Tag Archives: divorce

friends and lovers

Earlier this year, as I sat on the hard, wooden bleacher bench and watched my daughter’s volleyball team be destroyed by their opponent, a man sat down next to me. He smiled and said hello.  I smiled politely and felt a nervous flutter in my gut.  He turned his attention to his daughter, a teammate of my daughter’s, and only occasionally glanced my way.  I did my best to avert my eyes and avoid conversation, afraid that something I did might belie the nervousness I felt.  He was handsomer than I had remembered, and fitter than I’d expected. Although, in fairness, I’d never seen him up close and in person before. He seemed relaxed and at ease.  Happy, even.  I kept telling myself that there was no way that he could know that I know what I know.

Because what I know is that 6 years ago he cheated on his wife with a good friend of mine.

My town is just small enough that if your daughter is between the ages of 12 and 14 and plays volleyball competitively, she’s probably on my daughter’s team.  And so here we sit, Casanova and I — on a cold, hard bleacher bench, with the cold, hard truth resting resolutely between us but only I am aware of our shared secret.

When my friend Izzie first met Sergio, she and I weren’t really friends.  We were more like acquaintances.  Our friendship grew as our marriages failed and pretty soon we were sharing all sorts of intimate stories over coffee or (more frequently as time wore on) margaritas.  The first time Izzie met Sergio, she told me later, was like falling off a cliff.  The attraction was immediate and deep and shattering.  It went beyond the physical and into the complicated realms of respect, admiration, and genuine appreciation.  Within months they were crossing lines that shouldn’t be crossed, and Izzie was hopelessly and completely in love with Sergio.  Every last part of her behavior with him was wildly out of character for Izzie, and she wrestled with all sorts of guilty demons, but her heart was determined and single-minded.

There were a lot of things that predestined the unhappy ending of their story, but primary among them, even more so than the fact that both were still married, was Sergio’s professed fondness for “the European way of approaching these things,” as he euphemistically put it to Izzie after she was already too far gone to retreat.  See, Sergio was raised in Europe, amongst money and wealth, and was of the belief that marriage was not necessarily about fidelity but about being partners in raising children and maintaining a family.  He suggested to Izzie that affairs were necessary simply — and only — to have needs met that weren’t being met within the marriage.  And as time wore on, it became clear that such a set-up — a long-term, no-strings-attached affair — was all that he was prepared to offer or consider with Izzie.  Faced with this truth, she was totally crushed, and I was silently outraged (as every good friend is, right?).  It was beyond me how he could see my smart, beautiful, open and loving friend and not want every last thing she was willing to offer him.  I was appalled and frustrated and furious on her behalf, even as the rational part of me knew that, of course, this is how these cookies usually crumble.

Izzie moved on with her divorce and slowly, with a strength that I admired and tried to emulate, put her past behind her.  She displayed remarkable grace and kindness toward Sergio when she heard from him or ran into him, and despite feeling some lingering sense of want, she never wandered one step down that path again.  It seemed that perhaps Sergio and all the messiness from that relationship was behind her, and therefore, me.  Much later, Izzie heard that Sergio’s wife had finally filed for divorce, and that the two were separated.  And time did it’s predictable, comforting march away from that time and pain.

Until Sabrina decided that she wanted to play volleyball.

I saw Sergio’s last name on the team roster and called Izzie.  She confirmed that it was, indeed, Sergio’s daughter on the roster, and we both made the usual “small world” comments.  I didn’t think much of it until the following weekend, when I found myself standing awkwardly at the snack table next to Sergio’s wife.  She tried to make small talk with me, and I, probably quite rudely, walked away.  All I could remember was how much Izzie and I had wondered about this woman all those years ago.  What was she like?  Did she know of Sergio’s affairs?  Did she suspect?  Did she care?  What was wrong with her that he looked elsewhere? (This last was, admittedly, horribly unfair, but a product of the mindset we were in at the time.) And now here I was, forced to make small talk with her, and — gasp! — maybe even grow to like her.

Competitive volleyball is a grueling sport for parents — two to three practices a week and weekend tournaments that start at 8 am and don’t end until almost dinnertime.  There is lots of waiting around between matches and lots of coordinating food and travel.  After a season of this, I have realized the utter foolishness of my earlier belief that perhaps I could simply avoid Sergio and his wife for the year or two that our girls might play together.  I can no more avoid them than I can avoid my own daughter at matches.  It’s impossible.

And so I have done the unthinkable:  I have sat and talked with Sergio’s wife at length at matches.  We have emailed occasionally to confirm practices or set up tournament details.  And I have grudgingly come to like her.  But we have not shared a single interaction during which her husband’s betrayal did not lurk right under the surface of my consciousness. I wish that it would go away, but it won’t.

As for Sergio, he probably thinks me somewhat aloof; certainly he has not guessed at our connection.  My last name, unlike his own, is very common, and I have been careful to avoid mention of Izzie’s name in conversation with or near him.  Still, I find myself unfairly disliking him.  More so than Izzie, I cannot seem to forgive him for causing her tears and heartbreak.  Yes, I know they were consenting adults making a mutually inadvisable decision, the outcome of which was not likely to be good, but I cannot help but lay the blame at his feet.

