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.
I would like to write that I have conquered crow pose. For a few exhilarating hours I believed I did.
But then I realized that my arms aren’t straight yet, and my knees are too far apart.
I’m just not there yet.
Not this week when my son has a second concussion, I’m missing deadlines, I suddenly and mysteriously gained weight, I am annoyed by the person I’m dating, and am dead tired.
Someday I know I’ll master crow position. But I don’t know if I can ever truly master this divorced, single, working, homeowning, volunteering, mom, friend, dating world. It’s stinking hard, and true balance seems beyond reach. Happiness and joy – I got those, often. But balance and mastery are still out of reach.
A leadership and time management class offered at work.
First thought: Excellent, I need that, BAD.
Second thought: Oh shit, it’s going to take up three days, and I can never fall that far behind.
And so it goes, the life of a single working mom with nearly 75 percent custody. A mom with two children playing on multiple sports teams and other activities, at a school where every other parent seems to be able to drop everything and show up – all the time. A homeowner, a dating mom, someone who likes to spend a lot of time with other friends, a bit of a runner and a bit of a yogi, a cook and a cleaner and a bill payer, a single mom who doles out discipline and hugs and hopefully some important values and life lessons along the way.
But it’s okay. It has to be. Because if I can’t embrace the craziness of this, I’ll miss the joy of these years.
So, everything gets stripped back. If my kids don’t send thank-you notes (I know – it’s bad – sorry!), if we’re late to practice, if I can’t attend evening work events, if I don’t make it to Girl Scouts (EVER), if I don’t change the oil in my car on time, if we don’t make it to church (almost ever), if I bring my kids out for pizza (AGAIN), if I am last on carpool line, if I can’t remember anyone’s names – it’s going to have to be okay.
But moms like me need to take care of themselves, because if I’m not in good shape, I cannot be a good mom to my kids. And they need me. So here are the things I am going to make necessities going forward: doctors appointments, hot yoga even if it’s at night when my kids are home, running, coffees with old friends to catch up, time with the person I’m dating, hair appointments (yes, I meant that!), a little bit of meditation, and a lot of home improvements since my home is my biggest financial asset.
And FUN. Fun with my two children who are growing up so fast that it takes my breath away. Because one day they will no longer want to hang out with me, and I never want to look back and regret missing this time with them. That would be the ultimate cruelty: the divorced mom who missing out on the joy because she’s scrambling so fast just to keep up.
Mr. Perfect is back. The first man I dated after my divorce – a man who looks great but shares a lot of extremely undesirable traits with my ex husband.
He started popping up last spring with short perky texts asking me to go for coffee. Most of me was annoyed, but a teeny part of me was thrilled that he just couldn’t stay away, and finally I relented out of curiosity and maybe a little bit of hubris.
But then he tried to switch coffee to a different day. And I remembered who he really was: an unreliable and not trustworthy person.
No thank you, I wrote, and I’m going to be very busy for a long long time so I will not be able to go to coffee with you, Mr. Perfect, not for a very long time in the foreseeable future.
But now, several months later he’s sending texts again. My memory is short these days (Is this the effects of my single working mom life, or too much social media, or just being in my forties?). But I distinctively remember Mr. Perfect looking at me in the eyes and lying to me.
So he’s back, like a bad penny my grandmother would say.
I looked up the expression: Proverb. a bad penny always turns up. A person or thing which is unpleasant, dishonorable, or unwanted tends to appear (or reappear), especially at inopportune times.
I hate the idea of someone being mad at me, or not liking me, especially someone with so many overlapping social ties. But I did nothing wrong. He did.
Should I ignore or block or write a blunt note back? I haven’t decided, but it’s time to get rid of my bad penny for good. I’m finally ready.
We set an intention in every class, just as the heat begins rising through the room and everyone rises together into the first upward facing dog.
Today it’s Be Present.
The class makes you focus – through sweat and music and dim light and all the fit bodies moving in unison. It forces you to be present. Otherwise you will miss a pose, lose the flow, fall out of step.
Time slows down in this room.
There’s no room in your head to worry about work or lacrosse carpool when you’re trying to keep up and not fall on your face during eagle pose. It makes you fully present and engaged. For sixty minutes, you have no expectations for what will happen later, after they turn on the lights and turn down the heat and this class is over.
Lying in shavasana, taking the last few breaths of class, I think about divorce. Be Present. It’s what comes long after the trauma, long after the fight, long after the fear and adrenaline and shame have diminished. You focus on the present, no expectations for what comes next. The person you are dating may or may not be your forever person. Your ex may or may not lose his job and stop paying child support. He might or might not do something awful and go to jail. You may or may not ever regain the financial comfort you once enjoyed. You may or may not achieve Great Things in your post-divorce career.
And you realize you can live with this. You’ve learned to be present in this strange new world. No expectations, because after all, you once entered into a marriage with the best of intentions and the highest of hopes only to have them trampled. You’ve learned that expectations are usually false, and that life is way more like some temperamental bucking wave than a straight line. You have to learn to bend and balance and breathe so you don’t get toppled over.
And so you suddenly find yourself present. And calm. And content.
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.
Thank you to the person this morning who noticed that I dropped a sweater on the sidewalk on the way to the dry cleaners. Thank you, thank you for picking it up and draping it over my driver’s side mirror.
Thank you sweet, efficient ladies who work in the dry cleaners and say yes, I can pick everything up on Wednesday because I have a funeral on Thursday.
Thank you sunshine and cold morning air that’s sure to warm up today – I can sense it, finally, spring finally breaking through after weeks of chilly gloom in this gray city.
Thank you funny Starbucks guy who never gets rattled when people like me say grande when they mean venti, and venti when they want grande.
Thank you, boss, for understanding that I sent my daughter to school today with no sports equipment, even though she has team practice after school – and that I sent my son to school saddled down with sports equipment even though he has no team practice after school – and that I had to go home and then go to their school to sort it all out on work time.
Thank you funny friend for telling me it doesn’t matter if my date liked me or not last night – that it only matters if I liked him – and that you can’t start out a good story about a date by wondering out loud if you were rejected or not.
Thank you, all, for showing me that the world is generally a good place, and that people are generally decent and kind. Because later today I need to deal with my ex and his lies about how our dog escaped in his care, and how he signed up my son for a sport – that he’s coaching! – behind my back. And how, somehow, all of this is my fault.
And then I need to check to see if my mortgage check bounced because my ex gave me a custody check ripped so carelessly out of the checkbook that the check number was completely torn off. But I had no choice but to try to deposit it in the machine on Saturday anyhow because it was so late.
So, thank you for small kindnesses, world. And for being so ordinary and normal. I needed that.