Single Mom Overwhelmed: Throw Me a Rope

October 17, 2012 by  
Filed under Family, Holly Vanderhaar, Single Parents

By Holly Vanderhaar

Back from a brief hiatus! It’s been a remarkably busy few months around our house. I was working two jobs for the first part of the summer, and then we had a three-week trip back East. The girls started 4th grade after Labor Day, and the following weekend we flew to Arizona to surprise my mom for her 85th birthday. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever get caught up…and in another month or so I will be filling in for a friend/former co-worker who will be taking her parental leave.

This is the part where I admit that single parenting is hard, at least right now. I love my life and wouldn’t change a bit of it—though it would be nice to have a little extra money and a lot of extra hours in a day—but to be honest, I feel like I’m losing my grip on all the things I need to be taking care of, and I feel like I could use some back-up.

Fourth grade has brought with it more—and harder—homework. I’m gradually trying to train the kids to be more responsible and accountable, and I’ve asked the teachers for feedback (like I do every year), so I can gauge how much I need to get involved and how much I need to let them “sink or swim.” And, as usual, I haven’t gotten much feedback so far. They are starting to get grades on individual assignments, rather than whole units, with a rubric and an explanation for each mark-down. I know it’s not trendy to be in favor of grades, but I’m rejoicing, because I think now they’ll finally stop doing just enough to get by. The additional work has been harder for me to keep up with too; they’re in 5th grade math, and we’re skating perilously close to the limits of my knowledge now. Geometry I can still help with, but algebra? :::shudder:::

I’ve been lucky for the last year and a half in that my work schedule has been flexible enough to allow me to work from home and/or work after they’re in bed, so I haven’t had to put them in after-school care. It helped to be able to pick them up at 3:00, have a snack, and get the homework and violin practice done before dinner. They got a little down time before bed, I didn’t feel so rushed with dinner, and we were all better organized. But this year because of scheduling demands, I’ve put them back in after-school care. They like it, and their teacher is fantastic, but getting home at 5:30 rather than 3:00 means we’re scrambling, especially since they still go to bed at 8:00.

But everything else is falling by the wayside. I can’t get on top of the housework. I manage to get the laundry done once a week and that’s about it. I’m buried in stacks of clothes because it’s that time of year to switch out the closets, and I can’t get motivated to finish the job. So I have a pile of winter clothes that need to be hung up, and a pile of summer clothes that need to go in storage bags, and a pile of stuff the girls have outgrown that needs to go to Goodwill. And all I want to do is lie on the couch, drink tea, and watch Doctor Who.

What are your strategies for those times when you just feel overwhelmed by it all?

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The Summer of the Woman

July 11, 2012 by  
Filed under Family, Holly Vanderhaar

By: Holly Vanderhaar

In honor of its 100th anniversary, Girl Scouts of America has declared 2012 “the Year of the Girl.” I realized tonight that this summer is also, at least in our little corner of the world, “the Summer of the Woman.”

I have no idea if something’s going on in the stars, but there’s a lot of powerful female energy happening in our family lately. We’ve been treated to two movies—The Hunger Games and Brave—that feature strong and courageous female leads. We have had visits from four wonderful women in the last month. First was a friend, C., who’s faced some devastating setbacks in the past year, from going through a nightmare of a break-up to being diagnosed with cancer. She recently took a mini-tour through the Midwest to reconnect with old friends and celebrate coming through her radiation treatment with flying colors. We took Grace and Isabelle on a road trip to some Laura Ingalls Wilder landmarks here in Minnesota, including Walnut Grove, and listened to the audio book of On the Banks of Plum Creek as we drove. It felt great to reconnect with that pioneer spirit, especially since I’m related to Laura on my mother’s side.

After C. left, A. paid us a visit from California. She was only here for four days, but during her visit I laughed more than I have in ages. I needed to reconnect with my silly side, in the middle of a fairly stressful, over-committed summer, and I gave myself permission to take the weekend off, to obsess about movies and celebrities and good books in a way that I haven’t had much time for since I had the kids.

And then, a few days after A. went home, my mom and my sister came to town. My sister drove my mom up from Phoenix, and stayed a week. My mom is staying until the end of July. For the first part of their visit I was buried in work, the after-effects of giving myself the weekend off to act like a teenager with A., but if you want to dance, as they say, you have to pay the band.