And I find that it is not just Izzie over whom I feel protective, but Sergio’s wife, too.  I do not know her well or even consider her a friend, but I like her, and I hate that I know this about her marriage and she probably does not.  I hate to imagine that she would likely feel humiliated and betrayed by my silence, too.  And so I blame Sergio for all of it. For Izzie’s tears and his wife’s ignorance and my strange, awkward position.  It’s probably not fair, but I do.

I know for certain that I will never, ever, in any small or large way, betray what I know to Sergio or to his wife.  I would not violate Izzie’s trust in that manner under any circumstances, and I have no wish to cause possible pain to Sergio’s wife.  Instead I will continue to sit through practices and tournaments, musing silently to myself about how far and wide our choices resonate.  Nothing that we ever do is completely over.  It is there, always, reappearing in surprising places and with never-anticipated results.  Our pain, our mistakes, our lapses, all there, capable of being discovered at any given moment and inflicting further pain even years and years later.

I will keep my thoughts to myself.  I will wonder at the possible irony of someone in the gymnasium knowing something equally painful and unexpected about me or my life.  And I will continue to sit on the hard, wooden bleacher bench, watch my daughter’s team, and silently contemplate my friends and their lovers.

affairs

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Filed under divorce, relationships

judgey, judgey me

I have noticed myself being very judgmental lately.  Not in general, but in particular.  And the person in particular who has been the subject of my judgment is my ex-husband’s new wife.

I know, I know, I know.  This story is as old as divorce and remarriage.  The first wife resenting the second wife, feeling that she doesn’t measure up, that she is the recipient of everything denied in the first marriage, that she does not deserve the opportunity to raise the children of the first marriage.  Honestly, I know the song and dance, and I get it.

But I still want to shake her sometimes.  Hard.

I didn’t always feel this way.  One thing I credited my ex-husband with was the propensity to select a suitable woman to enter my daughters’ lives.  Bryce has always valued smart, capable, successful women; he is not a man predisposed to bimbos, tramps, or gold-diggers.  So after our divorce, I really didn’t worry at all about whom he might bring into the lives of our daughters.

Indeed, his very first girlfriend after (or before?) our separation was a woman I knew from our tennis and swim club and liked very well.  I told my friends that it was shame that she was the Rebound Woman because I would have been very happy with him settling down with her.  But, of course, she didn’t last.  Then there was Debbie, Bryce’s foray into the Younger Woman category.  She seemed very nice, and I thought my daughters liked her very well, but I found out differently once she and Bryce broke up.  And then came “Mariah.”  At first I was grateful for her presence.  She is older than Bryce, with one child in college and another about to graduate high school.  She’s a successful career woman and seemingly smart, attractive, and classy. When they got engaged in late 2013, I was genuinely happy for them both, and I told them so.  But that was before she shared a house with my children…

I am of the firm belief that Mariah married Bryce in spite of his children, not because she loved them as well as him.  This sad truth is blatantly apparent in the choices that she and Bryce have made as they’ve blended their families into a single home:  from creating a bedroom for my daughters to share out of a dark basement space, to refusing to buy foods that my daughters in like in favor of shopping lists prepared around their step-sister’s preferences (and, no, she doesn’t have food intolerances or allergies), to a strict dress-code that I’m sure Mariah borrowed from the Mormons, to taking a “family trip” to Europe over the summer without my girls (who are being shipped off to their grandparents for a week instead).  My daughters are not a high priority for their step-mother, nor, it would seem, for their own dad sometimes.  Sabrina has informed me that her dad rationalizes his refusal to challenge Mariah on her dictates because he wants to make her happy, something he believes he had failed at with me. So, my girls know that they are not a priority at his house, and I know it, and it makes all of us sad.

I’m not naive about divorce and blended families.  I expected different rules at the two homes, and I knew that some new and different values would be at tension with how Bryce and I had originally raised our girls together.  But I honestly never anticipated a step-mother who so obviously did her best to tolerate them only.  In all their lives, I have so rarely run into adults who didn’t seem to genuinely like my girls; the idea that I now have to share them with a woman who doesn’t is heartbreaking.

But, really, it should be okay that she doesn’t like them.  I remind myself that we all connect differently and with different people.  Just because I like (or love) someone does not mean that you would equally as well or even at all.  My girls are not going to be everyone’s cup of tea anymore than I am, and that I know and accept fully. Or at least theoretically. But what I simply can’t get my head around is this:  Why in the world would you marry someone who had two relatively young children (ages 11 and 13 at the time) with whom you don’t want to be involved and maybe don’t even particularly like?

