divorce

the time it takes to paint the canvas

A few days ago, my son came home with a paper invitation in his backpack that explained his artwork was featured in an exhibition at a local church’s annual Festival of the Arts. He’s in first grade, so I’ve only had a school-aged kid for a couple of years, but I have already figured out that it’s really impossible to tell with some of these functions if they are a big deal, so to speak, or if you will rearrange your schedule and drag kids out for something they would’ve hardly missed. There was no teacher email or mention on this one either, but I stuck it on the fridge and figured we’d go.

Wednesday rolled around, and it’s speech therapy after school which makes for a long day anyhow. Plus it’s the end of the month when my finances are always extraordinarily tight, so I didn’t want to splurge on dinner out when we had food at home. We race home, I make a quick dinner, and we turn around to race back out in the same general direction we came from. My mom was at my house the day before and saw the invitation on my fridge, so my parents wanted to check it out and were a little ahead of us and already there. She texted that there were A LOT of people there, and she wasn’t kidding. We arrived and took a while to find parking and shuffled in a line with everyone else to see the student exhibitions with work from 21 different elementary schools in the county – plus middle and high schools. There was visual art and ceramics and fashion design and sculpture. It was pretty amazing. And amazingly crowded. But we did spot his work along the wall with the others.

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At 6:45, they shuffled everyone upstairs to the sanctuary to list award winners, and they read a long list of 20 Honorable Mentions for elementary schools. They didn’t say his name, which did not really surprise me given the volume of art and participants, and he seemed a little disappointed, so I was whispering that it was an honor just to be included and don’t forget that your teacher chose only you for this event. Only you.

Then they listed winners for elementary school, and when they said his name for third place, both he and I perked up in surprise! I have his art cluttering my fridge and my coffee table and the back seat of my car and nearly every surface in my house, but that is mostly just because he’s my own kid and he loves to draw and paint and create. I never compare his work with others. It is such a fun experience and a rare moment of genuine surprise when you hear your kid’s name called and see them recognized in such a big way. He was competing alongside kids years older than him from 21 area schools, and it was such a special moment of pride for him. I’ll never forget the look on his face.

I emailed his art teacher early the next morning to say thank you, and she explained that she “knew it was special when she saw him painting it.” And Jude’s only mention of it weeks ago was to tell me that they were studying Van Gogh, that he kept working, working, working on it when all the other kids were done, and that his art teacher let him work slowly and take a long time to finish. (How seldom we do that, right? Such a reminder to have patience and let the canvas take shape — which is one big metaphor for raising kids and for watching your own life take shape, too.)

I’ve written a lot lately about being exhausted and pulled to my limits, which I am. The long days are the longest. But the good days feel like such a welcome break in the monotony sometimes. Wednesday was a really great moment.

As any divorced parent will tell you though, these moments do not ever look like what you’d once expected them to.

Jude’s dad was on the other side of the country, so neither of us told him when the initial invitation came home as there was no point. As we were walking out the door though, I think it dawned on Jude that this was a big deal and dad wasn’t able to see it, so he sent a hurried text message to his step-mom detailing the time and location. She dropped whatever it was that she was doing and hurried there, baby in tow.

I let him contact her without asking otherwise. We slid over in the crowded pew for her to have a place to sit. My family flagged her down in the crowded sanctuary so that she would feel less alone. We waved her off at the end of the event so that she felt included. I say all of this not to say look at me, I am amazing. I am not. We are not best friends. I say this to say that after months and months of practice, it really is not impossible to look at someone like a human being.

I wrote a little last fall about seeing her in a different light and feeling commonality and even sympathy for her in many ways. I do. And yet the hardest part of this is that, though she and I have stepped up to drop the bitterness and rise to a higher calling for the sake of my kids, there are bumps in the road beyond the two of us. My parents and I will sit down at a soccer game with folding chairs near my ex so that kids see us as one unit, and my children’s father and his own parents will stand up, fold theirs, and move to the other side of the field to make it clear we cannot do that. I will greet with a hello and get nothing back. When we are passing bags of clothing back and forth between households, I reach my hand out, but it gets placed on the ground at my feet though I am standing 3 feet in front of him and an outstretched arm would be the most respectful and least awkward way to do this. There is so much more I could say, but I will end there.

I worry a lot about how my kids absorb this as they are growing old enough to watch and observe with their own thoughts. I don’t write a lot about that dynamic here because it feels weird to do so, and I always write with the intention of revealing my own heart, but sometimes someone else’s actions and the effects on your own heart are so tangled that you cannot unwind them to talk about one without the other. I know so many readers here are coming from the same story, and I’m being transparent for the both of us. If you are in it too, I see you and I feel your sadness. If you have emerged to the other side where you are treated like a real person and a human being and not a ghost, please tell me how to get there.

