43.

I feel like since I’m not having a breakdown for my birthday this year, I should write something that might inspire someone else. I’m not necessarily sure how to do that! This has been such an intriguing, hard, giving, taking, good and awful 365 days. But my over all take away has been great peace and strength. I’d love to wrap it up and give it to everyone I know.

I’ve spent a good, large portion of my life being  . . agnsty. Always thinking there was something better out there that was just out of my reach. That if I was better, smarter, more confident, thinner, happier, older, wiser, stronger, prettier, financially stable…things might go easier on me. What this year has shown me, is that really, I have it all right here.

I cant discount the numerous people who pop into my life and help me view things through different lens. I’m not even going to attempt to name them here. The list is long, and its deeply personal. I’ve had people come into my world for a day, or sometimes for years. But everyone makes an impact that has helped me form who I am. If you are reading this, you can probably count yourself as one of those people.

But this last year. This last year has been something unique in many ways.

I found my feet. Once I got settled into being alone and learned to embrace that quiet headspace. To realize I don’t have to be everything to everyone. To realize I wont ever be the perfect parent, or partner or person. I am faulted. But its ok. I bring something to the table. It might be an off kilter, slanted kinda unbalanced table at times. but that’s something.

I’ve found there are actually a lot of perks to being single. One, the house can get totally messy and no one judges you. Except maybe your kids friends.

On no kid weekends I might wear the same jammie pants and sweatshirt for three whole days. In fact, I might not change out of them at all! I am however still a compulsive shower taker/bubble bather so I’m not completely dude like in my slothlyness. (totally a word)

I can start a project. Use the downstairs bathroom as my tool box (by that I mean, my tools are EVERYWHERE) and except for the kids having to pee with the door open because the ladder is in the way, no worries!

I don’t know how I had TIME before, to do anything! I didn’t really. Now I can do whatever I want, whenever I want. Last weekend I read a book from 8 pm till 4 am. Slept for 4 hours then finished the book.

There are lots of other cool things I can do now, that I coudnt then but that wasn’t really what this was going to be about. I got side tracked by the awesomeness of single. (Something in my previous life I never thought I’d say)

**disclaimer – I’m not always a bubbling happy singleton. I do have ‘sit on my couch cry in my cocktail’ days. Trust me. At some point I’ll blog about that too. I’ll probably be a few cocktails in and delete it before you see it. That’s how I roll. But I am HUMAN and there is a thing called lonely that kicks in. Then the kids come home and all is ok in my world again . . .

I guess the gist of things is this. I’ve hit a point in my life where my skin fits. Where Im not feeling angsty. Sure, there are things Id like in my life. I have aspirations. I have goals. I have my pie in the sky “man I’d love it if I could accomplish THAT” list. But its not just a list. It’s a goal. Several. And there really isn’t anything stopping me from trying.

Once upon a time, me and my 3 girlfriends were going to buy a black van and drive to California.  We didn’t have a very good plan. Because in our head we would be rock stars. But none of us played an instrument. And we coudnt afford the van. And one of us was in college. And two of us had boyfriends. So we didn’t buy the van and we didn’t drive to California.  And that’s ok. We all got married and had babies and we have or are still raising them. Two of us are divorced. Two of us are still married. And that’s life.

But I sit here at the ripe old age of 43. And universe willing I have some miles left to travel. And really, I can do whatever it is I want to do.

I may not succeed at everything, or anything I try. But there is nothing keeping me from trying.

Im not going to buy a black van and drive to California. But I might do the next best thing. Time will tell.

In the mean time. I’ve been kicking around this marble long enough to know, if you want it. You have to go get it. You cant keep looking back going “but why, what if”. Sure, look back to get a good bead on what might have gone better, but keep your eyes forward. If you aren’t happy with something, change it. Really, change it. If you aren’t getting what you want out of your relationship, your friendships, your job, your life. Well change it. But sticking your feet in the sand and saying “im not happy! This isn’t working!” isn’t going to change a damn thing. LET GO.

If there is one lesson I learned this year, its that life will not be easy. Ever.

I started 2013 thinking, finally. 2012, that ungodly year is OVER. And 18 days into it we lost Casey. Well. Fuck.  I can spend the rest of 2013 lamenting, or I can take that loss, accept the grief that goes with it and keep on. And in retrospect, 2012 wasn’t so bad. Shit, I learned a lot right. Isn’t that the POINT OF IT ALL?

