Judging Divorced People: Just Don’t


The moms were bored. They were about 20 hours into a 36-hour Girl Scout camping trip, an experience that was incredible and life-changing for the little girls.

For the moms, its was the old familiar mix of joy, laughter, hard work, responsibility – and lots and lots of sitting-around boredom.

And so it started.

“Oh, I feel so sorry for this dear friend of mine. She’s divorced….”

And the story unfolds. I try not to bristle. The friend cheated on her husband and has spent the last four years trying to win him back, unsuccessfully. And now he’s getting remarried to someone else, and she’s falling apart.

Oh, and she’s an alcoholic.

“It’s so sad, but I won’t let my daughter go over to her house anymore….”

I sigh to myself. The biggest alcohol abuser I know is a married mother down my block, and everyone seems to allow their children to go to her big fancy house….

The story leads to another one – divorce and alcohol and heartbreak.

And then a third one, the best yet. “My husband and I just went to a funeral this week of an old college friend who died from drinking. Of course his wife had to divorce him, and that made it worse….”

At this point, I got up and walked away. It was abrupt. I didn’t look back, but I know they all must have looked at each other, shocked and guilty. None are bad people. They were just caught off guard; they forgot they had a divorced mom in their midst.

But it was the tone of over-the-top sympathy that got me. I don’t know the private lives of these particular women. But I know enough about the lives of our peers. Enough to know that feeling sorry for others must make at least some of these women feel better about their own problems, marital and otherwise.

And so I walked away, from them, from the group – feeling proud and ashamed, independent and pathetic, filled with anticipation of what’s to come and regret for all I’ve lost – another few steps away from my old life.

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.

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!

Goodbye House: A Divorce Story

This house is sold.

Through this front door, a mom carried her first baby home from the hospital. In this living room, the baby bawled all day as his mom paced back and forth, cradling him like a football to ease his colic. Then one wondrous day, the colic ceased all at once. Here, the little baby suddenly started smiling and laughing.

Through this front door, 17 months later, the mom carried her second baby home from the hospital. On this sofa, the new baby slept in her mom’s arms for hours and hours during quiet afternoons when time stood still and nothing mattered more than a mommy-daughter nap.

Down these narrow stairs, two babies learned how to crawl backwards, diapered bottoms first. Two babies ate cheerios for the first time here in this dining room, in big old-fashioned high chairs. Here in this room a little boy ate so many pureed carrots and sweet potatoes that his nose turned orange. Here in this room a baby girl slipped out of her high chair one night. Here her mother heard the smack of bone on the cold, wood floor.  Here her mom felt certain her baby would die, so she clutched the infant to her chest and ran and ran and pounded on the front door of her pediatrician friend.

Here is where a cheer little boy crawled in circles and circles and circles around the house, pushing a toy truck along the wood floors. “Digger,” he shouted. “Weeeeehooooo, fire fire!” And around and around again.

Here is a front window out to the street, where a little boy stood on a chair to watch the garbagemen empty the bins and wave at him. Here is a little city courtyard in front of this house where this little boy grew obsessed with the garden hose, spraying it at his sister, and his mom, and himself. This is where his little sister wore the tiniest rose-covered flouncy bathing suit over pink chubby folds of skin, jumping through the water, euphoric. This is where her big brother showed up one day, naked, to run under the hose until he was scooped up by his mom in front of laughing tourists walking down the little city street.

This is the bedroom that two little people have always shared. Along this wall a little boy played in his toddler bed every morning before 6 a.m., calling gently across the room to wake his baby sister.  Against this wall sat his sister’s crib, where she lay on her back, head swiveled and eyes wide, watching every move her big brother made. Here, as soon as she could stand, her brother taught her how to climb out of the crib and play legos with him until the sun began to rise.

This is the bathtub where two little toddlers, less than 18 months apart, took bright-colored baths together. This is the tub in which a mom mixed Crayola Bath color together for every bath for several years, asking, “How about we mix a red and a blue one tonight?” And this is where two little children screamed, “Yes, yes, make it purple, our favorite!” as the water turned violet. This is the tub where a mermaid lived and a dolphin skimmed across the water’s surface. This is the tub where a little boy wore scuba goggles, and a little girl splashed until the floor was covered in purple water.

This is the basement where memories were made. This was the home of Lego, and Playmobil, and wooden blocks, and Thomas the Train. This was playdate heaven where barefoot toddlers with popsicle-stained fingers popped bubbles and toppled over trampolines and hid in the closet when it was time to go home. This is where little boys shouted, “Yes We Can,” and little girls magically transformed into Disney princesses.

This was the library where two little people learned how to read and how to make sense of the world, sitting on their mother’s lap in a mini stuffed chair. This is the place where two children felt secure, and unconditionally loved, and filled with joy. The world was a good place, and they knew this.

This is the place where two little people first learned how to say, “I wuv you.” It was a place of sticky kisses and bear hugs, a place where a mom was perfect in the eyes of two little people.

And this is the place where their father betrayed their mom, and them. This is the place where voices were raised, making two little people question their security in the world.

This is the place where a father cracked up and then a family broke up.

Here in this place, if the walls could talk, they would spill secrets about a great decline and mental illness and alcohol abuse and lies and cruel gaslighting. This is a place where a mom lost her faith in herself for a while because she was told she was crazy for thinking the obvious. This is a place where a mom learned that she needed to be perfect because she couldn’t control anything else.

Here in the place, the family became smaller, and people were hurt. And here in this place, a sweet little boy hit his mom and told her the divorce was all her fault.

But then, finally, here in this place the healing started. Upstairs in this place, a bunk bed was shared, and books were chosen for bedside reading out loud. Here is this room, the fictional character Mama Pajama was born, and two children made up stories about how she can fight misfortune wherever she goes.

Here at this table, family dinners started again, along with family thanks, and family prayers, and family meetings.

Here in this place, Barbies lie scattered everywhere, and artwork once again features smiling people with big, bright suns shining down on them. Here in this place, the lego has come and gone, but the baseballs and soccer balls and lacrosse helmets and scooters and mitts and footballs and ballet leotards remain. Here in this place, life goes on.

Here is where two little people are still safe and warm and loved. Here in this place, friends gather, and the truth is told. Here in this place lives a new family.

But now it is time to leave this place. A mom turns around one last time. The furniture is gone; there is nothing left here. She shuts the front door one final time and rubs the curved brass knob that feels just right in her hand.

For a moment, the mom wonders what life would have been –  if things had been just a little, tiny bit different. But then she remembers that holding on is never strength. She lets go and walks away.


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

Parcheesi Love

Parcheesi Love

I was tired. We had a long dinner out with friends; my daughter was at a sleepover. It was just me and my almost-ten son. He’s easy at bedtime and goes right to sleep. I was sort of hoping to do the same. … Continue reading