New Year’s Day: A Divorce History

On New Year’s Day 2011, the year I discovered that my NPD/sociopath ex-husband was living a double life, I woke up at a friend’s house with a hangover and the discovery that my her sweet puppy had died during the night.

After hot coffee and tears, we all trudged out into the January rain, probably a dozen of us, to bury the dog in a field behind the barn. I had no proper shoes with me, and my toes froze, and red Virginia mud covered my fancy party boots.

It was a grim beginning to a grim year. Back in the city, my ex-husband would become more elusive abusive and stranger than ever, disappearing on business trips where hotel operators could never locate his name on their guest lists. Distracted by my two little children, I couldn’t keep up with all his lies. By September, things would reach a fever pitch, until the day I opened up his secret email account and everything became perfectly clear.

2011 was not a good year, and it was followed by several agonizing ones.

***

But by 2014, things started turning around. On New Year’s Eve, a friend turned to me and announced it was going to be a good year. I smiled. “Perhaps,” I said. “Life is mysterious.”

Several hours later, at midnight, this friend received some big news. Her 47-year-old bachelor brother had gotten engaged that night. This was an event no one predicted. “Life is mysterious,” we laughed.

For him, I suppose, it was a year filled with love and light. And for me, it was a good year, a good start to a good new life.

***

This year, New Year’s Day didn’t start out well  – my brother and his family left for a tourist attraction without us. I was packing our car to drive 250 miles home, and I took too long. They did not offer to help as I took trip after trip up and down the stairs of my parents old colonial, carrying my children’s suitcases and toys and hair dryers and stray boots. It took me forever to load our little SUV, and I got angry and raised my voice and said a truthful but not very kind thing about my brother.

And then I couldn’t fit everything into the car. I started to cry.

But then I looked at my children’s faces, teary like mine, but because they were missing this precious time with their cousins. So I took a deep breath and pulled everything out of the car. I placed suitcases and winter coats and piles of gifts on the snowy driveway and slowly started all over again until everything finally fit.

We salvaged the day by skipping the tourist attraction and meeting my brother and his kids after all – for lunch in the city before setting out for our long trip home. I did not say a negative word to my brother. I knew it wasn’t worth it.

***

The drama wasn’t over. As we pulled into our driveway in the dark that evening, I noticed a light in our garage.

And then it went out.

We all gasped. We had been away for a week, the house should have been empty.

Very reluctantly, I called the police. On New Year’s Day, I thought. What did this foreshadow for 2017?

One officer arrived, listened, and told me that others were on the way. Out here in the suburbs, the officers park up and down the block, no flashing lights,. I started adding them up then lost count. They brought a dog. They fanned out across the yard and finally went into the house. I sent my children to their friend’s house. And I sat in the car alone and watched the flashlight beams in my house. Ah, they’re up in the attic, I thought. They’re in the basement. My bedroom. My closet.

And finally, laughter, as the officers came outside, ducking under the plastic sheeting protecting the newly painted door from the rain.

Was someone in there? We don’t know. The officers said it could have been my painter, and I could have just missed him by a moment or two – the light stays on for exactly 4.5 minutes. Or it could have been a thief who slipped out the back door and jumped over our fence and into the darkness.

I thanked them, and it was over. My children came back, a friend came over, we poured wine and ordered pizza, and somehow the evening was saved in our bright, warm house. The first evening of 2015.

 

 

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Divorce and Yoga: Stability First, Then Expansion

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Warrior pose, swivel foot, triangle, warrior pose, swivel foot. My hips, wonky from running, don’t like it. But I push it because I want to get good at yoga – really, really good. And so I reach. And reach. I’m not certain if my swiveled foot is really stable though. And are my knees still lined up with my hips? Not so sure, but I reach more. And I feel a warm searing sensation before I crumple.

I get back up and try again. But this time I accept the correction from the instructor. She is in her fifties, with gorgeous skin and a perfect body, and at that moment I want to be just like her. She lines me back up, and I try again, slowly, not reaching until I feel stable.

