Hitting a low

Life, it’s been beating me down lately. Between parenting (which I’m pretty sure I suck at right now), coaching (middle school kids), working (super shitty night shifts), and trying (but mostly failing) to maintain some semblance of a half marathon training schedule I’m burnt right the fuck out. Like a tough, over cooked steak I’m beyond done. I’ve been feeling it for a while but Sunday was when it really hit me.

The day started early because I had to take my sixteen year old to my sister’s so he could babysit her kids while she was at Equestrian Team regionals with my daughter (but mostly the other high school team she coaches). Even though I hadn’t been to the meet once yet over the weekend I went back home instead of heading up there. I wanted to go back to bed but I knew this was the only time available to clean up and do the dishes from Saturday’s big breakfast that were still strewn about the kitchen and dining room. Later that day I was extremely thankful I did.

A couple hours later I was finally on my way to watch my daughter show in her last few classes of the regional meet she had worked so hard to get to. I left three other kids and two friends playing video games and eating cereal. As I was leaving the shit storm was brewing. My younger sister had posted on our family’s Facebook group page asking for opinions about set up for her upcoming wedding. I responded, as did other people, saying the area in question would make a good kids’ activity space. She then asked if I wanted to coordinate this. To which I responded that I could not as I’m way too busy this week. It’s the third time she’s called me out specifically asking me to do something in the few days leading up to the wedding and (at least) the third time I’ve told her I cannot. Not that I don’t want to, I literally cannot. I had however, already told her I’d be more than happy to help clean up after the wedding. I just can’t do anything before. Why? Well, reread the second sentence of the post, I’m busy and already stretched thin. Apparently that’s irrelevant. I got shit for stating (again) that I’m not able to help before the wedding. Which, by the way, is on a fucking Thursday afternoon.

Later in the day, after being at the equestrian team meet for most the day, getting pestered via text by my almost thirteen year old about letting his friend go to his football game with him (which was a solid no as said friend would be unsupervised and needed to go home), stopping at the grocery store for dinner essentials and cat and dog food (which we were completely out of), I headed back over to my sister’s to pick up my daughter and the son who had been babysitting all freakin day. At this point it was close to seven in the evening. I still needed to make dinner and get everyone on track for school Monday. Plus I really needed to sleep a little before my shift at work started (10:30pm).

After handing my sister (not the one who is getting married, the one who was at the meet with my daughter) a twenty dollar bill in an apparently inadequate attempt to contribute to the cost of hauling the horse she informs me that it cost her at least $50 a week. Oh and that I don’t do enough for my daughter’s showing and she’s tired of helping her so much. I told her I’m doing the best I can. The bottom line, that’s not good enough.

That seems to be the message of the week. And it’s only Wednesday evening.

Even later Sunday evening I was finally getting the pre-work nap I needed. A whole hour and a half to sleep, some of it with my eight year old sitting next to me with a flashlight and a book. I didn’t have time to read him a bedtime story; this was the compromise. Thankfully he got tired too and decided to close his eyes after fifteen or so minutes.

An hour and twenty minutes into my nap (barely half an hour before I needed to leave for work) excessive dog barking woke me up followed by a knock on my bedroom door. “Mom, someone from CPS is at the door. They need to talk to you.”

And that was just the beginning of the week. It’s nearing the end of Wednesday. I think I’ve almost made it through but I can’t remember where one week ends and the next begins. When you work the whole weekend it’s not really something to look forward to. In fact I’m not sure what I should be looking forward to right now. Yes, my sister is getting married next week and that’s a celebration. My whole crazy family will be in one place, something that rarely happens anymore. And it’s going to be great. And, yeah, the half marathon I’ve been prepping for is ten days away. I’m excited about it.

But the celebration and excitement seem hypothetical and far away. Vague. Like oncoming headlights in a thick fog. Today, this week, I’m feeling (but trying not to wallow in) the low. I don’t remember another time in my recent personal history where things felt this downright bad. But I know, somewhere deep in my core, that that’s only because time dulls these pains and it has been much much worse. That somehow I’ve always made it through to the other side; this is a low, but it’s far from the lowest of the lows.

Why am I doing this?

wtf meme

I keep asking myself this but I haven’t gotten an answer yet.

