The Non-Anniversary.

A note to my 21-year-old self, on what would have been your 26th Anniversary.

I can still picture you sitting on blue carpet in your veil and flannel shirt. Sitting in your sister’s old bedroom, leaning against the bed. I remember your doubts that day. I remember how you dried your tears, squared your shoulders and marched down your parents steps to meet your soon-to-be husband. You’ll need that tenacity a lot in the coming years.

No one really told you how marriage worked. There are basic skills you were both lacking: the ability to communicate being a big one. You won’t figure this out for many years.

I hate to break it to you kid, but your marriage isn’t going to last. You pictured a house and kids, a labrador retriever and picket fence, and you get all that. The reality is not what you thought it would be. It’s a lot lonelier. It’s a lot harder. One day, you are going to decide doing it alone is easier than trying to make your marriage work in a way that makes you both happy. This knowledge will break your heart. This will be the hardest decision to make, and you will never quit feeling guilty about it.

Your children will literally be your lifeline and reason to wake up each day. Your love for them and need to provide for them will lead you into careers you would never picture for yourself. You will never have much, but you will have enough. You’ll never be able to give them what you had imagined for them, but you’ll keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. You really should have gone to college, but you’ll manage to fashion together a nice career out of moxie and hustle.

You will be humbled. Right now you are cocky and young and have one hell of an attitude. That attitude will help you, and hurt you. You will be your biggest champion and your worst enemy. You are a fighter, but you will learn to choose your battles. You will need to learn to ask for help. From friends and family. You will need to learn grace, and forgiveness. These will not be easy lessons.

You are going to have your heart broken. A lot. You will lose friends. You will lose family. You will lose a child you helped to raise. You will lose lovers. You will lose jobs. And you will survive.

You are going to meet so many wonderful people. You can’t even imagine. You are going to meet men and women that will change your life. Some of these people will only be around for a short while. Some of them you will know for years and years. You’ll have friends who become lovers, and lovers who become friends. You’ll have more female friends than you could have imagined and you will learn so much from them. They will teach you to be soft and open. You will love them harder and longer than any man, be thankful for that.

You are going to see and do so many things. You will travel and go to concerts and meet strangers and stay up too late. You will sing Carly Simon songs with Irish boys in a little bar in Ireland.

You will go running through Chicago in your bare feet, heels dangling from your fingertips so you can make it to the bar in time to watch the Blackhawks cinch the cup with your best friend. You can’t even imagine that now, but it will happen and it will be one of many great stories to tell someday. You will have so many great stories.

You’ll never love someone again like you loved the man you married and had your children with. You can’t even fathom right now how someday you’ll barely really know each other. But he will always have your back. He will turn out to be a great dad. He will be the best ex-husband a girl could ask for. He will also be a monumental ass before that happens and he will hurt you like no one else could. But you will both put all of that aside and raise your children together, but apart, in the best way you can. It’ll be ok.

Rest assured, you will fall in love again. You’ll fall in love a lot actually. But you will spend most of your time without a partner. Don’t be afraid of that. It was scary as fuck for a long time, but you will get past that. You’ll do more things by yourself than you can picture. You will be brave.

You will never have a silver anniversary. You will wonder if you will meet that one person to settle down with. There will be moments fear will grip your chest in the middle of the night. And you will continue, at times, to be lonely.

The most important thing 21-year-old me: you will have the best, most amazing children. You are going to do some things really poorly and it won’t be easy. You are going to miss some things you didn’t think you would. They are going to go through hard times, really hard times. And it will break your heart into tiny pieces when they hurt, every time they hurt.

They will be the best things you ever accomplish.

Happy non-anniversary to my first (and only) ex-husband. Happy non-anniversary 21 year old me.



Letting go.