Another wonky remnant from past injuries is my stiff shoulder, something that I can normally hide from the world. I reach up, but it hurts. My instructor is there again, correcting my arm, pulling it towards the front of my body. It hurts, but it’s done correctly, so it hurts in a good way.

The next time I do it, I reach to the same place, but I correct myself. The instructor spots this, and congratulates me. “See, you corrected yourself. See that?!?”

I smile. I did see that.

. . .

Step by step, with lots of help, we build stability again. When we try to rush things, we fall. But we can get up again, and hopefully we are a little stronger, more stable, and more resilient. Each fall teaches us something.

I wish I could be a yoga expert in six months. I wish I could rush through my recovery from my high-conflict divorce, my serial-cheating, NPD ex-husband. I don’t like the middle parts of things – because, as author Brene Brown says, this is the hard part, this is where the hard work must happen. But it is necessary, and so I guess I need to slow down and do the work.

Stability first. Then expansion.

I think I finally got it.

When No One is Looking

I brought my son to sleepaway camp yesterday. Even though he loved it last year, he panicked yesterday on the long drive, suddenly saying that he didn’t want to go.

Twenty miles away from camp, he told me he was scared, and he was sad that only one friend going this year instead of two. He didn’t like the showers; he didn’t like the darkness; he missed his home and bed and sister and mom and friends.

So we stopped at a rest stop in the middle of nowhere for a treat, and as we walked back to the car, he suddenly took my hand – my little big ten-year-old who just started wearing men’s size shoes. I teased him to lighten the mood: “SO, you’re still not too old to hold hands with your mom!”

He looked around quickly: “Well, there’s no one here I know.” And he held my hand firmly.

And so it goes. My sweet son, caught in between childhood and tween-hood, in a place where no one really knows anyone or what comes next.

As we drove up to camp, those clouds that were following us turned very dark, and suddenly were were driving through pelting rain. My son begged me to take him home. Pretty desperately I babbled about other topics, future vacations and sports and playdates – an lame old coping mechanism left over from my terrible marriage. Sure enough, it didn’t really work.

Then we went around a curve and suddenly heard the singing of the teenage counselors standing up on a covered porch. My son started yelling that he spotted his last-year counselor among them. I noticed that through the rain, it was still sunny, and I started looking for a rainbow.

We stopped for parking directions, and suddenly my son’s window was open. He greeted the counselor and asked if they would have a big, huge surprise welcome-to-camp-game that night. He explained that this was his second year at camp.

The older boy smiled as he told my son that he wasn’t quite sure, and even if he knew, he couldn’t tell. And then he winked, welcomed my son back, and explained the parking, and the bags, and sign-in procedure. My son told him he knew it all from last year – and he did.

And so I let my little boy run the show and go off into the great unknown without me. He didn’t need me at all until the very end, when he jumped down off his top bunk to give me a huge hug. And I knew all was well with my little-big boy who didn’t huge me for two years during the Great Divorce.

He’s on his way, my boy.

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.

Ten Year Old Boys Talk a Lot

My son likes to talk. A lot. Today alone, my son talked about:

  • The airplane that went down earlier this week; the cockpit door, all about how it locks, details about the locking mechanism, and his engineering solution for fixing the lock issue in the future; the potential of having cameras in the cockpit; the pros and cons of never letting one person alone in the cockpit.
  • What makes up the perfect barbecue: details, details, and more details.
  • Some college basketball player who plays for like Wisconsin or something. My kid knows every detail about this player’s life and game.
  • March Madness, March Madness, March Madness. Every game, every win, every loss. Scores and all.
  • Bentleys.
  • His plans for carrying a sofa out on our flat room and making a clubhouse. (Uh, NO!)
  • F-2 bombers, their cost, and the defense companies that build them.
  • A solution for us to put an extra bedroom in our house, or to finish the attic by knocking down a door, losing a closet, and finishing the attic.
  • Drones. Drones that … well I confess I forget because I stopped listening for a tiny moment maybe.
  • Alex Rodriguez. Enough said.
  • How sharks eat blubber, and how humans don’t have enough blubber, but if you look like a blubbery seal, you might just get eaten. Great white sharks, nurse sharks, sand sharks. I lost count. Shark teeth, lots about shark teeth.
  • How if we got a dog – theoretically of course – he will do the research to find an airplane that will allow us to take the dog across country on vacation with us this summer.
  • How we should all have a cooking contest, just like Chopped, when we’re on our family vacation. He will take the entree because he has secret plans. Top secret.
  • The greatest general of all time. The worst general of the first World War. Why he was the worst general. The best place to live in the world. The best sport to make yourself famous. The best college. The best pizza in NY.