But last weekend we set off, three generations of women, to spend a couple of days on the shores of Lake Superior. It was glorious. I have a passion for the North Shore; it feeds my soul and recharges my batteries and a whole host of other metaphors that don’t really capture how sacred it is, a place that transcends any language that I could attempt to use to describe it. I hope all of you have a place that does that for you. It was a gift to be able to spend those days together with my family at a place that means so much to me.

And soon I’ll be setting off with my daughters and my dearest friend to uncover the life story of another woman, Susanna Martin, the Salem witch who’s the subject of my upcoming research trip to Massachusetts. I hope my research and eventual writing do her justice. But with all this great goddess energy in the air, how can I miss? I’m so blessed to be able to raise my daughters in the middle of such a powerful tribe of warrior women and teachers and healers and poets.

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The Lazy Days of Summer?

June 27, 2012 by  
Filed under Family, Holly Vanderhaar, Single Parents

By: Holly Vanderhaar

Summer is well and truly upon us, and while I’m tempted to dwell on all the petty and not-so-petty annoyances that seem to be hovering around us like a cloud of mosquitoes lately, I’m making a conscious effort to set that aside tonight, and focus on the season. It was a sultry 94 degrees today, a humid remnant of spectacular overnight storms (sidebar: nothing brings the kids and the cats to one’s bed like a 4 a.m. lightning and thunder extravaganza). June’s more than half over. The girls have been out of school for almost two weeks (and they’re already getting on each other’s nerves). So—annoyances aside—the only thing on my mind tonight is summer.

I have a complicated relationship with summer. I grew up in the Phoenix area, and summer in the desert Southwest is closer to winter in the upper Midwest than you might think. It’s that five-month period during the year when you don’t go outside unless you have to, and you grouse about it the whole time. I haven’t exactly been heat-tolerant since I was a kid, and every year it got worse. My favorite time of year in Phoenix was when the citrus trees were blooming and the air was rich with their scent. After I became a mom and developed the habit—perforce—of rising early, I would savor the cool, perfumed pre-dawn hours, but underneath that pleasure lurked a sense of looming dread. If the orange blossoms were here, triple-digit temps were not far behind, and it would be Halloween before they let up. Those summertime traditions I learned about from watching television—barbecues, picnics, lazy afternoons under shady backyard trees, bike rides—seemed like part of a fairytale world. When we moved to Minnesota five years ago, I finally got to enjoy that mythical summer lifestyle. Oh, I paid for it the following winter, but I still treasure those days like an unexpected gift.

But here’s the difference between my daughters’ experience of summer and my experience of summer. When I was their age, the summers were long, lazy affairs. I had occasional sleepovers with friends, and we always took a road trip to visit grandparents, but apart from that, summers weren’t scheduled. They weren’t planned down to the last day. They stretched out, three long months of unstructured free time, with pockets of boredom, long hours at the library, and plenty of TV. Part of that was made possible because my mom didn’t work until I was old enough to stay home alone. My daughters have an itinerary of cobbled-together day camps, summer programs, violin lessons, and “stay out of my hair because I’m working at home today” days. On the days that they aren’t going somewhere, there’s the Wii, or the DS. I believe that it’s in boredom that kids develop creativity and self-reliance, and I worry that they—not just my kids, but kids today–don’t encounter boredom often enough. I worry that the only thing that makes their summer lazy is the lack of homework, because that’s really the only difference. Part of that is the reality of 21st century life; even in a two-parent household, it’s much less common to find one parent who’s able to stay at home full time. But I think part of it is our compulsion to fill our kids’ lives with the cornucopia of enrichment experiences at every turn. Are we doing them a disservice by depriving them of empty days? Are they losing the ability to entertain themselves? What do you think?

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The Jeep

May 30, 2012 by  
Filed under Family, Holly Vanderhaar, Single Parents

By: Holly Vanderhaar

Gracie had her wrist surgery last Monday, and it went great. It was a ganglion cyst after all—that’s what my gut was telling me, but the tests all reported that it wasn’t consistent with a ganglion—so it’s a relief to have that settled. She was really nervous about the anesthesia, but she was very brave through it all and I’m so proud of her.