When Taylor was born and her first Christmas came around I went out and got her a Baby’s First Christmas ornament from Hallmark. In fact, I think I got two. And most years afterwards, minus a few years here and there, after the holiday I would take the kids out and let them pick out an ornament. We have several Barbies (sidebar: I never liked the Barbie thing, but was over ridden by my in-laws. It was one of those battles I didn’t put up too much of a fight about but I recall it causing me angst. She grew up to be a big mouth feminist so parents: they watch you no matter what you let them play with . . .). We have Star Wars and Simpsons, Disney Characters, Nightmare before Christmas . . the list goes on. I’m not a big holiday person. I’m not a big Christmas person. In fact, I kind of loathe the holiday. But I love our family traditions, and we have several during that season. But my favorite, outside of decorating the cookies is getting out the ornaments. I love to watch the kids separate out their individual boxes, hang theirs. I like to watch them laugh about the ones they made in school, we try to remember which lucky spider belongs to who. (whom?) When Steve and I split, we split up our ornaments. He took his, I kept mine (my Oscar the Grouch being my favorite). He took the Doors and Alice Cooper. It’s kind of a thing. The ornaments.

The idea behind the ornaments for the kids is that when they are grown and move out on their own, they would have a minimum of 18 ornaments to start their own holidays with. A minimum of 18. Taylor has 23. Chase has 17. Harry 14.

Taylor graduates in May. After 5 years of working her ass off she will graduate from BSU with her RN. I anticipate in December of ’16, she might want those ornaments for her own tree. Or maybe she will want them this year, for her and Eddie in their apartment.

And Chase, he might want them for his place. Because he now has a place. He will have his 17 ornaments and he might want them for his own tree. Or maybe he will want to stay here Christmas eve with me, like we all have done for the last forever many years. But this year might be different. I just don’t know yet.

I’m not sure as parents, we are ever entirely prepared to let go. With Tay, it’s been a gradual process. A year at Hanover. Where she was far away, but she was at College! We were excited for her. Then she moved to BSU. And then she started staying with Eddie on breaks. And she sometimes stayed here but mostly was there. Then she eventually was just there when she came home but she’s in her 20’s. It felt gradual and natural.

This feels like chopping off a limb. It hurts. Its jarring and sudden and unexpected.

It hurts.

I remember Steve and I talking, long before we had kids, (like that whole year we dated and maybe that whole year were were married before we had kids) about how we would raise them, and what we wanted for them. As two dumb ass kids who took every hard path, we wanted to raise them to be smart, self sufficient, independent, critical thinking explorers. We wanted them to care about people, about the earth. About themselves. About others. We wanted to raise them to be fearless, but cautious. (is that a thing? we wanted it anyway)

I was hoping they would get the best of us. Minus our self destruction, minus our impetuousness.   Our combined deep thinking, without the anxiety and depression being hyper aware of the depth and complexity of the universe and life itself can bring. Steves practical side, like the ability to pay bills on time, combined with a strong work ethic. My drive, independence, do it my own damn self attitude and unwavering passion to find beauty even when life is handing you a bowl of shit.

They all got a heavy dose of anxiety with a side helping of depression. It’s in their DNA and they got a hefty dose. But the are dealing with it in the right ways.

Taylor has worked both during school and in the summers to pay for all the expenses of her education that loans dont cover. Chase is working 35 hours a week on an organic farm and schooling online 30 hours a week. Harrison still likes me to bring him snacks in his room and by god I’m going to continue to do so.

When I was deep in the throws of a good 36 hour cry after Chase told me kindly and with tears that he was getting his own place, a good friend said to me “He wants to do it himself, he wants to get out there and make his place in the world. Who does that sound like H?”

I wish he had taken a different path. But we have known for a long time Chase’s path wasnt going to be college/job/family.  He’s going to do it his way. He’s clean. He’s sober. He’s alive. He’s happy. And these are all things that we weren’t sure we would see in him at the age of 18. He’s had a hard road. And he pulled himself through the worst of things. Just like his sister, and he’s making his way. Just like she is making hers, only different. One can only hope Harrison will follow in both of their footsteps, one way or another.