People come. People go. You love. You lose. You laugh, you cry. You try. You fail.

But if you keep learning from it all. You win big.

You never know what tomorrow will be. One day it might be an email that says “you winked at me”. And the path veers. And the next day it might be something else, that pulls your path another direction. Zig and zag. All over the map. That’s life. The universe is a funny thing. The plan is in place. You can fight it, you can grapple and struggle and stomp your feet. Or you can let go, enjoy the ride, quit being scared. Go live it.

I’m still watching the invisible threads that wind up this big crazy thing. What a cool strange trip we are on. I’m glad to still be a part of it. And I’m thankful for 43. And im glad, for all of you.

43. I have great people in my world. I have AMAZING children who are the coolest, smartest, most wonderful people you could ever hope to meet. And I have tomorrow. For the first time in a very long time I sit here on the eve of my birthday and feel a peace and happiness I’ve never experienced. And while I share it with so many, and I thank all of you for your contribution. I own it.

Nothing can top that.

Heather and the mid-life crisis.

When i was 11 or so, i had this bingo card. and on it there was a series of numbers. 13. 16. 18. 21. i recall marking that bingo card, circling those specific numbers. it should be pretty obvious why those numbers felt significant. i didnt mark any beyond 21. 21 was as far as i could see into my future. and frankly, as i checked off those significant mile stones, i was pretty sure 21 was as far as i was going to go. or even wanted to go.

well low and behold, as i sit on the cusp of yet another birthday, i did indeed make it past 21. and 31. and holy shit 41.

i remember my dads 40th birthday. or somewhere near about. at some point my dad ended up with his ear pierced. i remember him saying “its cheaper than a porche and less disastrous than an affair”. And i remember thinking, if a pierced ear is all i have to look forward to at 40, then maybe i should really consider that 21 and out thing . . .

but instead i got married. getting married at 21 seemed like a logical thing to do. i was bored. and he was cute and playing grown up seemed like fun. we had an apartment and a dog and a kitten and a recliner. WHY NOT?

so. my 25th birthday. i’m at carlos o’kelly (hey, that santa fe chicken salad, sans chicken ROCKED) with my parentals, and my skinny 21 year old sister who was living some sort of uber fab life, and my husband of 4! years and my two year old and i cant quit bawling. that was mid-life crisis number one.

at 25 i spent my days shopping for gymboree clothes, caring for a toddler that lets face it, at two would turn those big blue judgmental eyes my way and silently judge me for being such a ROOKIE.  i used puffy paint WAY too often, i thought flannel and pearl jam t-shirts were acceptable attire for all occasions and i still teased my bangs. (oh dear god. i should totally post a photo but i’m so not going to. use your imagination!)  luckily enough my bff’s also had little girls around the same age so we dressed them in matching outfits and took their pictures and in general did the mom thing and in my down time i dusted the tops of the door frames. for real. you could WHITE GLOVE my door frames and baseboards. people. if this is you, even a little bit, GET A LIFE. if you are seriously concerned about dust on your baseboards you are NOT HAPPY.

so thats 25.  in actuality, i loved staying home with tay. i loved being the mom on the block that always had juice and snacks and cookies and popsicles and sidewalk chalk and the time to color pictures. it really was awesome.

i had my little snit fit. my OMG I’m 25 moment, moved on and had a few more kids and the next thing i know i’m staring at 32. and just reading that, 32 seems SO YOUNG. but at 32 i decided that it was time for a change (lets not get into that here) and so at 32 I became a “single mom”. and that was actually a pretty exciting (yet terrifying) time. it was a re-branding as much as anything. it was also a form of “mid-life” crisis. nothing like flushing your life down the proverbial toilet and starting over! i ditched the mini van and re-claimed my 2-door sporty car, got a full time job. met new people, made new friends. discovered myspace. (holy shit, that opened up my world!, for real. sadly, for real.)