I try — SINCERELY! — to remember that not everyone approaches relationships and blended families as I do.  Even James has struggled to care for my daughters in the same manner and with the same depth of emotion as I care for his children.  But if I didn’t like his kids, if I’d just been biding my time until they grew up and moved out, if I found their behaviors, habits, and manners so irritating and aggravating, I couldn’t have made a life with him.  So Mariah’s decisions and motivations are a mystery to me.

People who know both Bryce and I have speculated that Mariah married him to enjoy the financially comfortable lifestyle he is so capable of providing, and perhaps this is true to some extent.  They do have a newly renovated showcase home on an acre of land in an expensive enclave of an expensive town.  Bryce did purchase Mariah a ring just this side of Kardashian-land.  And she is enjoying lavish vacations.  But still, how is that enough if you don’t want his kids around fifty percent of the time?

I remind myself that I do not know her whole story.  I do not know what her own childhood was like.  I do not know if her formal and rigid nature is a vestige of the way she was raised or maybe a defense mechanism acquired later.  I remember to be glad that she is not outright mean or cruel or vindictive toward my children.  Because even if she were, my options would be meager.  But she’s not.  She’s really not.  She’s more indifferent than anything.

So why can’t I just accept that she is different from me and different from my girls and that’s okay?  Why am I so disturbed by the fact that she is marginalizing them when it could be so much worse?  I mean, seriously, who died and made me judge of anything? What right do I have to cast stones in anyone’s direction?  Why am I so decidedly unable to practice the values of no judgment and bountiful compassion toward her?

I have examined my feelings from multiple angles.  I have questioned whether I am jealous of her relationship with my ex, and concluded that while it is occasionally painful to my ego to have it confirmed for me that Bryce’s depth of love for me was no deeper than mine for him, I do not begrudge her anything that she shares with him.  I am grateful that he is happy and settled, and equally grateful that I am no longer with him but with James.  I have also wondered if I am jealous that she is another “mother” to my girls and concluded that that is not it, either.  My relationships with my daughters are secure and stable and deep and mutual; no one in the world can take that or change that but us.  Everyone else who might love them can only be a good thing in their lives.  And so, I am left feeling icky and judgey and petty without fully knowing why. I wish that I did not dislike her.  I wish that I were, at least, indifferent to her.  But if I’m honest with myself, I know that I’m not.

I’m just not.

And it makes me want to shake her sometimes.  Hard.

Love is the absence of judgment

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recipe for happier holidays: blend well

During the holiday season, I am typically addicted to the sappy, predictable, sugary holiday fare that runs 24/7 on the Hallmark Channel that time of year.  From Thanksgiving to Christmas, I watch one perfect holiday-themed love story after another, sighing at the snow and the romance and the ease with which all the characters cheerfully handle the holiday drudgery that turns most of us into Grinches.

I really need to stop watching those movies.  I really do.

Because we all know that the holidays hardly ever actually resemble a Currier & Ives painting, let alone a Hollywood movie.  And when you factor in six kids and two parents trying to figure out how to successfully blend our family traditions, the results are often stressful and sometimes comical.

Maybe there’s a family out there that can pull off their first blended holiday season without an argument or a mishap, but ours is not that family.  Definitely not.  We love each other.  We want to be together.  But we also want to kill each other once in a while. That’s just the plain truth.

And because I consider it my duty to help inform those who might follow me of the snares and missteps along this post-divorce path I have taken, I feel obligated to share some of my discoveries.  So, purely for your edification, I offer you a list of things that James and I had to negotiate as we celebrated our first holiday season as a blended family:

1. What to stuff the turkey with.  He was used to sliced potatoes and bacon, while I favored the more traditional bread stuffing.

2. When to put up the Christmas decorations.

3.  Whether to get a live Christmas tree or an artificial one.

4.  Whether said Christmas tree should have white lights or colored lights.

5.  How much money to spend on each child for Christmas presents.

6. Who should do most of the Christmas present shopping.

7. Whether the Christmas presents from Santa should be wrapped or unwrapped.

8.  Whether the whole family should attend church on Christmas Eve or only those who choose to.

9.  Whether and how many gifts should be opened on Christmas Eve.

And so on.

Some of these points were more easily agreed upon than others.  Surprisingly, the question of how much money to spend on presents was pretty much a non-starter, but James and I worked out the issue of which lights to put on the tree while standing in the garage screaming at each other.  Go figure.

What this holiday season taught me about blended families is this:  you’ll never know until you try.  Most of the things on the list above we could never have anticipated prior to experiencing them this year.  I mean, sure you realize that blending families and holiday traditions might be difficult, but I think most of us think about those difficulties in terms of the Big Stuff:  how well the children will get along, or whether anyone will feel left out, or if the presents will be just right on Christmas morning.  But, like in a marriage, it’s more often the little things that open up the biggest holes.  And in a post-divorce relationship, preserving some of your previous traditions, particularly for the sake of the children, can feel more important than you’d ever thought.