Sometimes I think it’s just that women are capable of seeing complexity in a situation and rolling with it in all its gray areas so that we can put or children first. Sometimes I think that it’s because I took the time to clean up my own heart after my divorce so I can make eye contact and say hello and sit in a chair near them and it doesn’t hurt like it did at first. I know how it was in the beginning when I couldn’t look at them without tears in my eyes, but I don’t feel that anymore now that we are 2 years out and I did the hard work of cleaning up the mess inside my own self with time and reflection. If you cannot make eye contact or pass a clothing bag with an outstretched hand or answer a hello, is your heart anything but messy? Sometimes I wonder if I can be my own self without bitterness and shame and anger because I was not the one who stepped out of the marriage before it imploded. Is it actually easier in the long run when you are the one left behind in the beginning? That seems so ridiculous and counterintuitive to say, but there are ways I think it is true. I have nothing to hide or explain.

And in a literal sense, I know if I never once wrote the first word here, it would be very different. I have laid out all my fears and my sadness and my hurt and my confusion in this space, and it has only ever been my own perspective and my own heart. I have always said that. Many, many times, I have been told to be quiet and stop writing anyway, and yet I never did. This space has evolved to something else entirely where I have written about a million more things but always with the simple intention to tell the truth and lay it all bare as I feel it inside – whatever it may be.

I am revisiting some Marianne Williamson this week, and she says, “Women are still in emotional bondage as long as we need to worry that we might have to make a choice between being heard and being loved.” That passage slays me because I can glance back at every moment in my life when I felt that being heard did not equal being loved and feel how painfully that suffocates you. I think I finally realized that love is not real love anyway if it comes with the condition that you cannot be heard, so here I am still writing. And here I am still loving – even those who are hard to love. I can know that someone made choices I would not have made and maybe still has some mess left to work through, but my only ability to change anything at all is to be responsible for my own actions – whether that means making room on a church pew, recognizing my son’s desire to reach out for love from his other household, or looking someone in the eye to say hello. I think I will have to wait on the hand of time to soften all the rest, and if it doesn’t, it is still softening me. Maybe that is the other side I am meant to arrive at — not some sitcom reality where divorced parents have dinner together with their kids.

It’s our small daily choices that paint the whole canvas in the end. And though my kids don’t fully understand everything now when they see someone move a folding chair at a soccer game or decline a birthday party invitation or leave a hello hanging in the air between us without an answer, I know that they will look back and see that if nothing else, mom stayed open and soft and honest and real.

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divorce

the truest pieces

It’s the first day of October, and Georgia somehow finally got the message. I grabbed a sweater and a full cup of coffee as I took the dog out this morning. I felt a real chill. Fall is here. Finally a new season.

I drove a few winding roads to my grandparents’ place today and accompanied my grandad to my grandmother’s grave site to place new flowers for the season. Today would have been their 62nd wedding anniversary.

They were never the types to revel in attention and didn’t want a party or big occasion for their 50th. So twelve years ago, my sister and I orchestrated a secret campaign for letters from family and friends far and wide and put them together in an album for the two of them. It’s at their house still, overflowing with pictures and letters from a life spent together and the world it creates when you love like that. As it turns out, they were a fixed center point, a solid unmovable ground, not just for me but for loads of others, too.

We walked the cemetery a bit with him today and watched him take out flowers that were hardly faded and replace them with new ones. Huddled over the iron vase in the bright fall sunshine on what would have been the beginning of year 63, he carved a bit at the tough foam base of the arrangement and fit it snugly on the metal marker.

He is honest and real and can do hard things. Do men exist like that anymore? I honestly don’t know.

I ran into my former mother-in-law at a soccer game two weeks ago, and she asked me if my grandad was meeting women yet with plans of another wife. I didn’t even know what to say to that. He is in his eighties and spent a lifetime with her. There are tears in his eyes still when he talks about her sometimes, and there’s not yet grass fully on her grave. Is this really how people do it now? They just skip all the hard parts and move on to the next distraction.

I am nearing the two year mark of single motherhood, and people are starting to ask of me (and of course, ask others about me) whether or not I’m seeing someone. There is so much I could say on this topic, volumes I could write, but the short answer is that I’ve changed in a thousand ways in this season of my life, and the bar is set high.

Something happens to you when spend time alone and do things you never thought you could do, when you carry the impossible. I take out the trash. I sleep alone. I pay the bills. I’ve attended real estate closings alone. Parent conferences alone. Soccer games alone with my chair for one. Cub Scout meeting alone with dads everywhere else. And at first it is all terrifying and depressing, but then you break through that initial moment, and it liberates you from everything that tied you before. I’m doing hard things, but I’m okay. What you want in a partner is a list that begins to change with the first passing seasons of your time by yourself, and the bar creeps a little higher each time.

