Old, New, and My Oh My How Time Flies

Today my children went off to their last day of third and fourth grades. My daughter wore a gorgeous little dress given to her by her Auntie K. My son wore a blazer and a blue-and-white Vineyard Vines tie. The tie was given to him last fall when he was an usher at his uncle’s wedding. And the blazer once belonged to this same uncle, who wore it about twenty years ago when he was ten – a rascally little boy with golden curls and a big heart.

It’s remarkable because I usually end up throwing away most of my children’s clothing after a season or two. But this little navy blazer is perfectly preserved, dry-cleaned, and pressed. It’s just been waiting around for two decades for my little boy to grow up enough to fit just right into it, gold buttons still shining, a special jacket for two special little boys.

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Happy New Year: Hope after Divorce and Dealing with a Crazy Person

I hope it’s okay, on this New Year’s Eve, to cut and paste words from the brilliant and so-lovable Anne Lamott:

There was a cartoon in the New Yorker decades ago, that I’ve never forgotten, of two men chained at the wrists and ankles to the wall, off the ground, in a jail cell, in a cave. One man turns to the other, and says, “Okay, here’s my plan….”

That’s how I feel about the last two weeks of holidays, the days of death by cookie, bad nerves, tight smiles and overwhelm. Doomed, like a prisoner, or space alien, but you know what? Also full of hope.

Hope? What a nut huh?

What a nut. Yes, that’s me. When I tell my story, and people praise me for being strong or brave or positive, I know the truth. I had to be dragged into my battle, kicking and screaming while pretending that nothing was wrong – my marriage was perfect. But opening my ex-husband’s secret email account finally showed me the truth – my marriage was a sham –  2,000 pages of the most awful, perverse, and graphic words in front of me. Words that made divorce attorneys divert their eyes from mine. I couldn’t deny the truth any longer. My ex-husband had been lying to me and gas lighting me for years.

I had to stand up and walk into the light. And then I had to fight for three long years to divorce this man. I had to fight to protect my children from him. I didn’t do it for myself. I did it for my beautiful, innocent children.

And finally when the battle was over, the new crazy started: a new boss, a three-week deadline to fix up my home and sell it, two weeks to find a new home, and then the move, all in the middle of a family wedding and the holidays. At moments, I wanted to quit my job without notice, laugh in the face of my sanctimonious and childless co-worker, send my kids far away to boarding school – or give them away to the first interested person – scream at my real estate agent, and get out of my car at intersections ask drivers why they think it is okay to ignore stop signs. And then climb into bed until it was all over.

But at the same time, something kept propelling me forward. It was knowing that I was making progress – it was hope. Hope for a better life, a new home, success at work, financial security – a new life, peace.

What a nut. Someone who is giddy with hope for 2015 as she sits alone in her new furniture-less house on New Year’s Eve after a 6 pm dinner with friends. But hope is everything – I’ve never felt anything so powerful, except for love.

And talking of love and hope, tonight my friend’s bachelor-for-life brother proposed to his girlfriend. Another divorced friend got a break, a little vacation with her children for a few days, just when she felt she might crack. My brother has mysteriously found the love of his life. A friend-of-a-friend has survived year three of the most awful cancer, the kind that requires countless rounds of chemo and horrible surgeries that remove organs – her own doctor told their mutual friends that she would not survive, but the cancer is now in remission. My own father has survived open heart surgery this year, and now it looks like he will survive prostrate cancer too. Another friend is about to offer a stranger an incredible gift that might give her the second chance she needs in her very difficult life. And my extended family, which has grown apart through the decades, came together this year, bound together first by collective grief and then by the joy of a surprise wedding.

As my friend said tonight, 2015 is going to be wild. Yes, I replied, and interesting and very very mysterious, I am sure.

Happy New Year.

Tonight I have decided

that nothing is funnier than my little city kid, my little eight-year-old girl, in a big city bathtub, wearing a turquoise shower cap, belting out, “Someday, I’ll be, living in a great big city,” over and over again.

Then almost howling, “Why you gotta be so meeeeean?”

Then down to a whisper, “Why you gotta be so mean?”

I have to admit that I’m beginning to really like Taylor Swift. Really. My daughter could have way worse role models.

I Love You Because . . .

My children, less than two years apart, have been bickering lately. It makes me crazy. So tonight at bedtime I asked them what they liked about each other.

My son to his little sister:
I like you because you don’t snore. Oh, and I guess because mom likes you.

My daughter to her big brother:
I love you because you are nice to me.

I love you because you play with me.

I love you because you let me hug you.

I love you because you teach me sports and help me.

I just love you.

My son back to his little sister:
I love you because if you weren’t around, I wouldn’t have anyone to talk to.