Today was my first day of classes for the new fall semester. I was slightly wary going into it, my class schedule is really not the greatest. Especially for me. I’ve got on-campus classes two days a week, Tuesday and Thursday, one in the morning and one in the evening with four and a half hours between them. (And of course the evening class makes it so I’m not home during divorced-parent switch time. That raises the stress of my schedule exponentially.) I’m still not sure what to do with myself in those four and a half hours. I also don’t understand why that one last chemistry class I still need to graduate doesn’t fit nicely in that space. I mean, it would but the university either didn’t realize or completely missed the memo on that one.

Really I should have picked up some easy bullshit class to fill the time and ,in doing so, avoided fucking up my financial aid. Of course I didn’t realize the financial aid was effed up until two days after my overages were supposed to be deposited into my account so I could buy books. In case you missed it, they weren’t. I’m sans student loan money until mid-September. And even then it’ll probably be less than I actually need and have gotten before. I could look at my student account and see what the adjustment yielded but I’m a little afraid to see what I’m dealing with. Which brings me to the main point of this ramble…

As I walked out of my first class (which ended less than an hour after I got there) feeling a mix of excitement, relief, and trepidation I began to wonder why I’m doing this whole school thing. Later, sitting in the three hour biochemistry lab marveling at how much I forgot since May, that thought popped back into my head: Why am I doing this? Wouldn’t we all be better off if I just worked more at my job or picked up a second job?

Things have been a struggle lately, specifically financial things. They’re piling and piling and I’ve got no exit strategy. And here I am during perfectly good working hours sitting in class accumulating student loan debt. Why? It’s supposed to make life better but I’m not sure this whole college thing is doing that. I’m happier but only when I don’t try to fathom how I’m going to pay for this education I’m (according to some people) selfishly acquiring. And, really, am I making my kids lives better by not being there when they get home from school, by constantly scrambling to patch together rides home from school and cross country practice? I’d like to think, yes, that it does do something, that it is and will continue to make our quality of life better. Maybe I’m operating on sunk cost premises here and maybe this is my competing fears of both failure and success but I if I quit now ,like I’m occasionally so tempted to do, there is no gain. Nothing at all.

I’m  ninety-percent sure this is all self-doubt and beginning of the school year angst. Tomorrow I’ll review protein chemistry and be happy to be learning new things again. I’ll remember that I really do want to be a dentist and have for a long time. I’ll think about all the cool things I’ll do for my kids and others when I am. I’ll find a way to work a little more this term and still be awesome  acceptable at my studies. And I’ll, once again, convince myself that it’s part of the process. Eggs breaking and omelets and all that.

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My kids are super thrilled about the start of a new school year too.

How to kill a minivan in 24 hours or less.

The short answer is be me. I have uncanny luck with cars, specifically an uncanny amount of bad luck.

Three years ago sometime around early April I had decided to get a new vehicle. At the time I was driving a 2002 Pontiac Montana with roughly 212,000 miles on it. It still ran but needed about a thousand bucks worth of work. I thought it would probably be smarter to get a newer, more reliable van instead of fixing that one. I didn’t want to end up stranded on the side of the road with a dead minivan that I had just poured money into and I had enough saved up to buy a slightly newer version of the same van with significantly fewer miles on it. So I did. I passed the older one onto one of my sisters to use with full disclosure of all the work it needed. It would most likely just be a temporary solution for her vehicle problems.

My shiny new(er) Pontiac Montana had no problems…for about a year. Then in the spring of 2014 I was up north with a friend and the van wouldn’t start. After a few tries it finally did start; my friend’s dad said it sounded like a fuel pump. So I got that replaced and life went on. Over the next couple years that bastard minivan left me stranded (usually with my kids) no less than three times. I replaced the starter (twice because I got a dud that stopped working after two months the first time), the battery (also twice because the alternator drained it when it kicked it), the transmission, the alternator, and ,maybe a month ago, the rear drum breaks. I got two new tires then too which would be the fifth and sixth new ones on the van (not counting the three times I got flat tires and put used ones someone had given me on it). In the meantime my sister was still driving the old van I had given her, the one I was worried would leave me stranded. Oh the irony!

