Dear Old Dad…How to Survive a Turbulent Childhood

IMG_5841My father passed away when I was ten years old, and to say he wasn’t a perfect parent would be an understatement.  He was both drug and sex addicted, and was rarely at home.  When he was around though, he could be really fun and spontaneous; washing everybody in the neighborhoods hair in the kitchen sink, letting us soap our own windows on Devil’s Night, and putting my sister on top of the refrigerator when she stepped on a nail and then proceeding to soak her foot in cottage cheese.

And then there was the other side…

He could be incredibly volatile; screaming at us in the back seat of the car to “shut the bleep up” while he took a hit off of a joint (with the windows up), ordering my brother to go upstairs to get the belt out of his closet so he could whoop my brother (that had to be the longest walk ever), and losing his mind because after scrambling some eggs, he decided to get creative and flip the eggs in the air, and they went all over the floor (I’m not sure he thought that one out).  His behavior was erratic and we walked on egg shells whenever he was around.  He scared the heck out of me, and to this day I have PTSD-like symptoms when I’m around somebody who exhibits excessive mood swings.

He was far from perfect, but today I can say with confidence that he did his best. 

Now, it took me a very long time to buy into this “he did his best” concept.  It felt like a cop-out at first. “Why couldn’t he do better?” I would think to myself.  “He had to know better.”  “He had to know he was hurting us, and himself.”  “He had to know the drugs and his decisions were tearing our family apart.”  But in truth, he was a broken man who didn’t know how to do better or he would have.  His parents never taught him how to love, and when my dad was a very young boy his mother gave him and his siblings the responsibility of watching over their even younger brother, who sadly got hit by a car and died on their watch.  His mother blamed them, and there was tremendous guilt and shame in the family after he died.  It was clear that my father never found a way to forgive himself.

I felt a huge weight lift off of me once I understood where my father was coming from and why he acted the way he did.  I felt even better once I was able to forgive him because I knew in my heart he did his best.  And yet, I still felt a lot of anger and sadness around it, so of course, I had no place left to look but inside.

What were the stories I was still holding on to in relation to my dad? 

What were my expectations when it came to my dad?  (Expectations are something that often cause me suffering, so I knew there was something related to expectation at the bottom of this).

I’ve never met a perfect parent.  I certainly am not, my kids would be the first to tell you, but I can say for certain that I am 100% committed to showing my kids that they are loved. Unfortunately, my father was not quite as committed.   As a result, most of my life, I longed for the type of love I thought the perfect father would provide.  I longed to be loved by a father with great strength, who spent his days committed to his family and who would do just about anything to protect them.  I longed for a father who would give sage advice, who would show me I was loved, who would walk me down the aisle at my wedding, who would look at me with pride in his eyes the way father’s do when they’re watching their children, and most of all, who would show me that I’m worthy. 

I continued to experience anger and sadness until I was willing to look at these stories to see how they were holding these feelings securely inside of me.  What I came away with, after doing some digging, was that it was my job to love me, to know my worth, to be proud of myself, to trust in my own instincts and to know what’s best for me.  This was revolutionary!  But the more I thought about it, the more I knew that nobody else could possibly know what is best for me or give me what my own intuition naturally provides.  And once I took responsibility for my own life, I found great strength in becoming that provider and protector of myself and my family. 

One final step…I still wasn’t there.

Like my father, I still needed to forgive myself.  I needed forgive myself for believing the stories I told myself.  I needed to forgive myself for waiting around for somebody else to rescue me and guide me, when I already had all of the tools I needed to do that for myself.  I needed to forgive myself for believing that all fathers are perfect, all knowing and loving beings.  Most of all, I needed to forgive myself for believing that my father should have put his family first before his addictions and pain.  That was just not the reality – because he didn’t. 

Once I peeked under the hood of my stories, pinpointed my unrealistic expectations, forgave myself for my false beliefs, saw my father for who he really was and forgave my father, I felt free.  Ironically, this path lead me to be more forgiving of myself as a parent, because like my father, I am doing my best. 

Zoe – Serendipity!

The greatest gifts in my life have come in the form of breast cancer, foreclosure, my drug and sex addicted father, who passed away when I was ten years old, my ex-husband, my children, Jake and Jonah, and their sister, Sydnee, who died two days shy of her due date.

