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.

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The same stuff as stars, blossoms, breezes

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I also learned that you didn’t come onto this earth as a perfectionist or control freak. You weren’t born a person of cringe and contraction. You were born as energy, as life, made of the same stuff as stars, blossoms, breezes. You learned contraction to survive, but that was then. You have paid through the nose—paid but good. It is now your turn to reap. – Anne Lamott

My daughter can flit and dance along this palm tree limb, as light as air.

I tried it, concentrating on my core. I fell.

“Mom, just have fun!” yelled my daughter.

I laughed, and it carried me across.

 

Letting Go: How I Talk to My Children

Like every big revelation in my life, it came out of nowhere.

One day I woke up and realized that I’m doing my children a disservice by treating them like babies, trying to protect them from the big, bad, scary world out there. I have some serious helicopter mom tendencies, which I try to hide from my cooler, more freewheeling mommy friends.

Plus there’s the divorce, which breaks my heart a million times every single day for my beautiful children; makes every, single cell in my body want to grab my babies and protect them from any more pain and vulnerability.

But this summer my nine-year-old son asked to go to sleep away camp for a week with his friends. I agreed.  I hoped it would give him some male bonding time, which he sorely needs after spending three years with me and his eight-year-old sister. I also believed that this particular camp would have good male role models, another thing my son desperately needs.

And for once, I was right. When he arrived back home, he seemed more confident, more secure, more grown-up in the very best and most healthy grown-up way. I find myself standing back to watch him interact with his peers and grown-ups, and I feel awe of who my son has already become and who he may someday be.

I made the right decision by letting go.

It made me realize, with a terrible pang, that I need to keep pushing my children off into the world instead of holding them back. Within reason of course. And at the same time, I need to tell them the truth about things, so that they can protect themselves and learn how to make good decisions all on their own as they grow up.

So now my children Know Things. They know that there is a Big Mess in the Middle East. They are not allowed to watch images of dead babies and bombed-out schools on television, but they understand the basic facts about the history of Israel and Palestine. I don’t answer questions about who is right, and who is wrong. Instead we discuss how we would feel if we lived other people’s lives.

Today my children learned that because I’ve gone back to work, I sometimes have to carry my laptop over to the playground to finish up a project. They got bored after a while and started hanging over my shoulder. When they saw I was writing about a John F. Kennedy speech, they started interrupting each other to tell me they knew that speech. And then my son paraphrased the following words:

So let us not be blind to our differences, but let us also direct attention to our common interests and the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s futures. And we are all mortal.

We rushed home to find the speech excerpted in my children’s favorite JFK bio. They opened the book and read the president’s words out loud to me. I could barely breathe. My children are so wise, and it has nothing to do with me. They teach me.

And then my son looped President Kennedy’s words back to the situation in the Middle East. I hug him, and because he’s not quite ten yet, he hugs me back.

My children leaned other things recently. They know that their mom is tired at the end of the night. If they stay up too late, she will snap at them – she is no longer “nice mom” after 10 pm. They know that they must load their dishes in the dishwasher after lunch and dinner and they must empty the dishwasher while I’m at work. They must clean up after themselves. If they don’t put their dirty clothes in the hamper – rightside out only! – the cleaning ladies will not wash them and put them away in their drawers, all nice and folded, every Wednesday. They also know that the weekly “ladies” are a big luxury for our family, but that they help their mom keep the house running as normal while she works.

Maybe it’s terrible for my children to know these things. Maybe it’s even child abuse, or something that more privileged and enlightened people would never force their children to do, as someone recently insinuated to me. She told me that she expected her children to do “better things” like sessions with their tutors or lacrosse traveling team practice. Things to improve their bodies and minds. But what about their character, I wondered? What about cultivating grit and responsibility and a strong work ethic in our children? It’s only a few chores, I thought. But most of my children’s friends are encouraged to leave dishes on the table and would never dream of taking care of laundry. A friend recently told me that she didn’t know how to do laundry until she went away to college, and this is pretty much how she is raising her own children.