I found it interesting that I most easily sacrificed the traditions that Bryce and I had made together and clung fast to the ones my girls and I had constructed since my divorce.  Those were important to me — and, I learned, to them — in ways that I hadn’t fully appreciated when we were stumbling along together after the divorce.  But what made them special to me was exactly that — we had created those small traditions together, in the midst of our early pain and uncertainty about the future.  We three had drawn together and made holiday patterns that felt good and right and reflected us.  And those were the ones that I fought over with James.  For him, it was the traditions that he’d carried with him from his childhood that he held most dear.

On the whole, I was pleasantly surprised at how easily our sense of what the holidays should be dovetailed.  It occurred to me that our common values around family and togetherness likely drove those similarities, and that was gratifying to discover.    And it was amazing and heartwarming to see the kids all acting like siblings during Christmas break.  But I think the best confirmation of how far we have come was delivered by my mom, the day after Christmas, when she said “You all really are a family.  No one who sees you all together could doubt it now.”

And, as for me and James, you could say we came through all the frustrations and negotiations and ended up full circle again.  Quite literally.  Perhaps a bit emotionally bruised from all the high drama of our non-Hollywood holidays, but none the worse for the wear as it turns out.  Because on Christmas morning, he surprised me with a beautiful ring that I have not taken off since.

I make no pretense that any of this is easy, because I can’t honestly say that it is.  Not for us, anyway.  But it has its moments of such pure sweetness and grace that I do not doubt that it is worth it.  Even with our struggles to make a family holiday that is uniquely and completely us, even with the arguments and the silences, I would not trade this holiday season for any one that came before it.  Sincerely.

So I will continue my journey down this path for another — likely eventful — year.  I welcome you to join me in creating my on-going happy ending.

Just don’t expect a Hollywood script.

ring 2

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Filed under blended families, divorce, love, single mom

was it worth it? (pt. 4)

One of the things that enabled me to finally pull the trigger on my divorce and take the blind leap out of my marriage was the noble idea that someday, somehow, it would all be worth it – that me, my children, and even my ex-husband would someday, somehow be better off for my choice. It wasn’t just a hope, it was a certainty that I clung to fervently. Indeed, had I not convinced myself of its truth, I might never had taken that leap.

The question of whether the pain inflicted by my decision will ever be permanently offset by the benefits realized later, during and after the dust had settled, is one that I have mulled often and written about several times (for a look at those earlier posts, search “was it worth it?”). I realized fairly quickly that my own well-being had most definitely been improved by my choice, but that alone was not enough, because then I would be haunted by the pure selfishness of my decision. No, I needed to see that my children and my ex-husband had grown, improved, become better versions of themselves as a result of our family breakdown.

The question of my children remains to be seen, certainly, as they are still young and the full ramifications of our divorce have yet to have to manifest themselves. Later, when my daughters begin choosing and navigating relationships, then, perhaps, I will have a better sense of what they have actually learned from these experiences. For now I see only that they seem well-adjusted, with friends and decent grades and close bonds to both their dad and me. In fact, one recent morning, my 10-year-old informed me that she thinks our divorce has made her stronger and more compassionate. Huh. So, for now, I check that box as being as good and healthy as I could hope for and remind myself to wait and see what the future holds.

But then there is my ex-husband, Bryce. There have been many, many times since I first announced my intention to leave that I saw glimpses of remarkable personal growth in Bryce – self-awareness and openness I’d never witnessed previously in our 13 years together. Those glimpses offered me hope that our divorce would someday cease to be the worst thing that ever happened to him, and instead would be looked back upon as a fork in the road that led to a deeper happiness and peace in his life.

Have I mentioned that I’m a hopeless optimist sometimes?

Or at least that’s how I prefer to describe this part of myself. Others might label it naivete. Or foolishness. Or plain, old-fashioned stupidity. But I’m going to go with optimism. Faith in humankind. An overarching belief that most people genuinely do want to do and become better.

In one perfectly organized, perfectly courteous email sent to me at the end of October, Bryce revealed himself to me as the same man I stopped loving many years ago. The same man I left without much more than a glance over my shoulder. The same man who prioritized, above absolutely everything else, money. The same man who had tunnel vision on his own wants and needs to the extent that the girls and I simply didn’t factor in at all. At. All.

Ah, yes, I remember him.

When I read his email, with its passive-aggressive insinuations that I was not financially carrying my share of the water for our daughters, my first reaction was fear. Unemployed for 8 months at that point, with my savings running dangerously low and James’ slow season nearly upon us, I was already worrying – okay, beginning to panic – about money. But I hadn’t asked him for additional money during my unemployment, and had cut absolutely all fat from my budget (including decent health insurance for myself), in order to not have to cut back on the children’s expenses. I was doing absolutely everything I could to stay afloat, and he had to know that. So, his professorial tone and implied assumptions made my heart race. And that’s when the angel of Reality showed up and sat me down for a talk.

Alone in the house in the middle of the work day, I sat on the stairs, iPhone in hand, and re-read the email, seeing and absorbing each word carefully, allowing their full meaning to sink in, surrendering to the truth they carried.

