lost in the possibilities, or, when my daughters went to school

My older daughter is 11; my younger is 5. For the last 11 years I have, for the most part, been at home with one or both of them. This summer, both girls went to two weeks of full day camp. It was the first time in 11 years that I had such an expansive amount of childcare. I was giddy and elated and I painted furniture and went to Goodwill a lot. It was summer. Most of my clients were quiet and there were very few pressing deadlines. I played a bit, though I never lost the sensation of being in a huge hurry — the kiddos will be back any minute! gotta get this done!

Today, they both went to full-day school. As I drove away after dropping them off, I laughed and I cried.

I laughed because I was filled with joy. The school aligns with our values in some of the most vital ways. It will challenge them. And, it’s safe. They feel at home.

I cried because, as the girls’ father said, “It’s a big deal moment. Out of the first nest.”

I also cried with relief. It’s been a difficult journey over the last several years. Their father provides substantial support, far above the legal requirements. But, it’s still been difficult and part of that is because being at home with our daughters has been a priority for us. Time is always scarce; I always feel in a hurry. With so much to do and so little time, I have to go-go-go or I might collapse.

Today, I am caught between collapsing—something I do a bit of each time the girls go to their father’s house—and getting things done. I’m in shock, truly in disbelief, at the amount of time I now have available to me. Not only will I be able to grow my business, but I will be able to… fold the laundry, cook meals, pay bills, complete paperwork, make and keep appointments, go for walks, grocery shop, sleep, and be emotionally and physically available to my daughters when they get home from school.

As my business grows, of course, I will have less personal time. Everything’s relative, though. Going from just two mornings and a day each week to five days a week is the lottery of time, and I’ve won it. For now, I need to learn how to breathe and believe it’s really true.

our “no groceries” challenge

Last week, several bills came due at once and I wasn’t sure I had money enough to cover the checks I was sending out. It was scary, again.

Things are much better than they were at the worst point of these financially challenging times. However, despite my ex-husband’s continued generous support, grantwinners.net’s growth, and a gift my daughters got to help with summer camp, I’m still not financially stable. In fact, to cover the cost of preschool and childcare for the summer (still not all paid for), I had to withdraw the savings I had set aside from our tax refund. That savings needs to be there for when my 2002 Subaru decides it’s time to go. That savings isn’t there anymore. The checks cleared, but it was another eye opening experience. The possibility of having no money at all, again, was terrifying.

During those few days where I wasn’t sure how things would work out, I decided I’d better not go to the grocery store if I could avoid it—I have dried and canned goods in the pantry, and previously cooked frozen foods in the deep freezer. I could make do for… how long?

At that point, I started getting a little excited. I realized that if I see it as a freely-chosen challenge, rather than depravation borne of necessity, I feel enthusiastic about “winning” the not-spending battle. It’s an enormously useful reframing of a previously terrifying situation.

I decided to see how long I could go without going to the grocery store. I don’t mean that we’d starve or even really be uncomfortable. I’m a good cook, and, like I said, we have a lot on hand. I talked to my daughters about it and mentioned some items we didn’t have and how my one concern would be fresh vegetables, fruit, and milk. My older daughter suggested one more trip to the market to stock up on what we needed and then we’d start with our challenge.

Yesterday, I made a run to BJs, using up my foodstamps for the month, and made the last of our purchases for… how long? I don’t know.

IMG_3005
I will eventually buy milk and, when I do, I might sometimes go to the shelf where they sell the not-pretty but perfectly good fruits and vegetables if we are out. I will use foodstamps for that. I also expect when the time comes that I do need to go to the grocery store, I will have accrued some funds in my foodstamps account which will help me stay on the path to almost-stable financial ground.

I’m going to post updates about the experience here. I realize people all over the Internet are publicly tracking their experiences with private and personal goals. Usually, if “everyone is doing it,” I find it unappealing. But, this is something my daughters and I are doing together (my older daughter okay’d several of the school lunches she had X’d out previously) and it’s something I’d like to be mindful of as we go along. Writing about it here will help me.

Knowing me, there will be exceptions to the “no grocery shopping” rule beyond buying milk and bruised fruit. There will be issues I haven’t considered. However, the idea of spending almost no money on groceries because we are using what we have feels empowering. I’m feeling motivated and energized by all the creativity it’s going to require.

gratitude update

It’s been just over a year since we moved into this apartment that now feels like Home.

Before that, we lived in “high density housing” (American for “poor people’s apartments”) where we were as happy as we could be. It wasn’t because my daughters walked in on a couple guys smoking not-tobacco and not-marijuana in the stairwell, or because of the dealer who camped out on the back stoop, or because of the unsupervised children so desperate for adult guidance their behavior was not always safe, or because the man who lived downstairs disturbed me so much that I told him if he spoke to my daughter again I would call the police—this is the same man who invites those same unsupervised and hungry children to his apartment for snacks after school. None of these are the reasons we moved. We moved because we could. My parents have money and they paid for our move. That move put our lives back on course and the course is good.

The last 4+ years have been difficult. Rocky. Challenging. Full of lessons. Any way I say it, it sounds white-washed. There were times I wasn’t sure I would make it. If you know me well, you’ll know that means it was really bad. Normally, no matter how bad things get, I’m like Pippi calling up to her mother in Heaven, “Don’t you worry about me. I’ll always come out on top!”

Just over four years ago, I was pregnant and our marriage was ending. Then, we had a second child, the very new baby, and our marriage ended. We declared bankruptcy. We moved (me to Brookfield/”high density housing” and him to Orono, a decision I supported). We began sharing custody of our children over the hurdles of physical distance. We readjusted from married-forever to being loving friends who co-parent. Add to all of this many other events, happenings, choices, and significant difficulties that all brought me to the content for my newspaper column, being “newly poor.” All of that also brings me to now.