My mom flew in to provide moral support, and she waited at home with Isabelle, who got to go to school late because of her sister’s surgery. We got back from the hospital about 10:15, and I swapped kids and took #2 daughter to school. Obviously Grace hadn’t had anything to eat since dinner the night before, because of the anesthesia, but as it happened, I hadn’t either. We had to be at the hospital really early, and the surgery was short enough that I didn’t want to leave the waiting room. The plan was to drop the kid off at school, then go home to eat something while I caught up on the work I’d missed.

But what’s the saying about the well-laid plans of mice and men?

As I was backing out of my spot in the school parking lot, the Jeep died. Just like that. I could get it to turn over, but it wouldn’t catch. I waited an hour and a half for a towtruck, which took me to the nearest garage. My blood sugar was, by this time, bottomed out and I felt like a zombie as I tried to arrange for a rental car. Hertz couldn’t get me one until 5:00; luckily the garage ran a side car rental business at their body shop across the street, and I got home about 2:00, exhausted, shaking, and foggy, ate a quick lunch, and drove back to the school to pick Isabelle up.

All of this is just prologue to the real point of this story. (Warning: I’m about to sound like a really whiny and spoiled middle-class American car addict now. Please rest assured that I know these are all “first-world problems.”)

I found out late the next day that my Jeep’s engine was completely shot. As in, “smoke and oil coming out the tailpipe” shot. As in, it would cost way more to fix it using a junkyard engine than I would ever get selling it or trading it in. And so I was given my options: donate it, or try to sell it for scrap. And I had to decide what to do about a new vehicle.

Obviously, as a single parent with two kids, a big expenditure like this always comes as an unwelcome shock. It’s fun to get a new car, but only if you WANT to be getting a new car. It’s not as much fun when you really didn’t want to give up on the car you already had. And this is the part that makes me sound a bit kooky or worse: I cried when I went to the garage to clean out the Jeep. Not because I was going to have a car payment for the first time in ten years. Not because I was worried about the money. I cried because the whole thing reminded me of going to the emergency room to pick up a loved one’s personal effects. I cried because it felt like taking your dog to the vet and coming home with an empty collar and leash.

I’m very sensitive to the fact that this is a “thing,” and that it in no way compares to losing a person or a pet. People close to me lost their son suddenly, on the same day I lost my Jeep, and that is a grief and a shock that is just orders of magnitude beyond anything I could feel for a machine. But I feel about that car the way people feel about their childhood home. From my childhood onward, I’ve moved a lot, so I never really knew that feeling of nostalgia for a house. But my car was a little piece of mobile stability, a constant no matter where I lived, and the memories I made in its driver’s seat are like the memories others make around their family dinner table.

See, I bought this Jeep in 2002 because I was getting ready to try to get pregnant as a single woman, and my little black coupe was simply not going to accommodate a car seat. It was the first car I bought where I meticulously chose my options and “built” exactly the vehicle I wanted. It was the car I drove to all those inseminations, and the car I sat in, quietly freaking out, when I found out I was having twins—and freaked out again, when I found out my unborn twins had a condition that was usually fatal if untreated. It was in that Jeep that I made the decision not to terminate the pregnancy, and it was that Jeep that brought my babies home safely from the hospital. The three of us took a road trip to Colorado in that car, when the babies were a couple of months old. It moved us to Minnesota, and it saw a parade of different car seats as my daughters grew. It always carried us safely, no accidents in over a decade. We listened to a lot of good music, and had a lot of deep and not-so-deep conversations, and even had some knock-down, drag-out screaming matches. And when I cleaned it out, I found artifacts from the first nine years of my daughters’ lives under those seats: fossilized Cheerios, bits of Happy Meal toys, a lone tiny mitten.

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The Hunger Games Revisited

May 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Family, Holly Vanderhaar, Single Parents

By: Holly Vanderhaar

This is going to be a brief update, because Gracie’s having surgery in a few days to remove a questionable cyst from her wrist, and with all the tests and doctor appointments —and Isabelle being sick from a nasty respiratory infection— I don’t know which way is up. For what it’s worth, the doctors don’t think the cyst is anything to worry about, necessarily; it’s just that they can’t tell exactly WHAT it is, and they had the choice of putting her under for a deep MRI, or performing an excisional biopsy. And since they would be putting her under either way, they advised the latter option. And because I just want it to be over already, I agreed. And I’m trying not to think about my (probably irrational) fear of general anesthesia. And trying to figure out how to get Isabelle to school when I have to be at the hospital with Gracie at 5:30 in the morning.