I’m missing so much here – it all blurs together. Someday soon he won’t want to talk to me at all, right? I know that day is coming, and I hate to even imagine it.

Children You are Loved: The Gift of Divorce

I always teach them that they are loved and chosen, no matter what; that God’s got it, no matter how hard and unfair things seem; that all we have to do is take care of the poor, the hungry and thirsty, including ourselves, and give thanks for the tender mercies of our lives. -Anne Lamott

These are Anne Lamott’s beautiful words yesterday. I’m taking them a bit out of context because she is referring to three children that she teaches in Sunday school. Two of them have brain cancer, an extraordinary coincidence in a class of three children, within a church of only thirty regular parishioners. Imagine that. Two little children out of three with brain cancer.

It certainly puts divorce into perspective.

Lamott puts into words the things that children need to know while going through divorce or other difficulties: you are loved, you were chosen. No matter what, God (and at least one grown-up) is in charge, even if it doesn’t seem that way sometimes.

Yet life is sometimes hard and unfair. And so we must keep moving forward, laughing as much as we can, loving each other, while we wait it out.

And sooner or later, things will get better.

These are the lessons my children have finally learned this year, after the three-year divorce from hell. They waited it out until things got better, much better, finally blissfully better once again. Perhaps not perfect, but my children know that life isn’t perfect. It’s up and down and wonderful and secure and joyful and sometimes scary and sad. pst people are good but some may disappoint you, and some could even hurt you.

And as my little ten-year-old told me, “If you don’t know what sad means, you don’t appreciate happy.”

When I grew up, bad feelings were not allowed. We were the perfect family, on our way up in the world. Of course this was an illusion, but one that was highly encouraged in my world of country clubs and sororities and The Preppy Handbook. And thus I learned to stuff down any unpleasant feelings or doubt or hurt – anything less than perfect. And that left me looking great on the surface but woefully unprepared for the world. It allowed me to ignore the red flags flapping all over the place before my marriage. It allowed my ex-husband to gaslight me for years while I ignored my instincts and looked the other way. I thought everything was perfect: I did not know any better.

Now when I see my children, I realize that they are way better prepared for the big world ahead of them: the good, the bad, the joy, and the pain. The honesty.

Are there easier ways for my children to learn these lessons than through a three-year divorce? Of course, and just writing these words fills me with sadness. But in some ways, this a gift nonetheless, and I’ll take it.

The Journey Back

My son got sick on Tuesday morning, really sick, with a nearly 104 degree temperature. Burning up, hacking, crying that his head hurt.

My daughter got sick, but not as bad, on Wednesday.

Last night I got it. I haven’t been this sick in ages and ages. I wanted to just lay in bed and sleep until the pain went away. I lost track of time.

And today was another snow day. My children, 8 and 10, made themselves soup and read books and watched tv. They did not fight once, as far as I know. I knew that some of their friends were probably out sledding, but I didn’t want to call in any favors today. I just wanted to sleep and wake up better tomorrow.

About halfway through the afternoon, my son came up and opened my blinds. Pale winter light entered my sick room, and I sat up to watch the fat, happy flakes come down. My children helped to clean up the kitchen tonight, and for a while, they sat on the sofa singing a song from school together. They both hugged me good night and said, “I hope you feel better, mom.”

Perfection is not the goal. Perfection is in the journey.

In The Eye of the Beholder

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Me: “Oh, for wacky tacky day at school next week, you can wear your new pettiskirt!”

My DD, 8: “MOM, pettiskirts are NOT tacky!”

It makes me so nostalgic for the good old days when I dressed her in little smocked dresses with peter pan collars and big hair bows . . . . my baby is growing up, and sometimes I don’t like it.