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.

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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

Happy Valentines Day, Fellow Bloggers!

A quote (or two) from Anne Lamott:

“You are lucky to be one of those people who wishes to build sand castles with words, who is willing to create a place where your imagination can wander. We build this place with the sand of memories; these castles are our memories and inventiveness made tangible. So part of us believes that when the tide starts coming in, we won’t really have lost anything, because actually only a symbol of it was there in the sand. Another part of us thinks we’ll figure out a way to divert the ocean. This is what separates artists from ordinary people: the belief, deep in our hearts, that if we build our castles well enough, somehow the ocean won’t wash them away. I think this is a wonderful kind of person to be.”

****************

“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”

Home

A nearly perfect day. Play dates all morning and afternoon, a new X-Box, a new pitch back in the backyard, pizza, cake pops. More friends late in the afternoon. More X-box, chips and salsa, Madden and lego and a million toy soldiers.

Our new house is becoming a home.

Someone recently told me that she tells her children, “home is where we are.” How great is that? She was so right.

Happy New Year: Hope after Divorce and Dealing with a Crazy Person

I hope it’s okay, on this New Year’s Eve, to cut and paste words from the brilliant and so-lovable Anne Lamott:

There was a cartoon in the New Yorker decades ago, that I’ve never forgotten, of two men chained at the wrists and ankles to the wall, off the ground, in a jail cell, in a cave. One man turns to the other, and says, “Okay, here’s my plan….”

That’s how I feel about the last two weeks of holidays, the days of death by cookie, bad nerves, tight smiles and overwhelm. Doomed, like a prisoner, or space alien, but you know what? Also full of hope.

Hope? What a nut huh?

What a nut. Yes, that’s me. When I tell my story, and people praise me for being strong or brave or positive, I know the truth. I had to be dragged into my battle, kicking and screaming while pretending that nothing was wrong – my marriage was perfect. But opening my ex-husband’s secret email account finally showed me the truth – my marriage was a sham –  2,000 pages of the most awful, perverse, and graphic words in front of me. Words that made divorce attorneys divert their eyes from mine. I couldn’t deny the truth any longer. My ex-husband had been lying to me and gas lighting me for years.

I had to stand up and walk into the light. And then I had to fight for three long years to divorce this man. I had to fight to protect my children from him. I didn’t do it for myself. I did it for my beautiful, innocent children.

And finally when the battle was over, the new crazy started: a new boss, a three-week deadline to fix up my home and sell it, two weeks to find a new home, and then the move, all in the middle of a family wedding and the holidays. At moments, I wanted to quit my job without notice, laugh in the face of my sanctimonious and childless co-worker, send my kids far away to boarding school – or give them away to the first interested person – scream at my real estate agent, and get out of my car at intersections ask drivers why they think it is okay to ignore stop signs. And then climb into bed until it was all over.

But at the same time, something kept propelling me forward. It was knowing that I was making progress – it was hope. Hope for a better life, a new home, success at work, financial security – a new life, peace.

What a nut. Someone who is giddy with hope for 2015 as she sits alone in her new furniture-less house on New Year’s Eve after a 6 pm dinner with friends. But hope is everything – I’ve never felt anything so powerful, except for love.

And talking of love and hope, tonight my friend’s bachelor-for-life brother proposed to his girlfriend. Another divorced friend got a break, a little vacation with her children for a few days, just when she felt she might crack. My brother has mysteriously found the love of his life. A friend-of-a-friend has survived year three of the most awful cancer, the kind that requires countless rounds of chemo and horrible surgeries that remove organs – her own doctor told their mutual friends that she would not survive, but the cancer is now in remission. My own father has survived open heart surgery this year, and now it looks like he will survive prostrate cancer too. Another friend is about to offer a stranger an incredible gift that might give her the second chance she needs in her very difficult life. And my extended family, which has grown apart through the decades, came together this year, bound together first by collective grief and then by the joy of a surprise wedding.

As my friend said tonight, 2015 is going to be wild. Yes, I replied, and interesting and very very mysterious, I am sure.

Happy New Year.

Cancer Doesn’t Stop for Christmas: Reflections on divorce, hardship, and hope

I’m at Sloan Kettering with my father who is undergoing 40 daily radiation treatments for cancer. We believe he will be okay afterwards.

Well, we follow this assumption, anyhow, until someone tells us otherwise. So far, so good.

It’s quiet here, and very beautiful, even on this drizzly day in a cancer treatment center. Everyone is upbeat and friendly, if just the tiniest bit distant, as if they don’t want to get too close to people who might die at any time.