One might smallest just breathe logoask how losing a father at a young age, getting divorced, losing a child or having cancer could possibly be considered gifts. There is no doubt that these were very challenging times in my life, but once the dust settled, and maybe even during some of the later experiences, I was able to see the gift in each and every experience in my life.

Within each of our not-so-normal lives, we are faced with challenges along the way, nobody is exempt. These challenges show up for us to help us grow. Each and every one of those experiences leaves us with a “gift”. The catch is, we don’t actually get the gift until we are aware it’s there for us. Imagine a beautifully wrapped present hiding way up high in the closet, but you don’t know it exists. It only becomes exciting when you know it’s there and you have the chance to tear it open. The good news is it’s never too late to find them, we just need to open our minds to another way of seeing things.

My hope is that through this series of dysfunctional, crazy, funny, challenging and sometimes embarrassing glances into my life, you will learn to spot the silver linings in your life, unveiling these precious gems that have the power to bring you freedom and peace of mind.

I’m going to tell you some very personal details about my life and you will likely have thoughts of judgment, maybe anger at some point, but don’t stress out, just breathe. I forgive you. Xo

ZOE (SERENDIPITY)

Zoe was a six-month old golden retriever that came into my life when I was pregnant with my daughter, Sydnee.  She was sweet, beautiful, loving, quiet, and most importantly, fully trained.  I wasn’t looking for a dog because I was having a baby, and I didn’t want the responsibility of a dog and a baby at the same time.  My sister-in-law couldn’t keep her though, and something in me told me to take her anyways-she was so cute!

I am incredibly grateful that Zoe came into my life because shortly thereafter Sydnee passed away, and Zoe was my constant companion.  She stuck by my side day in and day out.  Her unwavering, ooshy gooshy love helped me get through one of the most difficult times of my life. She sat by me while I cried and journaled, walked with me everyday and kept me company all day and night. I don’t know how I would have gotten through the loss of my daughter without her.

Zoe coming into my life was no accident; she was right there on the road map just exactly where she was supposed to be, and she stayed there until the summer I had to move out of my house and into a condo that didn’t allow pets.  She passed away just two weeks before I moved.  She was a very intuitive dog and one of my greatest teacher.

Zoe taught me how to be unconditionally loving before I became a parent and had to learn “on the job”.  She taught me to listen without the need to make the conversation all about me.  She taught me to be loyal and to stick by people even when they aren’t at their best.  And most of all, Zoe reminded me that the universe brings us everything we need and right on time.

Isn’t she the sweetest!!!  Miss you!  xoxo  zoe

Love your Children More Than you Hate your Ex

smallest just breathe logoGolda Meir, former Prime Minister of Israel, once said “Peace will come to the Middle East when the Arabs love their children more than they hate us.” As quoted in Media Bias and the Middle East (2003) by Paul Carlson, p. 10.

The same is true for two people getting divorced when children are involved.  In order for everybody to win in a divorce, we as parents have to love our children more than we hate our ex, and more than we love our assets!  There is nothing worth fighting over and no material possession worth damaging the well-being of our innocent children.

Every time you make a decision regarding your divorce, you need to step out of your drama and into reality; you may be harming your kids with reckless decisions that are made out of spite for your ex.  Take time to think long and hard before you make any decisions.  It’s easy to get worked up in an adversarial situation such as divorce, but this is no time to lose your sense of doing the right thing.

Let’s say for example, you are talking to a friend or family member, telling them how you plan to get back at your ex in court.  Your child is listening to every word you say, even if you think they aren’t.  If they aren’t listening, they sense what you are up to, don’t be fooled into thinking they don’t.

Kids are far more tuned into what we do than what we say.

What are they learning from you?  To start, they are learning to be greedy adults.  They are learning hate.  They are learning to fight dirty.  They are learning that marriage is a bad thing and ends in horror.  They are learning not to trust the opposite sex, and chances are they will end up in the same type of relationship as you did.  Most of all, they are realizing that their best interest is the last thing on your mind.  Is this really what you want your kids to walk away with from this experience?  Don’t do this to them or to the relationship you previously worked so hard to build with them.

When I filed for divorce, my ex was understandably pretty angry with me.  Our kids were 2 and 4 and I told him up front that he could go as low as he needed to, but that I would not go down with him.  Thankfully, he agreed that there was nothing worth fighting over, and that our childrens’ welfare was all that mattered.  Just because we wanted a divorce that didn’t mean the kids had to suffer.  In fact, it is our job to be sure that our children don’t suffer as a result of our divorce.  It wasn’t their choice to get married, divorced or to be born for that matter.  We brought them into this world; it is our job to protect them!

