Real Life Resume

This week I redid my resume and was shocked at how awesome I look on paper. I would totally hire me. I sound interesting, well-rounded, adaptable, and promotable. I sound like a fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants fearless go-getter.

Huh! Who knew!

It’s all smoke and mirrors though. Not that any of it is one whit less than factual; my list of duties/ promotions/ awards looks real spiffy all lined up in a row. It’s just that it doesn’t even come close to encompassing my true skill-set.

Someday I’d love to submit a real life resume, the things I’ve actually done at work; lessons I’ve actually learned from jobs. Maybe something like:

(2005 - 2010) Long-term Construction Job:
Painted realistic wood grain in extreme environments while fingers physically ached from the cold; personally purchased and used necessary brushes and tools not provided by multi-billion dollar employer; maintained integrity under physically and mentally toxic work conditions; consistently rejected inappropriate advances; successfully utilized Port-a-John even while smeared with poo and offensive graffiti; successfully utilized paint to strategically disguise menstrual accidents on Union-mandated white pants; maintained reasonably positive attitude in light of rampant sexism, racism, bigotry, ignorance, and sheer exhaustion.

(2003 - 2005) Long-term Tech Job:
Mitigated extreme irritation with humor; inappropriately utilized ‘mute’ button for shouted cursing when unable to take one more second of stupidity; showed extreme restraint in not yelling directly at truly idiotic customer base; developed highly quippy and much-loved online personality; doubled typing speed; flirted inappropriately; assembled team of like-minded smart-asses to make tedious and unbearable job entertaining; milked clear expectations and reward structure to fullest extent.

(Most of Oct 2003) Short-term Design Assistant Job:
Developed full understanding of phrase ‘crazy doesn’t need a reason.’

(1999- 2003) Long-term Resort Job:
Made lifelong friends; wrote hilarious fake reports back and forth with night manager; laughed too hard to answer phone; made second home for toddler (who promptly charmed bartenders into providing her with free Shirley Temples); utilized Children’s Program as daycare; learned that a good boss who appreciates you makes a huge difference; successfully disengaged emotionally upon learning owners keep the place as a tax write-off and aren’t interested in how much potential resort has or how much better it could be.

For total accuracy, I’d have to include all my parenting and relationship experience too I guess, but let’s just leave that door closed for today.



It’s been a long time coming. It’s exasperating to comb job postings on craigslist and see: “Bachelors degree required + 5 years min experience... Compensation: $9/hr.” That will not cover my gas money. And of course there’s no benefits.

More and more Dan & I have realized there are no jobs that allow us the flexibility necessary to maximize our visitation schedule with Miss L, let alone spend our days doing anything we’re passionate about. So, we’ve decided to employ ourselves.

I should be terrified. This is nuts, right? Except I feel the most sane I think I’ve ever felt.

With this decision, with both of us all in, our formerly erratic lives have ballasted. All kinds of mental energy is free-ranging again; our creativity is through the roof. My blog is late this week because I’ve been painting too much.

All our energies have shifted toward bringing our new life into existence; we’re no longer biting fingernails, praying for a job call, every day devastated if one doesn’t come through. And if a call did come in, then we’d spend every day dreading the inevitable layoff and that’s no way to live either.

We’re done with all of that.

In The Art of Non-Conformity, Chris Gillebeau writes (and I’m paraphrasing poorly here) that when we work for someone else, we’re always at their mercy. I never would have understood that before my half-dozen years held hostage over the contractors’ barrel, but now I just “A-MEN!” And having seen it so clearly now, I can’t un-see it; in some way or another, I’ve been trapped by every job I’ve ever had. Every call at home after hours, every email received while on vacation, every time I felt guilty for calling in sick-- these link me to an anchor I never even noticed.

These days are ripe for unconventional lives. I’ve spent so long trying to nail down a conventional one, I forgot there were other ways to support ourselves-- other lifestyles more conducive to our personalities, other ways to build and raise our family. All our strengths lie along untrodden ways; why have we been trying to fit into a box all this time when we’re so not box-shaped?

