First day at the new job today. I am really excited about the position and think it will be fun and challenging work, surrounded by a good group of people. As a person who has turned away from a natural resources career and toward education, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to be able to teach kids about nature. 

The downside to this job, if I have not mentioned it before, is the very limited time off. I suppose it is comparable to a lot of other jobs in the US in that way, and I will have a somewhat more flexible weekly schedule than most people could hope to have. But as somebody who used to take jobs with 8 days on / 6 days off schedules (or 4 on / 3 off), I know the value of a real weekend. 2 days off is enough to do some things, and I will embrace the schedule I have for the next couple years. But I daydream about an education job that will give me summers off. I wish there was some in-between… Environmental Education and a 4 on / 3 off schedule? I don’t know…

The part of me that wishes for free time also is looking at this thing with the Backpacker… And not even just the Backpacker himself, but the kind of guy the Backpacker represents: Well-traveled, regularly challenging himself with new outdoor adventures. He’s ambitious about the outdoors in a way not unlike I used to be, and we hit it off largely because we both have the same enthusiasms about hiking, and we both have an internal voice that says, “Adventure is not the result of avoiding inconvenience and discomfort; it is the result of embracing those things.” But… I have to plan for myself and a kid, and I do not have a job that will let me roam around the west for weeks at a time the way I used to. Even with compatible mindsets, there is a world of difference between what the two of us can logistically accomplish. Today at work I learned about a potential new nature teacher who could be working under me. I haven’t met her, but she apparently teaches skiing in the winter and is looking to do environmental education in the summertime. She could be the definition of the kind of girl the Backpacker and other outdoorsy guys look for: adventurous, unlimited in her ability to do … basically anything. It makes me feel a little sad, and old. (And yes, I know… I have value too.)

The only way I can combat these blues is to start coming up with some challenges for myself this year. Not just challenges — Bucket list activities. They don’t have to be things I have never done before; they merely have to represent my best use of the time I have to find adventure. More on this to come.


Employment Upgrade

I got a job offer today, and I accepted it. All this school year I have been working as an elementary substitute teacher, and I have started studying for my alt route to certification teaching exams. Everything has been going decently well, though my income as a sub is not quite enough to get by on. In addition, I have felt a little adrift since I stopped pursuing land agency work. My biology degree has felt — not useless, but not well-used. I figured (and still think) education is the right course for me, because I want to have summers and holidays that match my kid’s holidays as he grows up. I want to have time to go on big outdoor adventures, like I used to do for so many years. Teaching public school is a path to that dream. Right now, though, I am taking a detour… I will be working as an education coordinator for a local conservation-type organization. It is year round work, FT, and should enable me to pay my bills, even though the pay is not high. This will give me stability for a few years, give me some work experience that will *hopefully* make me a stand-out candidate for a public school position, and allow me to take my time in choosing what job to jump into next. I will not have that adventuring freedom, but …one step at a time. This job is a blessing. And the people I will be working with seem really nice.

This weekend I am taking my toddler to family day at a local hotspring as celebration of the new job. Between feeling cooped up with winter weather and exploring the world of online dating, I have been distracted in his presence this past couple of months. I realize how much when I do give him moments of full attention and he opens up immediately with smiles and giggles. I don’t want to take this time with him for granted, or to lose sight of how important he is to me. I don’t think I really forget, but when I am struggling to make space in my schedule for a simple coffee date and I talk to a cool new guy who has the freedom to travel and have adventures like I used to do…. It does make me wistful. Though I was there once, looking at the different life paths, and I knew parenting was an adventure I wanted to experience in my lifetime. So — am I wistful? Yes. But I do not at all regret my choices.

Backpacker is in the field until next Tuesday, so I have a little freedom from thinking about guys for a while. I could see his schedule and personal travel plans (frequent as they are) as a bad sign for somebody I am interested in, but I don’t. My ex and I adventured everywhere together for years, just the two of us, and it was lovely and I would never trade in those experiences. But we were so tight that we had nobody else, and I am really enjoying my independence as a divorcee. If Backpacker and I work out, I think some of that independence and breathing space would not be a bad thing. Of course, it is too early to know anything about where this might or might not go.

The Toddler Test – Day 2

After a second night of 12:30 – 4:30/5am sleep, I am feeling really hazy this morning. I sent out an application for a pretty great job, and I sent check-in emails to all my work references. I also talked on the phone to the woman who is going to be my study buddy for the teaching certification test. We reviewed a few standards together, but I was too tired to get much use out of the study session. We agreed to talk again later in the week, and hopefully I will be more awake and able to process information then. 

Last night I also messaged my ex, who was at the Seatac Airport around midnight and was just about to board a plane for Bangkok. Her current partner posted a screen shot of the plane’s progress early this morning, when it was just past the tip of Alaska. Three and a half years ago my ex and I were flying a similar route, on our way to Siberia for an adventure. A lot happens in 3.5 years.

