Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Year of Living Dangerously

With a title like that, you'd think I'd taken up skydiving or robbing banks last year. Well, hahaha. Far from it!

As a single mother by choice, i.e. a full-time sole caregiver, my life is rather restricted by the school calendar, the home front, and the need to keep myself healthy and uninjured for my two school-age boys. Angelina Jolie may have flown planes when she was the single mother of Maddox, but she has Brad Pitt now as her backup. I do not. I can only dream about such eye-candy assistance!

No, I must keep myself intact and in working order every single day because I am my own Plan B. In other words, consciously living dangerously cannot be a choice I make . . . at least not now while my children are still young. But the thing is: being an SMC is living dangerously.

After a decade, I have gotten used to weathering daily challenges, though they have changed over the years. What is constant is the drama. Oh, the drama! And last year, the year that was supposed to be my lucky year -- as in, good lucky -- the drama was over the top. It reached a crazy level I couldn't have imagined or written about even with my creative writing graduate degree!

Plain and simple, 2013 was a doozy.

When we have such years, it is easy to think: What a horrendous twelve months! What just happened? Good riddance! We want to turn the page. Get a new calendar. Shake off the old and put on the new. But before we do that, we should take a serious look at what transpired and see if we can learn something from it. That is what I've chosen to do, and I'm much better off now for it.

From the get-go, I felt off balance. That's because the year began with a failed New Year's Weekend trip. I had only the best of intentions when I registered for a three-night Appalachian Mountain Club adventure in northern New Hampshire. We would stay at a quaint, rustic lodge near Franconia Notch and play in the snow by day with fellow outdoor enthusiasts. However, if you read my blog post about The Trip From Hell ("Vacation Box of Chocolates: Part I (Franconia Fiasco Edition)," 1/6/13), then you will remember how a big snowstorm followed late the next day by the threat of black ice and after that continuing freezing temperatures caused our plans to deteriorate. Cut to the chase: we never reached our destination.


Starting off the new year on the right foot is very important because it sets the stage for the twelve months ahead. Beginning on a negative note feels inauspicious. The figurative ship needs to be righted immediately, before even leaving port. It can be certainly, but that will take extra effort. For me last year, it never happened.

The disastrous trip put me $385 (reduced to $295 after the outdoor organization reimbursed me a pathetic $90) in the hole, which grew much deeper when I learned shortly thereafter that I needed $2,701.66 worth of car work. (See "Lucky 13?", 1/26/13.) Sheesh. But January was hardly over! One morning I made a very poor choice while attempting to drive to an appointment twenty-five minutes away. Instead of swinging by a gas station in my town before hitting the highway, I decided to tempt fate with my fuel tank. Oh, crap. Didn't I wind up out of gas on the side of Route 128! Yes, in the middle of winter. (See "When Things Get Dicey: Part II (Risk-Taking Gone Awry), 2/25/13.)


As the snow piled up, so did my troubles. In early February, Nemo the Blizzard knocked out power and heat to my home for one weekend-plus. (See "When Things Get Dicey: Part I (The Wrath of Nemo), 2/15/13.) The latter problem would have been rectified one day earlier if I hadn't elected to take the boys skiing in the fresh powder instead of wait at home for the heating guy.


In April, the day a Boston federal courthouse was in lockdown following the Marathon bombings two days earlier, my younger son had a minor freak accident one mile away during an expensive photo session. The incident, followed by my seven year old's inevitable reaction, disrupted the shoot and affected the final product. I then spent three solid weeks stewing over what would come of Charlie's brand-new modeling contract. (See "Back-to-School Conundrum," 8/24/13.)


Worn out from stress-induced exhaustion, in early May I hit a deer on the road leading from my town to another. The accident was unavoidable, and the deer appeared unhurt. Still. A precious deer! I interpreted the event as a clear sign that I needed to slow my life down. (See "Hitting the Deer," 5/6/13.)


