Monthly Archives: May 2013

the anti-mother’s day

Ah, Mother’s Day.

It conjures up images of beautiful brunches, adoring children, and thoughtful gifts honoring all that mothers sacrifice and do on behalf of their families.

My reality is a bit different.

Mother’s Day is a holiday I approach with more than a small amount of trepidation.  Possibly without exception (and I only say “possibly” because there might be an exception, but I honestly can’t think of one), every Mother’s Day has been an opportunity for my girls to roundly remind me of all the parts of being mother that I don’t like.  It’s like they spend the day parading their ugly sides in order that I  might, for the rest of the year, appreciate how wonderful they are and how blessed I am to be their mother.  And the universe conveniently conspires to add its own dose of mayhem, lest I get a moment’s respite from their antics.

This year’s Mother’s Day was the perfect example.  Amend the details, and it could stand in for just about any Mother’s Day I’ve had in 12 years:

Sabrina had a good friend who inexplicably had planned a very big, very expensive, and very fun birthday party for the better part of Mother’s Day, so we shifted most of our celebration to the Saturday evening before.  James had to be out of town at his parents’ ranch and asked the girls and I to join him on Saturday and stay the night so we could be together Mother’s Day morning.  Bryn had a birthday party on Saturday that was supposed to end at 4:30 but ran much later, so we were a little late getting to the ranch. On our drive out of town, the girls bickered and poked at each other, setting my teeth on edge.  Then Bryn announced that she’d need to go to the craft store the next day (Mother’s Day) for a school project on Monday. Seriously??  I promptly told her “No.” and, given the tone of my voice, she didn’t ask a second time.

James’ parents have a dog, Gus, who is hardly older than a puppy, although he is probably at least 50 lbs, and James’ giant mastiff, Roxy, was also at the ranch, where she’s been staying until we get a a fence at the new house.  The girls and I had brought along our whippet/terrier mix, Gertie, and Bryn’s mini-dachshund, Bella.  As soon as we  pulled in the driveway and got out of the car, Gus began harassing Bella, which frightened her and set her to whining and yapping, so Bryn started screaming and crying hysterically, causing Bella to amp up the yapping and Roxy to come over to see what the noise was.  Roxy’s method of calming the other dogs down was to nip at them, so Bryn and Sabrina were screaming at Roxy, thinking Bella or Gertier were being hurt.  This is a scenario that played out multiple times over the next 12 hours. I’ve drawn the conclusion that the dogs will never be besties…

Later, with the dogs separated and the girls calmed down, James started the grill for dinner. He had purchased flowers for me, ostensibly from my girls, but when I thanked them for the flowers, neither daughter even bothered to respond.  A summer storm appeared suddenly, drenching the deck and chilling the air.  We waited for it to pass, then ate outside — but quickly because the girls were clamoring for us to start the movie they’d picked — The Hulk.  So into the house and onto the movie.  As soon as we started the movie, Sabrina (who had picked it out and pressed so vigorously for us to start it), promptly left to go get ready for bed.  Realizing that she’d then require us to reiterate for her in vivid detail every bit of the plot she’d missed, James hit the pause button and we all waited.  Just before Sabrina returned, Bryn decided that she, too, needed to change for bed, so we waited some more.  Finally, on to the movie!  Except that the DVD player seemed to have difficulty coordinating with the TV, so the action sequences and background music were VERY LOUD while the dialogue was nearly inaudible.  James kept the remote handy and tuned the volume up and down, up and down, up and down throughout the movie. Perhaps surprisingly, The Hulk has a fairly convoluted plot, and it was actually difficult to follow when you missed the first part of every dialogue.

Even without the technical difficulties, the movie wouldn’t have been the relaxing family time I’d been looking forward to.  Bryn was hopped up on sugar from the birthday party she’d attended, and Sabrina had had too many caffeinated iced teas to sit still.  So, there was a lot of fidgeting, mixed in with arguing over who got to sit next to me.  I’m pretty sure I said “Enough, already!” at least a half dozen times.

The drama of the evening was further enhanced by Gertie and Bella’s discovery of Wobbles, James’ parents’ enormous tabby cat.  I’d neglected to consider the presence of Wobbles in my plans for us all to hang out at the ranch, primarily because I’d never before laid eyes on him.  He’s like a phantom blur — an enormous cat who wanders the canyons, returns with small animals bigger than Bella, and avoids all human contact.  Of course, on this particular night, he had found his way indoors and was located by the enthusiastic noses of my dogs, who then proceeded to chase him all around the house while the bigger dogs chased them to protect the cat, and the girls, James, and I screamed and ran after them all, trying to insure that neither of the small dogs was shredded by Wobbles’ considerable claws or Roxy’s massive jaws.  Twice during the movie, my dogs tracked down Wobbles and a mad dash through the house ensued, interrupting our attempts to follow the movie despite the volume control issues.  By the time the credits rolled, even with three glasses of wine, my nerves were completely frayed.