We also agreed never to say anything negative about each other in front of our kids and definitely not to our kids.  The more kids know they are loved by both parents, that both parents respect each other and that they are going to be okay, the faster they will adjust.  We respect each other and remain friends, which makes life easier for everyone.  Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.

Parents who fight in front of their kids, who trash the other parent and who use their kids as bait to get what they want in a divorce are simply being selfish.  Do right by your kids!  Quit being narcissistic – you brought the kids into this world; you owe them responsible, loving parents. It’s the least your could do.

In the end, the only thing that matters is that you and your ex come out of the divorce learning from your mistakes, and showing your children how to resolve unpleasant matters with respect and dignity for yourself and for others.  You don’t have to go down that dark road just because you are getting divorced.

You have a choice, it’s YOUR divorce.  Do the right thing!  Love your children more than you hate your ex, and more than you love your material possessions.  It’s really a no-brainer, isn’t it?

Syndee – Big Loss #10

The greatest gifts in my life have come in the form of breast cancer, foreclosure, my drug and sex addicted father, who passed away when I was ten years old, my ex-husband, my children, Jake and Jonah, and their sister, Sydnee, who died two days shy of her due date.

One might smallest just breathe logoask how losing a father at a young age, getting divorced, losing a child or having cancer could possibly be considered gifts. There is no doubt that these were very challenging times in my life, but once the dust settled, and maybe even during some of the later experiences, I was able to see the gift in each and every experience in my life.

Within each of our not-so-normal lives, we are faced with challenges along the way, nobody is exempt. These challenges show up for us to help us grow. Each and every one of those experiences leaves us with a “gift”. The catch is, we don’t actually get the gift until we are aware it’s there for us. Imagine a beautifully wrapped present hiding way up high in the closet, but you don’t know it exists. It only becomes exciting when you know it’s there and you have the chance to tear it open. The good news is it’s never too late to find them, we just need to open our minds to another way of seeing things.

My hope is that through this series of dysfunctional, crazy, funny, challenging and sometimes embarrassing glances into my life, you will learn to spot the silver linings in your life, unveiling these precious gems that have the power to bring you freedom and peace of mind.

I’m going to tell you some very personal details about my life and you will likely have thoughts of judgment, maybe anger at some point, but don’t stress out, just breathe. I forgive you. Xo

SYDNEE – BIG LOSS

Okay, I promised that even the most horrific events in our lives can bring unexpected gifts, so here goes.

It was 1996 and Eric, my kids’ father, and I decided to start our family. I was ready. I was 33 years old and most of my friends already had babies, the clock was ticking! We needed to get busy!!! It didn’t take long before I was pregnant; I was due in May of the following year.

As much as I wanted to be a mom, though, I wasn’t all that excited about pregnancy. I wasn’t one of those beautiful, glowing, adorable pregnant women who did yoga up to their last month. It was quite the contrary; I ate everything in sight and didn’t really appreciate the miracle that was happening inside my belly.  It was more of a means to an end, actually.

May rolled around and I started to notice my stomach contracting, but no pain.  Hmmm, “that’s strange”, I thought. But, two nights’ prior the baby was rolling around like crazy, so being a new mom, I assumed she was getting ready to come out. I called my doctor and he told me to meet him at the hospital.

While we waited for our doctor to arrive, a nurse and the on-call doctor put a heart monitor on my belly. She looked at me with the coldest eyes I’ve ever seen, and said, with a matter-of-factness that still makes me shake my head today, “There’s no heartbeat.” I couldn’t even comprehend what she was saying because it was just so horrible. At that moment, my world slowed down like I was moving through big fluffy white clouds, unable to fully concentrate, and not really sure what was going on. It all felt very surreal.

Over the next few days, we named our baby, Sydnee, held her in our arms, planned her funeral and was faced with finding a way to go on with life. My whole life’s plan revolved around being a mom; I quit my job, planned our futures and had no idea what to do with my life anymore. This was without a doubt one of the most difficult times in my life. And yet, the greatest gifts in my life came out of this loss. It took me a while to realize these gifts, but once I did, it became clear to me that everything that comes our way brings with it some unexpected gifts.

