Our happiness depends on the stories we tell ourselves

If you are a person who loves your garden, people send you pictures of your garden. It’s a way of saying thank you for making a nice place to enjoy. But since I am dense when it comes to social skills, I used to think people were stupid for sending me pictures of my own garden. I saw my garden every day.

Now I covet those pictures.

The pain I feel from missing my garden ripples through all of my life. I don’t want to eat the kale from the Co-op because I used to grow enough kale for ten families. I don’t want to walk through Swarthmore where there’s a hydrangea in every yard because I used to have twenty different types of hydrangeas, crafted perfectly along my winding paths.

The pain of the end is that you are so good at that thing. At that life you make. I remember when I stopped playing volleyball. It was so difficult to not go to the beach every day. It had been my job for eight years. I felt lost going to an office. I was a beach volleyball player. A beach volleyball player writing my novel. A beach volleyball player on a date.

Not playing volleyball never felt quite right until I had a baby. Then I felt so weird being a parent. Because it meant I was no longer a kid myself. I was more focused on losing that identity than I was on my newborn. Volleyball didn’t seem so important then. Lost identity is relative, I guess.

Volleyball ended like that.

My childless life ended like that.

And my garden ended abruptly as well. When I decide it’s time for change it happens quickly. I deal with the emotional trauma of it later.

So my garden is gone and I feel lost. Unfulfilled.  It’s hard to see myself as only a mom. But there is no more of me that is not just a mom. I am becoming sort of an eccentric mom figure whose previously-full-feeling life is suffocating under the weight of her kids’ daily schedules. You know that type, for sure. It’s the mom you hate. The mom you never want to be. And never want to marry.

A big reason you hate that type of mom is she vents a lot. And people who express positive emotions are contagious. If all you see are good parts of life slipping out from under you, out of your control, that’s a narrative of endings. And it’s a narrative for unhappy people.

Instead, Heather Vough at University of Cincinnati finds that you should tell yourself you made a decision to do something else. Then you are a happy person in control of your life. Like, I traded volleyball for graduate school. I made that choice.

The narrative we tell ourselves matters. Cashing out. Having an epiphany. These are the narratives about endings that enhance one’s sense of self.

I’m trying to find a good narrative for my garden. Right now all I can think is that no one is taking care of it and it’s becoming a big mess. Or I am thinking the garden is beautiful and no one is enjoying it. No one is even noticing.

If you’re great at what you’re doing and then you stop, it’s almost like a breakup. You have to separate from your confident, capable self and go back to square one with your uncertain, bumbling beginner self. It’s hard. And people don’t enjoy doing it.

The silver lining of any ending is that I’m a master at navigating the five stages of grief.

So I’m telling myself I can go back after the kids grow up. Maybe that’s true. I don’t know. But this is easily identifiable as the bargaining stage, and if you can identify your stage of grief you can start to get a grip.

Getting a grip seems like an improvement. So maybe I should write about that instead, because people cope with endings much more easily if they write down positive aspects of their day at the end of each day.

The farmer just stopped paying for farm Internet. And he doesn’t do the phone. He’s never talked on the phone. So it’s unclear how much I will talk with him between now and ten years from now. And my garden will have gone to hell by then.

Maybe I’ll marry someone else who has a garden.

Maybe I’ll get smart enough about relationships to not marry people for their gardens.

Maybe I can tell myself the boys outgrew the garden and I did what any good mother would do. I helped my kids grow into the people they want to be. Maybe I am a gardener of children.

You can only write saccharine sentences about gardens of children if you follow it with one about snakes hiding in the peonies and eating just-born kittens in a gulp. It’s a writing rule for writers who don’t want to suck.

The last stage of loss – acceptance – is not about even about being settled, let alone happy. It’s about being numb. So I am going have to come up with some really great silver-lining type story about how not having my garden is great for me in order to drag myself out of my post-garden stupor.

Melissa’s way to offer compassion is to send me good links, and one was about how getting your heart rate up keeps you young. I can’t figure out how to tell a story of me and my garden that will make me happy. But in the meantime I’m running intervals each morning, because when I do finally figure out that story, I don’t want to be too old to jump for joy.