But, anyway.

Since my last post about taking them to see The Hunger Games, it has become All Katniss All the Time in our house. We went to see it a second time. They’re spending their allowance on trading cards. And Isabelle told me that it was her favorite movie. Now, this surprised me, because they’re passionate about a lot of movies, including Cars and Bolt and all of the Harry Potter films. So I asked her why? Why The Hunger Games, when it’s scary and violent and sometimes —for a nine-year-old—confusing? And she said, “Because it’s about a girl.”
From time to time, in literary circles, there’s a dust-up after some (usually male) author makes some disparaging statement about female authors. There’s some back and forth about institutionalized sexism and “chick lit” and income disparities. And often, people who argue that women are all a bunch of whiny babies will point to J. K. Rowling as a success story. Hers is a great rags-to-riches tale, to be sure. But if we’re past the need for feminism, and everyone is judged on his or her own merits rather than on gender, then why did her publisher insist that she use her initials, rather than her first name, saying that boys wouldn’t read a book that was written by a woman?

My point is that if anyone tells you that it doesn’t matter, that the important thing is a “good story” and a “compelling protagonist,” that it’s only left-wing academic types who notice or care about the notion of a gender disparity—among protagonists or among authors—and they’re just creating a problem where none really exists…I’m here to tell you that (in our family, at least) it does matter. Kids do notice. Girls are hungry for heroines. And, if box office numbers are any indication, boys will go and see a movie about a girl, and they’ll even read a book by an author who uses her real first name.

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Scary Movie

May 2, 2012 by  
Filed under Family, Holly Vanderhaar, Single Parents

By: Holly Vanderhaar

It’s true: I took my 3rd-grade daughters to see The Hunger Games yesterday (I’d already seen it twice). I had read all three books about a year ago, and was eagerly looking forward to the movie. It wasn’t really my plan to take the kids until recently. I knew the books were a couple of years beyond them, not in reading ability but in terms of real comprehension of the political machinations and implications in the plot. And I’m not generally a big fan of violent movies or TV; we’re one of those “no toy guns, no combat video games, no gratuitously violent media” households.

I was surprised by how many of their friends have seen the movie and/or read the books–including one girl whose parents strike me as generally quite conservative. (She has an older sister, though, so that might have been a family outing.) Anyway, I saw it first, and I went back and forth with them several times on whether I thought they should see it, and always discussed my reasoning with them. I told them I thought it was too violent for them and that they might be scared. Their commitment to wanting to see it changed with the weather. Sometimes they reeeeally wanted to; other times they were content to wait until it came out on DVD, which I thought was probably the best option. More manageable on a small screen, plus the option to walk away and go do something else if it got too intense.

But for some reason that I still haven’t fully figured out, I couldn’t put the issue down. So Saturday night, over dinner, I told them in some detail the plot of the first book, not caring if there were spoilers, and I explained my concerns about what I thought their reaction would be. After hearing the story and realizing that when I said “scary and violent” that I didn’t mean monsters or things of the kind that they saw when they accidentally caught five minutes of Supernatural in a hotel room (oops), they both were firm in wanting to go. And I’ve tended to be of the mindset that I would prefer to watch something with them and use it as a jumping-off point for discussion, rather than forbid it outright.

There were a couple of occasions where they hid their eyes and/or plugged their ears, but really they were more freaked out by some of the previews we saw. (Like Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. Nothing in their 3rd grade history lessons prepared them for THAT. And I made them cover eyes AND ears when The House at the End of the Street trailer came on). But by and large, they loved the movie. Sat enthralled for all two and a half hours. To be honest, I think they were a bit young to grasp the real horror of the story–oppressive government demands child sacrifice for its entertainment–and just saw it as a gripping and suspenseful story. I don’t say that everyone should take their 9-year-olds to see it. It’s heavily dependent on your kid and her tolerance for this kind of thing. It’s actually kind of hard to predict what will upset my daughters when it comes to movies; they’ve seen the Lord of the Rings movies more times than I can count and have never batted an eye at them, but they could hardly sit through The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe because it was too suspenseful and scary.

