I've returned from a week away, relaxing and enjoying time with friends and with my love, Craig. I intended to play but still work, yet the satellite-powered internet made it nearly impossible to even pull in some email.I took that as a firm message from the universe: turn off, unplug, and relax. And so I did!

The morning before we left, we celebrated our little neighbor's 3rd birthday by going to her party; Evie is magical--smart, unveiled, compassionate and head-strong. The party headline was "Tacos and Toddlers," offering breakfast tacos, mimosas, and tie dye--a party for kids and grown ups!. There were nearly a dozen little ones running around and moms & dads were corralling as necessary.

Each small one had the suite of parents--mom & dad--and the sun lit up the back yard where families sat in their family clusters. The tie dye portion of the party came, and I helped Evie squirt colorful dye from plastic bottles onto white, cotton, T-sized shirts.  No wonder I felt waylaid by sadness--even grief. Along our drive toward vacation, I felt a heaviness, taking away my breath.I struggled to understand and dug into asking myself question after question, and the easy answer came quickly.

Easy answers are like that: they show up so that we stay on the surface. Easy answers are ego answers. My ego answer was that I miss being a little-kid's mom--my kids are in their 20's and independent and amazing--and having accepted the answer so quickly, I shifted to gratitude because I was such a natural mom and loved everything about it. When my daughter, Emily, was born, she was barely 20 minutes old when I looked at her father and said, "we have to do this again; this is the most unbelievable feeling of love that I've even known." Motherhood was my passion.

So that was the answer...until I felt into the question, "is that true? Anella, is that TRUE?" I checked in, scanned my body carefully, and found sadness, still, so I knew there was more. I turned inward, again. And I found gold. The gold is that I got back in an old story, which went something like this: look at all of these happy families...all of these dads, engaged because they are always helpful...these moms, who have such a supportive partner...see how he just automatically knows what to do to be helpful...look at him johnnie-on-the-spotting it...he must be so successful at work...just look at him be so present and focused on his family at a birthday party!

In the car, on our drive toward vacation, I fueled this old story with self-pity: I wanted to raise my kids in THAT kind of family, where their father knew how to be helpful and our partnership was balanced and his focus was on our kids as much as was mine. That was story I was looping, around and around. I felt cheated, all over again, wanting to have the family where the dad was like all these dads. I piled it on and on: I didn’t get to have that in this life time. 

My sadness swelled as I spun my old story, yet I kept pressing myself for the TRUTH, until I broke through and found what feels true.The truth is: I have no idea what struggles those couples have. I have no idea how engaged those dads are 24/7. I have no idea how much of a co-parent any of them are—moms or dads—really. I have no more idea than what I could glean in two hours.  

The truth is: my ex-husband and I did the best we each knew how. As much as I wanted a partner and wanted to feel like a co-parent, I equally didn’t know how to ask for what I needed him to do.The truth is: I assumed that he should just know what to do. I didn’t have an instruction manual that said ‘MOTHERHOOD 101, and I figured it out. I wanted him to step up and figure out his part. I was a natural mother--my intuition held wisdom and I trusted what I felt. 

The truth is: I didn’t tell my ex-husband how I wanted our family dynamic to feel and how I would value his contribution and share my vision of what that could look like. I gave him tasks. Assignments. Lists of chores and said, “choose any of them but choose some,” and when he said, “no,” I dug in. I thought his heels were already in, so why not mine, too?

The truth is: I brought an energy into this world that sounds like this: I want you to help me do this thing that we both say is important to us, but when you don’t meet my expectations—that I might or might not fully communicate to you—I STOP being a partner and DO MORE OF EVERYTHING MYSELF.  I don’t risk it on you. I dive in, and I get it done. That’s another prevailing energy I have: move over and let me handle it. I’m capable. I’m sturdy. I’m on it.

And then I grieve over feeling so very alone and so very responsible.

There. That’s the truth. And it’s good to see it. Until I can see it, I can’t remove it. Until I say, “Ah, I see you, old story, I see how you’ve run madly through my mind. I reject you,” then I live in the past, veiled with the old perspective, grabbing onto the ego answer, staying on the surface.

This going inward, looking carefully—it’s the work that builds the new story.