And in the midst of all that, my grandmother got sick, and I watched my grandfather do all of the hardest things. The taking care and the letting go. Never once in those last days did he try to control her pace as she drifted. He just left a sacred space between them for her to do what she needed.

He is 6’2 with clear blue eyes and an uncommon steadiness and more strength and integrity than anyone I’ve ever met. I was there in June when a hospice nurse told us it would likely be less than a week or so until the end, and after the nurse left, I could hear him sobbing in the room where she was laying as I waited downstairs. Never once pushing her to abide by his own plans and always holding steady in the hard work of compassion.

I hear talk shows and see articles passed around online where people talk about marriage tips and what to do when you are struggling in a partnership. I’m realizing that people think marriage is hard these days because you aren’t always happy. Because you feel tired and you work too much and the kids are always demanding something and the other person can’t make all that go away. Is that hard? Really? Because now that I’ve seen what the hard part really is — the grieving and the accepting and the letting go — burnt dinner on the stove or noisy children or a cluttered bathroom counter don’t seem like a cause for unhappiness. Whatever “happy” means anyway; it’s always a moving target when you depend on the other person to provide it.

It’s all connected though, I think. If you can’t do the hard work of putting aside your own selfishness in the earlier years, what do the later years look like? It took 62 years to build what they had, and I understand that. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that maybe the little things are actually the big things. Honesty and integrity start with lending a helping hand and showing respect and saying I’m sorry and meaning it. If I knew then what I know now. But isn’t that always how it goes?

I’m so grateful for every bit of it — my own pain in the earliest days of discovering something that felt like a knife’s edge, the itchy pain of being alone and figuring out what it all meant after the dust settled, and even the hardest pain of watching this season happen in the lives of the couple who was always my fixed center point, and likely always will be.

I’m grateful for the chance to start all over and do it right. And I don’t care how long it takes. The truest pieces of a life well-built always grow slowly.

divorce

no roadmap

It’s been a week or so since I sat down to write, and though I hate the term “writer’s block,” that is what it feels like a little this weekend. But I make myself come to this space regardless of what I have to say. Most of the time, the biggest truths come along between the written lines anyhow.

We are wrapping up the summer with only 4 days left until school begins for Jude. We’ve  been swimming with cousins and playing with neighbors and staying in our pajamas for hours after waking up. I don’t feel ready for the start of the school year, but it’s almost here anyway.

Jude spent hours yesterday chasing butterflies while we were playing with family. I joke that he is the Butterfly Whisperer. He will quietly sneak up behind them as they pause on a flower and gently grab their wings. It takes so much concentration, and then he’s proud of his accomplishment.

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We played with them a minute and watched them flutter in a Mason jar for a few hours and then had a butterfly release on the back patio just before dinner. Both of my kids are growing so fast, just like every mom says, but I am astounded at how much they comprehend. How much they observe and the conversations they have with me, the ways we understand each other and know each other well. Motherhood is not easy, but they are getting easier, no doubt. I’m grateful we are hitting our stride.

There are so many things swirling in my head that I haven’t mentioned here because I am not sure how to say them gracefully or how much to say. I don’t talk much about my former life circumstances because it feels so, so far away. Like another lifetime. But that little TimeHop screen on my phone shocks me back to reality sometimes. Two years ago this summer, I was cooking out with friends for the Fourth of July in my married home without so much as a hiccup on the horizon. Two little years ago, we vacationed in Mexico together. But I look at those photos now, and only my children even look familiar. I have changed a million times over, and it looks like a stranger next to me.

It has changed somehow. Instead of the overwhelming shock and heartbreak I felt a year ago, it just feels like some weird sense of disconnect. Like that could not really have been my life before. I hardly remember it somehow.

He is welcoming another child in two months. The kids told me, nonchalantly, back in March as I stirred dinner on the stove one Sunday evening in the late daylight. I expected as much, but the speed at which it all has happened is still enough to make my head spin sometimes. Two little years after we were vacationing in Mexico together without a hiccup on the horizon, and I am writing this sentence on a couch in my own home with my own life and dreams unfolding as I watch my two gain independence. And he is likely in a baby aisle somewhere surveying pacifiers and buying breast pumps and diapers. Life is stranger than fiction indeed.