I’m sure not everyone will agree with my decision to take 9-year-olds to see it, and I’m still very sensitive about exposing them to gratuitous violence, weapons, and so on. Maybe this is Monday morning quarterbacking, but in hindsight, I have no regrets. First, there were the economic considerations: I wanted to vote with my wallet. It’s not easy to find a female protagonist in movies that aren’t easily dismissable as “chick flicks” and that are marketed to young males as well as young females (the fact that the heroine actually saves the male lead is even better). I’m happy to boost the box office receipts of this movie by three matinee tickets.

But on a more philosophical level, I think it’s good for my daughters to see strong, brave, and resourceful young heroines who fight for the right to be self-determining. I think it’s okay for them to see that people in violent circumstances are deeply affected by it—whether they’re committing the violence or victims of it—and that it changes them. And I also think it’s important for them to see that you can feel scared and sad, and show it, and it doesn’t make you any less strong at the end of the day. I weighed the character of Katniss, and what I thought she might be able to teach my daughters, against the violence, and the scary moments, and the disapproval of many of my parenting peers. Katniss won.

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More Will Be Revealed

April 4, 2012 by  
Filed under Holly Vanderhaar, Multiples, Single Parents

By: Holly Vanderhaar

Many moms—especially single moms—in my circle will list Anne Lamott among their favorite parenting authors. Not because she gives parenting advice, per se, but her memoir Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year has saved many a new mom’s sanity. She gave me the courage to become a writer myself, and when I was teaching creative writing in grad school, I taught Bird by Bird, her book on writing. And I could write an entire post about how Anne’s approach to spirituality made me look at my own spirituality through fresh eyes, eyes of love and compassion and forgiveness.

My daughters were about 18 months old when I first read Operating Instructions, so we were past the every-three-hour-around-the-clock feedings, the crippling (no, crippling isn’t a strong enough word) sleep deprivation, the fierce maternal protectiveness coupled with an absolute unmooring from everything that had ever made me feel secure and confident. And when the attachment parenting books made me feel inadequate for not being utterly besotted with these wriggling, angry, liquid-spewing organisms every second of the day, it was a blessed relief when Anne described her colicky baby—a baby she clearly loved—“raising its loathsome reptilian head again.” I love my children more than my own life, but I think idealizing anything—even parenthood, especially parenthood—is not productive. What’s more, I think it’s dangerous to every new parent who beats him- or herself up over not being perfect and feeling abject adoration every second of every day.

I’m woefully out of touch with publishing news, which is odd considering that writing about writers is what I do for a living. So I was surprised to hear that Lamott has a new book out. And I was gobsmacked to realize that that gritchy little baby from Operating Instructions is now a grown man and a father in his own right. I found out about Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son’s First Son last weekend, and realizing that new books usually mean book tours, I did some quick Googling and found out that she would be reading and signing at a Barnes and Noble in my area the very next evening. Unfortunately “in my area” didn’t mean in the Twin Cities proper, which is where I live; it meant in a rich, white suburb about 35 minutes away, not accounting for rush hour traffic. The reading was on a Monday night, and it was too late to get a sitter. Monday nights are busy for us anyway, and this Monday was already overscheduled, but I couldn’t miss a chance to meet Anne over the signing table, even if our whole conversation consisted of “Who should I make it out to?” and me spelling my name. Even if I never got to tell her what I wanted to, that she was my angel when I really needed her.

So what I’m calling my Single Parent Reality Check, AKA Monday, went like this: I worked from home, picked the girls up after school, rushed them home, force-fed them a snack and supervised homework like a drill sergeant. They changed into leotards and tights and I took them to their dance class at the local parks and rec. Another mad dash home to change into warm clothes, because a freezing drizzle was now underway, then off to drop off the cookie money. Hit the drive-thru at Wendy’s, and then onto the slippery rush hour freeway out to the suburbs. We made it to the Barnes and Noble about 15 minutes before the reading started, only to circle the Range-Rover-crammed parking lot in a futile search for a spot. Finally found one by stalking a woman who was wandering around looking for her car, and dashed into the store, only to be told by the store employee that it was “hearing room only,” and “the chairs were taken two hours ago” and I “should have gotten here earlier.” I nearly—what’s the phrase?—choked a bitch. Stopped off to buy a copy of the book for Anne to sign and trudged downstairs dragging two 8-year-olds and enough paraphernalia to keep them occupied for a couple of hours.

