Monday, August 24, 2015

That's how it's supposed to be, living young and wild and free

Recently a friend referred to me as a "single parent."  Which kind of took me aback, because I don't think of myself as a single parent.  To me, a single parent is one who is raising children totally on his or her own, without the other parent sharing physical custody or parenting duties.

I share custody/parenting time with the kids' dad, so I don't have to shoulder all of the parenting responsibilities.  And I get regular breaks when I don't have to take care of anyone but myself - it gives me a chance to recharge my batteries, and it makes the time I have with the children that much more special.

I've heard many parents refer to it as the silver lining of divorce.  Because when you have the kids, you're "on" all the time, and you're doing everything.  But when you don't, you can do whatever the fuck you want, and it's kind of glorious, even if "whatever the fuck you want" is simply going to the grocery store by yourself, without little monkeys clamoring for candy or toys or sneaking things into your cart, so that you get home and wonder how you came to be the proud owner of an industrial-sized bottle of Old Spice Body Wash, which you have never used in your life, nor were you even aware that such a thing existed.  

Anyway.  What I'm saying is, a shared custody arrangement can be hard, because I love my kids and I want to see them and talk to them and hug and kiss them every day, but it also provides for precious me-time that many parents never really get.

But this past weekend, I discovered that nothing will make you feel like a single parent like being the only adult on a camping trip with a 5- and 7-year-old.

Because they're too little to put up the tent, not strong enough to carry around a big cooler full of food or to lift three bikes onto a bike rack, not mature enough to build a fire.  They don't drive, so they can't take on any part of the 4 1/2 hour drive to Steamboat Lake State Park. And they don't have jobs, so they can't buy any of the stuff that needs to be purchased.  They're too short to pack the car.

They don't handle injuries well, so when they fall off their bikes within 30 minutes of arriving at the camp site and end up with wicked road rash on their elbows and knees, they can't calmly wash the wounds and apply an appropriately-sized band-aid.

But what they are great at is the important stuff.  

They are great at being enthusiastic about everything they see, from the horses at the local roadhouse/general store/recreational establishment to the chipmunks at the campsite to the beautiful mountains and lakes.  

I love how the horse in the back totally photobombed the horse on the left
They are amazing at enjoying a campfire, especially the part when you roast marshmallows.



That's a nice looking fire, if I do say so my damn self.
They are incredible at finding the joy in riding around the lake, or digging in the mushy sand at what they charmingly came to refer to as "Diarrhea Beach," because they could throw around lumps of wet sand that reminded them of diarrhea.  They appreciate the natural beauty of Hahn's Peak, which they took to calling "Boob Mountain."  

We like to keep it classy.

Diarrhea Beach
Josie is killing it on her bike these days.
Boob Mountain.
They love to learn about new things, so they were happy to attend the little presentations that the park rangers gave every day on various topics - on Saturday night we learned all about beavers, and on Sunday we learned about hummingbirds.  They were thrilled to go on a 10 minute pony ride, and to stay an extra 15 minutes afterwards kissing and hugging their horses.


They have a beautiful sense of wonder.  My favorite part of the weekend was at about 3 in the morning on our first night there.  Josie woke up and said she had to pee.

"Go ahead, sweetie.  You can just go and pee outside behind the tent."

She came back a minute later and said, "Mama, the stars are so beautiful.  You should come out and see them."

So I got up and went outside and sat in a camp chair with her on my lap.  I hugged her close and we looked at the incredible sky.

"There must be a trillion stars up there, huh, Mama?"

"At least."

After a little while, we were tired and cold, and went back to bed.  As she lay next to me, she reached an arm out and put her hand on my cheek.

"I love you, Mama."

"I love you too, sweet girl."

So yes, I'm tired from all the work that went into the weekend, and the long drive, and the mountains of laundry that I'm still plowing through.  But I had a fantastic time with my fantastic children, and I wouldn't trade that for anything.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The art of war

I've been walking to work, off and on, for about 10 months.  There are only so many variables in the route, so at this point I'm familiar with the landmarks and each street's little quirks.  It makes it more challenging (but also fun) when I'm taking my #dailydenver pictures, because it forces me to try to find interesting angles or to see things in a new or different way.