My close circle in day-to-day life knows this, of course, but I have not mentioned it here. It’s a weird thing to be — this nothing to the other child. Not a step-mom, of course. Or an aunt, or a side mom. A stranger really. But one whose children are half-tied. The thing about divorce is that it never really leaves you. It’s not a cheating boyfriend you can be angry at and avoid the rest of your life. As it turns out, it’s a whole other family who shows up in your driveway twice a month for weekend visitation. If you have any chance at all of inner peace, you have no choice but to face your shit, as people like to say.

That’s precisely what I have spent the last twenty months doing. facing my shit without distraction or avoidance. It is the hardest thing I have ever done. Like most things in life, you have to somehow just figure it out, though there is no roadmap. I’m figuring it out pretty well, I think. But I do often think about how much time it takes to get it all sorted out. How much I change from month-to-month. How much I learn with every experience, every conversation. How much every challenge leads me inward, inward, inward to what I alone can offer.

Life is just one big, long unfolding, isn’t it? You really don’t know where it’s going to lead and what will happen in the meantime. I’m grateful for the freedom to figure it all out in this season without demands or expectations, but I can’t help, in my flawed human nature, to wish I had binoculars to somehow see what lies ahead at the end of the road. I think the answers almost always surprise us all.

divorce, single parenthood

boundaries

In that famous Pema Chodrom quote that everyone knows, she explains that “nothing ever goes away until it has taught you what you need to know.” And yet so many times in our lives, we tend to wonder why something is happening to us again and again. As though luck throws us the same problems and it’s all due to chance.

Yesterday officially marked the date of one year ago that I signed divorce documents. By the time a judge stamped it, the calendar read April, so I never know which date to recognize. But yesterday marked the signing which seems more official than the state-mandated official date for some reason.

You can look back at this journal and see the ways I have changed, the ways my entire life has changed. I was driving home from the grocery store this weekend and listening to the latest Dear Sugar, and this week’s guest noted a passage from an Edith Wharton letter when she stated that the cure for loneliness is “to make one’s center of life inside oneself, not selfishly or exceedingly, but with a kind of unassailable serenity — to decorate one’s inner house so richly that one is content there, glad to welcome anyone who wants to come and stay, but happy all the same when one is inevitably alone.” It resonated so much that I smiled and laughed in a way that was so genuine and so loud that it would have been embarrassing had someone been in the car with me. That “unassailable serenity” was such a foreign concept to me when I shakily signed those documents a year ago. I get it now.

I am finally at a place when I whisper thank you, thank you, thank you at least once a day for the life I lead. For being alone and free and no longer tied to anyone who does not understand me and see me for who I really am. It took me a really long time – the better part of the past year – to come to terms with this, to be able to say it aloud. You grow so used to how someone treats you, what they do or don’t recognize about you, that you neglect to see the writing on the wall. You don’t even recognize that love isn’t being served at the table anymore until that concept walks through the door in a body ten years younger than yours and leaves with your wedding china.

The universe speaks to us in whispers, and when we don’t listen, we get a scream. If there’s a path you are not meant to be on, God will find a way to place you on another road. Sometimes it just takes a drastic measure to get your attention.

I’m listening now. I see it. I hear it. I’m better for it.

Marriage is a beautiful thing when it is done well and two thinking and feeling people show mutual respect for one another, but as the host on Dear Sugar said last night (even as the happily married man that he is), there is a very small circle drawn around what you can do when you are married, even happily so. I’m finally understanding that circle became even smaller and smaller for me with the passage of time, and it is nothing but relief as I emerge from it a year later. Grateful and hopeful and stronger for the pain.

These simple, obvious things – the freedom to make decisions without consulting anyone, the freedom to take my time as I move forward and choose someone else to spend time with, the freedom to pursue my own interests and not have to explain myself to anyone else – these little things feel so unbelievably cherished and special to me in my present season. Like I can finally breathe after years of swimming underwater.

Still though, there are bits that remain. Lessons that, to reference Chodron’s quote again, just aren’t finished with me yet.

Every week, I flip a new card from my affirmation deck on Sundays and pin it on a board near my bathroom mirror. Sometimes it feels like that particular card found me on that particular day. It often works together with the rest of my life to drive that message in my head so that as I read it each morning, it becomes clearer and clearer.

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We all know the Golden Rule to love one another, but the part we forget is to love ourselves. To treat ourselves how we’d want to be treated. To respect ourselves.

This week that idea was finally a lightbulb moment for me. The simplest of concepts that I should have accepted many years ago, but I am just now figuring it out: You show people how to treat you. If someone repeatedly steps in my personal space or pierces my own sense of worthiness, it is not his responsibility to fix that. It is mine.