95 replies
Newer Comments »
  1. MaryKate
    MaryKate says:

    The life I was leading also abruptly ended recently when I agreed to raise my best friend’s two children after she died. I’m struggling to separate from my confident self to the struggling ball of anxiety I feel like I have become. This post spoke to me spot on today. Thank you for posting.

    • Sarah
      Sarah says:

      It’s extremely judgmental to say she’s throwimg him away.

      And have you not been following along? The Farmer said he would come visit, them he refused to visit, now he’s turned off his Internet access. That’s like blocking someone on your phone for them since they mostly facetime.

      She’s always fought for this relationship even when the Farmer didn’t.

      • Dannielle
        Dannielle says:

        I’m trying to absorb this post because I haven’t kept up for awhile and thought Penelope was happy. My gut tells me there are issues of abuse here, maybe mutual.

        Relationships are so complicated. But it seems like shutting off the Internet has more symbolism than it appears.

        • Jennifer
          Jennifer says:

          The Farmer was physically abusive, Penelope wrote a post about it awhile back. Now it sounds like he has cut off any means of communication. Probably time to move on.

  2. Dannielle
    Dannielle says:

    OK…I am sort of caught up…Penelope I am sorry you are going through this. Your writing is noticeably better though. Are you feeling more “yourself?” Is that the cost of being yourself, that you can’t be with the person you love?

      • Charlene
        Charlene says:

        Actually I think even if he is Olympic level the whole family should not be organized around enabling this child to play the cello because 1) He is too young to have already completely had his life committed to this 2) He is being taught that everything should revolve around him 3)While I personally love the symphony and classical music it is rapidly declining in popularity along with one’s ability to make a living as a classical musician (other than becoming a teacher for other such prodigies) and 4) He can still pursue the cello at a slightly less astronomical level without dismantling everyone’s life, back home.

        • Jenn
          Jenn says:

          I work in the classical music education field and it’s true that it’s hard to get a full-time job. It’s also true that the kids who are prodigies don’t care. They are deeply driven. It’s a very personal choice for families whether they apply the gas or the brakes to that engine. There’s an interesting book out called Gone: A Girl, A Violin, A Life Unstrung.

          I actually think The Farmer might understand this drive because he feels similarly about farming.

          In my family, we actually value balance over top-notch excellence but it’s quite complicated and I think one reason we can achieve that balance is that so far no one is that driven.

        • Amy K.
          Amy K. says:

          I think there were other things going on besides cello. Her younger son is extroverted. The older son less so but still asking for tutors/activities not near the farm.

          I always felt like P & her boys were on the farm but not of the farm, if that makes any sense.

          • J.E.
            J.E. says:

            I always sensed that too. P and her sons just didn’t seem like country people. They seemed like they belonged in a city with all the creative and intellectual outlets a city has to offer. I know P has said in the past she’s intrigued by farms, but maybe just to visit. The farm might have been an nice place to go to decompress for periods, but not be there full time. I could see how the isolation could get stifling. Sometimes it seemed that the farmer was either trying or hoping Penelope would become the farm wife type and be content to only venture off the farm when absolutely necessary. As many times as they broke up while dating, to me that would be a red flag.

        • Ronzo
          Ronzo says:

          I agree with this. I don’t think the boy’s musical gift should dictate so much. It was disruptive enough when Penelope was driving 6 hours multiple times a week, now the boys have apparently lost their step dad. I see this as Penelope’s ego needing to be fed, it is probably way more fulfilling to be mother of a prodigy than a farm wife.

          As far as the marriage, I was really rooting for them. Not that I would know for sure, but the abuse episode was their low point, and Penelope acknowledged how they both committed to changing their dynamic, and, at times, she seemed happy and appreciative of her life in Wisconsin…

          So, maybe it was a miserable situation, but she poured a lot of money and energy into the home, an investment on her part which made me think she was actually committed to it.

          The argument that being on a farm is boring and who can blame her for leaving is missing the point; she chose to move there and worked on making it work. Now, she is using the cello as a get out of jail free card. I think this post acknowledges this partly.