For now I’m betting that my way is what works best for my little family of three.

My children also learned this week that the funny scratchy thing on my arm is another squamous cell cancer – in situ. “Which means it won’t spread, right,” asked my son. “Absolutely,” I answered before explaining that it’s no big deal, really, and that my doctor will take care of it. Oh, and this is why I drive them crazy about rash guards and sunblock.

The next day my babysitter innocently remarks that both children put on their sunblock at the pool without any reminders from her – and they did it cheerfully.

I just smile. I think we’re finding our groove again.

Divorce: It Takes Courage

I’ve been reading this nutty little book, Crazy Time: Surviving Divorce and Building a New Life by Abigail Trafford. It was first published in 1982, and an old boss of mine recently told me tshe read it when she got divorced more than twenty years ago.

The fact that this book is still in print says volumes about divorce. The book treats the craziness of relationships, breakups, and the aftermaths in such a matter-of-fact way that it’s almost unsettling. Divorce truly is the craziest of times, and it makes people say, do, and feel things that they previously couldn’t imagine.

Here’s one of my favorite passages:

A combat soldier’s definition of courage is moving from a safe place to an unsafe place (in order to win the battle). For an infantryman under fire, courage is leaving the safety of a foxhole for a new position. In psychological terms, the definition of courage in divorce is moving from the safety of one stage to the uncertainties of the next. Courage in divorce means moving from the safety of shallow feelings in the Hummingbird Phase to the pain and confusion of the Foundering Phase. It means moving from the safety of despair in the Foundering Phase to the making of choices and taking risks for a new life in the Phoenix Phase.

So, it takes great courage to move forward through a divorce.

I love that statement. It’s so true, but because our society tends to think of divorce as a failure, we overlook the courage it takes to move through the process of divorce.

Every single decision we make is a form of courage. It can just be showing up. Going to the school cocktail party without a spouse. It can be the process of detaching. Making a conscious decision to let go. It can be the day we realize we need to get a job. Or let our friends set us up on a blind date. Or the day we refuse to let our ex get us angry anymore.

It can also be identifying our role in the breakup of our marriage, no matter how large or small. On some days, it might just be getting out of bed in the morning. Other days, it’s moving to a new neighborhood and starting over. Or letting go of a home that we can no longer afford.

And at the beginning, it can just be walking away from a bad marriage. As simple as that. As Ann Landers said, “Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.”

I think that most of us beat ourselves up, over and over and over again, about our divorces. We don’t realize that divorce can be a show of great strength, and each little step in getting through a divorce is courageous.

It means we are strong, and we are courageous. As Hemingway says, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”

We Need to Get Out of the Closet

Gay Equality Advocate Ash Beckham is on to something big.

Today I listened to her latest Ted Talk – about the hardships of living in the closet as a lesbian. And about the courage, compassion, and empathy necessary to step out of the closet and start to really live.

She starts with some revolutionary ideas:

Everyone, at some point in their life, will experience hardship.

Hardship cause pain, shame, anger, and secrecy.

Hardships put people in the closet.

Everyone, sooner or later, will be in a closet.

The closet can be anything:  sexual preference, feeling “different,” divorce or infidelity, cancer or death, an addiction or accident, an eating disorder or financial problems, abuse, learning disorders, lawsuits, bullies, bad parenting, getting fired, a lie, making a huge mistake, mental illness, whatever.

Beckham says, “All a closet is, is a hard conversation. And although our topics may vary tremendously, the experience of being in and coming out of the closet is universal. It is scary, and we hate it, and it needs to be done.”

Beckham went through a militant stage, when she didn’t want to have this conversation. She worked as a waitress and spent her days waiting to launch verbal grenades at little children who all had the exact same question when they met her: “Are you a boy or a girl?” Then one day she looks down into the face of a four-year-old girl in a pink dress.  “Are you a boy or a girl?” the child asks, predictably. And Beckham takes a deep breath, leans down, and starts to explain slowly and simply, “Hey I know it’s kind of confusing . . . “

The child listens to the explanation, nods without missing a beat, and asks for a pancake. This is the beauty of children. Their question is answered, and now they can move on to what’s really important: breakfast. The difficult conversation is over, and as it turns out, it wasn’t that difficult after all. 