As I look back on my life as a married woman, I can now see so clearly that an affair did not come out of nowhere. I taught him how to treat me. Every time we swallow an insult or accept something that bothers our spirit and insults our deepest sensibilities, we tell that person that it’s okay to treat us that way. I’m seeing this now – looking back at the hundreds of times I absorbed something as my lot in life, what I had to accept. When in reality, I didn’t have to accept it, but it was simply laying the groundwork for what was to come. I felt shocked when it all dissolved in such an explosion, but in actuality, it was the most logical next step on the journey. The universe whispered, and I ignored it, but then it screams so loudly that you can’t run the other way.

My therapist has noted (another concept that never dawned on me but is incredibly obvious) that I don’t permit myself to feel anger and I essentially skipped over the anger stage of the grief process in this past year of my life. She’s right. Denial, shock, sadness – I did all of those. Anger? It never emerged. My friends would comment on how they were angrier than I was about it, and they were right. How I never saw I was skipping that and why I never let myself feel it is something I don’t understand.

But I know for certain that the world gives you what you need to learn when you are finally ready to work through it. Anger has a purpose. It puts that fire in your belly that grants you the resolve to demand respect. I think I’m finally there. I’m reaching a place where I can recognize when someone is not respecting me, and I’m finally learning to establish boundaries. “No” is a complete sentence.

It is incredibly hard to teach someone how you can be treated when you accepted something else for a decade. (And this is something that causes the most pain and conflict of anything else in my life – my family hated you for fifteen years, you are selfish, screenshots of my blog with highlighted sections and commentary that I need to “learn how to write.” It’s a continued source of unbelievably difficult conflict, but I’m still working to correct damage resulting from what I accepted for far too long.)

I read once that you really know you have forgiven someone when you can say thank you for the lesson he taught you. I’m not certain that I have arrived at full forgiveness, as expected only one year out. That notion takes years and years to fully develop. But I’m not certain it’s a straight line either because the thank you part is where it begins for me, not where it ends. It’s hard to correct these things after years without boundaries, but it’s easy for me to grasp this moving forward. I can say no without apology now. And most importantly, I can see those red flags now. When I set a boundary or explain that something hurts my feelings and causes me pain and someone disregards that feeling or dismisses it, or worse yet insults it by calling me too sensitive, it is a sign to run the other way.

Why do women forget this? We neglect to realize that we can decide when something is unacceptable – whether that’s in personal or professional life. Our plates are too full and our minds are preoccupied with the thousand ways we should do everything better when in reality the only thing we can do better is to recognize where we end and where another person begins.

 

 

 

 

 

divorce, Life and Randomness

increments

Last week crawled along at the slowest possible pace. We’ve had weeks and weeks of steady rain in Georgia, and I’d forgotten what the sun looks like. It’s back this week though, and I can hardly believe tomorrow is already Thursday. It’s amazing how many little factors can influence your outlook.

We discovered a little trail in the woods behind our neighborhood yesterday, and Jude wanted to go for a quick walk again today the minute we walked in the door. I ignored any other nagging responsibilities, and we took off. Norah and I followed behind him, and he felt proud to lead the way. We ended up at a little pond before turning around to head back home just before sunset.

UntitledLittle gifts are stored for me along the way when I have eyes to see them. I listen to Rob Bell’s podcast every week, and the episode I heard this week was titled “Increments and Explosions.” He discussed the secrets of people who, as he put it, grow younger instead of older. Grow lighter instead of heavier, softer instead of harder. The key as he sees it, and I agree, is personal growth. And this growth sometimes happens in increments when we create the little habits that shape our perspectives and lend us room to grow. It’s the result of daily work. Then, of course, we have the explosions – the moments life explodes the experiences set forth to give us growth even if they are painful and we don’t quite feel ready for them.

November is a big month for me, a huge marker in 2015. The first year following any tragedy or hardship is rough, as anyone will tell you. And when you can pass all of those reminders, watch the four seasons come and go again, and know that you survived, it feels like you’re finally able to exhale. I’ve still got a few markers and reminders left in front of me in the weeks ahead, but I am almost there. I’ve almost arrived at the clean slate marking a full year alone.

I look back at this entry from last November and cry a little for that person. I felt so scared of what was ahead. I had no idea how bright the sun was shining on the other side.

I’ve grown in explosions since the night I wrote that entry – the initial one, of course, plus some other big moments. But so much of it has been in little increments, too. I’m so glad, as I near the end of this instrumental year for me, that I have this journal to look back on. I think gratitude (as a true daily practice, not just the concept) has been the driving force behind my incremental expansion. And also pause and insight. And truly feeling the painful discomfort that has unfolded sometimes as I’ve broken in this new skin, no matter how much I wanted to numb it. All of those things have lended me growth.

And most of all, writing has become such a guidepost for me. I’m not certain how I would have survived the year with clarity if I didn’t have this space and this practice of putting words together without an aim or destination.