This is a morning in which I need to spell out each next step for myself…. Or take a nap so I can think again. Step 1. Shower. Step 2. Schedule ABCTE exam. Step 3. Stop by apartment office to renew my lease. Step 4. Get health insurance (time is running out on that one). Step 5. Probably go to work…. I have a job as a Title I Aide this afternoon. Not at all sure what that will entail. Tonight I am definitely getting more sleep.

Not sure if I should keep messaging people on the dating apps right now. It might be better to set thoughts of dating aside until my ex is back and I have more free time again. Getting out with other adults at all is going to be a challenge, I think. I also want to make sure I am emotionally present for my kiddo, and not distracted all the time. On the other hand, I really do miss sex and physical imtimacy, and I really would not be opposed to another relationship. Online dating gets me out into that world of possibility again.

The Toddler Test – Day 1

I stayed up until 12:30 or so last night putting together application materials for a new job. (And skimming my dating apps, all while thinking, “I so don’t have time for this,” and wondering if the Backpacker is going to fade out on me without ever asking me out. Yes, I am a little sad about this.)

Toddler woke up at midnight for water, and then wanted to get up again at 4:30am. I got him to sleep in until about 5:10. Yaaay sleep…. I did tidy up the apartment and managed to do my yoga video in the morning even with the toddler running around, so there was that.

Subbing job today for a teacher I have previously subbed for. I took the job because she put me on her preferred sub list, though to be honest, I had a really difficult day last time I subbed for her, and the school is kind of a long drive out for me. I took the position again because of the combined effects of flattery and guilt (the subbing system kept autocalling me to ask if I would take it). Mistake? Perhaps. But here I am.

My ex flies to Thailand this evening for sexual reassignment surgery. I don’t feel sad about us anymore, but it feels unreal. This is the person I had sex with for nearly a decade.

Evening update (hiding under the blankets and waiting for the toddler to sleep):

I suppose my ex is on a plane now. 

I am really struggling to stay awake this evening. Have to though. I am calling another ABCTE student after the toddler goes to sleep (we are.working toward teacher certification and have to pass some big tests). She is going to study with me over the phone.

Subbing job today went just fine, by the way. The normal teacher was on campus and she was very helpful. She also said I have a calm personality and that is good for teaching. Makes me feel happy. Though it is funny to hear students say they liked me after some of them had a mini-revolt when they didn’t want to do their work (which is what happened the first time I subbed here). Like the teacher said today, though, the important thing in a situation like that is to not react emotionally and exascerbate the situation. Guess I have a decent poker face.

Life According to Bridget

Bridget Jones is very important to me. Not the movie Bridget so much, though really, what better moment is there than the one where Colin Firth, as Mr. Darcy, says, “I like you just as you are“?

It’s the books I love most (well, ignoring book 3). There is a quote that says something to the effect that finding stories about people like you gives you the vocabulary to explain your life. Bridget Jones is very different from me in a lot of ways: She drinks a lot, smokes, dislikes exercise, is obsessive about her weight and diet… and she is more uninhibited and fun than me. But, there is also so much about her and her world I can identify with: from her friend Magda, who is a parent and cannot have a conversation on the phone without pausing every few moments to say things like, “In the potty! Do it in the potty!”; to her dread of work social events; to feeling old and a little “past it” in her 30s; to her procrastination; and to her sense of humor and self-knowledge as she navigates the world of dating and relationships. She describes so many things accurately, like how she gets obsessed about improving her life after a breakup…. Only to realize a few days after making unrealistic commitments to self improvement schemes that, really, the schemes are just appealing because she wants to feel like her new and improved self would never have been dumped or cheated on the way her old self was.

…Yeah, that. So much that. At least Bridget makes me want to laugh at myself rather than cry.

After I realized Coffee Guy had dropped contact with me I felt a mixture of sadness, embarrassment, frustration, and pragmatism. He was a good guy, and honest. Really, I don’t regret anything… Except possibly (probably) making the dude uncomfortable. It is easy to start dwelling on the whys of the situation, and it isn’t fun when somebody you like stamps you as ‘reject.’ But a couple weeks of messaging regularly followed by a roadtrip and sex don’t exactly add up to heartbreak. What makes me sad is the lost possibility of trying activities outside my normal sphere of existence with a new friend. As Coffee Guy told me about his hobbies I imagined doing yoga, road biking, bouldering, and dancing together at concerts. Going on a roadtrip with a stranger was exciting… It was an escape from the monotony of my regular life, and it felt like I was breaking away from my personal hangups of not being good enough or interesting enough.  I was living, doing something new- and that felt really good. 

In the aftermath of that adventure, and with the new year upon me, I have been thinking a lot about personal growth and goals. Bridget is in the background, smiling a little, or maybe she is ready to leap into change just like I am. I have had a lot of adventures in the past; with the right company (i.e. somebody who is also really into hiking and exploring on foot) I can roll out story after story, discuss places, discuss gear and logistics… With somebody who has a broader range of interests, my life feels just a little one-dimensional. Some of that may simply be a compatibility issue, but I realize that I have been in a rut for a while with my adventuring. I want to do more than lead the occasional hiking club hike with my meager spare time. I want to hang out with more people than just parents and hikers. I want to be a different version of myself than I was in 2016 – more adventurous, more fearless.

