you, smile and breathe.
What started this was visiting friends and watching the couple who had been together for maybe ten years or so navigate the kitchen of their home, talk, joke, roll eyes, misunderstand one another, be irritated, laugh, brush shit off, and move on to the next task.
I was envious.
Had I ever had a relationship like that in my life? Of course I had, but I don’t now, and I think I took it for granted.
When I was in high school, my mom told me, “All relationships end.”
She was very matter of fact and followed up with, “It will happen at some point no matter what; the longest relationship with anyone ends with death of course.”
She wasn’t sad, she was just being realistic, stoic, no nonsense, basically her charming self. Not that I really want to argue with her now, and yes our physical relationship did “end” with her death 20 years ago, but that was just the physical in-person relationship. She is still around in my emotional and cerebral world so, as expected, and not at all surprising to anyone who knew us….we disagree :-)
I’m pondering the words of wisdom I want my daughter to remember, and I am leaning heavily toward appreciation. Appreciation of the presence of anything in the moment it is present. Beginning with a list of a few things I took for granted back in the day:
I want my daughter to attempt to appreciate her moments now while she’s in the middle of them. Her joy and her pain while still in high school. I want to tell her to “enjoy” any heartbreak that might come her way in the next ten years, as well as the love that she thinks will never come her way; to enjoy the friendships, laughter, and drama that is part of the everyday. Because these next ten years or so will be when she is most likely to truly feel everything the deepest. I don’t want her to take any of that joy or pain for granted and assume she will have an endless supply of these intense experiences throughout life. While we continue to have experiences throughout life, the good and the bad, the way they feel in intensity changes over time. It's just the way the brain is wired to "grow up." The deep, raw feelings she experiences now are at a level that her brain will grow out of over time. If she's in love, she's IN LOVE. If she is hurt and disappointed, she is HURT and DISAPPOINTED. If she is pissed at Mom, believe me, she is PISSED AT MOM.
How will I handle these extreme ups and downs of joy, pain, happy, sad? For starters, I won’t take these moments with my daughter for granted. If I’ve done my job well, she will be ready to navigate the world without me in a few short years. Next, I will do my absolute best to be the person that I needed when I went through all of that: quiet, open-armed, without judgement, and un-angry. “Un-angry” is such a rough, unpolished word, but I just remember a lot of anger during my high school years—both from me and towards me, and it was difficult to navigate. I am 50% of our relationship equation, and I have learned that not engaging with the anger typically will result in the quiet comforting mother/daughter hug that I had always wanted from my own mother.
There are certainly things I miss in my life, and sometimes I think it isn’t the “thing” but the “intensity of the thing" I miss the most. Yes, I took people, places, things, and feelings for granted and was certain they would “always be available.” My goal is to enjoy things again. I will enjoy what I have while I have it, and if I can, I want to help my daughter do the same now while the intensity exists to create a habit of appreciation and understanding.
Art work by Mary Anne Radmacher. Author, Artist, Actionista I Adore!
I am ending day three of re-organizing, cleaning, examining, thinking, and discarding in my writing and creating space. It’s an “office” but I like to fill it with promise and hope of the great creations to come; creations of all kinds –both the written word and the messy artsy kind.
I think I’m going to need a day four or even five. I had saved a lot of “what if” kinds of things: what if I need this someday; what if my daughter could use this for school; what if I have a great yard sale. The new sidewalk construction in front of my house has sent a clear message: NO YARD SALE, so I hauled three big boxes to Goodwill today. That created about four square feet of new floor space.
Piles of old receipts, tax papers and other stuff from 10 to 20+ years ago have all been shredded. I set up my shredder the kitchen. Every time I went out there for water, snacks, making lunch or dinner, or to let the dogs out, I stood and shredded pages. I had to pace myself so I wouldn’t burn out the motor on the shredder. There was a lot of paper! It feels great to release all that paper. There’s no reason to hang on to those documents of some younger married woman living a life I don’t even recognize anymore.
I threw out a stash of cards and notes that were a piece of my life I no longer want hanging around. At the time they were saved because I cared. Now I don’t. That sounds brutal but having those memories around now only serves to remind me of something I’m actually humiliated by, so discarding them gives me permission to release the humiliation as well.
I also found a stack of letters my daughter had written me. It was refreshing to read her perspective on our life and my mothering skills. Apparently I “give her so many wonderful things” and I am “the best Mom ever!” I will accept that endorsement. I saved this little stack as my mini pep talk whenever I beat myself up for not being a better, richer, prettier, skinnier, more successful…etc. mom. You get it.
So many times my fear of lack or my fear of never having enough to offer her gets in my way of remembering that the only perspective of childhood she has is hers—and that’s the only perspective that really matters to her. What my parents were able to give me is completely irrelevant to her. She could care less because my childhood was an ancient time of dinosaurs and cavemen—it was 1965-75 after all.