          I do wish her the best. I feel sorry for the non-cello playing son, and for this down turn in the relationship between her and the farmer. I also appreciate her willingness to express all this; it is messy and convoluted, and a breath of fresh air from blogs such as the pioneer woman or nie nie dialogues.


        • DHB
          DHB says:

          Charlene, I knew what I was going to do with my life AT AGE 6! Now, I am 61 – still involved it it, had a longer career of it than 98% of most practitioners, and now teach and create it.
          The biggest hindrance to lifetime happiness is THE MYTH THAT A CHILD IS A “CLEAN SLATE.”
          Most successful, HAPPY people(especially artists), when asked “when did you know you wanted to become a …” answer – invariably – “since before I can remember.”
          So, you unhappy, unfulfilled, pseudo-committed people out there, don’t EVER push your “they’re too young to know what they want” or “…to know what life is about” on the youngsters following a dream.

    • Tinrooforess
      Tinrooforess says:

      thanks for your responses. I suppose there is more going on than cello but having moved into a place with a garden I really felt the ache of P. saying she missed it.

      • Charlene
        Charlene says:

        I wanted to let you all know that I just finished the book recommended above in this thread (Gone…etc.). And it was AMAZING! Min Kym writes about her experience as a violin prodigy and what happens when her Stradivarias is stolen. It was virtually her heart and soul and she was left deeply bereft having devoted her life to violin and not having that much to fall back on. The way she describes what it is like to play the violin at such a high level….and the experience of being a prodigy–very real, poetic, lucid. Highly recommended!

  3. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    I’m so sorry you’re feeling this grief. Sounds like you’re processing it as well as can be done.

    I didn’t realize I’d fallen in love with my gardens until the prospect of moving away from them came up last year, when I got married. My wife and I will eventually settle in the suburb where her youngest son will graduate high school next year.

    But I am fortunate — I get one last season to say goodbye.

    I don’t actually like gardening. But I love the flowers when they bloom so I garden anyway. My daffodils have come and gone. My irises (purple and white) are starting to bloom. My lilies are bushing out and should shoot up stalks any time. My peonies have big buds on them all crawling with ants. One last performance from the cast, and hopefully whoever owns my house next appreciates this as much as I have.

    When I divorced more than a decade ago it pushed a massive reset on my life and I grieved the loss of a lot of things that had been part of my life. So when you wrote about leaving beach volleyball and what that was like for you, I totally got it, as I had my own similar feelings of loss and lack of identity at that time.

    But I rebuilt, and pursued some new things: writing and photography. Oh my gosh, where were these things all my life? Did you know I just self-published my first book of film photographs? In part thanks to the writing classes you taught that I took? What a great project. Now if the dang thing will just sell.

    My hope for you is that you reinvent your life too, and that it’s even more satisfying than what you had.

  4. Rob Mitchell
    Rob Mitchell says:

    This gets zanier and more strange all the time. For the previous 6 weeks I have tried to unsubsribe from this blog. Is there so few subcribers left that they ignore unsubscribers commands?

  5. Tom
    Tom says:

    In my opinion, if you’re great at what you’re doing and then you stop, it’s *worse* than a breakup. Because you still have yourself after a breakup. But if you stop what you’re great at, who are you? A person who used to be great at something?

    I’ve experienced that loss.

    And with all respect to Kübler-Ross, I disagree that the last stage of loss is acceptance. The last stage is gratitude that the old life is over, because the new life is, in some real way, better.

    I’ve experienced that as well.

    I get that what I’m suggesting is a heavy lift, especially at first. But I think it really is the last stage.

    • Mairzy Salander
      Mairzy Salander says:

      Thanks for your perspective. I hadn’t considered it, but having the “will they or won’t they call?” anxiety is a relief.

    • Reezam
      Reezam says:

      Tom. Where did you get the fuel to build the new life within the numbness of acceptance?

  6. Kirk
    Kirk says:

    I feel like you are always trying to apply business approaches and self help approaches to things that can’t be solved that way, like gardens and love. These things are driven by emotion. I hope that you are getting help. You seem to be changing your life entirely because you think it is helping your kids. Were your kids unhappy at the farm? I never got the feeling they were unhappy when they were raising hogs or doing the other stuff at the farm.