I feel fearless in a way I never have. I think that’s what happens when you spend time in “no man’s land” as Pema Chodron calls it. What you previously thought was the worst thing that could happen has already happened, and you survived. Not only survived but grew bigger. I’m not scared of much of anything now. Life ahead is a vast empty space, and I have no idea where I will go or what I will do, but as I look back at the past year of my life and increments and explosions that landed me here, I think I’m meant for something that could only happen on this path.

divorce, Life and Randomness, single parenthood

Life. This week.

I’m not sure where I am going with this tonight – only that it has been more than a week since I’ve last written here, and I like to stay current in my journaling right now, so I want to check in for a moment and reflect.

The daily activities that make up my days leave so little room for breathing space. I’m not alone in this as so many working parents are in the same position. But it seems especially challenging in this past week when academic papers are flowing in and stacking up faster than I can grade them.  Tuesday had us at the ENT for Jude’s appointment and Wednesday had Norah and I home for her school’s teacher work day, so I’ve missed desk time and the week has become disjointed and overwhelming. All the little things. They feel big this week.

We did make it to Jude’s school for lunch yesterday though. He was excited to see us, and they place you on the stage when parents come to eat with you. He felt special, I think. And Norah was fascinated with the experience of eating at “kindergarten school.” She walked in carrying her Frozen lunchbox and wearing a dress she chose for the occasion. Little things go a long way at these ages. I’m so grateful for that at a time when little things are all I can muster sometimes.

UntitledI’m fighting hard to rest in the good enoughs right now and stop demanding more more more of myself. But to be honest, I am failing miserably. I’m nearing the one year mark of when things changed for me, and things are finally settling in and smoothing out around here, and I’m feeling itchy. Feeling like I should be doing more than I am. I’m dancing on that line of comparison we all feel drawn to, and I need to work harder to fight that.  I’m so tired of working hard though. I’ve learned immeasurable lessons and grown so much in this past year, but I’m tired. I’m ready for something to be easier, and I’m mostly talking about my relationship with that inner critic. I’m ready for her to quiet down for good. But I think maybe she never does for some of us. This is just life. Working hard to simply determine when to demand more of yourself and when to say you’ve done enough and rest in that for a while. It’s hard, right? To figure out when I need to push forward and when I need to take a seat.

I’m not sure this is making any sense at all tonight. But it’s been hard week. It’s been a hard year. I’m tired of hard. I know I’m not starting from scratch, but sometimes it feels like I am, and I’m exhausted at the notion that I am alone. I’m worried that the scars are too thick for anyone to see past them and I’ll be alone forever. Wouldn’t that be his final accomplishment to be proud of? I not only left you to begin again with two kids and married my new soulmate immediately, but I screwed you up so profoundly that you are too broken with self-doubt for someone else to deal with.

I’ve read that Rumi quote a thousand times The wound is the place where the Light enters you. I’ve felt the Light and I’ve seen it, and I know from the voices of my friends that I’ve illuminated that Light, too. That other people have seen it in me. But sometimes it just feels like a wound. This week it’s a wound, and it’s more dark than light. The smallest stabs still ache sometimes, and I want to know when that stops. When that skin thickens and the scars fade.

But I’m seeing – when I have the clarity to look without my distorted view – that I offer others so much more kindness than I offer myself. I’ll see the best in others, and never in myself. I give them the benefit of the doubt and not myself. I need to get better at this. It’s like the imposter syndrome I wrote about before, except worse because I inflate others and see the very best in them so much so that I often give them more credit than is due. And by contrast, I refuse to see myself without the faults screaming loudest.

I can learn so much from my kids sometimes. The way they don’t really care what others think unless you are in that circle they’ve come to trust and cherish. They don’t have an inner critic to silence yet. Past experiences haven’t given them a soundtrack of criticism on loop. They see only what is right in front of them. The start of a new day and all the chances that it brings to practice the very best of ourselves.

Norah was singing some song of her own Tuesday morning as I brushed her pigtails at the start of the day. It cracked me up, and I snapped a quick picture.

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I’m so tired all the time – 5:30 am alarm, kids, work, life. All of it alone. It’s a lot. Some weeks it feels like more than others. But these little faces –  their little stories and smiles and quirks – I can learn a lot from them. And I just want to see myself the way they see me, without the scars and baggage and doubts. Everyday new and worthy.

Books, divorce

ramblings on love and marriage

As I’m looking at the last few weeks of summer, I’m seeing that I’ve focused most of my reading efforts on non-fiction this summer. That’s a change from what I used to read, but I’ve gained a better appreciation for it in the past few years as I’ve been teaching composition classes.  In addition to that, it helps me to write better as well, I think.  And of course it encourages me beyond measure to read about someone’s life challenges and how he/she overcomes it and evolves to be better and stronger.