The reading and Q & A were great; I could hear almost every word, and once in a while I even got a glimpse of Anne’s famous dreads. But the store was a mob scene, and when they announced the signing with some cryptic comment about how “only Marches could line up,” I had to start asking questions. It seemed that they had been handing out desk calendar pages to the people who had their shit together and had gotten to the store early. The woman with the calendar all but rolled her eyes at me when she tore off my page: October 21. And they were on March. I looked at my patient daughters, whom I’d dragged out in the rain, who were already going to be out an hour past their bedtime on a school night, and I knew I couldn’t ask it of them.

I led them through the crush of people, blinking back tears of exhaustion and frustration and self-pity, when Isabelle pulled her hand from mine. I turned, annoyed, and then saw what she’d stopped for. A downy feather was floating down from the ceiling, and she caught it, delighted.

For the last several years, feathers have had meaning for me. When I find them at odd times, or in unlikely places, I believe it means that someone is looking out for me. Someone is telling me there’s a plan, that even if I don’t see it now, more will be revealed. The feather that appeared out of thin air in a Barnes and Noble in Edina, Minnesota, was the only thing that could have snapped me out of my self-pity spiral.

More will be revealed.

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Eastbound

March 21, 2012 by  
Filed under Family

By: Holly Vanderhaar

The travel fund has gotten a jump-start, though not quite in the way I was expecting. I found out about ten days ago that I’ve been awarded a grant that I applied for last fall. I asked for money to take a two-week research trip to northeastern Massachusetts, and then an additional sum to meet expenses so I can take two months off to work on a draft of a book. I explained in my application that it was virtually impossible for me, a single mother and the only breadwinner, to find the time and space to write.

I’ll be researching one of my ancestors, Hannah Martin. Her mother died when Hannah was about two years old, and her father remarried soon after, to Susanna North. Childbirth-related death was all too common in the 17th century, and children were often raised by a stepmother, or a succession of them. It’s one of the reasons wicked stepmothers figure so prominently in the fairy tales. But here’s the thing: Hannah’s stepmother really was a witch—or at least that’s what the magistrates of Salem Village believed, because Susanna Martin was one of the 20 people who died as a result of the Salem witch trials of 1692.

I’m taking my daughters with me on the research trip. I hope that seeing me actively giving of myself to a project that I’m passionate about, a project that’s meaningful, will make an impression. I hope it sparks an interest in history, the history of our family as well as the history of this country (for better or worse). And they will be nine years old when we take this trip, the same age as Betty Parris, the minister’s daughter whose unexplained fits kicked off the search for an explanation, a search that ended, for many, with the hangman’s noose.

I’m sure I’ll be talking about this project a lot in the coming months, and I hope you’ll bear with me. I realize that, on the surface, it doesn’t seem to have much to do with a 21st-century “alternative” family website. But there are themes in Susanna’s story which are, unfortunately, all too timeless. Questions like, “What happens to women who refuse to play by the rules?” and “What is the price of speaking up when you see injustice taking place around you?” and “What is the legacy that we pass down to our daughters?” are central to the book I want to write, whether it ends up a work of historical fiction or a collection of personal essays.

One of the requirements for this particular grant is a public component, and because the witch hysteria centered on girls (the chief accusers) and women (the lion’s share of the victims), against a backdrop of religious intolerance, I proposed to hold a reading of excerpts from the book to benefit a women’s charity. I also want to involve the religious community in some way. It’s a small thing, but I hope it’s a meaningful thing.

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The Travel Fund

March 7, 2012 by  
Filed under Family, Holly Vanderhaar, Single Parents

By: Holly Vanderhaar

I should be writing about the ridiculous bill that is on the floor of the state senate in Wisconsin, Senate Bill 507, one that equates single parenthood with child abuse. Either that, or I should vent my spleen about the loathsome Rush Limbaugh and his complete and utter…well. Never mind. I really should write about these things because I’m angry about them, and I think we should all be angry about them. But all of it sickens me and I reserve the right to save my psyche for another day. I’ve decided to dwell instead on something a wee bit lighter and fluffier this week.

There were a number of hopes I cherished when I was pregnant. I hoped that my children would have a sense of humor. I hoped that they would grow to love music, especially the Beatles. I hoped that they would love horses. And I hoped that they would be good travelers. My hopes have been rewarded in every case, save one: they remain stubbornly indifferent to horses. So far. I haven’t given up yet.