“Okay,” I said out loud, “I get it now.” I saw what I had to do: First, I had to deal with the practical and logistical implications of the email. Then, later, I would sit down with the emotional truth within it.

The first part was easy. I called my attorney, discussed my legal obligations and options, and made arrangements for taking the necessary steps to stop the financial nonsense once and for all. They are steps that have been available to me for two years, but I have resisted taking out of my determination to maintain a solid, healthy, supportive relationship with Bryce for the benefit of my daughters. But his email helped me realize that he does not share my goal, or at least his commitment to it ends with financial considerations. I realized that I have been sacrificing my financial security for something that I value far more than he does, and while I would normally say that it’s healthy to follow my own values without reference to anyone else, there comes a point where one must accept that one is being taking advantage of. Being “nice” or “accommodating” can quickly be transformed into doormat status by those too self-absorbed to realize that they are on the receiving end of consideration. And just because he loathes paying child support does not decrease his obligation to do so. Knowing how much he hates it, I have tip-toed around the subject, to my own detriment, apparently. So, legal action may have to commence and I will deal with it as I would any other business arrangement. But, honestly, I have remarkably little anxiety about that.

After I hung up the phone with my attorney and gathered the necessary documents, I made myself a cup of hot tea and sat on my bedroom balcony, contemplating the Rockies spread out before me and wondering at the more subtle message in Bryce’s email.

I took a deep breath and willed myself to look back at our history. To honestly assess, as I might for a friend, the give and take in our relationship. I stared hard at the signs of his personal growth and at my own need to be assured of that growth. I examined the bias I had about which direction that growth should take and how it should manifest outwardly. I recognized the heaviness of the guilt that I carried about our divorce, and how desperately I still clung to the hope that Bryce would cease to be all the things that made me want to run away from him, as far and as fast as I could.

And then I realized that it doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t matter if Bryce grows at all from the divorce, or if he grows in direction or manner that is not of my preference. It doesn’t matter if he always harbors anger and resentment toward me for ruining his life. It doesn’t matter if he blames every single unhappiness he experiences on me and the divorce. It doesn’t matter if he clings to his swollen bank account with the certainty that it will bring him peace and security. Not really. Not to me. What he does with the lessons available to him from our divorce is outside my control and responsibility. His choices, his life, and his truth are not mine. Not any longer. I do not need to reference his happiness or growth to justify my own. It is entirely his choice whether to rise above his pain and create authentic happiness, or not. I have no control or responsibility over that. At. All.

Possibly, that is the beauty of divorce. At its very core, it is about no longer being emotionally responsible for or to each other. Your life becomes, again, your very own. I did not do something to him that requires atonement or restitution; our marriage failed because we were badly suited to one another and lacked the love and commitment to last a lifetime. He is not a victim, any more than I am. It is time for me cease to measure the success of my choices by how they affect him. Time to put on my Big Girl panties and approach my relationship with Bryce with the detachment and guarded civility with which he has consistently dealt with me. Time to let go of childish fantasies of friendship and closeness, and time to realize that I don’t actually need any of that.

Letting go of needing that approval from Bryce might be the final step in our divorce. Letting go of feeling that my happiness is undeserved unless it somehow feeds the greater good is difficult for me, but might be the biggest lesson I will ultimately learn from this process.

On the whole, of course, only time will reveal all of the effects of our divorce, but time is a phenomenal teacher, if only you allow her teachings to gently rest within you. That week, she taught me that I no longer need Bryce’s approval or friendship or happiness to enjoy my own.

And that’s worth more than the contents of any bank account.

letting go - kite

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chasing the finish line

I have been away from writing for so long.

The keys feel foreign beneath my fingertips and the words come achingly slowly.

I do not know how or where to begin, so I follow an old writing instructor’s credo — “If you don’t know where to begin, just start.”

For months now, I have been mulling the idea of The Finish Line in various life stages.  It seems to me that we are almost constantly chasing an invisible end point — that magical point at which we achieve a true and lasting happiness, or at least a huge and permanent warp speed thrust towards such a nirvana.  We tell ourselves that if we can just meet our soulmate, get that promotion, move to that exotic locale, finalize our divorce, or get pregnant, then — THEN! — we will be happy.  And why not?  After all, Hollywood assures us this is the case:  most movies end on an upbeat note that has you departing the theatre, comforted that the characters’ lives continued offscreen in some version of Happily Ever After.

But real life doesn’t usually work that way, does it?