  7. Mairzy Salander
    Mairzy Salander says:

    I went through this when my 37-year old son decided two years ago that I was a bad mom. I talked to friends and family-and my therapist-about how this could happen and he could just not ever talk to me or let me see his family again. Today, I have my “story” after grieving this enormous loss. I still hope that, every holiday, he will relent and bring his kids to visit me. I don’t think he ever will. His wife gave him an ultimatum-you can share your life with me or your mom, but not both of us. I accept that this was not really a choice for him; she is his wife and the mother of their children. But wow, the searing pain of that loss is unimaginable to me. I am learning about how many people are in this situation and it’s much more common than I would believe. Hug your kids tight every day, because you never know when it’s the last time.

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      Well no, it is his choice not hers. If this is an issue between you and the daughter in law, which is sure does sound like, can you blame him for stepping aside?

      Don’t excuse his behavior, let him be distant (2 years is not that long), and try to improve your relationship with the DIL. She thinks you control him and you think she controls him. He’s in a bad place considering…..

    • JosieB
      JosieB says:

      Sorry. I know a good man whose son married a controlling woman who has alienated him and their children from the grandparents. Heartbreaking, and I’m not sure it ever will change.

      In fairy tales there are evil stepmothers; sometimes in life there are hostile young in-laws, often daughters-in-law. I don’t know if it stems from insecurity or projected anger or what.

      • Mairzy Salander
        Mairzy Salander says:

        Thank you for your kindness. My husband has pointed out that my son was raised by a very strong-willed, determined woman who insisted that he have everything he needed. I guess he can only have one of those in his life. Had I known then what I know now, I would have been a different parent. I just want him and my grandchildren to be happy and safe.

        • jessica
          jessica says:

          Just improve your relationship with your daughter in law. Even your husband is pointing out the issue. Geez.

    • Cáit
      Cáit says:

      I am so so sorry.
      The true test of a strong woman is being willing to swallow insult and selflessly serve hostile in laws. This is the ultimate gesture of feminine strength.
      Sadly people think they just have a bunch of “relationships” in their lives which are purely personal and not part of deeper ancient codes.

      • BJ McKay
        BJ McKay says:

        As the daughter in law of a toxic woman for whom I just hosted a birthday party out of love for my husband and children, I NEEDED to read that today, Cait. I keep telling myself that I am doing the right thing when I really want to cut off all of my family’s contact with my MIL. And that I will be better doing it.

        Boundaries are work. Relationships are effort.

        Penelope, hang in there. Grieve, but move forward. Your boys need you.

        • Cáit
          Cáit says:

          Hi BJ, hang in there. Let’s just say I KNOW. All your tears will be counted in heaven. For me I just try to imagine her young and pregnant and think of all the love and/or care she must have given him as a baby. And she was a baby once to. And you or I may be the MIL someday. It’s probably hard to be replaced. You’re doing the right thing. Like Ruth.

  8. Lauren teller
    Lauren teller says:

    Yes …. never marry anyone for their garden, marry someone who helps you to garden you.
    Replacement helps these transitions .Actively engage in creative things (embroidery, collage, dance) that give you sense of fulfillment and beauty that garden once gave you. Try to limit comparing that to gardening because it will always fail. Until one day for one second it won’t
    When that happens tell all the people that love you and we can be happy for you..
    These are good embroidery classes: http://www.craftsy.com
    This is great simple dance:
    Keep moving
    Eat salad
    Get sleep
    Call friends
    Xo lauren

  9. Karo
    Karo says:

    Our brain doesn’t know fact from fiction that’s why we get scared watching horror movies. We can make ourselves believe whatever we want to ease the pain, burden, disappointment. Our thoughts create reality. Reframing is everything.