You see, at this particular point in my life, I was a very angry, resentful, self-righteous, bitchy young lady. I blamed my (former) husband for everything. I took no responsibility for anything in my life, it was easier to blame him and anybody else who walked across my path. I was mad at the world! It never even dawned on me that there was a better way to live life. I figure it was just my lot in life. But then Sydnee died and I had a lot of time alone to think about life.

I didn’t work for a year. I spent my days walking and journaling with my sweet, loving pooch, Zoe by my side. I did a lot of reading and exploring and eventually realized that there was a better way to live. Losing Sydnee brought me to a crossroads that I didn’t even know existed. For the first time in my life I had a choice between continuing on as an angry, bitchy girl or figuring out what the hell I was so bitchy about. I am happy to say I chose door number two, and since then I have been on a road that has led me to yoga, meditation and self-responsibility, without the need to blame anybody for anything. I no longer need to be right all the time either, and life has gotten a hell of a lot better! This was an enormous gift Sydnee gave to me. She was here for a short time to teach me how to love myself and others again. She took me down a road that I otherwise may never have found. I am so incredibly grateful she came into my life!

The two most incredible gifts she gave me were my two sons who came after her. I cannot imagine a world without these two incredible young men in it. They fit me perfectly, they get me and my quirky sense of humor, they love me unconditionally and they make me so incredibly proud to be in their lives. If Sydnee had lived I would not have had them in my life. Also, I wasn’t particularly aware of how fortunate I was to be a mom when I was pregnant with Syndee, I took it all for granted. And since I was so angry at that point in my life, I don’t know that I would have truly appreciated her as much as I should have if she had survived. I can say with certainty that Sydnee has made me acutely aware of just how fortunate I am to be a mom and what a miracle childbirth really is. I am so grateful she came into my life, even though it was for such a short time. She was a great teacher.

Life is gonna suck sometimes, no doubt. But I promise, if you look closely and keep your mind open, you’ll see that some pretty frickin’ amazing things can come out of all the suckiness.

Johnny Mathis #9

The greatest gifts in my life have come in the form of breast cancer, foreclosure, my drug and sex addicted father, who passed away when I was ten years old, my ex-husband, my children, Jake and Jonah, and their sister, Sydnee, who died two days shy of her due date.

One might smallest just breathe logoask how losing a father at a young age, getting divorced, losing a child or having cancer could possibly be considered gifts. There is no doubt that these were very challenging times in my life, but once the dust settled, and maybe even during some of the later experiences, I was able to see the gift in each and every experience in my life.

Within each of our not-so-normal lives, we are faced with challenges along the way, nobody is exempt. These challenges show up for us to help us grow. Each and every one of those experiences leaves us with a “gift”. The catch is, we don’t actually get the gift until we are aware it’s there for us. Imagine a beautifully wrapped present hiding way up high in the closet, but you don’t know it exists. It only becomes exciting when you know it’s there and you have the chance to tear it open. The good news is it’s never too late to find them, we just need to open our minds to another way of seeing things.

My hope is that through this series of dysfunctional, crazy, funny, challenging and sometimes embarrassing glances into my life, you will learn to spot the silver linings in your life, unveiling these precious gems that have the power to bring you freedom and peace of mind.

I’m going to tell you some very personal details about my life and you will likely have thoughts of judgment, maybe anger at some point, but don’t stress out, just breathe. I forgive you. Xo

Johnny Mathis

Sixteen years old, big crush, butterflies and all – Johnny Mathis, not the singer, stole my heart. He was a happy sixteen-year-old boy with the wise eyes of an old soul. I can see his face so clearly as if I just saw him yesterday. We had a ton of fun together and felt like soul mates, at least that’s how I saw it. All of my memories of him involve snow, the kind of snow that flowed from the sky in a beautiful mist steadily coming down, including that fateful night – the last time I saw Johnny.

I went with Johnny to meet his family one winter night. I had never met them before because he lived with his aunt who owned and lived in a small hotel on 8 Mile (yes, like the movie) that they rented by the hour, day or week. We drove back to his place after a fun night of finally getting to know where Johnny came from, and as we stood by my car in that misty snow. It was such a beautiful night. Johnny asked me if I wanted to “come in and talk”. I’ll never forget his words, even in that moment it caused me to pause. Looking back, I probably should have known something was up because boys don’t ask girls to “come in and talk” at sixteen. I was leaving for Florida the next morning though and had to rush home to pack so I declined and headed home.