I had a foreshadowing of this illusion when I was still young and arrogant enough to faithfully trust that the illusion was real.  I was about to graduate from college, and some friends of mine were experiencing worldwide music success on a scale they’d only dreamed of.  Their songs were racing up the music charts, their faces graced magazine covers, celebrities knew of them and approached them, and their tour dates were selling out spectacularly fast.  After a tour that took them through most of Western Europe, Russia, and the Far East, they returned home to find their girlfriends the object of hate mail and their homes staked out by paparazzi.  A few days later, in the wee hours of the morning, after a night on the town, I found myself standing in my kitchen with the founding member of the band.  I waxed on about how wonderful their success was and how amazing it must be to experience.  He paused a moment, licked his lips slowly, as if considering his words carefully, and said, “Nothing is ever what you think it will be.  And sometimes the pieces you thought would be so great are the biggest disappointment, and the precious moments take you by surprise.”  I was shocked and asked if he somehow regretted their success.  He quickly answered, “God, no.  It is amazing.  But you think, before it happens, that if only it would happen, you’d never be sad or lonely or insecure or bored again.  But you are. You really are.”  I left him that evening feeling that perhaps he’d had a fight with his girlfriend or was overly tired, because, really, how couldn’t you be happy when you’re becoming rich and famous?!

But life doesn’t usually work that way, does it?

Some people have hoped for a happy ending to this blog — that somehow, some way, after these months and years of writing and analyzing and crying and persevering, I might finally have my Happily Ever After.  Some wish this because they know me and care about me personally.  Others wish this because they need a beacon for their own journey, some reassurance that such a thing exists.

I wish I could report to you that now that James and I have purchased a home, moved into it, and blended our families, life feels constantly sweet and comforting and certain.  But it doesn’t.  It really doesn’t.

In fact, we are struggling.  Getting back together and making a big commitment did not serve to wrap a pretty little bow around us and leave me blissfully smiling my way through the rest of my life.  I wish it did.  I would love nothing more than to write post after flowery post about how perfect my life is now and how wonderfully loved and cherished I am.

But I can’t.

So, instead, I will remain true to my one commitment I made to myself and my readers — to be real, and honest, and authentic here.  Some readers may be disappointed that I resist the embellishments that would permit me to write a very satisfying fiction, and a few are likely to be smugly satisfied at the lack of a fairytale ending, but none of that changes what is real for me.

I remind myself frequently these days that life is about the journey and not the destination.  I allow myself the luxury of spending some days (or long nights) just being along for the ride, watching it unfold and trying not to cling too hard to expectations or wishes.  I hold my blessings tightly, counting them like a miser with his gold.

And I wonder whether what I am experiencing is wisdom or disappointment.

Only time will tell, I guess.

Because that’s how life usually works, doesn’t it?

picture in our head

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Filed under divorce, happy endings, love, relationships

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

moving on and glancing back…

When the moving trucks were loaded, my car packed to the gills, and James’ pick-up truck literally overflowing with the possessions of our two houses, I prepared to the leave the home where I’d healed for 4 years since my separation. I stood in the foyer, key in hand, and allowed the feelings to flow. My mind wandered through various memories and emotions, sifting through them, noticing them and letting them go. I heard James’ voice, “Feeling a little sad?” “No,” I answered honestly. I was amazed, empowered, and excited, but not sad. No, not sad.

I stood remembering how many times I had cowered in that house – moments of sheer terror that I would not be able to do “it” – make the mortgage payment, recover from a broken heart, co-parent with a man who initially wouldn’t look me in the eye anymore, build a new life without having the slightest idea how one went about such a thing. So many “it”s that I went ahead and did. Sometimes I danced through the obstacles with aplomb, but more often I stumbled along semi-blindly, praying furiously for help from whatever source might be listening. But I did it. Over and over and over again, I did it.

One of the many casualties of my marriage was my faith in myself. Prior to meeting and marrying my husband, I had attacked the world with a kind of naïve confidence. I didn’t take a whole lot of foolish risks, but I evaluated risks without concern for my own ability to properly address the variety of obstacles I anticipated. I moved alone to a foreign country. I lived in a ghetto and pretended to carry a weapon in my pocket as I traversed to and from the local bus-stop each day. I came home to the States, got a job, and moved to a city I’d hardly ever visited. I applied to law schools without any knowledge of the process or guidance from mentors. I secured student loans and an apartment and launched my legal career. I chased down and landed a plumb job with a national non-profit. I had faith in myself to handle whatever came my way.

But Bryce changed that. At some point during our relationship, Bryce came to see me as weak. I’m not sure if it was my recurring depression or his honest assessment of my abilities, but he used to tell me that I had terrible coping mechanisms and couldn’t “handle things.” I’m also not sure why I ever allowed his opinion of me to change my own, but I did. Slowly, over time, I began to see myself as weak and incompetent. I viewed moments of evidence to the contrary of this characterization as anachronisms to my actual personality – outliers on the bell curve of who I really was.

I certainly had successes during those years I was with Bryce, but I felt that I was play-acting through them. Surely if the people around me really knew who I was and how weak I was, they would see that it was all just luck, just good fortune, that created the successes, I thought. When my small interior design business took off rapidly, I downplayed it as being “easy.” Giving myself any credit felt like false bravado.

Eventually, Bryce noticed that the bottom had fallen out of my confidence and he would make small attempts to pay me compliments, especially if others were doing so, like when I secured a big design client and my friends were so proud of me. Bryce would tell me how proud he was of me and, momentarily, my heart would fill. But quickly thereafter, criticism would follow and I’d realize that, on balance, I really wasn’t particularly special at all.