I can see the floor once again and now I have those tiny stacks I didn’t know where to put to tackle tomorrow or the next day. I even found a great place for that outdated, ridiculous, Jenga tower of music CD’s that has been nervously stacked on top of a two drawer filing cabinet for 13+ months. I hated that tower, mocking me whenever I opened the drawers, threatening to fall on me.
The site of my office, which I couldn’t even walk into, had me near tears. I knew the only answer was to roll up my flippn’ sleeves, find the floor again, and get rid of needless shit and painful memories that met me at the door whenever I tried to get inside. I realize now that I was avoiding the work and not the pain. The “painful memories” really weren’t that painful. The problem (or pain) with some of the stuff that got tossed was the humiliation and shame I felt being reminded of the fact that I had made these mistakes here and there—either financially or emotionally, but I am on a journey to improve how I speak to myself. The rest of the world usually benefits from my kindness, generosity, and careful word choice long before I extend that love to myself. So my trip down Shame Lane was more gentle than usual. I think it’s because I believe that I keep some things because for some crazy reason or another I think I deserve this reminder as a kind of punishment for believing in the wrong person, or for being so “stupid,” or for making such a poor decision.
I no longer feel the need to be reminded of my past goofs. They no longer belong here in my room. I have learned many lessons from my past experiences; I licked my wounds long enough; I am ready to move forward.
Make room. It helps.
I laughed when I searched “single-minded.” The Merriam-Webster On-line Dictionary gave me these fun words:
· determined, devoted, tenacious, having only one purpose, goal or interest
BUT scroll a bit more and it says that “Related Words” are:
· bitter, cocksure, hardened, pigheaded, and rigid
Talk about words for some self reflection!
The phrase “single-minded single mom” came to me in a flash and for some reason I liked it, even though I have problems with the two halves separately--together they are me.
The phrase “single mom” has always rubbed me the wrong way, and—being brutally honest here—I have never used it once over the past five years—ever—probably because I felt that using it somehow publicly announced a failure on my part. So I have stubbornly refused to describe myself this way. One reason was because of my previously mentioned “failure” announcement feelings. The other reason is a crazy self imposed belief that people would perceive my using it as way of screaming “poor me” while subtly asking for support, or pity, or a pat on the back for “making it work” all alone in the world, and I didn't like thinking that people might assume I needed pity for my “struggle.” My view has always been that everyone has to “make it work” and how you do it has very little to do with a marital/parental status. In fact I may even be struggling less now than during other chapters of my life.
But I love all words because of their beauty as descriptions not labels so I knew I had some thinking to do. Yes—I am a mom; I am unmarried; therefore I am a single mom.
So in the past I resisted, but I’m okay with it now; it describes me, it doesn't label me or define me.
What about single-mindedness? Yes, I’m determined to find my way. I’m devoted to my growth and my child. My interests are happiness, creativity, and love in all the varied forms they show up.
Whoa—what about those related words? Believe it or not this required less inner work than “single mom” did because I accept my truth; I humbly admit to personifying each of those related words at one time or another.
When I am rigid it’s because I’m afraid.
When I am pigheaded it’s because I’m afraid.
When I am bitter, cocksure, or hardened, it’s because I’m afraid.
Each of those results from a much larger fear that rests inside. Excavation, exploration, and honesty are my only tools to provide comfort for these fears. Working with these tools is where I am today. The quest for happiness and joy is my path.
Choosing to be happy takes practice after years of old habits of self-loathing, feeling broken, lost, and inadequate, but it’s possible, and I am “determined” to walk that path of happiness, creativity, and love.
My daughter popped this conversation on me about a month ago and it really made me reflect on my choices while I walk this path, because I want my daughter to walk this path too before her path might harden with inner negativity like mine already had. I know that my choices influence her life by my example and my words. Thinking before I speak is a skill I sometimes forget to use, but thankfully at moments like these I speak slowly and choose my words carefully.
“Is there something you want me to be?”
“What do you mean?”
“Do you want me to be anything?”
“Oh…well…as corny as it sounds, all I really, really want for you is to be happy.”
“Oh c’mon. Parents always want something from their kids. A lawyer, a doctor, or something for them to be in the future.”
My daughter clearly thought I was bullshitting her; although she would never actually say “bullshitting.” She’s not so thrilled to have a sailor for a mom.
“Well, I have to admit when you were younger I wanted…or thought maybe that you would be an artist of some kind because of the way you use your hands and the way you draw. But I've changed my mind—now all I want is for you to be happy. I want you to choose whatever it is that makes you smile. I can tell you what I don’t want though.”
“I don’t ever want you to stay in a job that makes you unhappy. I don’t ever want you to stay in a relationship that makes you sad. I don’t want you to make a choice that feels uncomfortable in your belly. Don’t let anyone make you feel less than you know you are, or stay where you feel unhappy, unloved, or uncomfortable. Long story short—I want you to be happy.”
I wish someone had said this to me when I was eleven.
So I have decided to embrace the title A Single-Minded Single Mom for me and my blog, and I am forever grateful for the phrase making itself known to me.