I’m taking my life back. Choosing my own priorities, deciding for myself how to spend my time. I’m painting. I’m writing. I’ve got plans to sell refinished furniture. Teach faux finishing classes. Write grants. I’ll manage Dan’s etsy shop and his blog while he carves up a storm. Not one of these incomes, not limited to one future or one path, but ALL of them. Why didn’t I ever think of this before?

In doing all the things I love most, I actually get more time. Dan and I get more time together as a couple, we get more time as a family, there’s more time for road trips and long hikes. This is not an interim. This is our new lifestyle.

We’re taught there’s only one safe river: go to college, get a job, forge a career, build up the 401k. Buy a house, have a family, put the kids through private school, teach them to follow the river too. There’s nothing wrong with that, exactly, except you’re pretty well screwed when there’s a drought. It sure ain’t raining much these days.

One river’s not enough any more. It doesn’t flow the direction I want to travel. It’s time to seek out hidden tributaries, explore 86 directions at once, immerse ourselves in freshwater abundance.


Stepmothers' Day

Today, the Sunday after Mothers’ Day, is Stepmothers’ Day.

I envision this horde of grouchy, unappreciated women at their wits’ ends rising up and saying in one huge angry huff: “You won’t acknowledge us on Mothers’ Day? Fine. We’ll invent our own goddamned day. Goddammit.”

I used to read these online stepmother forums, searching for any shred of guidance on how to make things better at our house, how to get Miss L (and/or her mother) not to hate me, how to break through the resentment, understand why there was so much of it to wade through in the first place. And all I learned was that our problems were universal. There was a lot of virtual shrugging, a lot of ‘I know, right?’ but no real advice.

And these women, they are not bad women. Through post after post, their hearts are breaking, but they just come back swinging harder the next time. More than anything, and in spite of everything, their love for those kids permeates their words. It wouldn’t be so damned hard if we didn’t care, after all.  

And that’s the real crux of it. We’re hated for making sure homework is done and vegetables are eaten. Resented for planning family vacations and attending little league games. Ignored at recitals, not informed about school conferences, not consulted regarding the futures of the children we’re raising. Because, you know, we’re not real parents. We barely count. We’re just some woman the dad married; why include us in anything.

I, too, am  ‘just some bitch,’ according to Miss L’s biological mother. I’ve posted my share of horror stories in those forums, more of them than I care to remember. Actually I’m trying real hard to forget them, forget every single one of them and not feel resentful and just move forward. I can’t change what’s past, but the future’s up for grabs. Things are so much better now; it’s a whole new life.

I even took Miss L bra shopping yesterday (with other people too; we’re not quite brave enough to be alone together yet) and everyone had fun and she took the bras back to mom’s house with her instead of leaving them on the floor with tags on like she used to do with the stuff I bought her. We are starting to become... maybe not good friends. Maybe not even friends. But friendly, anyway, and that’s a start toward something. Something new. Something hopeful and less angry.

But on this day, this stepmothers’ day, I think about the women who still haunt those forums, how I’m only about a year removed from those miserable, can't-win days. I visited the other day, and nothing has changed. They have user names like didntsignup4this and tiredofdrama. Those new to the message boards post threads with titles like “New here... feel like a horrible person :(” and “Get out now or stick with it?” The ladies who’ve been doing this for years post things like “Yet more marriage probs because of stepkid” and “Another ruined vacation” and “Bio-Mom filed false abuse charges on us w/CPS... AGAIN!” It’s all so familiar, and so grim, I had to stop reading.

In some weird, not-quite-schadenfreude way, reading all that baggage is comforting; my rocky start with Miss L wasn't me being an idiot and doing everything wrong. Well, partly. But moreso it’s the role itself. It’s just freakin’ tricky. It’s stressful and complicated for all of us. And while I’m sure there are some genuinely wicked stepmothers, the majority of us try really hard to be good moms while putting up with way more than the usual amount of bullshit, all for the (apparently) unforgivable sin of loving these kids we did not birth and marrying their fathers.

It’s easy to see why we’re so universally despised.

Damned right we deserve our own day. I think I’ll buy myself something nice.


One True Thing

Dan & I went hiking with friends and dragged Miss G along. She ditched us on the return trek, ranging way ahead in her typical impatient way.

After a bit I thought I heard faint yelling over the high winds. I stopped walking, listened hard, checked my intuition-- yep, that was my kid. There was no pain in her voice, so I didn’t think she was hurt. But fear was there. Fear edging toward panic.