I think that’s progress!

The Necessity for Irony

On Sundays,

when the rain held off,
after lunch or later,
I would go with my twelve year old
daughter into town,
and put down the time
at junk sales, antique fairs.

There I would
lean over tables,
absorbed by
lace, wooden frames,
glass. My daughter stood
at the other end of the room,
her flame-coloured hair
obvious whenever—
which was not often—

I turned around.
I turned around.
She was gone.
Grown. No longer ready
to come with me, whenever
a dry Sunday
held out its promises
of small histories. Endings.

When I was young
I studied styles: their use
and origin. Which age
was known for which
ornament: and was always drawn
to a lyric speech, a civil tone.
But never thought
I would have the need,
as I do now, for a darker one:

Spirit of irony,
my caustic author
of the past, of memory,—

and of its pain, which returns
hurts, stings—reproach me now,
remind me
that I was in those rooms,
with my child,
with my back turned to her,
searching—oh irony!—
for beautiful things.

By Eavan Boland

Divorce, Facebook, Cracker Barrel, and Spring Break from Hell

Thank God it’s nearly over. Nearly two weeks of spring break for my children. It seems like everyone else is out of town: Europe, the Florida Keys, Disney World, Mexico, Vail, Breckenridge, Aspen, Steamboat, and all sorts of islands like Kiawah, Hilton Head, and Bermuda. The list goes on and on. I know this because it’s all over Facebook.

The voyeur in me usually enjoys Facebook vacation photos, in limited doses, but this week they just make me irritable. They make me wonder mean things like, “Why do you insist on calling it Breck instead of Breckenridge?” and “Why did you bring your nanny to Disney – does she have to stand on line for you?”

And then there are the skiing brags: My son has mastered the back scratch and is working on the 360! My child has “won the gold” at Aspen! Hard to believe my four-year-old is already skiing the blue trails! (At Breck, of course.)

I had no idea that my southern city was home to so many young Olympic hopefuls.

Or that this would make me so bitter.

My children, who won’t make the U.S. ski team thanks to our divorce, custody battle, and financial armagedden, did get to visit my parents’ home for a few days – in between my job interviews. It was a relaxing visit, and my children got to spend time with their grandparents, and their aunt and uncle. They were happy.

And then soon-to-be-ex called. “But what did you do today?” he asked, over and over again. The children would list their activities: the cool playground, basketball, dinner with their aunt and uncle, dinner at their favorite restaurant, waking up early to go to the diner for belgium waffles with their grandparents, a rock climb along the water.

But none of this impressed their father, who kept demanding to know why they hadn’t gone into the city in the rain to see all the sights. “But what else did you do today?” My children grew silent.

I won’t go into what I really think of this man who doesn’t support his children financially because he thinks he’s too good to get an ordinary job. Or what he did to them emotionally when he moved out and moved in with another woman and her child for the first 18 months of our Separation. Or why he won’t get the help he very obviously needs. (To say nothing of what he’s done to me.) I will just let it go and write that I hate when he calls his children and makes them feel bad about things that should make them feel good.

Tonight we drove back home in the rain. The children were great, and we had a two-hour spelling bee in the car. Unlike me, they never got bored of it. When we got hungry, we stopped at a Cracker Barrel restaurant. My children didn’t want to go there. And I started feeling sorry for myself and wondering what I have done so wrong in my life that I will probably never get to Nobu or Per Se after all. Ever.

But when we walked in, a sweet elderly woman gave my children some jelly beans. We were able to get a table right away. My daughter was thrilled with her food. My son, future restaurant critic, conceded that the friend chicken was “good.” And the biscuits thrilled me.

Victory.

On the way out, we stopped at the restroom in the store. This is always a problem for me, since my son is nine, and I’m terrified of sending him into public restrooms alone.

My son does not share my fears. He barged in immediately before I could protest. A man was walking out, and impulsively I asked him if it was okay for my son to go in there alone. The man looked surprised, and then he told me that he would go back in and make sure.

“Oh no!” I said several times, embarrassed.

He smiled at me, and that’s when I realized that he was carrying his oxygen under one arm in a neoprene pouch. I have never seen anything like this before – it was so much smaller than my aunt’s huge oxygen tank.

He tapped my arm, firmly, and said, “If you have any problems, you just yell for me.” He looked around and looked at all the other locals waiting for their tables, “Or you just yell for anyone here.” And smiled again.

The tap was the strangest thing. I’m sure the guy taps everyone all the time, but for me it seemed to say, “Hey crazy lady, you can do this. It’s not that big a deal. It will be okay. And if you need help, you just yell out.”

Thank you, good man, wherever you are.

Cracker Barrel