You ever have one of those surges of productivity? The kind that just carries you for a few days, and you feel like you can do all the things and make all the plans?
Well, I can’t tell if that’s what I’ve got going on, or if these are the death throes of my spunk for this month. August has been a real jerk, and while I’m super annoyed with the fact that it’s not over yet, I’m glad to at least close out with getting a few things done. Not that any of the things I’m getting done were on my to-do list for this month, but, hey, I’ll take a win where I can find one right now. So we just gonna ride this wave and take advantage, especially, of the good writing until it inevitably ends with me crashing face-first in a sea of sheets.
As mentioned in A Note Out of Lunchbox Notes, which contained an excerpt from my book (coming soon), this post is the followup to Panning for Character Gold. For those of you arriving fashionably late to the party, I spent that post musing over this period of relative respite in which I find myself currently. It seems to me that after surviving a particularly difficult time, I generally receive a slightly less dire period afterward to process, work through some self-assessment, and glean what I can from whatever just occurred. It’s this apparent cycle that has spurred me in recent years to become more self-aware, and I do what I can to take stock of whether I am growing or…stunted.
Let’s be honest- sometimes we don’t handle things correctly and get stuck.
Sometimes, we think we’re growing and developing/discovering neat-o new traits, only to find that what we were actually doing was faking it until we succeeded in making it.
Now that I have survived the initial years of complete panic and scrambling that heralded in the new title of single mom, it dawned on me in said previous post that I seem to be shifting aspects of my personality around again. I did what I had to do in order to keep my little family afloat, and that meant taking on a very stressful, corporate job. That job, the logistics of being a working mom without help at home, and the unpleasant disentanglement that follows divorce pulled from my core an entirely new set of traits, views, and habits. As do most divorcees, I would guess, I remember wondering if this “is who I am now”- or even if this “is who I have always been” – while going through the thick of it. But now that things are making an interesting circle, I find myself shrugging off some of those things.
Which, of course, begged the question, “Who am I foundationally? Optimally?”
At the time of my posting, I was still sifting things out while getting used to much less stressful occupational titles. I think over the last five months or so, I’ve come to a few conclusions.
- Necessity is only responsible for a few of my inventions. There are certainly a few qualities that I had no choice other than to adopt in order to survive the severity of my situation for a time, or that arose out of temporary processes, like grief or transition. But more often than not, the strength, efficiency, aggression, and determination I needed to claw for inches were attributes I already had. They just hadn’t been flexed in quite a while.
- Fear, insecurity, and a misinterpretation of self-advocacy stifle the shiniest parts of me. Prior to my marriage, I was a force to be reckoned with. I was tough-mentally and physically- and very, very driven. I knew what my talents were, and I knew what I wanted to do. I pursued my own personal goals intelligently. I was never afraid of work or set backs. I was remarkably independent.
Many things happened as a result of and during my marriage that slowly muffled the voice of that woman. At some point, it seemed that the qualities I had once loved about myself were the very qualities that were causing trouble with my husband. I feared his response, then my response to his response. I feared rocking our domestic boat, shattering our thin peace. I feared pushing him further away from me and being alone. These internal battles and general distaste for myself led to insecurities that fed into a martyr complex.
SOMEONE had to sacrifice themselves and their comfort, it seemed, for the greater good. If I met with opposition, it just seemed that that person had to be me. And I wasn’t willing to be the source of contention because I wasn’t sure I could handle it. Wasn’t sure it wasn’t selfish of me. Where was the line between selfishness and self-advocacy? I couldn’t find it, and based on his reactions to my early attempts, it was better to roll with the rules of the game he seemed to know how to play.
Over time, when all those pieces of me and experiences I had- packed away in boxes and shelved way high in a dark closet- came tumbling down, I had no choice but to pick them up and address them. Working through my mess, I started uncovering that woman I had previously been. And she was pissed. Flexing that voice and those strengths, I wasn’t afraid to rock the boat anymore. I didn’t like where we were going, and I didn’t like who I was becoming as a result of my uninvolvement. Things weren’t working before I spoke up, so what do I have to lose if they don’t work afterward? If I didn’t speak up, I was at risk of losing myself, and everything I loved would follow soon after anyway.
I don’t mean to make it sound like it was that easy. It wasn’t. And it wasn’t easy when I had to re-enter the adult world after living in a bubble- a world I had barely been a part of prior to being a stay-at-home mom. I can’t remember which celebrity it was on The Nerdist that said your 20’s are a second adolescence, but that’s very true, and it compounded the transition I was making as a divorcee and single mother. I had developed some very destructive mental pathways based on that previous fear and insecurity cycle, as well as some over-reactive tendencies while sorting out self-advocacy.
But, at long last, I have made my way back to safety in so many senses of that word, and it’s only recently that I’ve become aware of feeling that way. I’ve found a home within myself, and I’ve succeeded in making a home for that person and my little people based around who and what we actually are. Some of what I’ve shaken off- aside from the first bullet point of necessities- is what had been fear-based, and I’m glad to be out from under that weight.
