Haves and have-nots: the art of appreciation

"In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
'Live in the layers,
not on the litter.'
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes."
- excerpt from "The Layers" by Stanley Kunitz

When I think about my life now it’s in terms of what is necessary.

I have to get up in the morning.

I have to go to work even if I’m ill or exhausted or if I need or want or feel I deserve a day off.

I have to eat. I have to sleep.

I have to pay bills and I have to fill out paperwork for preschool and I have to keep reminding my daughter that big girls run to the bathroom instead of leaking when they’re too busy having fun.

These and the many other things I have to do preoccupy my mind so much sometimes that I forget to appreciate what I can do… what I am doing.

I have the opportunity most people fantasize about: to change the course of my life when I’m still young enough to reap the rewards. And luckily, the things I’ve been through have taught me exactly what I don’t want my life to be.

Just a few years ago I was in the midst of a marriage that failed to give me the peace of mind and the stability a sound partnership is supposed to provide. Yes I was in love, but it was a love that yielded only feelings of yearning… yearning for a reliability and solace that would actually never come.

I never knew where our money was going or how long we’d be living somewhere before we had to move again or even what personality of husband I was going to get that day.

That was the most depressing part, not being able to predict or rely on my life-partner’s character in the tumultuous times. Feeling like his mood swings were all my fault anyway.

I began to look inside myself for the balance I sought from him, trying not to blame myself for the undercurrent of disappointment that permeated our life together.

Looking back, I know that I felt lonelier in that marriage than I ever have since as a single mom- and that speaks volumes about how flawed my relationship with my ex-husband truly was.

Now, even though I’m pretty much always tired and my schedule is, shall we say, hectic, I’m at last in charge of my own existence.

I work hard because I want to…

I have goals which mean more to me than being well rested. I know how much money I have and I know where every penny goes. I budget and I save and I splurge and it’s all in my hands.

I provide for my daughter. It’s a little bit I can do right now but I’m doing it.

And the nervous stomach, slight edge of panic that came with blindly depending on someone else to make the right financial choices? That’s gone.

My stomach is nice and settled, thank you.


I had a choice to make when I became a single mother: give up or keep going. And like I’ve said before, I kept going.

Although my parents would gladly work themselves into exhaustion to provide the life my daughter and I deserve, I chose to keep going until I finally got my foot in the door of a company I could grow in. And once in there, I continue to work overtime and late shifts and sign up for trainings and vie for promotions.

Because to me, doing something is better than sitting around waiting for something to happen FOR me or someone else to shoulder the responsibility for giving me the life I want.

I did feel stuck that first year of separation, but after filing for divorce I unstuck myself and took my first steps forward. I wanted to be more than someone’s ex-wife and now, years later, I’m a hardworking mom, fiercely protective of the dreams I’m on my way to achieving.

Dreams of financial independence and at least a mid-level management position by the time Zahara’s 5 or 6.

Dreams of owning and organizing and running my own home again.

Dreams of coming home in the evenings and enjoying the routine of homework and dinner and bedtime snuggles with Zahara sometime in the not so distant future.

These dreams may seem mundane or cliché to some people, but to someone who’s been in a state of flux, trapped by another person’s selfishness and disillusioned by a one-sided love, these are the details that I treasure.

The fact that I can dream means that I’ve done so much more than survive.

I’ve moved past the pain of that marriage and divorce to a place of promise and perseverance. I’ve found out how strong I am and I’ve used that strength to earn a living and regain a sense of pride.

And when most days come and go thinking about only what I have to do, I step back and think about the moments that make all of it worth it.

Reading a great book.

Hearing a song that’s perfect from its lyrics to its music to the voice that gives it life.

Breathing in my daughter’s essence from that tiny warm place in the folds of her neck. Watching as her smile grows into a contagious belly-laugh, holding her in my arms, experiencing this world with her by my side to show me what to be awed by and how to feel joyous wonder in the simplest of things.

A 3-day weekend vacation upstate with my little girl... priceless

A 3-day weekend vacation upstate with my little girl… priceless


And then all the have-tos slip away for just a minute and I feel the peace I yearned for not so long ago.

I want to be here, on this journey with her. I am on my way to another type of existence but I’m already her mother, already my own and her greatest ally.

It’s remembering this, that I already am so much more than I thought I could be, that makes the long difficult hours not just necessary, but a blessing.

I’m grateful to have the chance to start over and to create the life I want to lead.

It’s hard being away from my daughter for so many hours a day, so many days and so many giggles missed. But I work this hard now so I can get to the part of our lives when we’ll both come home from our daily routines to our very own dinner table and share our day’s struggles and our future dreams with one another.

The fact that I know that moment is in the making, that I took the necessary risks and am making the necessary sacrifices to allow that moment to one day occur… that’s the feeling that drives me. That’s what turns my thoughts from a life of have-tos and losses to a lifetime of cans and want-tos and wills. Because the thing most necessary in life is the really living of it. And I intend to continue to do just that.