Farewell, Turtle.

We took the first step toward moving this week. We relocated Turtle.

We had to do, before he hibernated for the winter. We're straddling two houses at the moment, which really complicates Turtle's life. Only one house, our current house, has an acceptable turtle burrow. The Other House isn't ready for us to move into yet, but we can't leave Turtle hibernating at this house and move into the other house without knowing Current House's fate. New owners moving in while Turtle is asleep? That seems unfair for all humans and reptiles involved.

Alternatively, we could build a preemptive burrow at The Other House and move Turtle in before hibernation season. But this is troublesome, because we're not there full-time to keep an eye on him and make sure he eats enough before the long sleep and he's a kind of picky eater, which you wouldn't probably expect from a turtle but there it is.

And either way, he needs a new home before we move to Colorado, because there's no hibernation deep enough for him to make it up there.

Turns out Miss G's friend's grandma has a desert tortoise habitat in her back yard. We waited till Turtle came out for his morning walk, scooped him up, took him on an exciting car ride, and deposited him at his new home across town.

You wouldn't think a tortoise added so much presence around this place, but his absence is glaring. I didn't realize how often I checked the burrow when I walked through the backyard to see if Turtle's head was poking out, sniffing for greens. Every single day when I'm greeted instead by cold granite blocking what used to be his burrow entrance, I feel-- well, a little choked up.

Honestly, I'm not Turtle's biggest fan. I find him a little creepy, with his unsettling little human tongue. And I don't like how he zeros in on me when he hears my voice, aims right for me like a tank. And I don't like how much work it is to feed him, how he'll only eat if you sit there and talk to him during his meal, and how kale has to be smeared with tomato or cucumber pulp before he'll touch it and how you can't give him lettuce because it's got too much sugar and it's bad for him and then he won't eat anything else. 

But I guess, I kind of liked rubbing his scaly foot while he ate. He liked it, I could tell. And I liked that he'd come say hi; it was friendly, I guess, even if I did feel uncomfortable about it. It's not really fair to pin those emotions on Turtle; those are clearly my issues, not his. 

Oh, Turtle. I miss you. Sort of.

It's a heavy thing, the first real step. 


Step 2

Sometimes when I’m stressed, wondering how we’re going to get to Colorado, or if we’re ever going to function semi-normally as a family, or how we’re buying groceries this week, Dan comforts me by saying “It’s just Step 2. Step 2 is like this. But then-- Step 3, honey!” 

The thing about Step 2 is-- there IS no Step 2. Which is great for some people (and for gnomes), but not so hot for me.

My mind loves Step 2. It thrives on Step 2. It loves all the intricacies of passing from Step 1 to Step 3-- the planning, the details, the possibility. So to find my life in a place where ? sits in lieu of a legitimate course of action stretches the limits of my patience. Also, my sanity.

Then I found this quote from E.L Doctorow that changed my perspective. It’s actually about writing, but (like so many quotes about writing) it applies pretty well to life as a whole, especially if you’re a frustrated planner like me.

“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

Now when uncertainty sideswipes me, I take a deep breath and remember two things:

We’re in Step 2.
We can make the whole trip that way.


Keeping Your Center

Miss G’s Aikido teacher said this thing during class that resonated with me-- how no one can take your power if you keep your center. Then he showed her how to flip him upside down just using her thumb and pinky finger, saying “See? All the power lies in taking someone else’s center.”  

I watched that move, just two fingers, thinking about how one touch can throw you off course if it's planted right, thinking about balance and power.

I’ve been thinking a lot about guilt trips too, because all the nonsense rattling our windows lately reeks of it.

Guilt is one beefy slab of heavy artillery. In manipulative hands, hands which know exactly where to place those two fingers, you don’t realize you’ve lost until you’re upside down.

But if you know how to spin out of that hold, if you maintain balance even in motion, your opponent is forced off-center to reach after you. They no longer have leverage; you kept your center. An off-center person will never overcome a centered person.

In Aikido, you don’t learn to attack. It’s all defensive. You learn protection. You learn to escape. And you learn that this knowledge renders your opponent powerless just as surely as that Karate Kid crane kick.

Understand this, and you unlock a new world.

If guilt is the grasping thing dragging you back, and you can’t for the life of you figure out how to fight against it, remember that getting away counts as winning. And against guilt, you only need one move: refusal.

Refuse to feel guilty. Refuse to take it personally. Refuse to feel like a bad person for sticking to your guns. Guilt is something we impose on ourselves. No one can make you feel guilty without your consent.

Successful manipulators depend on your reluctance to be the bad guy. They’re counting on you to do the right thing, so they don’t have to. Your integrity is the spinny wheel that keeps the pieces moving around the board.

You can choose not to play their game. You don’t have to feel guilty. They can make you try-- whoever your “they” is (are?)-- but they only succeed with your permission.

Next time someone hurls that crap at you, remember your participation is necessary to their success. They don’t want what’s best. They want what’s best for them.