2014 has been hard. My beloved aunt A, who never smoked a day in her life, died from lung cancer on St. Patrick’s Day. Less than two months later, my uncle died of prostrate cancer that had travelled to his brain. My dad survived open heart surgery and many complications. My mother got strangely forgetful and developed some strange farsightedness that the doctors cannot seem to fix. I went back to work, full-time, after staying at home with my children for nine years. I sold my home and moved with my children to a new one. I survived a six-month custody evaluation followed by a three-day divorce trial against an NPD-addict-sociopath. He and the sociopathic Other Woman filed motion after motion to the court, prolonging the judge’s decision because she wanted her named redacted from every court document even though she appeared willingly at my trial to lie about just about everything – including me. The Other Woman kept alluding to some smoking gun but never elaborated, putting me and my attorneys into a frenzy of fear and paranoia that lasted months. Then my children started overnight visitation with their father, and I was nearly bowled over by my grief and worry for them.

. . .

Well, that’s one way of looking at things. We have the power to interpret our own histories, our stories. So here I am at Sloan Kettering on Christmas Eve, writing my story of 2014:

2014 was filled with progress. I finally got divorced after three years of hell. I fought to protect my children, and it made a difference. The custody evaluator and the judge believed me. In writing, my ex and the Other Woman were branded liars who impeached themselves repeatedly under oath – both of them attorneys, too. The smoking gun never materialized because there was never any smoking gun, and my fear is finally gone, replaced with a steely resolve to never again let myself be intimidated like that. I enjoy working (at least most of the time), and I’m learning how to organize my new life and juggle work and home. While working full-time, I fixed up my old house and staged it and sold it for more money than I ever expected. I bought a lovely new home for myself and my children. My dad is beating the cancer. My children are still doing well. My youngest brother got married to a lovely girl. My extended family, which has grown apart through the years, ended the year reunited through grief and a wedding.

. . .

I watch a woman leave the radiation room. She is beautiful and achingly thin.

Then old couple leaves. The wife is round and bubbly; her husband is frail. I am certain he is the one doing radiation.

“Happy holiday,” the wife says to the receptionist. “We’ll see you Friday.”

A pause. “God willing,” she adds and laughs darkly.

I smile to myself because “God Willing” is such a New York sort of expression. And now I watch the receptionist get up and I realize she is all dressed up in a bubble mini-skirt and the highest of high heels. It’s Christmas Eve and she must have plans other than work amongst the dying.

I like her shoes, I think. And her skirt.

Life goes on, I suppose. We keep trucking and hoping and living and wearing fancy heels even though life can be hard and messy and sad. I choose to believe we are coming out of the tunnel and back into the sunshine that I took for granted for so many years of my life. I’m told by friends that there is love and light on the other side of this tunnel, and I am reaching, reaching for it in 2015.

Happy Holidays.

-Madness

Post-Divorce Christmas: A Time to Pause

I didn’t do my Christmas shopping. I’m behind on my deadlines at work. My new home is filled with dark empty rooms because I haven’t had time to buy lights and new furniture. Half-assembled IKEA dressers lie on the floor; clothing is thrown everywhere. My children’s school has nearly put me over the edge: parent-teacher conferences, gingerbread houses, teacher gifts, PTA gifts, Brownie events, book reports to be typed up by parents … and the Christmas service.

This year I dreaded the Christmas service because I didn’t know how to tie my son’s tie. I resenting going shopping after work to buy my daughter white tights. I felt angry when my son had a tantrum about his belt. I had a debilitating bout of self-loathing because my skirt was too tight at the waist – when did that happen, damn it! I was close to hysterical because I didn’t have time to put on makeup because I had to watch YouTube videos instructing me on how to tie a tie. And then when we finally got out the door 20 minutes late and peeled up to the school, I saw that my daughter was wearing old sneakers with her perfect navy velvet dress and velvet headband.

And so the Christmas service finally made me snap. It made my eyes burn with tears because I knew I had to text my boss, skip work, and go home to find my child’s fancy shoes.

Yet I made it to the service somehow, cranky and sucking in my mommy stomach, and feeling more than a little bit mean and hostile towards all the happily married size 00 moms around me, even the perfectly nice ones.

I watch the freshly scrubbed children file into the cathedral, so orderly and quietly confident, sweet in their holiday dresses and hair bows and navy blazers. The nursery comes first, and I remember what it’s like to have such little pudgy little perfectly loved people like them. I spot my children later on. They file in with the older children, as the white-gloved choir plays the bells. They scan the crowd looking for me, and I want to run up and hug them.

I start to breathe and listen. I shiver, it’s so beautiful, perfect voices and whole entire lives in front of them, and soaring ceilings and stained glass and bells, and all the hope and love that are invested in these little children in this big cathedral. I half expect God to show up at any time, and then I realize that He is already there.

Later I will worry about work and gifts and divorce and the mystery credit card that has suddenly appeared in my name. For just one hour I listen and marvel at all the beauty and hope found here.

I have finally found the joy again.

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!