The Players: Me, 48, super responsible, divorced (by the grace of God), chronically exhausted working mom of two children who hasn’t had a chance to travel out of the country since 2000. My father, seventies, super duper responsible, self-made hard worker, … Continue reading
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, 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 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, and an interesting one. I smiled. “Perhaps, I said. Life is long and mysterious.”
Several hours later, at midnight, this same 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 go 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 furious and raised my voice and said some truthful but not very kind things about a certain relative or two.
I couldn’t fit everything into the car. I was furious.
But then I looked at my children’s faces, teary because they were missing this precious time with their cousins. I took a deep breath and pulled all the packages out of the car. I placed them on the 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 for lunch in the city before setting out for our long trip home.
In 2017, I will have to remember that sometimes we need a break. And I might need to redo the simplest of things – thankful that I have a second chance to make things right.
But also, I can’t depend too much on undependable people, even if I love them and my kids adore them. Make my own plans and stick to them if they are important. Sway, but don’t bend to theirs. Don’t agree to do things that make me angry and resentful.
But the drama wasn’t over yet. As we pulled into our driveway in the dark that evening, I noticed a light in our garage. I said something about it.
And then it went out.
We all gasped. We had been away for a week, the house should have been empty.
Very reluctantly and apologetically, 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, silent helpers in the dark. 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 a 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. For me, relief, and complete embarrassment.
Was someone in there? We don’t know. The officers were nice. Really nice. They told me I did the right thing. They 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.
When I think about our start to 2017, I will think about the helpers – those solid men and women in the night. I will marvel at the courage to walk into a house where danger might be waiting. I will remember that we all need help sometimes. And we are ridiculously thankful when people arrive to offer it, even if we’re also embarrassed.
For better or for worse, 2017 probably won’t be dull. I’m guessing another year of moving forward, falling back a bit, trying to do it myself, having to re-do it, and asking for help sometimes. Hopefully offering help too – and maybe even some happy endings.
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.”
“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.
I got out of the car and stopped to admire the daffodils in my new front yard.
Then I hear it. Someone’s annoying dog barking and screeching and sounding really loud and really annoyingly high-pitched.
I look up, annoyed. Take care of your dog, folks, I think.
Then a movement catches my eye. It’s something popping up against the windows of my front door.
It’s my dog.
A long time ago, I learned a critical life lesson on a playground: Never ever judge another mom. Because before you know it, your kids will do the same thing as that mom’s child, and you will end up in the same position as the mom you once judged. It’s instant mom karma.
That lesson has served me well, but it’s faded a bit through time. I needed a fresh reminder.
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.
- 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.
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.
My kids want a dog. Really really want a dog. As in, “if we just got a dog, our divorced family would be complete and perfect, mom!”
A good yank on the divorce guilt heartstrings.
Recently I started considering it. Now that the divorce has forced me from my awesomely fabulous city neighborhood and into the boring old burbs, we have more space. We have a fenced-in yard. And I can work from home once a week.
It’s a good time for a dog.
Or is it?
I asked three friends to be dog references for me. One enthusiastically stepped up to the plate and easily won over the doggie rescue folks. They loved her so much it was scary.
But the other two friends independently called me and begged me not to get a dog.
They are too nice to say, “Madness, you don’t like dogs. You don’t even like my dog!” Or “Madness, you are a neat freak and would lose your mind if your dog ever smelled or messed up your furniture.”
Instead, they said, “This is your time to shine! You’re finally relaxed and happy! A dog will keep you chained to the house, and you need to get out there!” (Or something to that effect.) One bluntly told me that she was a stay at home mom, and even she needed her husband’s help at night with the dog. Then she started describing her dog’s “delicate stomach” and I imagined all my future rugs soiled and destroyed. My other friend asked me what I would do on my rare nights off from the kids: “What about the time when you went to work, got your hair cut, and then met me for drinks? You couldn’t have done that if you had to go home to walk a dog,” she pointed out. And then the first friend reminded me that dog walkers around here charge something like $25 a visit. I cringed. I could buy a lot of wine for $25 a day!
My friends are right. And it’s not really that I don’t like dogs. I like some dogs very much. (At least a few of them, anyhow.) And its not even my house. I think I could manage the mess, maybe. But it’s the commitment. I’ve spent the last decade or more managing the unmanageable: a mentally ill, addicted, serial cheater husband. Then I spent three years fighting him like a dog in court to protect my children. Now that I’ve finally escaped from him, I can finally begin to breathe for the first time in probably 15 years.
So I told my children tonight that we must wait to get a dog. They wailed, they sobbed, they made me cry. But I already have a full plate: I’m a single mom with primary physical custody who works full-time and constantly needs a break. Someone who couldn’t recover from the flu in less than ten full days. Someone who is now worried about pneumonia and what would happen to her job and kids if this comes next.
It’s my time to hang out in bed on Saturday mornings when my children are with their dad, to go to long yoga classes and meet friends for coffee afterwards. To go to the gym after work when my kids aren’t around and then to go out for drinks or dinner. To actually make it to a book reading or a museum instead of school fundraisers and mommy nights out. To pull together a life, independent of my children, for the first time in a decade.
I’m so sorry, but I made a mistake. I’m not ready for a dog. Not this, not now.
There is nothing, absolutely nothing, redeeming about influenza.
It can kill you. And even if it doesn’t, it makes you feel like it is.
Seven days of this. SEVEN. DAYS.
I’ve been too sick to eat for seven days. And I just stepped on the scale to discover I only lost four pounds.
There is nothing redeeming about the flu.