  10. diana
    diana says:

    Hi Pen,
    You really have arrived in a new place, haven’t you. It sounds a bit isolated. Have you met anyone in the new town yet? I’ve been told that a major life change can be far less bumpy if you have community. Obviously for you, you must meet new people in group settings instead of one-offs, which would take forever. I’m sure you know how to find such groups in your new town.
    I was diagnosed with MS, lost my six figure job, and moved to a strange town. I had no community at all which was tough because I’m an introvert. So my life went literally nowhere. Then my husband declared he no longer wanted sex, and my brother killed himself. All this in one year! Gosh what I wouldn’t do now to have a little community to cling to. I hope you will find some folks there and that you’ll be happy.
    Love and peace, sorry so long 😊

    • Mairzy Salander
      Mairzy Salander says:

      Diana, your short message is heartbreaking. I hope that you have found some community. Good luck!

  11. Nicholle
    Nicholle says:

    Your blog is a lot like a garden. It’s so full of raw beauty, but also impeccably curated. <3 No matter where you are or who you're with, I hope you're surrounded by the same beauty you share so freely with your writing.

  12. Michael LaRocca
    Michael LaRocca says:

    The last novel that Joseph Heller wrote was about how we keep writing novels because we just can’t think of anything else to do with all the time we’d have on our hands if we didn’t keep writing novels.

    So now you have to find something to do with all that time you spent gardening. But don’t ask me what it is. I’ve just retired from writing novels. I’m looking too, and I suck at gardening. And beach volleyball.

  13. Lauren Teller
    Lauren Teller says:

    I can never let go of anything, so I furiously use replacement.
    creative energy ways needs to come out and be expressed. You might like embroidery, thread and needle are portable, metaphorical, and require little preparation. I like the classes at http://www.craftsy.com
    Be with People that help you to garden yourself.
    And stay hydrated.

  14. Ashley
    Ashley says:

    Along the line of practicing positive thinking, the five minute journal has been a great daily practice for me. By Mimi and Alex ikonn
    Sure you can just journal, but with prompts of “what are three things you’re grateful for” and “write three things that’d make today great”; and then closing at night with how today went great and how it could’ve been improved, it makes it so easy for you that you can’t not do it. And you can stop wondering how practicing daily gratitude might change your life ;-)

  15. Sarah Faulkner
    Sarah Faulkner says:

    When I was a child, I was close to my Great Aunt. She was 20 years older than my grandmother, because my Great Great grandmother had a billion kids. I loved her very much, and though I grew up on a small farm I never enjoyed gardening.

    My Aunt loved it, and had a plant that was a 100 years old at the time. My Mother took the plant when she died. As I grew older I ended up caring for the plant. It was a simple Green leaf plant, but I loved the story and age of the plant. One day it bloomed! It had never bloomed before. The plant is a Hoya.

    Now it is living in my kitchen window and blooms almost year round. There are over 4 blooms on it today. Sometimes, Carring the past into the future is what makes you happy.

    Can you go back to the farm and get cuttings of your favorite plants, to replant one day? Create a future hope and remembrance that greif lasts for a time but hope can be found?

  16. María
    María says:

    Penelope, despite the saccharine risk, I’m compelled to say my heart is holding your heart. I love you. I love your writing. And I love the story you inspire in my life.

  17. Madeleine
    Madeleine says:

    Penelope is running intervals. That shit is powerful. And if she gets into it, I’d bet she starts dominating the local 5k scene, because she’s good at what she does.

  18. Kate Forster
    Kate Forster says:

    Move on Penelope. You don’t need that idiot of an ex-husband. You are raising kids in a way that works for you and for them and by all accounts, they seem to be extraordinary like their mother.
    Also, you can’t raise sons around an abusive man. What they would learn from him is why you left. It wasn’t a good relationship. You’re better off alone than unhappy.

    • Sam
      Sam says:

      Yes I’m sure the ‘idiot’ farmer is also overjoyed at seeing his marriage go down the toilet.

      (You’ll excuse me for not condemning a man, or woman, who is not present to defend themselves)

  19. Rita
    Rita says:

    Penelope, I hope that this period of changes and evolution in your life will become less painful. I too am going through separation/divorce and I have moments of extreme grief (even though it was my decision).

    I also hope in due time, you will get your garden. And reminds me of this poem.

    (I’m tearing up as I am sharing this beautiful poem. I’m sure you have read/seen this before, but the reminder might be appropriate.)
    – – – – –

    After A While

    After a while
    you learn the subtle difference between holding a hand and chaining a soul
    and you learn love doesn’t mean leaning and company doesn’t always mean security.
    And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts and presents aren’t always promises
    and you begin to accept your defeats with your head up and and your eyes ahead with the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child.
    And you learn to build all your roads on today because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans and futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.
    After a while you learn that even sunshine burns if you get too much
    So you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers
    And you learn that you really can endure, that you really are strong and you really do have worth and you learn and you learn
    with every good-bye you learn.

  20. Cheryl
    Cheryl says:

    Honestly – Who knows someone that lives in/near Swathmore and has a house to rent. One with a beautiful area for a garden for Penelope. One that has room and lovely windows and a wonderful room that could be a library/music room? Who knows someone that can help them move – to settle them in this new life? I am so totally pained by what she is going through – obviously very alone and very scared. I know she has friends, but her inability to really connect and be in a relationship/friendship – wow – the trust is just not there for her.

    I’m so sorry you are going through this. I get it – I totally get it as I have been on the same path. My guess is that there IS abuse – emotional, mental….maybe sometimes physical in that relationship and it IS so very hard to know what to do when you are experiencing this type of environment. Do you go? Do you stay? Do you miss your garden? You cry because the things you loved and put energy into to make the environment stable and beautiful (for yourself, your children, your toxic relationship) is dying just like you were/are inside. You put yourself into those projects to make it better – trying to “fix” all the un-fixable and then you see your efforts crumble right in front of you. THIS IS HARD. Hard to watch, hard to experience and hard to look at yourself in the mirror because it should be so easy to walk away from…..but it is not.

    I’m not re-reading this or editing it. I am writing from my own experiences and my own gut feelings about what is going on here. I actually talked with Penelope a few months ago – I called her in a desperate panic about my autistic son. She called me back and we talked for about 20 minutes. I asked her if she was outside on her farm and shutting a gate because I heard it in the back ground. She was really surprised I heard it. Just like now….I hear you Penelope and I know your broken and I know what your going through. I know you don’t like us INFJ’s so much….but you are my friend and I truly truly want to be here for you and support you and give you my opinions on things.

    Penelope needs a house of her own and a garden of her own. She need beautiful plant starts and heirloom seeds. She needs her stove. She need real people with real solutions and real intentions to come along side and be a friend. I know there are a lot of us out here….. How can we help you Penelope? How can we help to make your life – YOUR LIFE – and be the whole person you are created to be….not “JUST” a mom – but the beautiful, thriving Penelope that IS a mother, a friend, a brilliant introspective life coach, a gardener, a loving, kind and compassionate human being who gives all of herself in a very authentic way…..how can WE help you? :)

    Sending you love, light and Shalom with a bunch of seeds to sow in your beautiful garden.

  21. me
    me says:

    I miss the garden and the farm and I’ve never actually been there: I’ve only read about it and seen the fab photos.

    Endings are so hard. And crafting a positive story to tell ourself about an ending is even harder.

    Thank you for reminding me to work harder on becoming a better storyteller ….

  22. Anon
    Anon says:

    Don’t have the time, this moment, to read all of the responses. Therefore — if this is redundant, apologies to others who already said it.

    But . . .

    “I am becoming sort of an eccentric mom figure whose previously-full-feeling life is suffocating under the weight of her kids’ daily schedules. You know that type, for sure.”


    The helicopter mom who then becomes the sandbox mom.

    Get over it !!

    They need LESS supervision and “tending,” not more. They’re old enough to do quite a few things for themselves. You don’t have to be watching every minute.

    The move to Swarthmore was all about YOU wanting to have some superstar kind of son . . . because your own superstar days are behind you.

    And quit labeling every single business beginning as a “startup” — as if it were some Hot New Thing in Silicon Valley. Lots of businesses are not all that new, not all that novel.

    • Rachel
      Rachel says:

      I mean, seriously, some people who comment on here are the f-ing worst. Penelope, I commend you for even being able to sift through some of these comments.

      The woman is pouring out her heart and insecurities and truth, and you comment like you are reading some dime store romance novel. I hope you fall in a rose bush.

  23. Amy Parmenter
    Amy Parmenter says:

    Just today – having not seen this post at all – I saw all these tulips popping up that had obviously been planted as bulbs and I thought to myself…geez, penelope must really being missing her garden.

    So sorry. ‘Missing’ anything hurts.


  24. Lauren Teller
    Lauren Teller says:

    Most of us can’t let go, but we can get good at replacement. We all want more. Creativity needs to be expressed or it turns on itself and becomes self-destruction. Crafts can help you get to new normal. craftsy.com offers wonderful cheap easy classes. You might like embroidery, the one by Jessica is good. Like running and gratitude, you gotta do it to get rewarded.
    Let me know if you need a hoop.
    xo Lauren

  25. Grace
    Grace says:

    The garden is a metaphor for your marriage isn’t it? You are grieving the loss of your marriage. Is it too late to go back? Seriously, is it? You should consider it.

    You are losing yourself in your kids. You loved your garden. What else did you love about your farm? You are losing the person you used to be. And it doesn’t sound like you like the person you are now.

    I am a high achieving INTJ. I understand talent and high achievement. Believe me, I do. In the end, your family is more important. Family breakups have collateral damage. I think your kids would be better on the farm commuting for music lessons. Go back, if you still can.

    • me
      me says:

      I wonder if the kids outgrew the farm ?

      It seemed wonderful when they were younger, but as they got older (& were homeschooled), I wonder if they became just too isolated out there ….

    • Daniel Baskin
      Daniel Baskin says:

      Have you lived on a farm in the middle of nowhere / Trumpland? I wonder if your advice would be the same.

  26. Alice
    Alice says:

    Penelope, your story is very similar to mine sans the kids. After my husband decided to quit his diplomatic career and moved from DC to a farm/ranch in the middle of nowhere in KY, I tried hard to occupy myself with gardening, our new puppy and volunteering. Things did not work out for the reasons you also described in your posts. I am now in my barely finished apartment without a garden and our dog, alone. The choice is to be on a remote farm with someone who is emotionally abusive and indifferent or alone in an apartment with no community for support. I often think about going back to the farm. Are we better off in a company of an indifferent person or alone and isolated? Your kids are your treasure and your amazing blog that so many people love to read regularly. I am childfree and that can be a limiting factor when it comes to meeting other adults. Your life is meaningful in so many ways even though you might feel lost. So do I. I wish you all the best!

    • me
      me says:

      ~ “Are we better off in a company of an indifferent person or alone and isolated?”

      I also live alone (never married) and struggle with loneliness at times. But given the choice – live alone or with an indifferent spouse – I think I’d choose to live without the additional burden of another’s indifference.

      I’ve been in a few romantic relationships that left me feeling lonely & I far prefer to be alone/single than to settle for an unfulfilling life with someone else ….

      But maybe that’s just me. Best of luck to you.

  27. Janet West
    Janet West says:

    I was thinking earlier that I missed being a kid, walking in the woods, then I missed playing soccer as a teen, but I really miss being a mom.
    My kiddos are grown. A good thing, which your will be too and successfully raised by a mother who cared enough to nurture them as a gardener would care for her flowers.
    It takes intense amounts of time and energy, I know. Congrats on your strength. Keep going. It’s worth it.

  28. BSO
    BSO says:

    “Loyalty binds are part of a common dysfunctional family dynamic which occurs when mothers use their sons to make up for previous loss, and lack of connection with – or anger at – their husbands. In such families, mothers often have a history of unresolved trauma, loss, or insecure attachments with their own mothers. This leads to a parallel and compensatory style of attachment with their sons, …”

  29. John
    John says:

    Your story is quite moving and it also reflects reality. To give up something you had for something else. I think we all have that experience in our lives and it also the change that we need in our lives. Thanks for sharing.

  30. Stephanie Ko
    Stephanie Ko says:

    I had a surge of feeling when I read this post last week but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. Now I know: Penelope’s grieving about her garden reminded me of the loss of my grandfather and my grandparents’ home that happened two months ago. I still haven’t come to terms with it and I hate that it’s taking me so long. It makes me feel weak.