I always say, however these three kids were placed with Steve and I, we got damn lucky. We’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way. Those kids have saved us both in multiple ways. I just hope we have given them enough back, to have an easier road. That’s all I think we really want for our kids, for them to be happy, and healthy and to not have to fight too damn hard to find that. I think they did get the best of us, and because of that, it takes them away to lead their lives. This is healthy, I understand. Logically, I do.

I’m still super sad.

I miss my kid. I miss my kids. I think I’ll go hug the one who now has to take ALL THE HUGS.

Change sucks.

I remember when Steve and I bought our second house, one of the first things I did was paint the living room from white to a nice soothing green. I loved it. We had nice big Oak trees out front and a nice big windows in the livingroom and it made the room feel like an extension of the outside. My then, just turned two year old, threw a fit. For two years he talked about my painting that room like I had broken his heart.

The Ochs always joked “the Smiths dont like change”. And we don’t.  

We like tradition. We like rituals. We like vacationing in the same area again and again because we know it, and we like that.  Its not that we are opposed to new things, but we like the sense of “coming back” to things. We tend to stop at the same gas stations on road trips. We like familiar. The holidays all have their own set of traditions. I didnt realize how much that was a part of us until Chris and I met and the Ochs had so very few. 

So the 4th doesnt have a hard set routine. We have mixed it up a bit as you tend to do with blended families. The 4th was one of the holidays I let Steve take the reign on as its more about exploding things than anything with my kids and all that always made me nervous. As Steves back declined I took it back and Chris handled the exploding of things and I nervously patrolled 4 boys and made sure no one lost a digit and Tay and I did sparklers and fountains.  

So yesterday. Chase was invited to a buddys uncles house for a big family 4th hoopla. Taylor got stuck working till midnight. So it was Harrison and I and one of his buddies for the fireworks. And all day I was just sad. I’m used to having a big family around me and the chaos of that. I kept trying to psyche myself up. And kept ending up napping. I finally drug myself out of bed. Took the boys to Phantom Fireworks. Promptly had an anxiety attack (what is it ABOUT that place?!) and headed over to IPFW. 

As I laid there on my blanket watching all of the families I went through a whole host of emotions. I was missing my kids. Missing Taylor telling the boys what to do. Missing the boys all jacking around wrestling and running around and not eating the snacks I brought. Missing having my partner there with me. 

I engaged in a decent amount of self talk. Change is ok. I wasn’t stressed. I wasn’t aggravated. Which having 7 people navigate the holidays can sometimes bring on. I watched couples snip at each other and yell at their kids. I didnt have that either. So I stared at the sky and took stock of what I was thankful for. My son who hates change was at a large family gathering with a bunch of people he didnt know. Thankful he can push himself out of his comfort zone sometimes and do that. He couldnt always.

Thankful my daughter has a strong work ethic and a good boyfriend who brought her sparklers since she had to miss the fireworks.

Thankful my youngest is a roll with it type of kid. Who accepts everything as it comes and in a sea of boys playing ball around us, had a friend with him who was happy just climbing trees. 

And while I didnt have a lap to lay my head in to watch the exploding colors, as so many years I haven’t, I did have the realization that I’ve spent more holidays solo than i have partnered and I’m just fine. 

Chase ended up coming home instead of staying the night away, and we blew things up and watched the fountains and I jumped in and lit things for him to sling-shot across the street instead of being the parent that says “i dont think thats a great idea”. Because sometimes you just have to be the parent who lets your kid do that and when you play both parents sometimes that is your role. 

In a few short years all of my kids will be off doing their own things on the 4th. And all the grown up parties that its seems most of my friends participate in, I’ll be eligible for again. And that will be fun too. In the meantime, I’ll try harder to embrace the change that is inevitable each holiday, as the kids grow older and life moves on.