Two weeks ago I was driving a kid to a friend’s house before going to pick up another kid at a different friend’s house in another town the opposite direction from the first kid’s friend’s house (of course) when my van was suddenly overheating. There was no gradual climb in engine temperature, just a blast of cold air when I turned on the heat, flashing warning lights, and the temperature gauge hitting the read. That is not supposed to happen! I pulled over to allow the engine to cool and figure out what the heck to do. By the time the kid’s friend’s parents could come to get him the engine had cooled down. I borrowed a container and some water from the store who’s parking lot we had been sitting in for half an hour (an auto parts store no less) and filled the coolant reservoir. The van made it the fifteen or so miles back to my house but I wasn’t going to press my luck so I grabbed my other crappy old vehicle, a car my dad gave me when the drum breaks had gone out two weeks before that, and went to get kid 2 from friend 2’s house. I managed to avoid doing anything about the overheating van for a solid week before taking it to a shop to get diagnosed.

It was a blown head gasket…Clearly it was time to throw in the towel on this oh-so reliable minivan. As is typical this isn’t an ideal time for me to be investing in a new car but a used car place  few blocks from my house had a Honda Oddessy that I could buy outright. It was older and had about the same mileage my current crap vehicle had but Oddessys are supposed to be good, reliable vehicles with engines that frequently see 300K miles. It looked like a good deal and didn’t have any apparent problems when I test drove it except that the radio didn’t work. That’s sad but technically minor.

Monday afternoon shortly after 3pm I left the car lot the proud owner of a Honda Oddessy minivan.

I drove the shiny new minivan to pick my kids up from school about ten miles away and then back home again. It was all fun and exciting, showing up with a new car. Tuesday morning I drove my kids to one school, then the other, and back home again for a total of thirty miles or so. Sometime between school one and school two the check engine and a tcs warning light came on. What the fuck?

When I got home I Googled. There was lots of information about solenoids and cleaning some pencil sized filter that feeds into the thingy right before the transmission. I sighed a heavy sigh and headed in to get myself ready for school. Half an hour later when I got back int he van and started it up, the tcs light was off and only the check engine light remained. Irritating but I could live with that. It was probably a fluke…or  sensor. No big deal.

Off to school I went, another thirty-five miles logged.

It was just before two o’clock when I get in the van to leave school and go to my favorite state park to run. It was a sunny day and I was looking forward to a nice five miles in the woods. As soon as I started to accelerate on the freeway entrance ramp I knew something wasn’t right. There was lurching and jerking between the gears. As I hit 60 mph the engine started revving really high; RPM’s were in the red. We’re talking like in the six to eight range. The van wouldn’t go above sixty. I tried all the tricks I could think of…but then it wouldn’t go above forty. Crap!

Crap on a stick!!!

I pulled off the freeway all the way to the right just as the stupid van was refusing to acknowledge the gas pedal altogether (about three minutes after the honking began. Seriously, people, you think I’m going 40 mph on the freeway ON  PURPOSE?!?)

My new Honda Oddessy was dead on the road a whole twenty-three and a half hours after I bought it.

Allegedly the most reliable minivan and it was not moving…

And that, my friends, is how you kill a minivan in 24 hours or less. If you have one you want to try this out on just let me know. I’d be happy to lend my magic touch…for a nominal fee.

Hey, I’ve got another new(er) car to fund here.

 

In case you were wondering, I spent about three hours on the side of the road before my dad (with his unlimited towing insurance card) and then the tow truck showed up. The used car place I bought the van from graciously took it back and set me up with a different car (that I had to finance:( ) applying the money from the Oddessy purchase (including the cost of tax and title) to the newer vehicle.

The good news is that it’s NOT a minivan. For the first time in thirteen years I am not a minivan mom. I’m beyond excited about that!

And the newer new vehicle, the one that runs, has a two year warranty. But, hey, it’s supposed to be one of the most reliable vehicles on the road so I probably won’t even need that warranty. (Believe that when you see it!)

 

minivan driving

Did I mention I no longer drive a minivan??? Yup, no more of this for me. I’m totally cool now.