I can look back at this and see how destructive it was, and how readily I surrendered my power of self-identifying to his opinions and whims. I am not sure precisely when his opinion of me began to define my own sense of who I fundamentally was; I only know it happened.

In the brief moments that I stood in my little house’s foyer and my brain flashed through a million memories at the speed of synapses firing, I realized something: all those fearful minutes in this house had unexpectedly restored my sense of my own personal strength. I had entered this home convinced that I was incapable of being strong, and I was leaving convinced that I am incapable of being anything but strong. I am not perfect. I am not a constant work in progress. But I am absolutely, positively, most definitely strong.

And the truth is, I always was.

healing home

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Filed under divorce, healing, personal growth

the healing house

In anticipation of my upcoming move into a new home with James, I have been packing up my belongings.  On a cold afternoon recently, my friend Annie came over to help me crate my earthly possessions. As we wrapped my mother’s delicate china in newspaper and stacked books in boxes, Annie commented on how different this move was from the one that brought me to this little house.  I paused, looked around, and felt the past rush up to meet me….

In March 2009, I moved out of the house that Bryce and I had shared with our daughters and into a small townhouse a few blocks away.  I had discovered the little house a couple of weeks after deciding to end my marriage, and purchased it with the generous help of my mother.  The house closing was a blur — I sincerely don’t remember any of it, only my own numbness.  Moving day was a nightmare, truly. At the end of that long day, I slumped into a heap on my new living room floor and cried with grief and relief.

In the days since, I have painted nearly every wall in the house, imbuing it with an energy and personality that more closely matches the life I’ve created here with my daughters. I have acquired a few pieces of furniture, most notably a large orange sofa for the living room for which I had to save for many months.  I have painstakingly tended the xeriscaped back garden and the lush, flowering front courtyard.  I have hung photos and art, added rugs and curtains, and turned what was a pretty little house into a warm and loving home.

My daughters have come to prefer our little home to their dad’s much larger and more modern house, and my friends have all told me how comfortable they are here and how well my home reflects me.  These validations are gratifying, but more important has been the reality that, through the ups and downs of my separation, divorce, and subsequent dating experiences, through the parenting challenges that naturally appear, through the professional pressures and demands I endured,  I have always been glad to come home to my little house.  It has always felt good to me.  Safe.  Comforting.  Serene.  I shed more tears in this house than I could ever possibly count, and I railed at life’s unfairness all too frequently, but she has always answered back with quiet, constant reassurance.  She has granted me solace and shelter and peace from the storms raging inside and outside of me.

My sweet little house is far too small to accommodate me, James, our six children, and three dogs.   And so we have purchased a much-larger house in a neighboring town in which to create a home for our blended family.  As for my little house, we will keep her and rent her out until such time as my mother decides to move closer to us, at which time, she’ll be folded into the bosom of the house that held me safe while I healed.

I remember the day before my closing, when I walked through the house with my realtor — an acquaintance who’d become a friend.  I made an off-hand comment about growing old here, and he quickly grew serious.  “No,” he said. “This is only a stopping over place for you.  You won’t be here forever.  You’ll have another new beginning someday.”  I was very doubtful, and have never lived my life in this house as if it were anything but permanent.  And yet, once again, I was mistaken.  It was not my forever house.  Another new beginning is indeed upon me.

Annie and others have asked me if I will be sad to leave my house, but I am honestly not.  This leap with James — this wonderful, magical opportunity to create a home with a man I love more than I have known possible — this is precisely what my time in this house has been preparing me for.  All those sad and difficult times during which my little house protected me or her garden soothed me… it was all in preparation to launch me into the next chapter of my life.  I see that very clearly now.  I came here broken and fragile.  I will leave stronger and more fully myself.   This next move is a joyful one, buoyed by hope and love, and the promise of endless possibility.  How different from the move that brought me first in this front door….

The last time Annie packed my mother’s china four years ago,  she worked wordlessly in Bryce’s living room, while I shuttled boxes out of the house and into the waiting moving van and the tension around us thickened to the point of near suffocation.  This time, we packed the china together, the tunes from a favorite playlist filling the room as we chatted and laughed about our men and our children and how far we have each come since those dark days and how rich our futures look.  There was no sadness, no regret, no nostalgia.  Just friendship and gratitude and hope.

So, I shall move on with thankfulness in my heart for my time here.  The point, after all, was never to stay, but to know when to go.

IMG_1510

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Filed under healing, personal growth, relationships

was it worth it? (pt. 4)

Following my announcement to my husband Bryce that I was leaving our marriage of nearly 11 years, I had one final conversation with my then-best friend, which ended with her caustically telling me, “Well, I just hope it’s worth it, what you’re doing.  Because I really doubt it will be.”

Certain moments get frozen your mind.  Sealed for the remainder of your life in a corner of your brain where they might gather dust, but they never fade.  Crystallized, every small detail recollected with the same power and force they wielded when first experienced.  That was one such moment for me.

