Andrea of OC 'Burbs’s Posts

A Letter

Jul
2012
16

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Dear 17-Year-Old Me,

I think I should probably warn you: nothing is going to turn out the way you imagined.

That guy you’re dating? He’s going to dump you next summer (and by the way, your mom was totally right about him).

That college major you picked? You’re going to get a D in computer-programming and be weeded out.

Don’t worry, though. I’m not writing to you to give away the farm or anything — doing that would take away all those golden learning opportunities. And, trust me, you’ve got a lot to learn.

No, I’m writing to you because I want to share something with you that you need to hear. That a lot of 17-year-olds need to hear, actually.

I know that you think that up until now, a lot of things have been unfair. The divorce wasn’t fair. All the anger, and resentment, and name-calling going back and forth between your parents … totally not fair. Your mom’s illness … that wasn’t fair, either. Your dad’s second wife that turned into a big ol’ witch the moment she said “I do?” Completely unfair. Your older sister always looking at you as though you are a wad of gum stuck to the underside of her shoe? Not fair. The friends who love you one day and hate you the next? So unfair. That family member you still have to see on the regular even though you know he belongs in jail? The most unfair.

I’m not writing to tell you that you don’t deserve to feel shitty about all this stuff. Because, believe me, I know how shitty you do feel. I know that along with your clothes and the new sheets your mom bought you, you’re also packing up your bitterness and resentment and taking it with you to college. Taking it with you as you embark into the world on your own.

You’re going to spend a lot of time dwelling on all of it. Let’s just get that out of the way right now. Right now, you think that once you drive away from the home you grew up in, and the people who were so unfair, that all of these things will stop making you feel like crap — like a gigantic, do-over, second-chance eraser or something. That won’t happen.

Instead, all the unfairs are going to grow — festering inside of you until all of a sudden, you get really mad about it. Really, really mad. And once you get mad, you’re going to start doling out blame. All the bad choices that you are going to make? You’re going to find some way to blame that on someone else, you’re not going to take responsibility for it. You won’t hold yourself accountable. Because you think that you were dealt a shitty hand, and it’s just not fair.

Accountability. Remember in high school when that was your step-dad’s favorite word? Remember when he would say, over and over and over again, that he wanted you to take accountability for your actions? Remember how you thought you knew what that meant? You didn’t.

So I’m going to help you out, and I do hope you’ll listen to me.

The first thing I think you should know is this: you’re not alone. The world is filled to the brim with people who’ve been dealt a far shittier hand than you. In fact, someday you will realize just how good you had it, even with all the unfairs. But you’re not there yet.

The second thing you should know — and pay attention because this is the most important thing — is that you, only YOU, are responsible for your happiness. Not your parents, or your friends, or your boyfriend, or anyone else. YOU. Just you.

The people who’re closest to you … are highly flawed, because they are human. They make mistakes, some bigger than others. You’re going to spend a lot of time wishing that your mom was more mellow, or that your dad was more patient, or that your boyfriend was less jealous. But all that wishing is never going to get you anywhere, because trying to change people is simply an exercise in misery. Stop wishing. Start appreciating. And if you find there’s nothing to appreciate — then walk away. It’s really that simple.

You’ve been told before to “get over” some of the things you’re hung up on — and at the time it sounded harsh. It sounded like you were being told that your hurt didn’t matter. But the truth is, you do need to get over it. Or at the very least, learn to live with it. Because holding on to grudges is like drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.

One of the best pieces of advice you’re going to get someday will come from your best friend’s dad. You will call him on what will arguably be one of the scariest days of your life. You will lie in a dark room and tell him how afraid and unhappy you are. And he will tell you that the absolute most important thing you need to do is self-preserve.

Self-preserve.

He will tell you that nothing else matters if you don’t take care of yourself. And he will be so right.

Self-preservation means different things for different people. But what it will mean for you is this: you need to let all the unfairs go. Dwelling on them is only going to make you miserable. It’s more than forgiveness, because forgiveness, for you, has always been easy. It’s making the choice to cut away all of the things that are dragging down your happiness, and starting over. It’s about not apologizing for your beliefs, and accepting that there are always going to be haters. It’s about being okay with not being liked. Because people not liking you isn’t unfair; it’s life.

You will also find that even though people, for the most part, don’t change, circumstances do. And sometimes the people who are responsible for the most hurt will turn out to be the people responsible for the most happiness. If you don’t open yourself up to that possibility, you’ll miss out.