I wasn’t worried about not finding her; it wasn’t too hot and you can see for miles out there. She had water and common sense, plus Dan can rescue anyone from anywhere if needed. (God, I love that guy.) But hearing your kid in anguish and not knowing how to get to her is--- well, pretty awful. I should have a more eloquent phrase but it’s too yuck to dwell on long enough to find better words.

She popped up a few hilltops over. Seeing her body limned in desperation instead of relief, I realized she hadn’t heard us yelling back. We shouted louder, waved and screamed and jumped around, but the wind took our voices the wrong way and her panicked eyes skittered right past without catching.

We waited; she was facing us. Surely she’d see us any second. Annnny second now. We were so close. And she did start walking after a bit, but in a wandering way. In a lost and heartbroken, heartbreaking way. And in the wrong direction.

I caught up to her in just a few minutes. She didn’t see me until I was almost on top of her. She almost took me down with a tackling hug; she hasn’t cried that hard since the her first weeks in daycare. I held her tight and told her the same thing I told her then: “It’ll be okay, I’d never leave you, I will always come back for you.”

And it’s one of those moments where life folds over onto itself, and instead of twelve she’s not even two and we’re at daycare and she won’t let me leave because her dad left one day and still hadn’t come back and that was weeks ago so who knew what the world’s rules were now. Other kids cry with anger or loss when their moms dropped them off; mine screamed with terror. I’d say, “It’s okay, it’s okay” but she could hear that I didn’t believe it myself and just cry harder. I clenched my jaw and her shaking little body close, all anguish and hot tears tucked under my chin, both of us exhausted from our new lives and her new nightmares, next to tears myself because you can’t see your child in pain and not feel it yourself and knowing nothing would make this better, really, nothing would bring her dad back and everything was wrong so I just started chanting the only true thing I knew: “I will never leave you, I will always come back for you, every time, always, always” until her sobs slowed into regular-kid-at-daycare sobs, then I’d give her a last hug and a big false smile and say goodbye as if everything were fine and she’d finally let me go and sometimes I could make it all the way back to the car before I was in tears myself.  

And now, a decade and many lifetimes later, surrounded by sky and cholla, the wind whipping our voices out of our mouths and replacing them with hair, Miss G covered in tears and snot, I hold her the same way, taller than me in her hiking boots, tell her the same true thing.

And she cried a lot and threw up a little and we cleaned her up and took deep breaths together and she said she’s never going ahead of us again. But I know she will and I love that about her, love that she blazes ahead, eyes bright, machete in hand to slash new paths. And, as always, am amazed/flattered/mystified that this tough-as-nails child needs me at all when she is ten times more fearless and capable than I was at her age. Maybe at any age.

Everything in the world has changed, every bit of our lives, except that one true thing that remains within and above all else: that we two are always, always, always. And for always.

On Mothers’ Day, I celebrate my strong, amazing daughter. I thank her for making me a mama. We do whatever she wants to do, because it’s her day more than mine. She gave it to me, this best gift of all gifts.


Spring Shift

Spring scrambles my circadian rhythms.

I’m a Minnesotan at heart. Spring should be a time of opening, relaxing, slowing down. It’s relief after months of still, interminable cold. The light is lovely and gentle; warmth quickens the dead landscape, brings color to the white page. Spring is Summer’s herald, promising glorious months thick with lazy lake days and loon calls.

The spring sun promises nothing here; it’s this apologetic diplomat ushering in Summer the Tyrant. It foreshadows months of cruel, glaring sky uncompromised by clouds; even they can’t withstand Summer’s ferocity.

Desert spring is a speeding-up time. A race to beat brutality. It’s hard to feel positive too long in the spring with summer looming just behind. And dammit, feeling not-positive in the springtime goes against the natural order of things.

Spring used to be my waking-up time, time for pent-up creativity to explode out from under deep snowdrifts. Now it's my battening-down time. A bracing-against time. Summer is my time for hiding inside and waiting for the worst to pass, when I used to cram those days full to the hilt. I now dread sunshine and clear skies the way I used to dread dark months without one day above zero degrees.

No wonder I can't get on top of things here; even the seasons flip me upside down.