This week, I’ve read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed — which is part love story and part history of the institution of marriage.  I found myself underlining so many passages and nodding in agreement. I feel some guilt for saying this, and I am fully aware that it casts a shadow on my former marriage, but I was just telling some friends days ago that I know with all certainty that my life is easier now than it was a year ago. Easier.  Think about that.  I am a single mother, the only adult in the house with two children under six years old. It’s the dreaded outcome for so many, and there are things that are undoubtedly heavier – finances, the lack of security in reference to my future as I have no idea what lies ahead – but speaking strictly in terms of my day-to-day life, it is easier without a husband.

I can’t believe I just wrote that aloud here, but that’s the truth as I’m experiencing it right now.

I’ve been rolling this realization over and over in my head trying to make sense of it. I mean all relationships (and especially marriage) are work, right? So is it a bad thing that it was more work when I was with him? Do all wives feel this way and if I remarry, I just have to get used to that?  But as I’m reading this book and talking with friends about their own experiences, I’m seeing that the answer to those questions is an undoubted NO.  A relationship is work, certainly. But it should not be a constant demand for more work and effort on your part with little payoff for emotional connection and happiness. That’s the hard truth of it as I reflect on the past few years of my life.

I know many people think it doesn’t really matter if the child-rearing and domestic chores are unbalanced in a relationship, and to be honest, I didn’t used to think that mattered either. It makes it even more complicated for me because I love so many aspects of domesticity – I love to cook, I love making a home, I love tending to sick kids (well better than the alternative of having someone else tend to my sick kid).  But in hindsight, I established this pattern in my former life when I did every single one of those tasks every single day along with other things that became my” duty.”  It began with the insistence that these things were my “job” because I was choosing to quit work and stay at home with my son, but of course as a whole new person was added in the mix with a second child and then a full-time job was added as well, no responsibilities changed at all. They just grew and grew. Combine this with some very heavy work travel for the other adult in the house, and I can’t believe I made it as long as I did, frankly, and with my mental fortitude somewhat in tact.  If I am being honest here about some things I have never written about before, my mental fortitude was hanging by a thread.

My anxiety had slowly increased in the last two years of my marriage, and it would flare and subside with no easily identifiable pattern. I thought it was because I was a mom of two small children and every mother must feel that way.  I countered it with healthy approaches like meditation tracks on my podcast queue and natural supplements and unhealthy approaches like trying to control my food to an almost extreme obsession which I can even see here in my archived posts as I look back. It came to a head last fall when I ended up with a mild (as ulcers go) stomach ulcer and an almost constant quivering in my belly that made food hard to keep in for long. I was up at night unable to sleep, crying in the bathroom at 2am.   Or crying to my spouse on the phone at 7:30 am as he was states away in a hotel with the woman he’s now set to marry, and I was driving to work and looking at another string of days caring for kids alone and trying to do all the things I was expected to do.  It felt like living in a vacuum.

It ramped up so severely and so quickly that I sometimes feel like perhaps my body and intuition were warning me early last fall of what was set to explode in November, but I don’t know. Maybe it’s not that mystical, and I was just a nervous wreck.

But here’s the weird thing: I am not a nervous wreck now. Our bodies talk to us and the brain manifests itself in a physical manner often, and if you don’t respond to a whisper, the universe sends you a scream. I had whispers for years I never responded to. That’s the honest truth.

So friends and family are sometimes commenting recently –and especially back in the spring –that  they can’t believe I am doing so well in my current situation and seeming to adjust quickly, and the missing piece that answers that puzzle is that I cannot think of a single daily activity that I do now that I didn’t do before. Not one. [Emotionally I am a different story; I’ve had to paddle my way through some deep waters to start the process of figuring it all out and healing.] But in regards to the simple daily routines? It’s exactly the same. And maybe even easier because I get the occasional weekend to reboot and catch-up when my kids are gone, and I don’t have to satisfy someone else’s demands for what he wants me to be on top of the motherhood tasks and domestic lists.

I don’t want to come across as pointing fingers or blaming all of this on my former spouse either. I take full responsibility for establishing that pattern and allowing it to leave a trail of stress and emptiness behind it without seeing it as the issue it was. Writing something down always grants it power, and I’m giving that weight by saying it here. I hold myself accountable for not seeing and addressing that the little things were crushing me, and in all honesty and in hindsight, they were making me feel less valued and appreciated and increasingly disrespected in my own home. It was my job to show up for my own life and address it, and I didn’t.