and now i sit on the cusp of 43. which should feel ancient. and it really doesnt. and after the last freaking year i keep thinking “is this where i have my next mid-life crisis?” because i kind of feel like i’m DUE one. but i dont even feel close to one at all. for the first time in a really really long time i’m actually HAPPY with my life. i’m not tugging and pulling at the invisible ties that bind. i’m not being held back by some relationship that isnt working. i’m not having to compromise, negotiate, maneuver, or give anything to anyone other than what i want, or have. my identity isnt defined by anyone. i’m not just chase, taylor and harrisons mom. i’m not just ms. punch. i’m not someones “partner”. i can do whatever i want, whenever i want. i can go out. i can stay in. i can drink coffee till 3 am. i can have margaritas at noon. i can decide i want to paint. or write. or ride. or nap. or read. at my whim. thats not a bad gig.

i thought i’d be lonelier. as someone who has been defined by a relationship since they were 16. but i’m actually excited and riveted by this exploration of myself (mind out of the gutter people!)

i’m pretty happy to be MLC free for my birthday this year. its not 2 months after being dumped. thats awesome. i dont have to worry about anyone forgetting (again) this year. in fact, i dont have to have any sort of expectation of anyone at all. i can do NOTHING! or i can do something!

or i can let it quietly slip on by, being happy about every last thing this past year has taught me. and saving my next MLC for 50. (jesus 50!. yeah, i can definitely see one at 50.)

Casey.

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– i wrote this blog with Chris’s blessing and permission. there have been a lot of questions asked, and a lot left unasked. i hope that from this, you will understand, how important it is to be aware. every day. of the struggles teens go through. and that even the smiling kid, can have a lot of things going on under the surface that you know nothing about. and as a parent, that is terrifying. talk to your children. tell your children to talk to other children. really, thats all you can do. sadly.

this is about casey, and my relationship with him. about his place in our family, and in our hearts. always.

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The most frequently asked question is: “do you know WHY? was there a LETTER?”  Overwhelmingly these questions come from other parents. The real question is “how can i prevent this from happening to my child?”  The answer is: you cant. You can try. You can do everything in your power to do things “right”. But in the end, sometimes things happen that you can not imagine, fathom, understand or make ok. They just are. All you can do is move on, and try to find some way to honor the person who decided they had had enough on this particular trip on the marble

The first time I met Casey he was 8 years old. I’d been dating his father for almost 6 months before I met the boys for the first time. Chris and his ex-wife were only separated a short time when Chris and I met, and his ex-wife got remarried something like 80 days later. To say the boys had been through a whirlwind was an understatement.  So, while Chris had been spending time with my kids, this was my first meeting of his.

We decided to meet at Chuck E Cheese, despite my youngest childs abject fear of the mouse. I was nervous to say the least. I’m reasonably good with my own children, I have a hard time with other peoples children. I took my sister with me as back up. Not that she’s better, but you know. Safety in numbers.

I remember when Chris walked in the door with the boys. Two adorable rosy cheeked little boys. One with eyes just slightly greener than his fathers. One with the blue eyes of his mother.

It was an awkward few minutes. Introducing your children to your new girlfriend/boyfriend is about the most uncomfortable thing a single parent can do. Really.  The 4 boys took off and played and the Smochs family was born.

There is a lot that can be written about integration of a blended family. Its not easy. But at the center of the nucleus were two boys. Casey and Chase. The two closest in age. Just under two months apart. Two wildly different kids. One outgoing and gregarious. A risk taker, a social being. Willing to ride down a hill as fast as possible with no helmet. That was my Casey. And his step bro, always watching what Casey was doing. My shy, slightly timid, reserved, abiding the rules middle. Chase. The rest of the kids circled around that nucleus. Taylor as the oldest being the “big sister” to all 4 boys. Harrison as the youngest being left out of the fray to a certain extent, but with Casey gently and consistently making sure he was treated fairly.  Bear being the go between. While Chase and Casey were closest in age, Bear and Chase also formed a close bond in their goofy antics and general silliness that Casey tended to rise above as the oldest of the Ochs boys.

Our first vacation as a family was about 8 months after we started dating, and just a few months after that first introduction.  The kids spring breaks lined up so we decided to take the children to mammoth caves in KY. We loaded up Chris’s dads RV and set out on our first of many adventures. Camping with the Ochs was a new experience for the Smiths. The first indoctrination was watching Casey come flying down the hill of the campground on a bike through the gravel, grin on his face, me with my mouth agape, hands on my head in pure fear of the landing. He skid to a halt at our site and just belly laughed. Chris laughed. Chase looked at me like “can i do that?!” Oh hell no. That kid was fearless. Watching Casey hatch at wood with a machete. Watching Casey play in the dirt. These were all new things my boys hadnt experienced in a life with a single mom. Eyes were opened. We celebrated my daughters 13th Birthday that trip. 13, almost 9, 9, 7 and 6. Our family.