The last thing I’d like to tell you, dearest 17-year-old me, is that you are going to wake up on far too many mornings to count wishing that you could take back what you did/said/acted like the day before. You are going to be embarrassed and ashamed and mortified by some of your actions. Barring your instinct to blame it on someone — anyone — other than yourself (as previously discussed) you will find the only person to blame is you. And, trust me, that is not fun.

The solution for this is also simple: apologize when needed, and move on. You’re not perfect, and the people who truly love and accept you won’t expect you to be. Everything else is just gravy.

Seriously. Gravy.

With warmest regards,
28-Year-Old You

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A War Cry

Jun
2012
18

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Yesterday was a day to celebrate the men who raised us, who support us, who love us.

My own dad did all of these things, and I am his grateful daughter. But yesterday, I was especially proud of him, and I want to talk about that here, even though it might be too fresh, and I might not have the right words yet. Because yesterday my dad did something for me that he hasn’t done in a long time – he fought for me.

Anyone who reads my blog knows that I have a downright contentious relationship with my dad’s family. And when I say my dad’s family, I’m actually referring to four of his five sisters.

My aunts. The Tias.

One of the things I’ve realized as I’ve opened up more about my own struggles with my family is that I’m not alone – almost everyone I meet has a story to tell about the family members who make them feel like shit. I could fill an entire blog with the details of the psychological warfare my aunts have waged on me over my lifetime, but that’s not what this post is about. Suffice to say that my aunts have often — especially in the past few years — made me feel like the most unlovable person, ever.

I’ve been asked a lot during this time what my dad has to say. And the answer has always been … nothing.

This has been a tough truth to face – my dad is not generally the kind of man who sits back and does nothing when someone makes one of his girls upset. In fact, I still remember vividly having to talk my dad down after a particularly bad waitressing shift in college, where the cooks had yelled at me (anyone who’s ever worked in a restaurant knows this is par for the course). As I walked to my car, feeling like the dam was about to burst at any second, my cell phone rang – it was my dad and he could tell right away I was upset. When I ‘fessed up the reason why he wanted to know the names of the cooks and I knew he was getting ready to drive over to that restaurant and give them a piece of his fist mind.

My dad is not a man to be trifled with.

But when it comes to his sisters, he goes mysteriously silent. At first this made me angry. And then, it made me sad. And then I just accepted it. Because my relationship with my dad is more important to me than his mean sisters.

Throughout the past seven years that I’ve butted heads with my dad’s family, the script has remained the same: we’re family. Family is the most important thing. That’s just the way we are. Deep down we love you. If you really needed us, we would be there.

Translation: we’re going to treat you like crap, until you’re a helpless pile of low self-esteem, and then when you get hit by a bus, we’ll show up at the hospital.

Oh.

You know, when I was a kid I used to read stories about cults and think to myself how do people not see how crazy it all is? But now I kind of get it – when everyone around you is saying the same thing, it starts to become the truth. And if you dare to have doubts about whether or not this is the right way to live, something must be wrong with you.

It took becoming a mom for me to realize that the ugly cycle of emotional abuse in my family had to stop. I took one look at my son, and realized that I could not allow him to feel the way I had felt for so many years. So I started to fight back, hoping that I could carve out a new place within my family.

No, it’s not okay for you to tell me something’s wrong with me for not being married. Mind your own business.

No, you don’t get to pick and choose who I love. That’s my choice.

No, you don’t get to make me feel bad because I’m succeeding in life, in spite of you. Positive thinking goes a long way – you should look into it.

You can imagine how well all of this went over.

Eventually, I realized that this just wasn’t going to work. That the only way I was going to be happy was if I emotionally and physically distanced myself. That the solution was not to carve out a new place IN my family – it was to carve out a new kind of family.

It’s been a struggle, and a balancing act — because I wasn’t about to leave behind the man who raised me, and loved me. Or, for that matter, the grandparents and cousins that are truly the redeeming members of my family.

And so began the tricky maneuvering of maintaining my relationship with my dad, grandparents, and cousins, while simultaneously trying to leave behind my relationship with my aunts. This has been a particularly painful process for my dad because he’s still in it – he still believes in those archaic notions of family that tell you no matter how bad it gets, you never turn your back on blood.

And so we tread carefully, my little family and I. We show up when it really matters to my dad, and we try our best to be polite, without compromising the limits of what makes us comfortable. No I’m not going to hug and kiss you when you just got through spewing the most awful lies about me to the rest of our family – I’ll politely say hello, from a comfortable distance.