Keep your center, and no one can take your power.

More help defeating guilt:

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn RandEmotional Blackmail by Susan ForwardDivorce Poison by Dr Richard A WarshakJonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach


Other parents suck

Your stepdaughter was thrilled a month ago about moving to Colorado next summer. This morning, she says it will be too hard on her. Too stressful. She's already overwhelmed by traveling so much. Your stepdaughter suggests moving to Reno instead “so we can be a real family again” which is funny, because she sure hated being 'a real family' when we all lived in the same city before. Hated it for 5 solid years. When you tell her the flight is only an hour longer, and drive time to the airport is the same, she ignores you. Repeats herself like she’s memorized a speech. Like she’s a robot.

And it's the funniest coincidence-- her mom wants you to move to Reno too, and she also thinks it's too much traveling for her daughter! It's almost as if they've been talking about it a lot in the past month, almost as if her mother has changed your stepdaughter's mind about the whole thing. But surely not. Surely she'd be supportive of you leaving the city she herself said was an inappropriate place to raise your stepdaughter.

But not if she doesn't like the new custody arrangement. Not if she misses her daughter too much in the long summers. Not if she's complaining that it's not fair you get all the holiday weekends-- forgetting that she has 9+ months with your stepdaughter while you don’t even have three. That’s not included in her definition of ‘fair.’

Apparently she would rather return both households to a life of constant conflict with her daughter smack in the middle. It’s only been a year, and she already wants out of the custody schedule she requested. Even though it was her idea to move in the first place. Even though her daughter’s present ‘really stressful’ traveling schedule is a result of her actions, her insistence that this would be best for everyone, her refusing to stop at anything, including the destruction of your family, to get her way.

No, no. These things don’t count. All that matters now is that you are the bad parents if you are the ones who move now, because it will suddenly be your fault that the daughter travels twice a month. It’s convenient in this case to forget she’s already been doing it for a year.

And then we have the other parent.

The other parent is also sabotaging your move to Colorado. He is taking his daughter aside and calling her repeatedly telling her she doesn’t have to move, she can stay with him, he’ll fix up her room, like you’re some kind of a monster who is tearing her from him against her will. Like he hasn't had six years living in the same city with her to fix up that room, to be active and involved. To meet her teachers or attend her conferences or pick her up from school. To even pretend to be a father, even a fake father like that fish that’s packaged as imitation crab.

The other parent owes over $14,000 in child support arrears. Which used to not matter, because you used to think money was less important than his presence in your daughter’s life, that you’d trade every penny of child support if only he’d start giving a shit about his kid. Only now that you’ve been around the block a few times, you’ve realized that she’d be better off with the cash, because being around him stresses her out so much that she has tummyaches for days and days leading up to her weekends with him.

Luckily he cancels a lot, so she only sees him maybe once a month. Except then you're kind of stuck, because if she's disappointed you say 'Oh honey, your dad loves you, he just has a crazy work schedule' to comfort her but you feel like it's a lie and you wonder if he really does love her and even if he does, is it a good idea to tell her that because you don't want her thinking this is love, this constant disappointment, this emotional unavailability and being let down as more predictable than coming through.  

So if he’s not going to maintain a supportive presence physically, it’d be nice if contribute financially. Or at least at least chip in for even a portion of the $400+ in medical bills she racked up due to those stomach problems last year. Except he never did. And yet your daughter came home today and announced that Daddy and his girlfriend just bought a new house! And it’s big! And Mama, oh my god, has the awesomest pool.

No, no. Again, these things don’t matter. Those child support payments are seriously crippling him financially. He’ll tell you all about it the next time he calls. And if he’s not active and involved-- well, that’s your fault too. You’re obstructing the relationship, poisoning your daughter against him. Not him, not the guy who cancels 3 out of every 4 weekends. It’s nothing to do with his actions. No, you are the bad parent who is taking his daughter away and preventing them from having a decent relationship.

Ridiculous? God, yes. But you cannot make this stuff up. For one thing, it’s totally unrealistic; no one would ever believe you. They especially wouldn’t believe that these things happened on the same day.

So here is the number one rule of blended families. Are you listening? Because this is the answer that will make your life bearable:

You. Are always. Wrong.

Your house is the bad house, and the other house is the good house. Whatever you do, it makes you a bad parent. Even if it is the exact same thing the other parent did a year or two ago, such as accepting an outstanding job offer in a city that will be much better for your child and your family. Even then, you will be a bad parent and, frankly, a bad person because you actually do not care about your child and you are not doing what is best for her. In fact, your actions are irreparably damaging to her. Because-- and this is key-- what is actually best for her is not what you think is best. It is whatever the other parent thinks is best.

Now. With that knowledge, and under these conditions, go forth and parent. Maintain integrity. Follow your gut. Do what you think is right for yourself, your children, the family you’re trying so hard to make together. Go ahead. Try it. Just try it. I dare you.