But still, every once in a while, I do get the surprise of seeing something that I have not seen before.

Last week, it was this:


A photo posted by Wendy Jacobs (@wendyalisonjacobs) on

Today, it was this:


A photo posted by Wendy Jacobs (@wendyalisonjacobs) on

It reminded me of my brother Joshua, who used to love playing with army toys.  When we were living in India, I opened the freezer one day to discover an elaborate winter battle scene, complete with fallen soldiers who had made the ultimate sacrifice and spilled their blood (i.e., ketchup) in the freezer frost snow.

Looking at that toy tank, standing guard in front of its owner's house, made me smile with the thought of little boys' imaginations, and the intensity of their vision of the world as it was, or might be someday in the future.

Friday, August 14, 2015

I'll see you in September, see you when the summer's through

Yesterday morning the kids and I were riding the number 10 bus into town, on the way to camp and work.  Zeke was sitting in the back row playing on his Kindle and Josie and I were sitting next to each other on one of the sideways-facing seats.  I had my arm resting over the back of the seat, and she was snuggled up next to me, so her face was basically in my armpit.

She thinks armpits are hilarious, especially mine.  God forbid I have a day's worth of stubble under there - she'll tickle it with her fingers and announce to the whole bus that my pits are fuzzy.

Today there was no fuzz, just deodorant.  She still stuck her finger in it.

"Mama, why do you have salt in your pits?" she giggled.

"It's not salt, goofball, it's deodorant."  I gave her a squeeze and kissed the top of her head.

"What's deodorant?"

"It's stuff to keep my pits from getting stinky."

She cackled.  "I hope I don't have stinky pits.  I don't want to have salt in my pits."

We laughed and laughed.

As I sat there having fun with her, I realized it was the last day we would be doing this.  Their dad would be picking them up that afternoon, and they're with him for the weekend, and there's no camp next week.  The week after that, school starts.

We've had a lovely little routine for the summer - I get up and exercise, then I get them up and dressed, and we have some breakfast.  I make their lunches and fill their water bottles, get their backpacks ready, and then we walk across the street to catch the bus.

They're always cheerful and saying hello, so the people on the bus are charmed and smiling at them.  During the ride, we chat and laugh and look out the window. After the penultimate stop, Josie pulls the cord, and we pile off the bus at the stop in front of my office building.  The buses have an automated announcement system for each stop, and when you get off a female robotic voice says, "watch your step - thank you."

And the kids always say, "YOU'RE WELCOME!" and then laugh hysterically.

We walk the two blocks to the YMCA, I give them hugs and kisses goodbye, they run off to play with their friends, and then I walk across the street to go to work.

With all of the turmoil in my life this summer, those mornings have been a respite.  Even though it seems mundane, I will miss that routine.  We're all morning people, so it's been a time of morning snuggles and kisses and excitement over whatever that day's field trip would be and fart jokes.  (The fart jokes are a constant.)

With the start of school, I'll be able to resume my walks to work in the morning.  And I started this morning, in fact.  I took a route that I don't usually take, heading west up 16th street rather than on Colfax.  This route takes me past an elementary school that has a great playground.


It made me think of the kids and how big they're getting.  Zeke is going into second grade, Josie into first.  I find myself looking at old pictures and videos of them when they were babies and toddlers, and going over old blog posts from those times.  It makes me wistful, even though they are unquestionably so much more fun and interesting the older they get.

As a last hurrah before school starts, the three of us are going camping in Steamboat (the real one) next weekend. It's a place we love, and it will cap off a summer that has been difficult but also beautiful, largely because of them.





Thursday, August 13, 2015

I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride it where I like

Getting Josie to suck it up and learn how to ride a bike has been something of a challenge, to put it diplomatically.  Because she is turning into a feisty little thing with a bit of a hair-trigger temper, to say the least.

