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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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.

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.

Lessons from my Dog, Part 1

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.

I Blame it on the Flu

I got the flu. It was terrible.

My children went over to play at a friend’s house. There, they met a dog named Stella. And one thing led to another, and now we have adopted Stella.

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Except now her name is Reilly. Because I can’t imagine spending the next 12 or so years screaming “STELLA” across dog parks.

She needed a home; we had one. So, what could go wrong?

Let’s see.

1. I am a divorced (or single) mom who works full-time (well, sort of full-time, technically full-time at least), and I already can’t do it all. My new normal is a deep exhaustion that I’ve only known once before – during the final weeks of my third trimesters. I spend some nights too overwhelmed to do a load of a laundry, and so tired that I start nodding off during dinner.

2. I have never had a dog. My children have never had a dog. We don’t know the first things about dogs.

3. I am a neat freak who shudders at dog hair and dog messes and dog hair.

4. Exactly one week before taking Reilly, I ordered new furniture – all mine, all new, for the first time in my life, perhaps. And most of it is white.

5. After living across the street from a city dog park for ten years, I don’t like a lot of dog owners. They are odd and combative and fight amongst each other and yell a lot about their rights – usually their right to let their dogs run around unleashed and leave poop behind in toddler sand boxes and neighbors’ flower boxes.

6. In fact, I’m not even sure if I like dogs after living across from that dog park. Sacrilegious to some dog lovers. I understand. But honest.

6. Paying for my dog walker might just involve giving up my favorite things (that are, coincidently, my only indulgences): my daily venti skim latte, Uber, wine, an occasional pair of Joie boots or my Splendid tees …

So, why a dog?

It comes down my son, ten years old, who said:

Mom, we need to take Stella, because she’s a rescue, and she’s been through so much. We “had” the divorce, and we went through so much. So we all belong together. We need to take her.

So now we have a little rescue beagle. She’s very smart and very sweet. But she likes to run away, following her nose, and already a dog walker has labelled her “incorrigible.” And that was before Reilly ran through the dog walker’s legs and out the front door to escape.

Let’s see how this all goes.

*ps: I wrote this post a few weeks ago. Just WAIT until you hear exactly how things have gone.

Especially this week.

–Madness

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.

I Reserve the Right to Change My Mind

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.