Distinctly I recall the first time I tucked Casey into bed and told him I loved him. I was always very cognizant that the boys had a mother. One that they adored. My job was not to be their mother and also to not step on the toes of that relationship. I saw my role more as a mentor. As an ancillary support to the system. I was hesitant to get too close. But i coudnt not tuck them in. I couldnt not tell them goodnight and I couldnt not speak the love in my heart for them. I didnt expect the words back. And i didnt get them back often. But when i did. They meant something.

Life went on. Changes took place.

Casey grew. I watched him play baseball, then basketball, then football. I saw his father, father him. Mentor him. Teach him.

I saw the struggles as Chris’s boys worked through the juxtaposition of living in two households. Chris and I spent hours upon hours dissecting all 5 kids, what was working. What wasnt. We adjusted. Adapted. changed to accommodate them.

Casey watched. He watched everything intently. He watched my youngest and nurtured him. He saw the ways he could lead chase. He pushed him outside his comfort zone. He was a patient teacher. He could teach anyone anything. He had a gift for sharing his passions.

He observed Chris and I. He watched how we interacted. He watched me and the things I did. And he vocalized them. Casey always made me feel like I could do anything. And i wanted to show him I could. I wanted him to be proud that i was his “mother figure”.

Casey and I had some really great conversations. He could talk to me like an adult and I treated him the same. I always relished our times just the two of us. They were rare. But he always was very open with me. About how he was feeling. In retrospect, I wish i had taken a more assertive role in how things in his life were handled. But that wasnt my job or role. I was supplementary.

My best and strongest memories with Casey were the last year Chris and I were together. I think we all knew the end of our relationship was coming and i paid special attention to everything.

if I could sum up Casey and our time together this jumble is what is in my head:

urban bike rides. he loved the city as much as he loved the country and the lake. he took great pleasure in discovering the seedy underbelly that is city living. running down the pier at night going free balling with his 3 brothers. i can still see those white asses streaking down the pier in the dark. the giggles and casey swimming up under where i was sitting at the very far end, far enough away so the boys wouldn’t be shy about their escapades and scaring me by swimming up silently and grabbing my foot. the random hugs hed bestow on me when no one was watching. acknowledging the bond we shared that was between us that was something we both silently understood and shared with no one. i had his back. he knew that. the billions of times i cleared his plate when his dad wasnt looking, or threw away his wrappers or washed his favorite shorts, or his football uniform or hung up his towel or changed his razor blade or sent him a text or an email letting him know i was there.

and conversely. the way he’d grab whatever was in my hand on the walk back from the boat. the way he’d always grab the heaviest thing in my hand, even when i’d say “i got it, go. go run with your brothers.” and he’s say “no, let me help you”.

one of the last times he was with the smiths, long after his father and I split i stopped to air my tire. Casey got out to do it. I told him ‘get in, i got this’. And he said “i know you do. you always do. i sometimes forget. but let me do this for you. please?” and i let him.

the last day i saw casey. was a brief moment in the best buy parking lot, not too long after the holidays. i had the same feeling i always have, “oh, my casey. so grown up. GIVE ME A HUG!” and out loud I said “oh, give me some LOVE!” and he did. That boy always hugged me like he meant it. I watched him and his father walk into the store. My heart happy and heavy all at once. I had no idea, that would be the last time I saw him alive.

I have a thousand memories in my heart and my mind. I spent 50% of my life helping raise that boy for 5 years. I was a part of his life for 5 of his 15. A small fraction. But what I saw was a brilliant boy. a scared boy. an unsure boy. a cocky adolescent. a young man on the cusp of great understanding. a striking resemblance to his father. both in his heart and his manner. with the potential to do amazing things.

and somehow. somehow. for some reason. he opted out. this is the part i can not accept. this is the part that shuts me down. he opted out.

were there reasons? obviously there were. do any of us know completely what they were? no. no we do not.