Judging Divorced People: Just Don’t

 

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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 old 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.

When one of them came up to apologize later, she obviously felt awful. And she’s a nice person. Really. I looked at her and told her my truth: “Oh, don’t worry, I’m not upset. Frankly, when I look around, I don’t think that my married friends are any happier or unhappier than my divorced friends. But I did feel that it was gossipy.”

I paused.

“And I wouldn’t want anyone talking about me that way,” I continued.

“Not that I ever did anything wrong.”

But for some reason, my voice sort of trails away with these last few words. I think I’ve crossed some line.

And I walked away, from her, from the group – feeling proud and ashamed, independent and pathetic, filled with anticipation and regret – another few steps away from my old life.

Forgiving Yourself for Marrying a Man Who Cracked Up

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What would I say to a friend?

You were young. You didn’t know. You couldn’t possibly predict the future. Yes, there were signs, but you were also hoodwinked by a pro. You had noble and honest intentions. You thought it would work out. You tried your hardest. You never gave up until you needed to walk away. You worked so hard.

It’s okay. It really is. 

You are moving forward. His power is diminished.

It will be even more okay. It really will.

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.

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.

Kids, 2015

“The snow is so sparkly.” 

“It’s beautiful. Why is it so sparkly and beautiful?”

“I love it!”

And then the briefest of pauses . . .

“Get the iPad!!! I’m going to take a picture for Instagram!!!” 

#kidsthesedays

Divorcing a NPD, part 2

When you divorce a NPD, and the support is several weeks late as usual, and you write a pointed email to ask when it will arrive . . .

you very well may get a garbled and rambling email in return, informing you that you should be thankful for all the money he is providing for you, and that in addition to this court-ordered money, he is paying for food and clothes and medicine when the children are visiting him during his court-appointed time, in his home.

The email might even go on to say the he pays for sporting equipment for the sport that you don’t want your child to play, expensive Nike basketball shoes that your child doesn’t need, and a camp that is an hour away and again involves the sport mentioned above. Of course you will think “But I didn’t ask for these thing. I don’t even agree with them. I disapprove of them.”

And then you will start to wonder why he is so proud of paying for those basketball sneakers when he hasn’t paid his court-ordered portion of healthcare expenses for his children . . . ever.

And then, as a kicker, you will see the last line of his email, chiding you for putting your son in snow boots that are growing too small.

And then, if you are like me, you hit the ceiling, thinking of how beautifully dressed your children are every day. It is thanks to you, even though you go to work now, full-time at an office, unlike your ex who has mysterious clients and elusive and wildly fluctuating sources of income. You think of how your sweet children always show up with their homework and signed permission slips and book reports and class projects and sports equipment and new ballet shoes and and multiplication drills and new books and haircuts and ballet buns and proper vaccinations and white shiny teeth thanks to the dentist appointments you take them to. And the teacher conferences and the extra trips to the school with forgotten lunch boxes and the countless hours clocked with other moms anguishing over and redshirting and little girls with summer birthdays and big boy bullies and mean girls and organic food and everyday math and building resilience and self esteem. And the things you’ve taught your children like folding a sheet and making a bed and how to do laundry and hold a fork and say please and thank you and use the microwave and tie their shoelaces and brush their hair and floss their teeth. And the playdates and parties and endless carpooling and the hugs and family meetings and values and lessons learned and pep talks after a lost soccer game and all the talks about love and values and self-esteem and doing right and how we don’t practice perfect in this house because anyone who tries their best is doing good enough.

And then you will remind yourself to stop, because otherwise you will go crazy. If your son’s boots will soon be too small, it is okay. You will remind yourself that your ex is not well. And that his goal is to gaslight you and undermine you and start a long fight. But you will not rise to the occasion. You will write a short email correcting the facts only to make sure the truth is documented because you will never forget the words of your attorney: “Madness, even though this divorce is technically over, this guy is going to bring you back to court again and again because he’s so crazy.”

And so you write the note and then you call a friend or have a glass of wine or laugh with your kids or go for a walk or run. Or you blog and vent and hope you’re not the crazy one, as your NPD ex wants you to believe.

And because you didn’t engage with him and continue the fight he wanted, you’ll have the energy to step back into the light again, moving forward into a bigger and happier world, full of possibilities.