A Letter to Myself at 16: To Whom it May Concern

Philosophy: What’s coming will come and life goes on…even if it’s the hard way.

I know you’re a nose away from signing the papers, but you’re not going to do it. In a year, or so, you’ll thank your lucky stars your dad told you the Air Force won’t let you paint your nails. After all, that’s really what kept you away…in early 2001. Nail polish kept you from being deployed to the Iraq war.

You’re running your heart out now, but you won’t take the offer to run for Walsh College. You’ll think back when you’re 26 and wish you had, but you won’t lose sleep over it.

You will run in the Akron Marathon one day. You’ll see the coach, even in the thousands of people running, that told you you would never have it in you to finish road races. You’ll remember that conversation in 7th grade and you’ll dig deep to pass her.

When you do, that’s what will give you the last wind you need to cross the finish line. You’ll also lose two toenails because of it. A small price to pay.

A smooth-talking professor will pull you aside and tell you you have a gift for Philosophy. He won’t tell you how impractical it is. Neither will your mom. When you ask her why she didn’t force you into business school, she’ll tell you it was because you liked what you were doing. You won’t understand that until you have a daughter.

Your dad knows what it looks like when you jack knife a trailer into the side of his F150. You know that, but you’ll still tell him it was a shopping cart. Even when you’re 35, you’ll wonder why he ever let you drive that thing with a trailer on it.

You’re doing your best to convince yourself you’ll have no problem replacing your first love who just left you for Ashland College. You’ll feel better in the years ahead, but you never will replace him completely, nor should you.

You’ll spend some time hell-bent on proving everyone wrong and living like you know it all. You don’t. But time spent living that way will come in handy later when realize you didn’t know it all, but you were learning most of the things that will get you through the hard times.

Even though you missed the Air Force, you’ll take flying lessons from an arrogant French instructor. He’ll tell you you can’t fly in high heels, so you’ll do it just to prove him wrong.

You’ll pray to die when he teaches stalls and he’ll call you ricochet rabbit because of the way you land. You’ll never get your license, though. You’ll never solo and you’ll wish you had.

When you leave for Texas, turn back around as you drive away. What you see waving to you is what will bring you back home in a year and a half.

Speaking of Texas, you’ll make it through the homesickness. You’ll graduate up at the top, but you won’t stick around to walk across the stage. You won’t regret that either. Oh, and about homesickness, don’t bother crying to your dad about it. He was in Viet Nam.

You’ll fall in love again. When you do, say yes. Even though it falls apart and burns worse than a wrecked semi full of diesel, say yes. You’ll get two of the most precious gifts you’ve ever laid eyes on out of it.

When you lose your grandpas, you’ll find it in you to write again and you’ll find it in you to stand up and deliver the words you owe them. So when your mom and dad ask you to speak, don’t think twice.

When you’re out on your own, doing the work of two people alone, you’ll resent the people and reasons that put you there, for maybe all of five minutes. There isn’t time to dwell on it. You’ll be content for the first time knowing what’s coming is going to come and life goes on.

And do it again. Fall in love, that is. Even though you know you shouldn’t. That time, you won’t break. And, you’ll get to raise a son the hard way because…

despite everything you’ve learned in all the lessons the good Lord gave you in the past 18 years, you’ll still insist on doing things the hard way.

How to Make a House a Home

Philosophy: You and the little ones tethered to you. That’s what makes a house a home.

Almost literally in my backyard is the house I bought when I was getting divorced. It was tiny and dated in spots, but it was all mine and the kids loved it. I loved it. I loved that it was full of promises and warm light and potential. It stood for freedom.

We’ve moved twice since then. We needed more space. But it was in that house that I learned what makes a house a home. It turns out, it’s not two parents, rigid rules, perfection or brand new appliances.

Countertops? I’d trade granite counter tops for the light blue Formica I had there any day. I used to have granite counter tops. They were nice. But, it was on the blue Formica that the kids and I had just enough room to stand side by side and make dinner together.

Bedroom Size? My bedroom had precisely enough room for a double bed, one dresser and a night stand.  There was still enough room in my bed for two extra little people who had bad dreams, though and that was all that was important.

Finished Basement? The basement was nothing special. Paint was peeling off the floor. In the winter, it was the perfect spot for riding scooters in circles and bouncing tennis balls off the walls for the dog.

Walk-In Shower? The ceiling above the shower slanted. If I was another half inch taller, I would have to duck to get in. I painted it my favorite shade of lavender and left all the original hardware. There was a window above the bath tub, so the kids would stand up during their baths and try to see outside.

Needless to say, it was far from perfect., but its scars are what gave it so much charm.

To answer the question of what makes a house a home, it’s having a place to make dinner together. It’s having enough room in your bed in case of bad dreams. It’s a place to play when it’s snowing outside. It’s a room that’s painted your favorite color that reminds you each time you walk in that your have your niche carved out in the world.