By the time summer arrived, I was a certifiable wreck. Instead of agonizing over how much work I could -- or more accurately -- couldn't get done during the exactly two-month-long school break, I made an instinctive executive decision to focus my time almost entirely on my family. The boys were engaged in frequent power struggles, and I was having great difficulty dealing with my younger son whose impulsive and often aggressive behavior toward his brother had all but hijacked the family. As much as I could, I took them away camping or set up the tent in the backyard as I've discovered that a change of scenery and/or sleeping outside in snuggly close proximity to one another has a beneficial effect on our bond. We are all at our happiest at such times, and that reflects well on our dynamic.


Life picks up at a rapid clip once school resumes. It feels like a train, an Acela Express, pulling out of the station then gaining speed steadily as it heads to its eventual destination -- the last day of classes at the end of June. Both of my boys do well in school, yet on occasion last fall I received calls from the school nurse or guidance counselor about something involving Charlie. An accident in gym. A classroom situation that upset my second grader. The mother of a competitive, risk-taking child comes to fear the phone ringing during the school day.


You don't have to be a mother very long to learn how much you are judged by other people. But in order to do your job right, you have to be able to block out prying eyes and be willing to do what you need to do to raise your children with an awareness of safety, health, ethics, etc. When they are not behaving properly in public, you need to discipline them at that moment. Does a mother want to raise her voice to make herself heard above the child's laughter when he or she is acting in an unsafe manner? Of course not! It draws attention. Negative attention. Not many people want that. I certainly don't! Does a mother want to reason with her child till she's blue in the face when he or she just keeps saying no to something that must be done for his or her own good? Hell, no! Does anyone put herself in the mother's shoes and come to her defense in the heat of the moment to help her handle the errant child? Don't count on it! A person whose situation is diametrically opposite yours, who doesn't know anything (or very little) about your life and nothing about what you go through on a daily basis or what you've experienced in the past or that day will step forward to judge you. Oh, yes! He or she has no qualms about punishing you via any available method. And if you are a single mother -- particularly a full-time one via an alternative conception method of which they may not approve -- well, GOD . . . HELP . . . YOU. You feel defenseless like a wounded bird. It's shameful. Really shameful, that's what I have to say, because that clueless yet ballsy person doesn't have the CHOPS to come after the single mother. (See "Thanksgiving: When No Plans Are the Best Plans," 12/2/13.)


Caution: don't ever underestimate the single mother! She may feel demoralized for a period of time. However, you'd better watch out. She is processing and gaining strength. In righting the wrong done to her, she can bring you to tears and have you begging for forgiveness as she confronts you and explains how out of line your unfair attack has been. Moreover, if you have dared to strike her where it hurts the most, the universe will make sure you don't get away with it. Her supporters will go to bat for her and demonstrate the cruelty and outrageousness of your actions because they know her much better than you do.

The Year of Living Dangerously (by choice or circumstance, as both applied at variously times) brought to me a level of stress and insanity the likes of which I had never before experienced. As a result of what I went through, I am now a changed person. I learned so much about other people, myself, and how to take care of myself. (See "Self Care: A Mother's Salve," 10/23/13.) I do not regret any of my actions and would probably handle things in exactly the same way if I had them to do over again. But I have witnessed firsthand how others can misinterpret a situation through their own lack of knowledge and then brazenly take it upon themselves to slam you because they think they know better. They know nothing! Forces tried to beat me down last year, yet they didn't succeed. They just empowered me.

By mid-fall -- recognizing the depths I'd been brought to (and they went much lower later) -- I made a decision guaranteed to lift up myself and my family. I booked us Christmas week at our Happy Place: Club Med at Sandpiper Bay in Florida. As always, our ninth (yes, nine!) visit did exactly what I needed it to do. It provided me with rest; relaxation; warmth; good food; interesting company; and, despite my four-and-a-half-month-old painful plantar fasciitis, plenty of opportunities for exercise.

I ended last year completely rejuvenated. Starting off the new year in a very positive way, I have a much better chance of experiencing a great year.

Bring on 2014!


  1. I love this--Caution: don't ever underestimate the single mother! She may feel demoralized for a period of time. However, you'd better watch out. She is processing and gaining strength. Thank you, I couldn't have said it better myself!

  2. Thank you so much for your nice comments, Lara! You must be a single mother as well.