- The heart undergoes a purification process. I think this one is fairly self-explanatory. For me, I had to learn to address my intentions. I have long since come to terms with the fact that I buck against the idea of black-and-white. I like gray. I like exploring gray area. I like pushing buttons to find out…anything. Everything. I am naturally curious.
However. This has not, historically, always been done with the best intentions. In fact, there have been times where it was decidedly not done with the express purpose of being wholesome. At some point, I had to decide what I wanted most in my soul, and once I made the decision that life is much easier with a clean heart, I had to stop resenting the tight-collar feeling of avoiding some of my exploratory, mischievous, or vindictive nature. I like people to shoot straight with me, but I have not always been a straight shooter- especially with myself.
So a purge and purification was necessary, and it continues to be ongoing. Some habits are easier to kick than others, right? I may go to my grave without winning all my battles, but a reshuffling of attributes based on intent has contributed significantly to my feelings of security and peace.
- I come full-circle back to my purest intentions. I think I went into this in a previous post, but it bears repeating: I have known, from quite a young age, what my three greatest desires are. I want to be someone’s wife, someone’s mother, and someone’s teacher. That simple. And when I set out at the university, I was well on my way to doing those things, in that I was engaged, pregnant, and attending school to teach English. Felt like I had that on lock.
Clearly, things didn’t go as planned- or, at least, not how I envisioned the plan going. I ended up dropping my scholastic endeavors to preserve peace in my marriage and with my children. I then dropped my marriage to preserve my peace with my children and myself. Being a single mother does not, exactly, line you up for easily accomplishing my other two primary goals, and so I went through a period of mourning and accepting what I felt was a fact. I had plenty of opportunity with the company with whom I was employed to move up and have a career, even if it wasn’t what I had envisioned for myself. With financial security and a growing sense of self-esteem, I could be okay being alone- hell, I decided to be alone– for quite a while.
I got a little jaded. Got a little derailed. In my efforts to somehow reconcile my personal growth with the realities of my situation, I prioritized traits that seemed to make the most sense. I made some progress that way, but I still felt disjointed somehow, and that had impact on my mental health. When the door seemed to be closing within my company, I was thrown somewhat into a panic. Times like that will definitely test your faith.
Good thing I’ve always been in God’s back pocket. In working on myself and my intentions, I had developed a very loving, supportive relationship with D in the background. That relationship fueled the confidence I needed to make the leap toward a direction most in line with what was on my heart all along, before things were colored with cloudy crayons. This, in turn, gave me peace with the idea that goals aren’t always accomplished in the linear fashion we often lay out for achievement, which made me a much more flexible thinker.
And that flexible thinking has allowed me to teach through my work as a writer, as well as to write through my work as a substitute teacher. Both of these things have become such promising avenues professionally; although, more than that, the fulfillment they give has encouraged me to return to university studies to actually teach writing. Returning now to the purest, unsullied wishes of my heart, I have shifted back around again to being heart-led, which is my nature.
Parts of Panning for Character Gold that described my chameleon-esque nature are correct, as that is part of who I am in a broad sense in that it covers who I can be. What I think I’ve decided, however, about what I consider to be foundational traits are what I’ve noticed through the above and a general observation of the overlay of my life. If I had to narrow it down into one declaration, I would say, Who I am and always will be is best demonstrated through my intentions and the actions to which I commit in pursuit of those intentions.
Now that I seem to be back to start, secure and strong, I can see with characteristic gratitude just how precious the people who aided in my odyssey truly are. I have mentioned Darrin, of course, as well as my neighbors, friends, colleagues, and family throughout the last thirty-two posts. But there’s one human who is particularly deserving of public praise on whom I have not elaborated beyond casual mention, and the integral nature of this human’s contributions to my safety is about to make a jazzy entrance into my foray as a published writer.
Jillian, affectionately known as J, is…well, all the things. She is clever, considerate, thoughtful, and funny. She is introspective. A talented critical thinker, she realizes small details in bigger pictures and quiet ways to facilitate the movement of others. J is firm but compassionate, structured but flexible, and the most adept Etsy user I’ve ever seen. I could go on, at length, attempting to describe her, but it wouldn’t do her justice.
Besides, if you aren’t already compelled to seek her out based on the picture above, nothing I say is going to fix how broken you are.
Because my sister and I had six children in six years (the bins of maternity clothes and infant sizes were in constant rotation), she quickly became my favorite option for play dates and moms-with-mimosas moments. We weren’t particularly close growing up due to the age gap, but going through similar life stages on similar non-existent sleep has a great way of making up for lost time. As my struggles with mental health were exacerbated by my disintegrating marriage and very small children, J became even more indispensable. Her advocacy and good counsel were often the tipping point for my better decision-making, and as I practiced self-advocacy over time, she mitigated the occasional ill-effects that would have scared me off of continuing the practice. The night we sat on the kitchen floor eating an entire pumpkin pie as I came clean about just how bad my marriage had truly become, her gentle encouragement to discern and pursue peace gave me something to hold on to when the bottom finally fell out.