Yesterday was such a day, and we showed up. We said our polite hellos to everyone sitting outside eating, and then we sat down to eat inside, by ourselves.

A few minutes into our meal, we heard shouting. And then the kitchen door burst open and my dad stormed in, followed by various family members, trying to talk him down. And somewhere in between all the shouting, I heard it – my dad, yelling I’m tired of this, this has to change.

He was talking about me. He was fighting for me. And he was really, really mad.

My own instincts to protect my dad kicked in, and I joined the family members begging him to calm down. Papi, I told him. They’re not going to change. Getting mad doesn’t do anybody any good. You should just ignore them, ignore whatever they say. Because I’m not here for them anyway, I’m here for YOU.

No, he shook his head. This has to change. This isn’t right. We’re family.

My dad spent the rest of the afternoon avoiding my aunts, and everything eventually calmed down. And believe me, I don’t have any illusions of this being some kind of permanent game changer – my dad loves his sisters, and that will never change.

But I was proud of him nonetheless. Because my dad finally saw, if only briefly, what I see – that family is not supposed to behave this way.

Family is supposed to pull each other up, not tear each other down.

Family is supposed to cheer you on, not hold you back.

Family should remind you that you are loved, not that you are tolerated.

This is the family that I’m in the process of building, from the ground up. This is the kind of family that I will fight for, until my very last breath. This is the kind of family that my dad fought for, yesterday.

Yesterday, our war cries were the same.

Best … Father’s Day … Ever.

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a note on marriage

Jun
2012
11

posted by

do | 4 comments

Question.

How many of you have ever wondered if you’re the only one who sometimes hates your spouse?

And, yes, I’m using the word hate here (a very strong word indeed) because hate is, after all, the flip side of love — one cannot exist without the other.

It took me a very long time to accept this ugly truth, but I am absolutely the kind of person who has to hate my husband a little bit in order to love him.

Like when he leaves coffee stains on our white porcelain sink.

Or when I ask him to help me with one of the 1,356 things I have to do before our son’s birthday party, and he asks me “How long is this going to take?”

Sometimes I truly despise my beloved.

Now I’m certainly no expert on marriage — we did, after all, just celebrate our five year wedding anniversary only last month — but I have picked up a few scraps of wisdom in the 8 years that I’ve known/loved my husband and I want to share some of that here.

The first, and most important, thing that I’d like to shout from the blogging rooftops is this: it’s okay to fight.

In fact, I’m just going to say it: it’s okay to NOT fight fair!!

Many years ago, when my husband was still a stranger and our son was still a baby, we fought so much that I truly could not see the other side, no matter how hard I tried. I couldn’t see how we were going to make it another year together, let alone a lifetime.

And our fights — they were brutal. They were middle-of-the-night screaming matches, followed by I-can’t-do-this-anymore tears as the sun came up. And all that make-up sex that everyone said was supposed to “make up” for the agony of fighting? That never happened.

In the middle of these dark days, I would often turn to my in-laws for advice — I was very close to them and I wanted to better understand my husband and the things that made him tick. Who better to go to than the source of  my husband’s upbringing and values?

My husband’s parents were always kind, always empathetic, and always helpful in their way. But the one thing that stuck with me the most was when my father-in-law would say “We’ve never fought.” He wore this proclamation like a badge of honor and he would  emphasize his point repeatedly, much to my despair. They never fought. No late-night screaming, no packing up a bag and threatening to never come back. Forty years into their marriage, and they never, ever, fought.

I tormented myself about this for years — what was wrong with my marriage? Why were we always fighting? Was this the glaring red flag that we refused to accept? Happy couples don’t fight, and couples destined for divorce did? What was the goddamn, mother-effing recipe for success?!?!

I used to think the recipe for a successful marriage was what my in-laws had and that unless we were like them (and we never could be) then we were destined to fail. I accepted this pre-determined fate, and in my mind I settled in, waiting for the moment when it would all be over. I was resigned.

This was my mentality up until the day my husband’s father announced he was moving across the country – without my mother-in-law. Their perfect lives unraveled rather quickly, and the details behind that are not part of this story nor is it my place to tell them, but the story that is mine is that their messy breakup changed everything in my own relationship.

First: it almost destroyed my marriage.

Then: it rebuilt it, stronger than ever.