We put the girls to bed, in the midst of arguments around who had to sleep on the top bunk.  Even after James and I thought we might be done parenting for the night, Bella and Wobbles went for round 3, woke everyone up, and brought Bryn to our bedroom door in tears.  At that point, James and I discussed whether the girls, dogs, and I should just head back home for the night.  Too tired to carry out that plan, we collapsed in bed.

The next morning — Mother’s Day — James helped Sabrina make me breakfast in bed while Bryn pouted and whined about various injustices. As I sat in bed to eat and open my little presents, the girls traded barbs and promoted their superiority as the better daughter.  Honestly, I was exhausted before I got out of bed.  When I did, there wasn’t much time to get cleaned up and out the door in order to start the hour-long drive to take Sabrina to her friend’s birthday party.   Before we left the ranch, I asked the girls if they’d made the beds and tidied the room they’d slept in.  They solemnly assured me they had, but when James went in for a quick inspection, he reported that they’d left it messy.  They know better, for sure.  I made no attempt to conceal my annoyance as the girls and I got in the car and headed down the hills.  I lectured my daughters on their behaviors during this short trip and informed them that they’d really killed my Mother’s Day buzz.  After some strong chiding from me, they both apologized. Once we were out of the canyons and again in cell range, Sabrina texted her friend to find out exactly where the partygoers were meeting, only to be told that the party was postponed until the next Saturday.  So, we’d gotten up and on the road for nothing.  Lovely.

At that point, I steered the car toward home and firmly decided that I was done with Mother’s Day.  No more.  As I told James, I will no longer be “celebrating” Mother’s Day.  From now on, I just want a normal Sunday in my wonderful home with my family that I love.  That would definitely make me happier than whatever “specialness” might mark the day for me.

The good news is that once I threw off the Mother’s Day mantle, I had a nice day.  A good long nap, followed by some time in my yard weeding, and capped off with a welcome home party for James’ eldest daughter.  A perfectly quiet, relaxing, renewing day.

Yes, indeed, I think I’ve finally figured out how to thwart the Mother’s Day goblins that ruin my day each year —  no longer give them a day to ruin.  I am happier in my everyday life than most people, so I believe I’ll just take another everyday, thankyouverymuch.

And to the rest of you, Happy Mother’s Day.  I hope it was everything you wanted and nothing that you didn’t.  And I hope you still like your children now that it’s over. Mine are starting to grow on me again.

giraffe-mother-kisses-baby

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Filed under parenthood, relationships

boobs

One of my favorite bloggers, The Edmonton Tourist, published a post recently about how desperately so many women (she and I included) have struggled at times to be someone’s physical ideal.

Raised in North America and fed a steady diet of fashion magazine models, MTV video stars, and movie queens, I think we women fail to even realize a lot of the time how much we measure ourselves against certain criteria, and typically find ourselves lacking. I think we’re aware of it in a big picture sense; but the insidious little moments when those doubts whisper in the back of our brains are probably far more common than we notice. Sure, I think it gets better with age – most of my female peers are relatively content with their appearance – but certain aspects of our bodies remain or become trigger points of insecurity. We all know the usual culprits: thighs, tummies, butts, and, with age, wrinkles, grey hair, and flabby arms. But really, the list goes on and is super-dependent on our individual bodies and how we perceive them.

The men that we are with – particularly the ones granted the privilege of seeing us naked – are incredibly powerful determiners of our self-image. And it’s taken me a pathetically long time to realize that men have almost no idea how easily an off-hand compliment or put-down can completely alter our sense of what is beautiful about our bodies. It’s almost frightening how much control we cede to them in this regard,and how perpetually clueless they are of this power.

When I was younger, I took every male comment of this kind as an absolute. If a guy said my legs were hot, I assumed all men would think so. It wasn’t just his personal opinion; I extrapolated and assumed that I simply had empirically hot legs. But the same was true with negative comments. It wasn’t just one guy who thought I was “too pale.” No, my fair skin was basically ugly and something all future men would have to look past if they were to be attracted to me.