J came over two weeks after the father of my children and I decided on divorce to help me put together a resume to shop out for jobs- my first attempt at finding full-time employment ever, and my first step back into the work force after five years of staying at home with the kids. As I edged closer to panic at the shallow employment history and lack of suitable opportunities, she helped me redirect with logic and stay focused on the things I could do, rather than what I couldn’t. Fancy drinky-drinks in hand, she promised she wouldn’t let me sink, no matter how this turned out.
And she didn’t let me sink. She once prepared for a last minute showing of the house she was selling while watching all six kids during the time period wherein my kids were complete messes emotionally, which helped me transition into my new job before needing to tackle day care arrangements. She picked up all six kids from school, fed them snack, and did homework with them to help minimize day care costs once they started. When I was in financial danger, she never hesitated to offer backing without expectation of return, or her husband would come at all hours to see if he could fix whatever was broken so that I didn’t have to do without. In fact, J and Carl built my kids a damned solid swing set (my kids are hard on things, so this sucker is legit) after they helped me deal with three trees that fell in their entirety from rot.
Countless nights of emergency visits, phone calls, panicked text messages, and crying over coffee. Salvaging Mother’s Day and my birthday with new traditions. Sage advice, last minute child care, company for my yearly hospital visits (I swear, every year I accidentally do something dumb), and random Amazon gift boxes. She bought my fine-ass court dress during that battle, then helped me keep it together when my cat died the morning of the hearing, which was followed by unexpected outcomes and driving the wrong way out of Athens before going back to the rehabilitation hospital Darrin was in and sleeping in a chair.
Before Darrin, J was my (borrowed) life partner.
And my co-parent.
To be honest, she still is, in many ways, but I am being completely sincere when I say that I don’t think I would have survived anywhere near as gracefully without her help. In that she’s had some experience with counselling kids, Auntie J became one of the most important resources we had during our emotional transitions following the divorce. When the father of my children remarried, she was irreplaceable in helping me explain to the kids what was going on while shaping their views of blended families. J is their mom-away-from-mom- she’s never treated them any differently than her own children, which has helped me reinforce the expectations I have for their behavior when other environments don’t. Whatever narrative I commit to with my kids, she backs, one hundred percent. And when my kids accomplish things, she is most often the one sitting next to me at the awards ceremony.
As she should, because she helped me get them there.
I was so worried about how my kids would turn out, given all the literature surrounding the psychological wounds inflicted on children of divorce. I was afraid that my decision and difficulties with their father would stunt their God-given gifts and abilities, that my non-negotiable absences would impair their development of proper emotional and moral foundations. There is entirely too much anxiety to properly describe when it comes to trying to explain just how many ripples roll off the decision to become a single mother. The enormity, friends.
But I had back up, an extension of myself for them to have when work made it hard for me to minister to them. Through equal parts shenanigans and life wisdom, J ministered to me, too (which helped me minister to my kids…again), and continued to help me stay balanced as a person and as a parent.
Now that the aforementioned circle has brought me ’round again to creative pursuits in such a way that I’m not throwing up the Jillian Beacon as much, I’m so excited to use our experiences and partnership in a fun, less dramatic way. This, of course, leads me to the teased announcement-
Ladies and gentlemen.
My sister and I have written a children’s book!
Our book centers on a little boy’s adventures in learning what it means to be a gentleman- something we have labored over with my son for the last several years. Although we both have daughters (she has three, and I have two), the intentionality with which we’ve addressed Lucas’ raising has been somewhat more direct and focused. J and I are both strong, educated, well-rounded women, so raising our daughters in this time period is something we feel fairly capable of. But a boy in this era was daunting even before the divorce.
How do we raise a boy to balance chivalry with equality and inclusivity?
How do we raise an advocate for women without shaming or manipulating his gender?
How do we encourage his natural tendencies toward sport and rough housing and playing while nurturing his scholastic and introspective pursuits?
There’s a lot of discussion about little girls and girl power and women’s rights, and that discussion is completely valid. But there isn’t a discussion about how this may affect boys or how to encourage boys similarly to promote the existence of true gender equality. Further, what happens to little boys raised by single mothers? Surrounded by sisters? The statistics for boys in Luc’s position haven’t been great, and prior to some recent, honorable male influences, it looked like a scary line to walk with him. He’s a big-hearted, perceptive, intuitive boy who has always loved his mom. But anatomy, hormones, and genetics are some powerful, powerful components.
Together, J and I have racked our brains throughout the ages and stages my son has faced to encourage this bright boy to understand the subtleties of both his masculinity and his role as a gentleman. He’s growing up beautifully, and -thank God- set up to beat some of those statistics he never asked to be in line with anyway. Out of this undertaking and veritable triumph with Lucas, J and I found Alexander, who will star in our book soon to come.
So hold on to your hats, folks. If you thought I was a whirlwind as an author, just wait until you see what happens when my sister and I write together.
Love you, J.