 

 

 

The Wheels are Spinning

It was one of those days: I couldn’t get anything done. The list of things I should have been doing was a mile and a half long (about half the distance I should have run) but I just couldn’t. My mind was all over the place yet going nowhere, like a car stuck in the snow spinning it’s tires. There’s motion but no moving. I had time and pretty much wasted it. I’m not even sure what happened. I did shovel snow for forty-five minutes, clean out the corners of my computer room, and …something else. I swear there was at least one other thing I accomplished between 10 am and 3 pm when I was home alone. Maybe not though. Time slipped right by while I putzed around feeling mildly anxious about the multitude of things I was not getting done. I tried a to-do list, a “What I need to accomplish” list. That usually helps. Not today. It was too vague. “Study Immunology” and “clean up” were not enough to direct my wandering mind and so instead I basically did nothing. Of course now I’m kicking myself over such a wasted day (though obviously still not studying).

In so many ways life is about balance. I’m fairly certain I’ve written about that at least once or twice. Balance. Physical balance is something I’m not stellar at. Graceful I am not! But  I’d like to think I’m not too shabby at other forms of balance. As a parent I feel I manage a pretty effective good cop/bad cop balance even when I have to play both roles myself.

good-cop-bad-cop-lego-movie

But lately there’s been a disruption of balances, a disturbance in the force if you will…

disturbance in the force

 

Specifically, the work/play balance in my life is off.

On a day to day actions (all the small stuff, the ones they say are really the big stuff) front there has not been as much work getting done as should be. That’s not to say I’m sitting around doing nothing (like I did today) all the time. There’s no eating chocolates and watching soap operas, rather just a lack of keeping the regular day to day get-shit-done pace that my life requires. I need to be productive and I just haven’t been. Conversely it seems like it’s been all work and no play on the bigger, broader scale. I’ve worked at least two days (nights really) of the past five, maybe six, weekends. Much of the weekend down time I have has been spent accommodating my four older kids’ healthy social lives or heckling them about homework. It’s nearing the end of the term for my two high school boys and neither of them is keeping up on their work like they should which means extra time and energy on my part trying to keep them on track to pass all their classes. Trying!! Ugh. There’s no break in sight just work piled on work like the layers and layers of garbage heaped on top of one another in a landfill all adding up until it gets covered with a little bit of topsoil and snow and called a ski hill. Except skiing would mean something fun is going on here. It’s not. That needs to be fixed. It’s been building for a while but now it’s at the point of complete unignorability. When small, slightly self-destructive things start occurring in an effort to remedy the problem it is officially time to address it. I’m pretty sure my unfocused brain is a self-sabotaging way of trying to force myself to find some fun. It’s not working.

So what does work?

How does one find fun when life demands so much work and effort on a regular, constant basis?

I like to play. I have a well developed sense of fun, curiosity, and general wonder. I think that’s what being childlike means and is a big part of finding that elusive goal we call happiness. Wonder, curiosity, and fun…they’re important. The little stuff adds up and becomes the big stuff. But when it all feels like work and tedium and obligation, what then? Something has to change otherwise everything stays the same (I think that’s a variation of some quotation of a famous and/or wise person). And things will change. One of the few constants of life is change. Over the next two months there is potential for big change in my life. I’m (we’re?) still waiting on the out come of the court proceedings that wrapped up just over a month ago. My parenting time schedule could change drastically. Or not. In just about six weeks this semester will be done. Another one in the books, almost the last. And then what? There’s no spring/summer classes for me to take this year. My daily and weekly schedule will suddenly be different. Maybe there will be free time (ha! wouldn’t that be something?) But then what would I do with free time? I can find adventure (or trouble depending on how you look at it) but doing so alone gets old after a bit. I need someone to play with. How does one find that as an adult? Who has time for that in their thirties? I have friends, really I do, but the vast majority of them are married and probably have young babies. That or they’re in nursing school and have classes every evening of the week. This is why I originally thought trying online dating was a good idea. Turns out when you tell people you just want someone to play with they think you’re looking for cheap, meaningless sex. No! That would be easier to find but I want someone to run around with (maybe literally) and find some adventure. Adventure in the every day, that’s what I want! Connection and a kindred spirit. Maybe there would be some sex involved but that’s not the end goal. Not at all. That’s not as obvious as I thought it was. My bad.

adventure is out there
Being a single parent is a lonely job and a black hole of demands for more. More time, more money, more attention, more, more, more. There’s never enough of you. I’m Humpty Dumpty post wall fall, pieces scattered everywhere. That’s okay, I’ve learned to function that way. It’s my life and I do love the life I have. It would be nice to fill a couple cracks though. The loneliness crack and the fun/adventure crack…to name a couple. I’ve had friends comment that they’re “basically single parents” because they feel like they handle all the household management and parenting responsibilities. Hell, I’ve said that before back when I was a naive young wife…        bit please

Yeah, it’s totally not the same. For my friends’ sakes I hope they remain unenlightened though.