I have some thoughts about goals for the new year, though I am going to wait to voice any of them. A lot depends on whether I can find schedule flexibility with my toddler. My ex is going to undergo a major surgery this January, and in between her recovery (which will be slow) and her reduced spring/summer visitation time with our child due to her work travel schedule, I am not likely to have a lot of personal freedom. Also, I need to focus my energy on getting certified to teach so I can *hopefully* get a career off the ground and be able to adequately support myself and my kid. Finances right now are tight, and I don’t want to be dependent on my family for help any longer than I need to.

Thoughts, thoughts, thoughts. More substantial updates to come. It is, after all, a new year.

A New Leaf 🍂 

Sometime at the end of December in 2015, my spouse and I went to see the third Hunger Games movie at our local theater. I love the book series, and I was excited because we usually waited to see things until we could get them from Redbox. That outing was anything but carefree, though. As J and I sat in the coffee shop by the mall fountain, the D word came up again. We had been working to save our relationship for some time (at least, I had – J had superficially been trying, but she had been slipping further away no matter what I did). I don’t remember our words in the coffee shop anymore. I remember holding a hot cider and not drinking it, crying and not really caring who saw. In the theater I laid my head on her shoulder and cried some more. The loss of what we had built over a decade together felt huge and terrible.

J moved out of our townhome and in with her new girlfriend just after the new year. She continued to help financially support me and our son, and she was commited to being part of his life. I know worse stories. She was also distant and occasionally unpleasant, and I wondered what had happened to my best friend of so many years.

Moving in to a new apartment was a relief. I was not able to shut out the grief by closing my new front door, but I liked my new space, and incrementally I began to feel a degree of peace there. The windows were large and screened by trees. I could listen to anything I wanted – audio books, podcasts, music – without having to consider another person’s tastes. My son and I danced in the living room. I decorated my walls with pictures and maps. Even while I grieved, I was able to appreciate not being stuck with a moody partner who blamed other people for her troubles, who didn’t enjoy doing things with me, and who didn’t seem to value the same things as me anymore.

I made an effort to get out socially. Between work and parenting it was hard, but I joined a community garden for the summer. I hosted the occasional hike with Hikeit Baby. I took my son to the park and we went swimming. J and I had spent so much time in the past with only one another, and though we’d been on innumerable adventures and I had many beautiful memories of our time together, I wanted to build more connections for myself. This was the time to do it. Some weeks I felt like I was making progress; some weeks I felt very alone. Over time I was able to scrape together company a little more easily. There were people I could do things with! Little by little I felt more connected with the world. My ties still feel tenuous, even now, but I am thankful for each new experience and interaction. There are a lot of really interesting, cool, caring people out there, and my life is more interesting because of them.

My divorce was finalized near the end of summer 2016. J was easier to interact with by that time and had apologized for many of the things that were not working in our relationship. I was still sad about the broken ties, but less so.

Around the same time I began working as a substitute teacher, mainly at the elementary school level. I had been a volunteer coordinator before that and at times I missed the work. Teaching was hard and could be tedious. The worksheets I was given to work on with the kids were painfully boring. I missed the connection I used to have with my volunteers. And yet, teaching was active. I was no longer sitting in a chair for 8 to 10 hours a day. And sometimes it could be fun – leading a class discussion or reading to the kids. The work was challenging in a way that was new to me. I was stretching my people skills again. I didn’t know if I would ever be GOOD at the job… But I wanted to see if I could improve. And I really wanted to find a career that would allow me to have summers off to spend with my son. I signed up for the alternate route to a teaching certificate. It was a risk… And a new leaf.

In December I took another new risk and met up with a guy from an online dating site. It was the first really active step I had taken away from my marriage. Everything before that, from the separation to the actual divorce, had been a simple response to circumstances. This was different, because it was something I chose based on what I wanted in my life. That first date was simply an hour’s conversation over coffee, and I was both alarmed and excited when I felt a little spark with the person sitting by me. It made me feel sad all over again for the past, because I knew that I would, at some point, not be able to retrace that emotional connection I’d had with my ex. 
And it true: A couple weeks later I met up with Coffee Guy for a short and wildly ridiculous roadtrip to Utah. It was beautiful, it was awkward, and it was something new – and I have not felt the same way about my ex since then. It is a freeing feeling, even though I am also currently feeling a little sad and disappointed that Coffee Guy is apparently uninterested in continuing the acquaintance. I don’t think I will move so fast with future people I date, but I am in a generally happy place right now. I never dated anybody before my ex. This is – all of it – very new to me. I am ready to meet new people, to get hurt – and to LIVE.

(Above) Even an illogical and impractical roadtrip adventure makes sense when this is what you see out your car window.