While I was in Florida, I received a call telling me that Johnny committed suicide. He hung himself. To say that I was shocked was an understatement. He was a really happy kid. I didn’t see any indication that anything was wrong with him. He didn’t have the perfect upbringing but most of the kids we hung out with didn’t.

This was one of the saddest times in my life. I couldn’t wrap my head around why he would do such a thing, especially since we had such strong feelings for each other – at least that’s how the movie played in my head. I cried and cried while I listed to the Commodores, a band we often listed to together, and eventually life went on. To this day, I still can’t wrap my head around it.

I will never know why he did what he did or how he truly felt about me, but I can clearly see the blessings in having overcome a tragedy such as this. I learned that just because a person has a smile on their face, it doesn’t mean they are happy inside. We have to learn to trust our intuition when relating to others. Our bodies tell us the truth whereas often our minds are driven by what is best for us. I hesitated that night because my intuition told me to stay, but I didn’t listen. I learned to trust my intuition in that moment and I learned to trust what I felt from a person not just the words coming out of their mouth.

For most of my life, I felt responsible for Johnny committing suicide. I could have stopped him if only I went in and talked with him that night, I thought. But the truth is, if somebody wishes to end their life, and their time has come, there is nothing anybody can do or say to stop those events, at least not permanently.

Through this experience, I learned that when somebody asks me to talk, unless I have some emergency, I sit and listen to what they have to say. I look into their eyes and just listen. We all need each other to be there, and it really takes very little effort to sit still and listen. In fact, it’s far more work to think of something to say then it is to listen. In truth, most people don’t really want advice, they know deep down what is best for them, and they just want to be heard.

Johnny taught me about love, fast cars, not to stay at motels on 8 Mile, and mostly compassion for others. He was one of my great teachers considering the short amount of time he was here with me. Definitely, no regrets.

Papa Sam #2

The greatest gifts in my life have come in the form of breast cancer, foreclosure, my drug and sex addicted father, who passed away when I was ten years old, my ex-husband, my children, Jake and Jonah, and their sister, Sydnee, who died two days shy of her due date.

One might smallest just breathe logoask how losing a father at a young age, getting divorced, losing a child or having cancer could possibly be considered gifts. There is no doubt that these were very challenging times in my life, but once the dust settled, and maybe even during some of the later experiences, I was able to see the gift in each and every experience in my life.

Within each of our not-so-normal lives, we are faced with challenges along the way, nobody is exempt. These challenges show up for us to help us grow. Each and every one of those experiences leaves us with a “gift”. The catch is, we don’t actually get the gift until we are aware it’s there for us. Imagine a beautifully wrapped present hiding way up high in the closet, but you don’t know it exists. It only becomes exciting when you know it’s there and you have the chance to tear it open. The good news is it’s never too late to find them, we just need to open our minds to another way of seeing things.

My hope is that through this series of dysfunctional, crazy, funny, challenging and sometimes embarrassing glances into my life, you will learn to spot the silver linings in your life, unveiling these precious gems that have the power to bring you freedom and peace of mind.

I’m going to tell you some very personal details about my life and you will likely have thoughts of judgment, maybe anger at some point, but don’t stress out, just breathe. I forgive you. Xo

 

Papa Sam

Papa Sam had a very distinct teaching style. I think Nike’s “just do it” sums it up. When I learned to ride a bike, Papa Sam held on to the back of my bike running with me, for about three seconds, and then he pushed my down the hill. Trust me when I tell you I learned how to ride a bike right then and there. The same thing took place when I learned to swim and dive. He picked me up at three years old, threw me in the pool and somehow knew I would survive. No fear.

There was nothing but faith in my Papa Sam’s eyes – he knew that I would succeed. While I wouldn’t take this approach in teaching my own children, I value the beauty in his methods. He taught me to relentlessly face my fears. This came rushing back to me as I was at the top of a ropes course having to jump from one plank to another in mid-air while grabbing a rope 100 feet or more off the ground to get to the other side. It was scary as hell, but somewhere deep down I was prepared for that day because of my Papa.

He also taught me to allow my children to face their fears while letting go and allowing them to experience their lives. This is amazing because I have a son who loves to jump and flip and fly through the air as often as possible, just like I used to.

Despite Papa Sam’s unorthodox style of teaching, I felt nothing but love and a sense of comfort from him. He was an extraordinarily loving man, who thankfully did not pass fear on to me.