I’m writing this because today I had a really good day. I’ve had a lot more of them lately. There are many reasons for that, but there’s a distinction for me between having a good day and having a day where the light at the end of the tunnel is so close I’m almost in it (and, I’m now sure it’s not a train).

This wonderful home, some outstanding help in my business (life-changing for me, though she won’t let me give her so much credit), high quality preschool for my nearly-four-year-old and an excellent public school for my nine and a half year old, a spiritual community we love, and heaven on earth (my parents’ summer place near Bethel) to visit in the summers. There are other outward expressions of how much better things are, but I want to keep this relatively brief.

So, I’m tired. I’m very, very tired. Despite my ex-husband’s incredible co-parenting and generous support, I’m still a single mother. Being a single mother is a job I could only understand after living it. I love it, but it’s not easy. At the same time, as I said, work is going well. The column is the job I’ve dreamed of since the 90s when I was writing, “It’s all about me! (the column)” on my website every week. I’ve made several new paintings (not shown on my website) and will be showing them at Bard in time for First Friday in April (they’ll still be there for First Friday in May, too!). My daughters are extraordinary. More and more often, my gratitude nearly overwhelms me. Life is good.

IMG_0280IMG_9956

asking for help, offering help (grantwinners.net)

It’s not that I think I don’t have useful or helpful qualities. What happens is I forget that my useful or helpful qualities are, in fact, not qualities that everyone else already has.

More specifically, as I have been working with my amazing new partner (administrative help, but oh-so-much more) for grantwinners.net, I’ve let a bit of light shine on some of my more self-defeating weaknesses.

As I am showing her how I prepare for grants (in particular, how I do research), I’m reminded that the things I’ve learned about winning grants over the last 10 years are not common knowledge.

It is my belief that the best people to tell the stories of an organization are the people who live those stories. The staff, that is, share their passion for their organization’s work better than I could—in some respects. It’s that “in some respects” part that I have both not recognized but have also felt uncomfortable sharing with potential new clients.

Truly, the people who are in the day-to-day of the programs know the stories best. But, with my experience, I know how to take those stories and find where they fit the funders’ missions. I make excellent matches between the missions of organizations and the missions of funders (74% success rate in 2012, it turns out, which I think isn’t too shabby). I can work with writing provided by clients to turn it into stories highlighting the most relevant (to the funder) information.

When I taught a grant writing workshop at the United Way of York County a year or so ago, I didn’t expect people to find it as helpful as they did. It was such an easy workshop to teach. I mostly just talked about things I had learned over the years and, again, I was surprised to realize what I knew wasn’t common knowledge.

With my administrative partner’s help, I’ve become a lot more aware of the real service I could be to organizations who need to find grant funding. In addition to my own excellent research and writing skills, I manage a team of researchers, writers, and editors who really know what they are doing. I only work with people who I can say, “here’s this, could you do it?” and I will know they will do the most excellent work possible.

During the toughest times in the last couple-few years, I’ve been forced to learn how to ask for help. Asking someone else to do what I believe I should do is still nearly impossible for me. But, asking my friend to work for me as a senior team member in charge of administrative aspects of grantwinners.net was one of the greatest moves I’ve ever made professionally. Not only am I getting more organized than I ever have been before, I am recognizing that it’s not entirely self-serving to say to an organization, “I can help you.”

Saying “I can help you” to an organization feels self-serving because I really need more work. So, of course, I am motivated to have organizations recognize what the grantwinners.net team might add to their grants program. Knowing how much I want the work makes me suspicious of my own motivations. That said, I would never suggest an organization hire grantwinners.net if I didn’t sincerely believe we could be of service. Now that I have this beautiful reflective surface (my administrative partner), I’m dusting off the “I can help” and recognizing my sincerity matters. In a lot of cases, when non-profit organizations need to improve their grants program, I can help.

Now, can you help? If you know of organizations that might benefit from professional assistance with grants, please consider sharing with them the link to grantwinners.net. I’m very good at what I do, and I’d like more work. I would also, just as much, like for groups who are working hard to improve our world to benefit from my experience.

irresponsibility

If I won the lottery, I’d “just” take care of my children and our home.

I am that irresponsible. I want to be my children’s mother. I want to have the time and energy to do parenting very, very well in the way that feels right to me. I want to be the mother I am. I want to live a rich life as an individual, as a woman, full of variety and color and creativity, so learning from my example strengthens my daughters.

I’m furious that our country’s values make me feel selfish, self-centered, spoiled, and irresponsible because I want to care for my children and create a beautiful, loving, clean, and safe home for them.

Bills must be paid. My former husband is very generous in his support, but it isn’t enough to live on.

Typically, I’m not a fan of complaining without offering solutions. Right now, however, I am just too tired to figure out how this messed up system can be fixed. Somehow, somewhere, someone needs to find a way to make people see that allowing a mother to be at home with her children and be fully present as a parent is an investment in our country’s future.

Until then, I’ll do the work I have to do to make money. I won’t sleep much. I won’t have much patience or energy to just be with my children as there will always be dishes and laundry and errands and follow-up phone calls with insurance companies and just a quick email check to see if a client got back to me and and and…

Last week I put aside all of my to-do items and set the stage for finger painting with my toddler. It was extraordinary. In these photos she is looking at herself in the mirror. I grabbed the mirror after the first time she touched her hair so she would know what she was doing.

This is what beautiful, powerful, enriching, inspiring irresponsibility looks like: