Pen and Moon

musings, life lessons & poetry from Theresa Jarosz Alberti

Tag: party

Divorce Lesson #7

December was a hard, sweet month. Hard for the busyness, the book, the surgery, the time-crunch of the holidays. Sweet for a special get-away we had, touching moments, a loving Christmas, and much closeness. But hard again for the anxious countdown to January.

Bob moved out of our house in early January into an apartment. It was an upsetting time for both of us, a wrenching apart that we knew must happen, even as we’d been relating to each other in new, more honest and tender ways. Living apart is something we both agree will help each of us, individually and together, in the growth we want to happen. Knowing that doesn’t make it any less painful, this big change after 26 years.

A month before he moved out, I was tossing and turning one night, angry and anxious about life, and wanting to find a way to empower myself in the face of such hard times. I didn’t want to just sit in a corner, crying and bereft after he left, a mournful victim (even though that’s kinda how I felt). That night, an idea flashed through my mind like lightning. I would have a party (you can read the invitation here).

I wanted to make something new.

We have a small hallway in our house where 5 doors come together. It’s had crappy, boring wallpaper up there since we moved in almost 24 years ago, some of the last remnants of the previous owners (who wallpapered everything). I’ve wanted to do something with it for a long time but didn’t have the energy.

But what if I had a party, inviting people to come over and paint those walls with words or images to cheer me up? What if I wore minimal clothing and let them paint me too, to give me some armor for the challenges ahead? What if people brought poems or jokes to share, and everyone could be cheered up by this party, since January and February are such tough months to get through in Minnesota?

Bob 28

This idea felt so exciting to me, full of a creative spark and a silliness that are essential elements of my personality –elements that I’d unfortunately buried deep inside myself for too long out of fear and insecurity. Now I wanted to uncover them. I planned my party for the week after Bob’s move, giving me something to look forward to.


Divorce Lesson #7:   Re-(Blank)-ing Myself


Re-(Blank)-ing Myself? What kind of a title is that?   It reminds me of Match Game, the old game show from the 70s, which Bob’s comedy troupe Vilification Tennis hilariously reprises on stage during some of its performances. Imagine Gene Rayburn saying, “When Theresa’s husband moves out, she suddenly feels the need to Re-(Blank) herself.”

I chose this odd title as I was searching for a word to describe this stage of my life. What am I endeavoring to do with myself? Re-discovering? Re-designing? Re-making? Re-creating? Re-defining? Re-building? There isn’t one term that seems adequate. It’s all of the above, and then something more.

It’s throwing off the masks and the burdens, the fears and the numbing to uncover myself, to dig down deep and remember who I really am underneath all the crap. As Bob says, I’m learning to validate myself and not need anyone else to do it for me. I like that. I have a ways to go to get there.

Me crop

I’m thinking of the girl I was before the age of 10— excited, silly, funny, smart, creative, happy, imaginative, playful, generous and kind. She had a spark to her, an excitement about life, eagerness, believed in magic, loved to play and make things, and make things up.

And then the hammer came down. She started hearing messages that she was fat, stupid, lazy, wrong, and that she needed to change to be acceptable to others. She started believing it all and worked hard trying to change everything that was “wrong.” Being liked and loved by others became more important than liking/loving herself. She waited for others to validate her, and eagerly bowed and bended and reshaped herself to become pleasing to others. She stopped really being herself, unable to express feelings and thoughts unless she was absolutely sure others would approve. She lost herself, for a long, long time.

I want her back. I want to let her be free, even if it’s scary to be open and vulnerable, to risk others not liking it. I want to let her shine through me again, for it seems like she holds my essence. I can feel her. She is beautiful.

And so, inspired by her, my Paint a Happier Mood Party was born. It’s the first party I’ve thrown all by myself. I worked hard prepping walls, cooking, shopping and getting painting supplies.

On January 10, thirty people came over and joined in the spirit of the moment, giddy to paint my walls and paint me, sending lots of love my way. I think we really did cheer up the winter. It was a fabulous day and I’m so grateful for all of it. Now I have these wonderful walls to look at every day. That little girl in me is pretty pleased.

Enjoy the party slide show below, with photos courtesy of Ayanna Muata and Bob Alberti.

**Want to catch up? You can read previous Divorce Lessons  by clicking on the titles:

Divorce Lesson #1: Stay in the Present Moment

Divorce Lesson #2: Love Is All Around

Divorce Lesson #3:  The Freedom in Hopelessness

Divorce Lesson #4:  Do It Your Own Way

Divorce Lesson #5: Thanksgiving– Changing It Up

Divorce Lesson #6: Don’te Pre-Suffer (or Post-Suffer, Either)

**To get email updates on upcoming blog posts, please subscribe in the sidebar, or scroll down to the dark area at the bottom.



Giving Up Perfection

This weekend I was driving down the river road and saw a young artist with his easel set up on the bike path.  He was standing in front of his canvas, painting the beautiful Fall colors.  I turned and craned my neck to see how he was doing as I drove by.  There were colors and lines on the canvas, a half-finished work of art.  “That’s brave,” I thought, standing there in public where anyone could watch his process, see the humble beginnings, judge what might not look like much in the middle.

I remembered watching Bob Ross on public television when I was a kid.  My dad liked to watch him teach the audience how to paint landscapes, and Mr. Ross did have a mesmerizing quality about his voice (painting all his “happy little trees.”)  I was fascinated by his process—he’d start painting the scene and it would look like a mess.  It looked like a mess until he was more than half-way through–  every time I watched, I was sure he had totally botched his painting this time.  Wouldn’t you know, he always managed to turn his mess into a miracle, and end the show with a lovely nature scene.

All this has got me thinking about Perfectionism lately.  Continue reading

Let’s Not Party Like It’s 1999

Party in the street

A few months ago, my husband B told me he wanted to have a huge party in August, to celebrate him turning 50, our twins turning 21, and his recent graduation 32 years after starting college.  “Just how big?”  I asked.

“Oh, a couple hundred people or so.  I want to block off the street and get a band to play.”

Gulp.  My first reaction was heart-clenching anxiety.  I was having flashbacks to our last big party, when the twins graduated from high school 3 years ago.  We invited a lot of people but had no idea how many would show.  We deep cleaned and decluttered for 2 months (a big feat, as cleaning is not a top priority for us), I planned and made lists of every last detail, and came up with a Martha Stewart-esque taco bar.  I’ve seen other (saner) people have some ground beef, cheese and salsa and call it a day, but in my drive to make it “Nice,” I made vats of seasoned ground beef, chicken, pork, and vegetarian beans, shopped and cooked for days.  People loved the party and praised the food, but I was totally burnt out. (And we ate leftovers for months afterwards.)

On a smaller scale, this is what I’ve tended to do for all the kids’ birthday parties and holidays over the year.  I plan with detailed lists so that I’m walking around muttering to myself trying to think of everything.  I cook the food from scratch, and bake/frost/decorate the cakes myself.  I clean and shop, and then– as my family knows too well– as we get nearer the party, I become a drill seargent, yelling at them to help me do this or that, because there’s no way I can get it all done (add a heap of my built-up resentment in there too).  And during all this time, I’m in a state of anxiety and fear— afraid I won’t get it all done, afraid of people seeing my imperfect house and judging me, afraid the party will not be Perfect. Underneath it all is despair that I’ve given up myself and my own needs for several weeks because I’m driven by Perfectionism.  Sigh!

I’ve known for a long time that this isn’t a good set-up for me, or for anyone else… but I honestly didn’t know how to change it.  The panic was too great for me to do anything but what I knew how to do.  And I know there are many reasons that I’ve gotten into this miserable way of operating– lots of childhood issues I won’t go into here.  I’ve been working on them, really really hard.  But we haven’t had a party since that overwhelming graduation party… and now B was asking for one, a bigger one than we’ve ever had.

It may sound extreme, but the idea was sending me into a PTSD state.  The anxiety and fear barged their way in, and I just wanted to stand straight still and do nothing.  Luckily, we have two wonderful therapists that we see for couple’s counseling, and we talked it out with them.  As usual, they got us to see things from each other’s point of view, got to us empathize with what the other was feeling.  Also as usual, they said “oh Theresa, what a great opportunity for you to work with your feelings!”  (groan)  And they helped us formulate a plan.  It may sound like a strange one, but it worked for us–

B would be in charge of the whole party.  He would make the plans, he would find out how to close off the street, he would hire a band, he would do the invites.  It was his party, and he’d get to have it the way he wanted it.  He would grill brats and veggie burgers, provide beer and root beer kegs, and then the rest would be potluck and BYOB.  He wouldn’t clean because the party would be in the street.  And my job was to not plan, not worry, and just take care of getting coolers and ice.  Coolers and ice!  Okay then.

This may sound like it was a proverbial piece of cake for me… but let’s just say it wasn’t.  It was hard to let that old party planner in me go… not only a perfectionist, but she has some teensy-weensy control issues too.  But I wanted to make this work for B, and I wanted to not be afraid of parties, and I wanted to try something new.

I wasn’t perfect at letting go–  I still had anxiety about the party, but was better at remembering that I didn’t have to listen to that panicked voice in my head.  I felt my fears and anxieties and worked with those feelings, rather than letting them take over.  B and I had many great talks and were really understanding each other in the weeks before the party.  It wasn’t easy for me, but it was different, and I was acting differently–my family reported I was much better, no drill seargent this time.

I did do more than just coolers and ice– I decided I wanted to make the cakes, since I do like to bake.  I did do cleaning (not excessive).  I did help out with other details.  But it was still a big change for me in giving up control, doing much less, and letting go.

And the party was great!  We had fabulous weather, over a hundred happy people, tables of potluck goodies, fun music and 21 year olds hosting a bonfire. B loved it, and I did too.  I remembered the good parts about having a party– how fun it is to get together with family and friends.

I learned a lot about myself in this process.  I’m sure I’ll still struggle with these same issues in the future… but now I actually don’t mind the idea of maybe someday kinda hosting another (probably smaller!) party.  Whee!

Happy Birthday!


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