I’ve been thinking about the future lately. I refuse to think about Gracie and Isabelle moving away and living their lives without me, ha-ha, so I focus on the things I look forward to instead. I can’t wait to travel, REALLY travel, with them. Money’s been tight for the last several years, so it hasn’t been financially possible anyway, but they also haven’t been old enough to really get much out of travel. Last fall we went to New York City for the first time (the first time for them, anyway; I lived there for a while). They were terrific: walked all over the city with no complaints, loved taking the subway, and managed the crowds—even an Occupy Wall Street demonstration in Times Square—with aplomb. I was so proud of them, and I began to be able to envision a future where we would go to visit friends in California, or go back to New York again for a longer visit, or go to the UK so I can take them to London and Liverpool and Dublin. Maybe I’ll finally get to Italy, and we can discover it together.

I know that, when it comes to your kids, you’re never supposed to wish for time to fly faster. Every grandma in the grocery store says, “Enjoy them. They grow up so fast.” And this is a good age, although most of the ages —bar the first year— have been good. But as my daughters grow up before my eyes, I’m getting a glimpse of the future now and then, and I’ve been thinking about the things I look forward to sharing with them. I’ve come up with some strategies to save money, and I’m going to start that travel fund next month. We’ll send postcards!

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Life Begins at 40

February 22, 2012 by  
Filed under Family, Holly Vanderhaar, Single Parents

By: Holly VAnderhaar

I love being in my 40s. No, really. I do. It’s not all a bed of roses, of course. I don’t love all the gray hair (or the cost involved in hiding it), and I’m not crazy about the tendency of body parts to expand and/or move southward. I expected to be battling these things in my 40s, though. The physical deterioration comes as no surprise, and, anyway, I still look pretty good for my age. What is surprising is that, inside, I feel about 25. Better, actually. At 25, I was an emotional train wreck —or, at best, a partial derailment. Now I’m responsible, a reliable employee, a good parent (most of the time), and on an even emotional keel. But I don’t feel “mature” in the way that my younger self would have expected to feel at this age. I thought that when I was 45, I would feel 45, whatever that means. I don’t, not even close. I giggle with my girlfriends like we’re still in high school. I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I’m more optimistic.

I think what’s made the difference is that I don’t care anymore what people think, and I don’t compare my life to others’ and find it wanting. My 25-year-old self, hearing a fortysomething express those feelings -that cliché that life begins at 40- would have thought, “How sad.” My 25-year-old self would have seen it as a massive rationalization, or self-consolation, or a kind of giving up. She would have thought, “That person is trying to make peace with the inevitability of getting old,” and she would have pitied that person, even while she was going out to a bar that she really didn’t feel like going to, or suffering through another blind date when she would rather have been at home in sweat pants, watching Northern Exposure with her cat and eating ice cream out of the carton.

When I was 25, I was constantly scrutinizing myself —my physical self, my relationships or lack thereof, my career or lack thereof— to see if I measured up. Inevitably, I didn’t. I was mired in the trap of trying to create a persona, to craft an identity, and it was all very plastic and crazy-making. At 25, I had to go out on Friday and Saturday nights, even though many times I would have preferred to stay home, because Monday morning at the office, someone would inevitably ask me what I did over the weekend. Not having plans would have been too humiliating for words. In contrast, the 45-year-old me is quite happy to put on her pajamas at 5:30 on Friday and doesn’t care who knows it.

Maybe some of this is the wisdom that comes with age, but most of it is due to motherhood. When I decided to become a single mom by choice, and had my daughters, I finally got what I’d always wanted. Much of my former unhappiness was caused by the fear that I wouldn’t find a husband, or wouldn’t find one in time to have kids, and since the one constant in my life has always been my desire for motherhood, all my future happiness depended on it. When I decided to stop waiting for it to happen to me, and started to act on my own behalf to make it happen, it opened up a whole new realm of possibilities. If I could make this dream a reality, maybe I had it in me to make some of my other dreams come true as well. I started to believe in myself. I stopped apologizing for my life and started living it. And if I had to become middle-aged to achieve this kind of peace, so be it. This gray hair is a battle flag, not a white flag…even if I do pay someone to cover it up every six weeks.

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