After our Outer Banks trip a couple of weeks ago, we drove with my parents up to their house in Virginia, stayed there for two nights, and then flew home from DC.  We got some extra time with Mimi and Papa, and the travel is so much easier.  There used to be a direct flight from Denver to Norfolk, Virginia, but there isn't anymore, so getting between those two cities now is a major pain in the ass.

Anyway, we were in my dad's car on the way back.  His car has a back seat entertainment system, so we could pop in a DVD for the kids during the 5 hour drive home.  The kids were very excited about this.

The problem was, my dad had never used the system, so it took a little while for us to figure out all the various intricacies of it.

Which pissed Josie off to no end.

Before we had even left the driveway of the beach house, she was sitting in the back seat while I was trying to figure out how to get everything to work.  I figured it out eventually, but it took some time to go through the car's manual and try out different buttons.  And even though we hadn't even left yet, and I was obviously making every effort to make it work for her, she still lost her mind when the system didn't work IMMEDIATELYTHISINSTANTNOW!

She could see the picture on the DVD screen, but it wasn't playing the movie.

"MAMA!! It's not working.  It's not WORKING!"  She was yelling and banging her headphones and generally acting like a crazy person.

"Good lord, Josie, you need to calm yourself down this minute!  I'm trying to get it to work.  Just give me a chance!"

We finally realized that in order for the movie to play, the car had to be on (the system wouldn't just draw on the car's battery power).  So that was one question answered.

Then we had to figure out how to get the sound to play on the headphones.  I found the right jacks to plug the headphones into.  Then after some trial and error, I figured out how to change the "source" for the sound, and found the sound for the movie.

But I committed the unforgivable crime of taking about 4 minutes to get everything worked out.

"Mama!  Mama!  MAMAAAA!!  I CAN'T HEAR ANYTHING!  IT'S NOT WORKING! I CAN'T HEAR!  AAAAAAAUUUUGH!"

"Jesus Christ!" I thought to myself.  "What a little asshole."

Out loud, I said, "Josephine!  You need to stop yelling and carrying on like that right now.  This is ridiculous.  I am figuring out how to get it to work, and I will get it to work, but you need to stop acting like a little brat!  Enough!"

"Boy," said my mother. "She's really something, isn't she?"

Yep.

So anyway, back to the bike riding.

When Josie turned 2, we got her a little balance bike.  The idea behind the balance bike is that you learn to balance on the bike while having the safety and comfort of being able to use your feet to stop, and then you'll easily be able to move on to a bike with pedals because you've already figured out the mechanics of balancing and turning.

Not so much with Josephine.

Because while she undoubtedly mastered the art of getting around on the balance bike, and was zipping around as fast as you please, when she got a big-girl bike last spring, she wanted nothing to do with it unless we left the training wheels on.

"But you don't need the training wheels, honey!  You know how to balance on the bike.  All you need to do is pedal!"

But she refused to pedal without the training wheels.

So we spent the ensuing year and a half trying to ride without training wheels and sometimes having the confidence to do it and then getting excited about it but then losing confidence and getting pissed off and knocking the bike over and kicking it or just refusing to go near it altogether.

Then, for whatever reason, last week she decided she wanted to try again.  So we pumped up the tires and put on her helmet and went outside.

It did not go well.

I would hold on to the seat of the bike while she got in it, and would push her along trying to get her to pedal on her own.  She would pedal about three revolutions and then stop, which of course caused the bike to stop and fall over.

"Honey, the only way the bike is going to stay up is if you pedal.  You have to pedal, and keep pedaling, so that the bike will move forward.  If it's not moving, it'll fall over."

"I know!"

*sigh*

"OK, let's try again."

She would pedal but wouldn't steer, so the bike would be heading into a wall or a rock, which would cause her to freak out and stop.

"Why did you stop?

"That rock was in my way!!" she yelled.

"You have handlebars to steer the bike.  Steer away from the rock."

"I COULDN'T! IT WASN'T WORKING!!"

She kept getting more and more frustrated.  She would yell at me if I held on to the bike to get her started.  "YOU'RE MESSING ME UP! STOP TOUCHING ME! YOU'RE PUSHING ME TOO FAST!"

*sigh*

"Ok, let's try again.  I'm not trying to mess you up, honey, I'm just trying to help you start pedaling."