Then I grew up (or, rather, grew older…), and it finally dawned on me that the same things that one man might not like about me, might be another man’s favorite. Let’s visit my pale skin, for example. My skin is pale, yes. It does not tan. I will never look like a summer goddess in a swimsuit. But, it is also silky soft, even on my arms and legs, as more than one partner has commented on. So, one man’s “ick” factor might be another’s quiet fetish.

But what’s interesting to me is how persistently (and subconsciously!) I held on to certain ideals about female bodies, even armed with this perspective granted by maturity. It seems I am still coming face-to-face with my own pre-conceived notions. For instance, I am relatively tall – 5’7” – and have always seen that as an asset. All my female friends who are short want to be taller, my daughter Bryn, who is short, wants to be taller, my mother always wanted to be taller. But James, being only about 5’9” himself, has always preferred petite women – small and tiny, which I am not. It’s strange to confront the idea that something I’d always banked on as a physical asset might not be so in every relationship. Here was something I’d never even questioned, and yet it, like all other aspects of physical beauty, was in the eye of the beholder apparently. Does my height bother James? No, I don’t think so. But is it his perfect ideal? No, it’s not.

Then there are the flagrant, incorrect assumptions based on gossamer-thin evidence that we make about what our man might prefer. Maybe these assumptions are founded on off-the-cuff comments about actresses, old girlfriends, or even women on the street. A couple of comments about other women’s “great legs” and we may – without even realizing it – assume we’re with a guy who places a high priority on long, shapely legs. And so we file that away and critically examine whether our legs stand up to that ideal.

In the best relationships, of course, these ideals don’t really matter or affect the relationship in any identifiable way, but I would argue that they usually creep in and get in the way without us even noticing.

And this is where boobs come into my story.

One of the first things I noticed about James when we started dating was that he’s a Boob Guy. In my experience, most guys are particularly fond of a certain part of women’s bodies – he might be an Ass Man, a Leg Man, a Boob Guy… you get the idea. Before getting a real glimpse of the woman’s personality, he is likely to notice and appreciate some part of her physicality. Seems like it’s just male nature, and, frankly, I think women are pretty much the same way, except that we don’t talk about it all the time. I, for example, am an unabashed Chest and Arms Girl. Legs? Eh. Six-pack? Whatever. But give me a man with a broad shoulders, great pecs, and strong biceps, and I melt. Sad, but true.

So, anyway, James is a Boob Guy, and unashameably so. It’s like he can’t help it. He’s never rude or creepy about it, but I’m certain that his particular idea of Heaven involves lots of well-endowed girls in bikini tops. And, as best I can tell, he’s always been this way. There is a long line of relatively large-chested (some made by God, others by man) women in his past, and as soon as I realized this, the little worm of insecurity started wiggling in my brain.

Because I am not big-busted. I am a solid B-cup. Aside from the years when I was nursing my babies, I have never been any bigger. There’s nothing wrong with my breasts but there’s nothing amazing about them, either. Were a musician to wax poetic about my attributes, my breasts would likely fall into the Fine-but-Forgettable category. I’ve never particularly thought much about them. They’re there. They’re fine. They functioned as needed for my babies. But I’ve never used them socially or capitalized on them the way women more physically gifted than I seem to.

And then I ended up with a Boob Guy. After many months together, I realized that I was avoiding walking around bra-less or naked on top in James’ presence. When we were in bed, I would pull the sheet to cover myself without thinking. In fact, if I thought about it all, it was only to be grateful that he was so strongly attracted to me despite my breasts being not the best he’d seen.

But I was wrong.

One night, as I lay naked in his arms and we watched television, James commented – so casually that it took my breath away – that I had the most perfect breasts. Sincerely shocked, I looked at him to see if he was being facetious, but he wasn’t. In fact, continuing in the same tone, he very matter-of-factly enumerated what he loved about them. I was so stunned, I don’t think I even responded. Perfect breasts? Me???

The Moral of the Story should be obvious, but in case it’s not, I’ll spell it out for you: Men are more complicated than we give them credit for much of the time. What attracts and holds them is most definitely not as simple as the latest Cosmopolitan would like us to believe. There is truly no empirical ideal of female beauty, THANK GOD for that. Seriously. A man’s ability to appreciate and admire so many different aspects and manifestations of female beauty is a blessing and a wonderful treasure that we should never discount or ignore.

So, whatever part of your body you’re scared of showing off, or whatever piece of yourself you’ve been covering up in front of your guy, STOP. You never know what he’s thinking or how many parts of you make him totally, crazy hot. The fun is in the finding out.