But back to my original direction with this post, Gilbert’s book left me feeling validated on my feelings about the role of the little things in a household and the effect it can have on marriage and happiness. As Gilbert sadly concedes, “To get anywhere close to unraveling this subject – women and marriage – we have to start with the cold, ugly fact that marriage does not benefit women as much as it benefits men. I didn’t invent this fact, and I don’t like saying it, but it is a sad truth, backed up by study after study” (166). She then goes on to explain that married men accumulate more wealth, report themselves as happier, suffer less from depression, and even live longer than single men. Married women? The reverse is true…. They accumulate less wealth and do not thrive in their careers as much as their single counterparts, are more likely to suffer depression than single women are, and are less healthy and do not live longer than single women. All of this is supported by research and sociologists even have a name for it: The Marriage Benefit Imbalance. And if you think this research shows grim results in other god-forsaken places, but not in modern America, you are wrong.

Ladies!  Can we think about that for a minute?  Am I saying marriage is terrible and I never want to do it again? Absolutely not. But as a societal institution, even in the modern world in these modern times, it is not beneficial for us in the traditional model. And maybe you are okay with poorer health and less happiness and a greater propensity for anxiety and depression because you are blinded by love for that incredible husband and will do anything to make him happy. I am not in that position at all.

It seems as though when you are young, or when I was young anyhow, I was blinded more by youth and idealism than anything else. The thought that if you love one another, the marriage will never falter and that someone will never betray you and you will never betray yourself by getting lost in all of it. Truthfully, I think there are couples who go on like this for eternity. They are either the lucky ones or the blissfully ignorant ones – I’m not certain which way I see it yet. Or maybe they don’t exist, and these women lie in bed at night counting the ways they threw away their own fulfillment on that particular day and turned themselves inside out to make others happy. I am not talking so much about career vs children here (the debate that gets all the attention), but about true partnership and true equal ground that allows another adult to see you as you really are and value your contributions to the world and to your own household. It felt like infidelity issued some unforeseen blow on my marriage like a sledgehammer with no warning, but now as the dust settles and I look back, I see I had no partnership. Nobody to talk to everyday who saw me for what I really was and weathered the little moments with me. Much of this was circumstantial as I was the lone adult much of the time and had no one to talk to everyday about anything at all for that matter.  But circumstantial or not, it is what it is.

So where does this leave me on the prospect of marriage again? I don’t know. I know I won’t take it lightly or impulsively, and I won’t enter into a partnership with someone who does not contribute daily to all the million tiny things it takes to run a family. I guess you can never say never, but it would shock me beyond all belief if I ever embarked on a marriage again with someone who traveled regularly for work. Marriage is not the highs and the holidays; it’s the Tuesday night dinners and the Thursday morning coffee, and the million tiny moments that happen in daily life. And to be frank and hold myself accountable for the past few years, let me say without question that by that definition, I had no marriage at all.

It’s a fine line taking responsibility for your role in something yet refusing to beat yourself up about it. Should I have been clearer in my cries for help and been honest that I was drowning under the weight of someone’s expectations and feeling unseen and disrespected? Absolutely. Does that justify all the injustices done to me? Probably not. But both sides of the committed sins have illuminated lessons for me.

In Committed, Gilbert states, “To ask a twenty-year-old girl to automatically know things about life that most forty-year-old women needed decades to understand is expecting an awful lot of wisdom from very young person” (105).  Or as Maya Angelou said so famously, “When you know better, you do better.” And next time I will. Next time I will show up for my own life from the very beginning and expect someone who sees and respects me for who I am and what I do and helps me pull the weight of life because he wants to, not just because I ask it.

Some lessons take time, I think. And Gilbert alludes to this as well when she explains falling in love with her second husband and how that was different from her marriage at 25 years old. …. “It was not an infatuation and here’s how I can tell: because I did not demand that he become my Great Emancipator or my Source of All Life, nor did I immediately vanish into that man’s chest cavity like a twisted, unrecognizable, parasitical homunculus. During our long period of courtship, I remained intact with my own personality and allowed myself to meet Fellipe for who he was….To this day, I refuse to burden Fellipe with the tremendous responsibility of somehow completing me.  By this point in my life, I have figured out that he cannot complete me, even if he wanted to. I’ve faced enough of my own incompletions to recognize that they belong solely to me. Having learned this essential truth, I can now tell where I end and where someone else begins” (106).

There are so many things I am learning for sure in my current season. First is that you cannot learn and grow in the truest sense without time alone to reflect. And secondly, you cannot love someone else or even be loved in return in a way that truly fulfills you when you don’t recognize where you end and where that person begins. It’s my responsibility to see myself for what I truly am, call it what it is (even if those words are ugly like anxiety and unhappiness), and show up for myself in the truest sense.