    But I also realized that the process has forced me to look at the history of myself and my family in a different light. And this retelling and reframing of stories about myself is what keeps a person growing.

    Thanks for this post, Penelope.

  31. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    Thank you Penelope for such a beautiful and honest post. To you it might feel like second nature to write your truth, but to me, who doesn’t have that same bravery, it really feels like such a gift you give that connects to the things I also think and feel. You should write a book. Your words are poetry.

    On a gardening note, after 20 years in a house on land my mom loved, my parents sold it and moved to an apartment while waiting to build a new house. They’re plans fell through, and now my mom, the country girl, will be stuck in the apartment far longer than planned. She was telling me how much she missed gardening and how sad she was, and low and behold, I happened to buy a house next to a garden that is in significant need of tending. It’s not exactly what she wanted, but it will satisfy her until she gets her place. Sometimes gardens have a way of presenting themselves to you when you need them. Hope a garden opens its self to you. Best wishes.

  32. Krista Goodhope
    Krista Goodhope says:

    It took a while for me to finish this post because I have to click on the links that take me away and try to read the story in the link and come back here again.
    I’m not sure if Melissa is responsible for all of the links or just a few, but the post makes more sense reading it that way.
    Thanks, Melissa & Penelope.
    I like the idea of a gardener of children. Motherhood is the greatest calling and helping your kids grow up to who they really need to be is the best thing any mother can do to help the world we now live in.

  33. Nacho Borrás
    Nacho Borrás says:

    I have verified with myself that if you force yourself to smile every day and get rid of negative thoughts, in the end you end up doing it by inertia, and that is when happiness comes.

  34. sahil jangid
    sahil jangid says:

    Truly amazing, it’s too kind post. Some of the points are very good and unique for me and it touches my heart properly. Thanks from deep of heart………………

  35. RoseAG
    RoseAG says:

    I’m a little perturbed at the idea that “maybe I’ll marry someone else with a garden.” Being married is not a requirement for having a garden!

    Rent a house with a yard and do whatever you want.

  36. Steph McCarthy
    Steph McCarthy says:

    You can move the garden easily. Make it a part of your separation agreement that you own the plants, even the stepping stones and birdhouses. In the Autumn or next Spring, move everything to an allotment, or rent a place with a lot. It’s fun to salvage a garden. You may not get everything, but you’ll get a lot. Shovel things into some clear plastic storage bins. Later you can use the bins as mini hothouses to get everything re established. Hire a small crew, include the boys, pack everything into the backs of cars. Plant it all right away. By the way, when you can control your anxieties, you can thrive in relationships and business. But you have to stop hoarding the drama like Gollum with a ring. I enjoy reading the drama, but I share this for anyone else out there who really needs answers. Control your anxieties (I use meditation) and everything will heal in your life.

  37. David Amordë
    David Amordë says:

    I am in the middle of a similar experience. My wife and I had a perfect life – 3 kids, jobs we loved, enough money to help others. Then, she got sick. Permanently sick. Terminally sick. I became disabled. First hand pain. Neck pain. Back pain. Now I survive on opiates.
    This all happened around the time of the last big stock market crash. Home prices crashed. My 401k became nearly worthless. We needed cash desperately. We sold our home for 250k less than what it was appraised for two years previous. We had a BEAUTIFUL garden! I collected roses, azaleas, orchids, clematis. Our property line was a wall of Redwoods. It was HEAVEN.
    We lost everything in a span of 18 months. We made arrangements for our kids to live with friends so they could finish high school. We moved into a tiny apartment. We fought with the government for benefits. The paperwork was an avalanche. Then came the lawyers.
    Fast forward 8 years: my wife is still alive. Bedridden, but alive. I give her 24/7 care as I have for 10 years. The only “days off” are when she’s hospitalized. BUT… I have a small greenhouse made of plastic. It holds around 30 orchids. I have about 20 potted plants in the backyard. We live with her mother. Our kids finished high school; two have finished college, one has two years left. Life goes on.
    Our old life is gone forever, but our new life is still worth living. I have no idea what tomorrow will bring, but that’s okay.

Newer Comments »

Comments are closed.