One of the surprises of  divorce is that many adults act similarly about the conversation. Oh, a divorce. A bad divorce. A bad soon-to-be-ex. Messy and difficult. Ahhh. Okay. Got it. How can I help? And let’s order a glass of wine.

Beckham’s brief conversation with the four-year-old makes her realize that not everyone is out to get her. Also, that life is hard, and we all struggle, and what’s critical is not to judge others or compare hardships. It’s all hard. Hard is not relative. It’s just hard.

So how did Beckham get out of the closet? Here is her advice:

Be Authentic. Take the armor off, be yourself. 

Be Direct, rip the bandaid off.

Be Unapologetic. Speak your truth, never apologize for that. Apologize for what you’ve done, but never apologize for who you are.

But of course it is not just gay and divorced women who live in closets. It’s everyone, at one time or another.

So I suppose the first question is: What is our closet? What are we hiding?

And the second question is: Do we have the courage to step out, have difficult conversations, and start to move towards bigger and better things? Because it’s true: a closet is no place for a person to live.

“Vulnerability …

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”
― Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead
 
 

Each year, my children and I cross the country to visit friends and family for several weeks. We spend the last week in paradise – a place surrounded by the Pacific on one side, and vineyard-covered hills on the other. The air smells like eucalyptus, and my children pick lemons off the trees and make fresh lemonade. They swim all day and run around barefoot with their cousins.

This year it was hard to leave. Going home meant facing my divorce again. Mine is no ordinary divorce, and it’s certainly not a Good Divorce (not that I really believe in Good Divorces anyhow – I’ve yet to meet anyone in real life with children who has experienced a Good Divorce). At any rate, mine is a Very Bad Divorce, one that includes child custody issues, teams of lawyers, various psychologists and other mental health and addiction experts, and some really serious stuff that caused what the attorneys call “the breakdown of the marriage.”

On top of the divorce itself, I struggle with the IDEA of getting divorced, the public failure of being divorced in a society that values and celebrates seemingly perfect families. Here are just a few of the things I have heard lately about women who get divorced:

Women with children shouldn’t get divorced.
Good women don’t get divorced.
Women who get divorced are screwed up.
Or they were too dumb to marry the right person in the first place.
Women who get divorced are selfish.
They damage their kids.
Their kids will ever, ever be okay again.
Divorced women are crazy, lonely, pathetic, slutty, desperate.
Divorced women are failures, losers.
They are LESS THAN married women.

All of these things banged around in my head when my plane landed. They’re still there. Not every moment. But often. They come to me in the dark when I can’t sleep, or on gorgeous autumn days at my children’s school, or any time that I’m scared or frustrated or tired. Sometimes they can swoop in and destroy a perfect moment, like when my son hits a home run and all I can hear is the other dads cheering him on. I miss the moment because I am panicking at the thought that my son is the only one there without a dad – I am the only mom there alone, trying to navigate the tricky world of raising a son without a real dad.

SO, I’ve decided that I can’t afford to miss any more of these perfect moments. I don’t want to miss them – they are few and far between, and my children are growing up fast. I need to reclaim some of the peace I found in my paradise getaway. To do this, I’ve decided that I need to become stronger. And more courageous. More vulnerable and less shameful. I’ve decided that I need to do some work – on myself, for a change. Because I have spent the last several years trying to do a lot of work on someone else – my soon-to-be-ex-husband. And let’s just say that my work failed. As it should, because I learned way too late that you really CAN’T FIX SOMEONE ELSE.

So now it’s time to take that time and energy and start to concentrate on myself.

I don’t know where this path will take me, and I have a feeling that parts of it won’t be very pleasant for a risk-adverse, “would-rather-die-than-be-vulnerable,” “fly-under-the-radar” person like me. I look to Dr. Brene Brown again, for some inspiration as I start:

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

This blog is my first step in owning my story.