Because, for the first time ever, my marriage stopped being a complete failure. For the first time ever, I stopped holding us up to an impossible standard, and simply accepted our union for exactly what it was — sometimes great, sometimes ugly, full of equal parts irritation and admiration. Once it became okay to hate my husband a little, it became so much easier to love him a lot.

And I do love him. A lot.

The days of late-night yelling and driving to my mom’s house are fewer and farther between than they’ve ever been. And even when they do happen (we are not perfect) thoughts of leaving for good don’t really cross my mind anymore.

The last time I drove away — many months ago — my cell phone lit up almost immediately and when I answered my husband asked me, in all seriousness, if I was leaving him. And it was all I could do not to burst out laughing. No, I told him — it will take a whole lot more than this for me to give up on you. I could almost hear him smiling on the other end of the phone. Well then you might as well come home, he said. Yes, I guess I might as well, I replied. So I turned the car around.

It gets easier to let go of your pride as the years go by — that’s the second thing I want to say. There are still days when I am angry for no discernible reason. Like when I snap at my husband for leaving his socks by the front door, which is a really stupid reason to get mad at anyone (a point that my husband, much to my chagrin, likes to points out). Years ago, this would invariably develop into a gigantic fight — the kind where you can’t remember how it started after it’s all over and you are thoroughly wrung out.

These days, amidst all of the irrational thoughts that cross my mind in the beginning of such fights, there usually comes a moment when the storm clouds part ever so slightly, a tiny voice of reason peeks through, and I ask myself why I’m so mad. And then, with a great big gulp, I swallow my pride and tell my husband that I’m grouchy. And I don’t know why. But there you have it. Gigantic fight averted.

The last thing I want to say is that there is no recipe for successful marriages — at least that’s what I’ve learned. But there is a recipe for unhappy marriages, and the first step in that recipe is  “compare your relationship to other ‘perfect’ relationships.” There are no perfect relationships, and it is my true and honest belief that anyone trying to convince you that they “never fight” is hiding something far uglier and nastier than anything I’ve ever encountered in my fight-filled marriage.

This has been, perhaps, the toughest lesson to learn — because without a recipe for happiness, there are also no guarantees. There’s no way to know, one way or the other, where the chips will fall in my marriage 10, 20, 30 years down the line. All those years ago, when I simply waited around for the whole thing to fall apart, I was a lot less scared — I could, after all, brace myself for the impact.

Choosing a lifetime of love, for me, is much, much harder. It means that I am jumping in, head first, without knowing what’s waiting for me below. It means that I have to be willing to give my whole heart, all the while accepting that there might still be failure waiting for me in the end.

It’s beyond terrifying, and sometimes I’m terrible at it. Sometimes my Type-A personality demands guarantees that my heart will never be crushed, that my happily ever after is written in stone, and that I will someday die a well-loved, married woman. It’s a lot to worry about, I know, but these fears plague me.

I can’t pretend to know the ending to this story, so I won’t bother trying to guess. But, come to think of it, I was wrong before when I said there were no guarantees, because there is ONE guarantee and it is this: never again will I be ashamed to fight in my marriage.

No matter the heights of the highs or the depths of the lows, I will go in fighting and I will not despair. Because now I know: this doesn’t mean that I have failed — it simply means that I have something still worth fighting for.

 

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posted by

do | 2 comments

If you read Andrea’s post last week, then you probably know how we met.

But what you should also know is that I completely deserved it when she told me to shut the hell up in that high school English class. In fact I believe I was, at the time, comparing our teacher to Hitler.

Loudly.

Because that’s me, in a nutshell. I stick my foot in my mouth so often that I’m starting to like the way my shoe tastes.

What I did after the class was over (which I actually don’t remember) is also characteristic of me — contrary to my tough outer shell, I am sentimental to the core. Sensitive even.

I can’t tell you how thrilled I am that Andrea invited me to be a part of her and Michelle’s space — more than anything in the past couple years, our friendship has shown me that the growing up never stops, and that sometimes the best of friends are found in the most unexpected places.

Friendship has always been a tricky subject for me, because for a long time I was convinced I was no good at it. I didn’t have many good and loyal friends growing up, and I assumed it was because I wasn’t the type of person who could get along with people — and by people, I mean large groups of girls.

I did belong to a large group of girls in high school — in fact, some of them might be reading this right now, which only goes to show how small and interconnected our worlds continue to be. But what I learned after high school was that the world is also gigantic, and the opportunity to find like-minded souls is endless. I didn’t know that growing up — I really thought that my options were completely limited to the group of girls who counted me among their number.