It’s not something you have to own. It’s anywhere you can walk over the threshold and feel the world’s weight leave your shoulders.

Our house has four floors. It has more than 11 rooms. Our nights go like this: I sit down on the couch with Tyler. A few minutes later, Jack makes his way up there. The Elise bounces down on the other side of me. Four of us are crammed onto on couch cushion (give or take) and when she calls for Angie, the dog makes 5.

I solved this problem by getting a bigger couch.

I find myself wondering why everyone always needs to be right on top of me. I read a quote somewhere once that said, “Kids know nothing about personal space. They’d crawl right inside your eyeball if they could.”

I think it’s because the world out there seems so big when you’re very little. They need to be tethered to something to anchor them down. Those first few wobbly steps as babies are the beginning of a long sequence of going and coming.

The older they get, the farther they go. Each time they return, they lose a little wariness. So do we; until as parents we forget what it was like the first time their baby feet touched the ground.

A house is where we live. A home is a harbor to which the people we love want to return. A home is what keeps the tethers strong.

Co-parenting: 5 Skills to Master

Philosophy: Choose your battles.

By no means am I an expert on relationships. I just have three year’s worth of real-world experience at co-parenting.

Co-parenting is hard to navigate at first. There are almost always hard feelings and open wounds to work around. It’s so easy to break up and distance yourself from the other person in order to heal. But kids are a lifetime commitment, so is handling their other parent.

Although it’s not easy to do, there are a few skills to master when it comes to dealing with this new version of a relationship.

Letting Go

Surrender some control right now. It might even feel good. No longer will you be able to have 24/7 control over what goes on at home when it comes to the kids. If they’re happy and safe, all is well.

They may not be eating exactly what you’d make them or wearing exactly what you’d put on them, but if they come back to you and they’re healthy, it’s all good.

Choosing Your Battles

If there are some things you can’t let go of, choose your battles. Certain things like how and when they take medicine is certainly a battle worth choosing. What kind of cereal they eat probably is not.

It means more to have a good working relationship with the other parent than to pick fights over trivial things. You have to talk. A lot. As hard as it is, removing feelings from the equation usually lends a better perspective. I hate confrontation, and, unless it’s something critical, I take a deep breath and let it go.

Respect

This one is tough. This one takes remembering the kids are always watching in order to master. Make it a point never to talk badly about the other parent or their family or anything that is important to the other parent in front of the kids.

I work hard at making myself indifferent when it comes to those things anyway, but if something strikes a nerve, I always side with their dad and try to explain his reasoning for doing what he’s doing.

Some day they will be old enough to make their own decisions and draw their own conclusions about him and his family and my own family and me. When that time comes, I don’t want them to form opinions shaded by my own hurt, anger or resentment.

Communication

I had to learn not to suck at this one and the single best way to do it is to remember one thing: it’s all about the kids. At first, it’s especially hard. There are so many things to say and ask that have nothing to do with the kids. Forget. Them.

In order to co-parent successfully and remove emotional ligatures (if that’s what you want to do), keep it all about the kids. Keep it strictly texting and email if need be. That way, there’s time to process questions and answers before saying something that will be regretted later.

But keep it all about the kids. If the other parent can’t seem to do that, it’s OK. Don’t respond to anything unless it’s regarding the kids and feel free to tell them up front that’s what you’ll be doing.

There’s an ebb and flow to this sometimes. The cuts will heal and small talk finds its way back. Something may happen and all you’ll talk about is the kids again. It’s ok. Doing this protects your sanity, which is especially crucial for co-parenting.

Cross-Checking

This is especially true if you have an exceptionally nosy 8-year-old. You may not even need to ask questions. You may get all kinds of information. Most of it is little half-truths.

Kids hear things. They have great imaginations. They also spill every secret you tell them. Those are things worth remembering. If there’s a question about what’s going on at the other parent’s house that seems like something you should know (and not from your 8-year-old), ask. That’s why it’s important to keep communication open and working.

Doing this also lets the other parent know what the kids are focusing on and how they’re interpreting what’s going on around them.

Remembering the Other Parent

Just because your relationship with them ended, does not mean your children’s did. If the other parent is willing and capable of being a co-parent, try to be grateful that your children have someone else in their lives to love them. There’s no such thing as too much love.

I always try to get small gifts for the kids to give their dad for Christmas, birthdays and Father’s Day. Not only do they want to have something to give him that they can’t go get all by themselves yet, but it shows them I still care that he’s their dad.

I know this is easy to write and easy to read and really hard to do. I know every situation is different. Some parents are better off not being in their kid’s lives period. That makes for an only-parent situation (I’m also intimately familiar with this one) and that’s a whole post in itself.

But if you’re fortunate enough to have a co-parent who’s willing and able to do their share, I hope some of these skills help get you through the tough times. There will be more ahead for all of us.

No one said it would be fair or easy, but we’re all in it together.

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