So how does one find fun, adventure, and a person to share it with (on a very limited budget with next to no free time)? (one who doesn’t want to be around you 24/7 AND doesn’t just want to sleep with you and run…it’s a surprisingly delicate balance.) That’s the million dollar question. Obviously I don’t know the answer. If I did I’d be the richest person on the planet because isn’t this something everyone is seeking?

I hate not knowing the answer but every once in a while there’s a problem you just can’t solve no matter how hard you try. You get in this downward spiral of thinking and overthinking until you’re not even sure of what you do and do not know anymore and your head is a spinning mess. When that happens it’s best to walk away and come back to it later. In the mean time I’ll attempt to re-calibrate, restore the balance in some small ways while trying to stay focused and get shit done…just until the end of April.

Eyes on the prize…C’s get degrees but A’s are better…Must.Get.Shit.Done!!!

go study

 

Unaccompanied Minor

My hands still shake a little as they maneuver the familiar bamboo needles around the yarn. Poke under, loop over, duck through, slide off: the familiar motions calm as they distract. Nervous energy dissipates.
It’s spring break, I’m at the airport. We’ve made it through check in and security, stopped at the overpriced airport store for a quick lunch, and arrived at the gate with just enough time. Airline employees have announced that boarding has begun, the waiting crowd funnels into the plastic looking tunnel. The plane is overbooked and they are paying volunteers to stay behind. I’m still waiting. My daughter was allowed to board early, an “unaccompanied minor”. It’s her first flight, my first time in an airport as an adult which reminds me of how small my life is; like the contents of a snow globe, detailed and busy but quiet and contained. Isolated. Lacking scope and broad scale perspective. Not by choice, by circumstances.
The plane is taxied away from the gate so that is facing me. All those people unknowingly looking directly at me, sitting here in the now quiet gate alone. I can feel the contrast. My little girl, really not so little anymore, among their ranks. I wonder if she’s nervous now, sitting in the back of the crowded plane alone. About to embark on something possibly resembling an adventure. I’m excited for her as I watch the plane roll away. They told me to stay until her plane had taken off. Just in case.
Just in case is a scary thought. It keeps us grounded.  Those things that can happen and sometimes do, just often enough to keep us vaguely afraid of the unknown, they hold us back from taking the first steps toward something new, possibly a bigger life, complete with new challenges and a change of perspective. I almost didn’t agree to this trip because of the what-ifs, the just in case. It’s my job to keep my daughter safe. She’s never flown before; sending her off on a giant airplane (that may be prone to crash) alone is intimidating. Fear was holding me back, possibly reasonable fear but fear nonetheless. But then I thought about my lovely young daughter and what I want for her in life. I want her to be kind and compassionate, I want her to be successful in the endeavors she embarks on, to have the persistence and courage to try new things, to take risks, and see them through. Among other things I want her to be bold and brave in her own quiet, strong way. Earlier in the school year I encouraged her to step out of her comfort zone and join the student government at her middle school…and she did. But here I was letting fear disguised as caution prevent her from an opportunity that would encourage that same boldness, independence, and bravery I want to foster in her. I watch my daughter’s plane roll out of sight, wheels still on the ground, and think about the task of filtering out the bad while letting the good pass through. It’s one of the trickiest parts of parenting, one that requires good judgement and foresight along with a fair deal of trust, just enough trust that things will work out to balance the fear that they won’t. Because sometimes they don’t. Just because nothing bad has ever happened before doesn’t mean nothing bad will ever happen. Boldness tempered with caution.

Finally the plane carrying my girl is out of sight. Most likely it has left the ground and I’m free to leave but it’s peaceful here now, the airport sunny and quiet. The too few hours of sleep after working a short third shift threaten to catch up to me as I sit calmly in the warm, window filtered sunlight. I could nap here, despite the steady flow of strangers passing by, but my own small, busy, hectic life calls and begs my immediate return.
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