"I CAN'T STAY UP! IT'S NOT WORKING! THIS BIKE IS STUPID! THIS BIKE IS BROKEN! IT DOESN'T WORK!!"

At this point, she's standing in the middle of the sidewalk having a full-on meltdown, crying and screaming.  I'm taking deep breaths.

"Josie, I think we're done for the day.  You're too upset and you can't ride a bike if you're angry and crying, so let's go home."

"NOOOO!!!  I DON'T WANT TO GO HOME!"

"Honey, we're going home.  You're done."

I picked up the bike and started walking home.  She walked with me, despondent.

"I'm stupid. I want to be like Zeke. Why can't I be Zeke? Zeke knows how to ride. I ride like a baby and everybody thinks I'm stupid," she wailed.

We went inside and I sat her on my lap and held her while she cried.

"Sweetheart, you're not stupid.  Nobody thinks you're stupid.  Zeke can ride really well because he's been doing it for two years, and he's had a lot of practice, but when he was your age he fell over all the time.  It took a lot of practice for him to be able to ride like he does."

"I ride like a baby.  I can't do anything," she sobbed.

"No, you don't.  You ride like someone who is just learning, and who needs to practice a little bit.  All you need to do is practice and you'll figure it out, I promise.  I'll help you.  You're going to figure it out and you'll do great."

Needless to say, in the days after that I didn't bring up the subject of the bike again.

Then three days ago, she announced that she wanted to ride her bike.  I steeled myself for another fight, but took her out to practice going around the block.

But she figured it out.  I would hold the seat, she would start pedaling, I would give her a little shove to give the bike some momentum, and off she went.  She was wobbly and insisted on stopping every 10 feet ("Mama, I really love you, so I don't want to leave you behind to make you walk by yourself"), but she did it, and was so, so excited with herself.  She and Zeke and I went all the way down to their school, about a half mile away, and she rode to the school (mostly, occasionally we would walk and push the bike), and rode around the playground, and rode home.

"Josie, I'm so proud of you.  You're doing so great!"

"I know! Boy, I sure was complaining a lot the other day! But now I'm not crying and I'm practicing and I can ride really well now!"

The next day was even better, and last night was better still.  She is now able to start on her own, without me holding the bike at all, she can do tighter turns, and she can ride and ride and ride without stopping.

Last night we were outside as she and Zeke tooled around the neighborhood on their bikes, with me following on foot.  But just as we were heading home, she looked behind her to see Zeke and lost her balance.  The bike wobbled widely and she fell, landing hard with the handlebars under her ribs.

I sprinted over to her and picked her up.  She was crying and very startled, but not injured except for a little nick on one of her fingers and a mark on her rib where the handlebar hit her. I felt her ribs for breaks and she was able to take deep breaths without pain, so I figured she would be OK.  We went home to get a band-aid and rest.

We were sitting on the couch at home, putting a band-aid on her finger, when there was a knock on the door.  It was our friends from around the corner, inviting us to join them in walking up to the ice cream store.

"Hey, Josie," I called, "I know what will make you feel better.  How about some ice cream?"

"Yes!!"

"Ok, we're going to walk over there.  It'll be fun.  Ice cream makes everything better."

She hesitated for a minute.

"Mama?"

"Yes, sweetie?

"Can I ride my bike?"



Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Adventures in Online Dating: Getting back on the horse edition

First of all, with respect to the title of this post, I'm not talking about *that* horse.  I'm talking about the online dating horse altogether.

Because with everything that's been going on in my life, I climbed off it for a while.

I had a couple of dates that didn't pan out, and it was frustrating, plus every time I set up a date, I had anxiety attacks.  Which kind of told me that I wasn't ready.  My emotional state was so fraught because of other stuff that it was bleeding into every area of my psyche, and it made it impossible to just relax and have fun.

I've spent a lot of time over the past two months talking myself off of various ledges.

So I took my profile down.