So go find out. Right now. What are you waiting for?

cleavage

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Filed under personal growth, relationships, single mom

in the line of fire

Ladies, think back to middle-school or high-school… Do you remember that one girl who seemed to hate your guts? Who hardly knew you but always said horrible, nasty things about you behind your back, making your mutual friends uncomfortable and those unacquainted with you desiring to remain so? Remember how, even though you KNEW that she didn’t really know you and even though you KNEW that what she was saying wasn’t true, it still hurt like the dickens?

And then remember how you thought that when you grew up it would all be over?

Haha. Me, too.

And then I moved in with James and found myself squarely caught in the crosshairs of the ex-wife who left him 6 years ago and has been trying to get him back ever since.

James’ ex-wife, whom I’ll call “Carnie”*, is a 42-year-old who spent her youth trading on, as James likes to put it, “her boobs and her smile.” And he’s not exaggerating. Despite being very intelligent, she has leveraged her body and her willingness to share it her whole adult life. She is a cruel, vindictive, conniving, manipulative partygirl who has spent considerable time and energy wrapping men around her fingers and screaming at the top of her lungs about how victimized she is. She has difficulty holding a job, but no difficulty spending money (in 5 years she helped the economy to the tune of more than $500,000). She alternately sends James texts telling him what a horrendous father he is, and how much she wishes they were still together. Therapists who have weighed in on the situation suspect that Carnie is either a schizoid or borderline personality, or, at the very least, suffering from bi-polar disorder. Regardless, she is a font of negative energy and the manifestation of all that is an embarrassment to our gender. And she’s now a permanent part of my life.

Lucky me.

Now, before you assume that I am simply conveniently trashing the ex-wife who is not here to defend herself, let me say this: my regular readers know that I rarely attack other women. Be they my ex-husband’s girlfriends or my boyfriends’ ex-wives or the friends who dropped me like a hot potato because I left my husband, I generally make it a rule not to bash other women. My theory is that women do enough self-degrading that we don’t need it from each other, too. So I choose to assume that nearly all women are truly doing their best and learning their own lessons and making their own best choices.

I also learned very, very early in my post-divorce dating cycle, not to believe most of what men say about their ex-wives (Sorry, guys, but it’s true.). I sat through too many dates listening to how awful and demanding and needy and selfish these former wives were, only to discover, by the second date, that for the most part I actually agreed with the former wife and couldn’t wait to put the guy in my rear-view mirror. So, I don’t simply accept James’ version of events with Carnie, and I never did. Over the last nearly 3 years, I stood back and observed. I watched her behaviors and his reactions. I drew my own conclusions, some of which differed from his in details. But ultimately I had to agree with his overall assessment of her: She’s a Bitch, and yes, that’s a capital B.

The clincher for me was when their son (who was 11-years-old at the time) started expressing an interest to live full-time with his father. Carnie’s method of squashing that discussion? To tell her sensitive 11-year-old that she had cancer, was possibly dying, and needed him to stay with her. The distraught boy went to school and confided in officials there, who called James, who frantically called Carnie, only to be told, “Don’t be ridiculous. I don’t have cancer and I never said I did. He’s lying.” To this day, their son earnestly stands by his story and insists his fear for her life was real. And we believe him.

I wish I could say that this kind of How-To-Really-Fuck-Up-Your-Kids method of parenting is rare for her, but it’s sadly not. She does not hesitate to openly use the children to manipulate James. Three of the 4 are generally too young to understand that they’re being pawned in this fashion, and the eldest has begun distancing herself from the chaos, but Carnie is undeterred. She soldiers on – telling the children terrible, untrue things about their father and testing their loyalty to her at every turn.

Some have suggested to me that, since I am now filling something like the step-mother role to the children, that her behavior will make it all the easier for me to “win them over.” But I don’t see it this way. I think her behavior, and the impacts of it on the children, is heartbreaking. I am not, nor will I ever be, in any kind of competition with their mother. I simply want them to be healthy and happy and well-adjusted. If, alongside that, we can be something special to each other, then great. But my designation in their life is not primary over their general mental health and well-being. I genuinely love James’ children, so I want them to be content, productive, and in love with life, regardless of what they think of me. And fortunately, they have enough healthy, grounded people surrounding them that they are remarkably stable and emotionally solid, despite their mother’s chaos and instability.