So I missed out — I missed out on friendships like Andrea’s, and that’s too bad because I happen to think she’s pretty awesome. Facebook, and social media, and even blogging, has gone a long way toward giving me a second chance to reconnect with people I just didn’t SEE before — people who email me regularly and say things like “I never knew that about you.”

When I became a mother seven years ago, I had exactly one friend. Don’t get me wrong — I had a ton of acquaintances, people that I was friendly with — but when it came to friends I could call at 2 in the morning because my son hadn’t stopped wailing for eight hours … I had one of those. Plus my sister.

I used to think that one girlfriend and one sister was pretty good. I thought that I was doing just fine, so long as I had these two women who I could call on, come hell or high water.

But what I learned about becoming a young mother (and even a mother in general) is that it’s incredibly isolating. My one friend (as wonderful as she was, and still is) was in a completely different place than me — a place that included bar hopping, and lazy afternoons spent shopping, and grad school applications. And my sister, supportive as she was, was in newly-wedded bliss three states away, enjoying those precious years with her husband before kids come along and ruin everything (kidding!)

Add to this the fact that I was a stay-at-home mom for the first year of my son Noah’s life, and that I barely knew the guy sleeping next to me (no joke — we had dated for 4 months when I found out I was pregnant, but that’s a whole other story), and you’ve got a big pile of depressed. Postpartum depression fell on me like a ton of bricks — nine months after I gave birth.

Wait, what?

Yeah, that’s what I thought too. But my doctor confirmed: yes, you can get postpartum depression even when you thought you were so far out of the woods you don’t even remember what the trees look like. It was during this first bout with depression that I started to reevaluate my life, and my needs. And what I’ve discovered is that I need friends to be happy. I need more than one friend and one sister — I need a group.

Getting there, though — that’s been tough. I started with mom groups, figuring that our common interests would make for strong friendships. It didn’t, which you can read about here.

I realized then that the best friendships don’t necessarily come in a ready-to-assemble kit. The absolute BEST friendships, I’ve found, are collected slowly over time, nurtured and harvested, until they are completely solid. I’ve also found that my relationships are constantly evolving, and that as difficult as it is, sometimes certain ones have to be weeded out in order for the rest to thrive.

Today I’ve got such a solid core group of friends, that sometimes I’m kind of in disbelief that this is me — the girl who was no good at friendship.

My friendships run the gamut, from my sister and my best girlfriend from way back when, to a girl who was once my sister’s co-worker and who I now consider family. These days, I need two hands to count the number of people I could call at 2 in the morning, and that feels pretty damn incredible.

I’m proud of these friendships,  because I’ve put a lot of work into maintaining them. Yes, that has meant that sometimes I leave my family in order to spend time with my “girls”, and, yes, it’s hard when my 7-year-old son asks me where I’m going and then pouts and says “You ALWAYS hang out with your friends.” Like most moms, I suffer from severe guilty-mother syndrome (and on a sidenote: I hear there’s no cure).

But just as I start to wonder if maybe hanging out with my girlfriends a couple times a month is too much (it isn’t), something happens that tells me, loud and clear, that I’m making the right choice, not just for me but for my family, too.

Last month, as Noah’s birthday approached, I asked him who he wanted to invite to his party. He started listing the names of boys in his class (Brandon C., Brandon S., Brandon R. …. there were a lot of Brandons) but then he paused and said “Don’t forget to invite Erin. And Tricia. And Andrea and Gabriel. I want them there too.” And I realized these friendships aren’t just mine — that these friendships, if I’m lucky, will last a lifetime, and that these friends are going to be present, not just for me but for my kids.

Moral of the story? (there is always a moral to my story — I’m sorry, I can’t help it. There is a soap box permanently attached to the bottom of my feet).

Make time for your friends.

Even when you’re a brand new mom and you think your precious baby can’t bear to be without you for a few hours (he can), and even when you are so busy you can barely remember to change your underwear let alone call up a friend, and even when your 7-year-old tries to go all guilt-trippy on you — make time for your friends and don’t feel bad about it.

Go to happy hour, or find a running buddy, or meet up at your single friend’s apartment and make her watch Gone With the Wind with you.

Carve out time for your friends, because I promise you it will not just make you a better person and mother, it’ll make your kids better too, because they will learn the value of friendship through you.

And, that, people, is one of the most important things you can give them.

Thanks for reading :)

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