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.

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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.

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.

Divorce, Hope and Perseverance

I visited a divorced friend this weekend, to help her pack boxes for a move from her marital home. When I got off the highway, I made a right on Hope Street and then a Left on Perseverance Drive . And then a few more twists and turns and I arrived at her home.

She’s poised to start a new life in a new home. I love that when she’s finally on her way out of the marital home for the last time, she’ll turn right on Perseverance and then head on down Hope Street on her way to a fresh start.

St. Patrick’s Day: What a Difference a Year Makes

St. Patrick’s Day means so many different things to different people: green beer, a buzz, too many drunk people, new friends, an excuse to go out, parades, heritage, fun, too much fun, trouble, shamrocks and green, whisky and corned beef – the list goes on and on.

I’m named for this saint, and so is my son. St. Patrick’s Day is special to us. It’s also special because my grandmother came here from Ireland all by herself when she was 16, and she lived to 94. Now when I think of her, I smile. I’ve finally absorbed the words on her mass card:

Grieve not,
nor speak of me with tears,
but laugh and talk of me
as if I were beside you…
I loved you so —
’twas Heaven here with you.  (by Isla Paschal Richardson)

I love these words because my grandmother loved us all so, and it was heaven here with my her.

But now, just when I’ve got that down, and I feel peace when I think of my grandmother, St. Patrick’s Day has become the anniversary of my aunt’s death. She died in hospice one year ago today. Her death was not peaceful or fair or welcomed in any way. My aunt was angry. Pissed. Fucking furious and bitter that she, a non-smoker and all-around good person, was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer.

At the very end, she grew tired of us, distant and distracted. She had the most tolerance for me, her troubled niece who was in the middle of a child custody evaluation to protect her children. But even I couldn’t comfort her or distract her at the very end. She was moving to another place, one in which we didn’t matter anymore. I knew it and it broke my heart.

While she was dying, my blog glossed over her pain – her mental anguish over having to accept a death too soon. In real life, I glossed over it too. It was too big, too much for me. It still is.

On Facebook today, a friend posted that yesterday was the day to go out and meet the love of your life. She has many Facebook friends – married couples – who met on St. Patrick’s Day, and she gleefully pointed them out. I thought about this for a while, at work yesterday, before i had to run to pick up my children from school.

Maybe next year is my year.

Instead, I rushed through the aisles of Whole Foods last night while my daughter was at ballet class, and suddenly everything grew blurry because I was crying. I miss my aunt. I miss having an aunt. I am sad my children don’t have her. I am tired of my family getting smaller and smaller as the years go on.

Next year will be my year. By next year, maybe I’ll absorb my aunt’s unfair death, and the day will be filled with green beer and adventures. I remind myself that we all move at our own pace. Just one year ago, I was still trying to get a divorce; I was in the middle of a child custody evaluation conducted by a very strange man; my ex was threatening to sue me and my attorneys for an imaginary key logger; I was still in my old marital home; and I didn’t yet have a job.

I wonder where I’ll be in my life next year?

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.

The Flu

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.