Until recently, I was a silent observer on the sidelines of the drama Carnie plays out with James and the kids. She knew about me, of course, but apparently deemed me too unimportant to devote any time to me. But that changed when James and I moved in together, permanently thwarting her long-term goal of reuniting her family. I feel fairly certain in my gut that, until now, she truly believed that James was still, somewhere deep down, in love with her and that’s why he’d only casually dated in the years since their divorce. As recently as March, Carnie was sending him sweet texts telling him that she was sorry that they’d “lost each other.” It boggles my mind that she has failed to realize that the actual reason he hadn’t gotten close to anyone was because he was terrified of a repeat of his marriage to her. She so damaged his ability to trust and be close to someone that he’d resigned himself to a life with only superficial romantic relationships. He wasn’t waiting for her; he was avoiding a repeat of her.

James and I both knew that once Carnie realized how serious we were, she’d get upset, and she hasn’t disappointed. I was prepared to be tolerant of her jealousy and likely outbursts. I was ready to indulge her tantrums and ignore her jibes. I was awaiting the inevitable maelstrom of insults.

But then she went after my kids. And that I was not prepared for. Nor willing to tolerate with alacrity.

In the last few weeks,  we’ve received some disturbing phone calls from James’ kids.  The first was from “Jay,” James’ 13-year-old son, telling his dad that his mom had been “saying bad things” about me and my daughters. Jay is a good kid, with a strong sense of right and wrong, and he was obviously dismayed that his mom was attacking people that he likes and that his dad loves. Then James’ middle daughter, “Chelsea,” got on the phone and confirmed Jay’s story. Each time we’ve heard from Jay since, he reports that the nastiness has escalated, making him angry and frustrated with this mom.  James has handled the situation well. He talked to the kids about how their mom had never met me or my girls, and how that kind of name-calling is more appropriate on elementary school playgrounds than out of the mouths of adults. He has reassured them that they didn’t have to agree with their mom. And then he’s gotten off the phone and laughed at her childishness.

I wish I could.

Honestly, I didn’t have much respect for her previously, and I’ve always known that she’s not a woman I’d have chosen for a friend, but now I’m not sure I could even be civil to Carnie. It was bad enough to hear the nasty things she was saying about me, although, truth be told, she was clearly struggling to find a good put-down, and I took some small gratification in that fact. But when she started being snide and snarky and rotten to my innocent daughters, any sympathy or patience I had for her burned up in the rage that blinded me. The things she said about my girls were not only unkind and unfair, they were untrue.

I know I should dismiss Carnie’s meanness the way James does, but I’m struggling with it. The power of suggestion is strong, and sometimes people’s opinions color our own despite our recognition of their immaturity or mean-spiritedness or ignorance. For instance, consider this example: Let’s say someone that you love comments to you that someone else you love is “dumb.” Initially, you will likely discard that comment as unkind and untrue, but the seed is planted. And the next time the person labeled as “dumb” says or does something that suggests less-than-Einsteinian intelligence, the little voice in your head might just pipe up and wonder…. And before you know it, the evidence of this person’s “dumbness” is piling up and your opinion of him or her is shifting, ever so subtly. As cogent, thoughtful adults, we like to think that we are immune to this kind of negative influence, but multiple social science studies have supported what we already know to be true: a strong suggestion, when delivered from a beloved or trusted source, is indeed powerful. And I would imagine (although I haven’t seen such research) that children are even more susceptible. So, I worry that Carnie’s flippant meanness could ultimately achieve it’s desired result – an alienation of her children from me and mine.

Only time will tell, of course, and so I must be patient. I will simply continue being exactly who I am and encourage my girls to do the same. Overall, I have a history of winning people over as they get to know me, so I am hopeful that Carnie’s assaults will not completely undermine what her children have learned and will continue to see of me and my girls. James and I want very much to find a way to create a loving, cohesive family out of our various pieces, and for Carnie to thwart that would be unbelievably frustrating, sad, and completely in character for her.

I know that I am not alone on this part of the post-divorce journey, but sometimes it really feels that way. I don’t have any friends or acquaintances in this position at the moment, and I’ve given some thought to joining a step-parents’ group in order to find some understanding and support. I definitely don’t want to allow Carnie’s fierce negativity to infect me with bitterness; that alone could undermine the small dream I have for my fledgling family.

And so we will just keep loving, and being there, and waiting and seeing. But that’s pretty much life in a nutshell, isn’t it?

crosshairs

**Blogger’s Note:  I have a general “rule” on my blog to name those individuals I deem guilty of misbehavior (it’s my blog, so I’m judge and jury…), but out of love and respect for James’ children, I’ve granted their mother a pseudonym.  Reluctantly.

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Filed under divorce, parenthood, relationships, single mom