In the meantime, I went to my India reunion and had a number of conversations with friends who had divorced and were now happily dating people they met online.  And I know so many people who are happily married to people they met online.  They all gave me pep talks, and told me to just have fun, assume that I would go out on many, many bad dates with the occasional good one thrown in, and that I should just be patient and give it time.

As you all know, relaxation and living with uncertainty are not my strong suits.  But one of the things about constantly talking yourself off the ledge is that you tend to get better at it with time.

So I'm getting better at it.

I made my profile public again.  I'm communicating with a couple of guys, and setting up a date here and there.  I'm trying to be relaxed.

Baby steps.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

I love it when a plan comes together

We were at the movie theater in Corolla last week, taking the kids to see the new Minions movie (which was hilarious, by the way - even my dad, who is generally disdainful of animated films, was laughing his ass off the entire time).  There's a little kids' play area in the lobby area, so before the movie, after we finished our Dairy Queen yummies and while we were waiting for my mom to pick up the chicken that I was going to put in the red thai curry I was going to make for dinner, my dad and I sat and watched the kids play.  There was another family there, and the mom and I struck up a conversation about how great the Outer Banks are as a family vacation spot.

"Have you come here before?" I asked.

"No, this is our first time, but we love it.  We'll definitely be back.  What about you? Is this your first time as well?"

I smiled and said, "actually, my family has been coming here for 37 years, since I was 8 years old."

There were years that we missed while we were in Israel or India, or while my mom was in Romania and Papua New Guinea, but it has always been a place to come back to, and I don't see that changing any time soon.  It's still a given that it's the big family get-together every year.  My parents, my brothers, their wives and children, and me and my kids.  We go to the beach, we do puzzles, we swim in the pool, we play miniature golf, we read books.

We enjoy each others' company.

Some years are better than others.  Last year was fun, but there were those among us who were battling demons and dealing with major life shit, and another who flew out on my parents' dime, stayed in the luxurious house my parents paid for, ate our food, and then proceeded to treat me like utter garbage to the point that my brothers are still furious and my mother finally told him to cut the shit and knock it off.

But this year, it was like the family vacation gods were smiling down on us, bidding us incredible weather, children who behaved delightfully, and family love and harmony. There were no demons. There was no sullen person incessantly complaining about how there wasn't any pot to smoke and just generally making everyone uncomfortable.  It really was so, so wonderful.

Every morning I would get up early and work out (I used the Beachbody On Demand streaming video service, so I didn't have to bring my discs, and I used resistance bands instead of weights).  I'm convinced that sticking to my workout program meant that I only gained 5 pounds, rather than 10 or 15 - we ate a LOT of ice cream, is what I'm saying.


After my workout, my mom and I would walk two miles to a local coffee shop to pick up the newspapers and a large skim iced cafe latte, and walk back.  It was lovely time for us to talk and hang out, just the two of us.

The kids would be up by the time we got back, and I would make eggs and toast for Zeke, Josie and Hazel (and anyone else that wanted it).  We would putter around for a while and then head to the beach, which was a 5 minute walk up the road.

The water and weather were incredible (and we didn't see any sharks!).  We would set up our phalanx of umbrellas and chairs, set the toys and boogie boards out for the kids, and then spend hours, playing in the water, digging in the sand, and reading.

Home base
I don't know when Josie's legs got so long
Boogie boarding
Sam and Zeke do tricks
Burying Zeke in the sand
Josie and Mimi battle the waves
After the beach, or as a beach intermission, we would go back to the house and swim, or lie in the hammock, or have a dance party.

The pool.
Hammocking

video
Dance party!!

One afternoon, Josie cut her bangs.  She looks like a mini-hipster.


In the evenings, we would all have dinner together, and then have ice cream for dessert.  We would sit up in the crow's nest and enjoy the view and the evening air.


Near sunset, I would take the three little kids to the beach for a walk.  They invented a game called "Cop" in which they would run around, throw themselves down on the sand, and arrest each other.  They would chase the tide.  We would use the flashlight to look for crabs.  They would ask me big questions - "but Mama, where did water come from the first time?  How did it get on Earth??"

Those walks filled me with joy and peace.




The whole vacation did, in fact.  I'm already looking forward to next year.