Her yawning question has echoed in my brain and in the hollows of my heart as the months and years since that day have passed.  It has served as a touchstone for me — a chance to check in with myself and the consequences of my fateful choice.  I have revisited the question in my writing, too:

was it worth it? (pt. 1)  (Feb. 2011)

was it worth it? (pt. 2)  (May 2011)

was it worth it? (pt. 3) (Jan. 2012)

Yesterday, James and I closed on a beautiful house that will become a home to us, our children, and our animals.  Afterwards, we had a romantic celebratory dinner at the restaurant we visited on our first date, in September 2010.  We had not been back since then, and the sense of having completed some imaginary circle was palpable to us.  We reminisced about our first date — where we sat, what I was wearing, what we were each thinking — and throughout dinner I sat across the table from him and tried to figure out how in the world we have landed where we are now.

I have that feeling often these days.  I will look at him and it suddenly hits me that it has happened.  I have actually found what I had been searching for since I first fell in love with Parker at age 22 and discovered what true love, mixed with destiny and fate, actually can be like.  Every single day since then, I have hoped to once again be blessed enough to find it.  There were many, many dark days and darker nights during which I wondered if perhaps I was requesting too much of the universe; I had been fortunate enough to experience true love once, perhaps it was asking too much to want it again?

But I couldn’t give up.  Or, rather, my heart wouldn’t let me.  My brain argued quite rationally and logically.  It urged me to settle for good enough and be happy with that.  It berated me for expecting so much.  It pointed out my arrogance in hoping that I was special enough to be so blessed twice.  But the pounding of my heart drowned out the rational logic of my brain.  Thump, thump, thump… like a mantra it reminded me, forced me to remember what it had once felt like to be loved so completely and purely and deeply, and to return that love equally.

And now here I am.  I feel as if I am sitting upon a beautiful mountain top, surveying a valley below lush with possibilities and promise.  The world feels wide open and full of choices, any one of which might become the next great adventure of my life.  My blessings are so many, I feel almost embarrassed by their abundance.  But then I remember my dark times and how much I have struggled to find this space of emotional security, happiness, and expansiveness.  This time is what I have been searching for, defending to my detractors, and protecting from the naysayers.  It is here and I am in it.  And it is even better, richer, deeper than it was the first time around.

But what of the others so deeply affected by my choice?  My ex-husband Bryce seems happier than I think I have ever known him to be.  His countenance is relaxed, his outlook optimistic, his relationship seemingly solid and fulfilling.  My daughters are thriving in every way and embracing our changing circumstances with greater poise and enthusiasm and trust than I could have possibly expected.  They still don’t like moving back and forth between me and their dad each week, but it is the logistics that bother them now, not the emotional aspects of so many good-byes and hellos.  I watch over them protectively, awaiting signs to indicate that I have permanently scarred them with my choice to divorce their father and dismantle their family.  But such scars have yet to appear.  We talk through feelings with compassion and patience, and I wonder if possibly they are learning that dramatic life changes do not always portend endless grief and struggle.  I wonder if they are learning how resilient they are as individuals and we are as a family….

Life is not done, of course, and oftentimes regrets sneak up on you long after you hope the final verdict has been read.  But I humbly suspect that this will not be such a case.  Bryce, our daughters, and I have turned some corner, crossed some bridge, this year.  The divorce has ceased to be the defining construct in our lives anymore.  It is merely a reality of our existence now — like living in Colorado or having two dogs.  Four years later, it no longer constrains us or informs our feelings about everything.  My once-intact family has stretched and grown beyond the pain and grief that accompanied its breakage.  We have each evolved into more fully-formed individuals, with a greater sense of our own possibilities.   We love and support each other, secure in the knowledge that our separateness has granted us hopes and dreams that were not possible in our togetherness.

I can look at the long road since that conversation with my former best friend more than 4 years ago.  I can see how many times her warning scold seemed frighteningly true.  I am aware of how easily fate could have shifted slightly and she would have been proven correct.

But that is not what happened.  She was wrong.  Very, very wrong.  Because it has been worth it.  The good, the bad, the painful, the joyful.  All of it.  Absolutely, positively worth it.

chautauqua trail

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Filed under divorce, love, perfect little miracles, personal growth, relationships

“the lonely girl with no friends”

Honestly, sometimes I think parenting is God’s biggest antidote to conceit.  Just when you’ve put one crisis to bed, congratulated yourself on navigating yet another challenge, and have the foolish temerity to think you’ll get a little break from the endless rollercoaster, Life shows up to say, “Oh wait!  Did I forget to mention this one little thing?  Yes, you’ll need to attend to this now, and be sure to do it well, lest you forever ruin this small person I’ve entrusted to you.”  And so, with a sigh, you put on your battle gear again and wade into the guerilla warfare that is  Parenting.

I’ve written a bit about Sabrina’s struggles as she’s transitioned to middle school from elementary school this year.  She is at a school of her selection (with our agreement, after a pretty exhausting consideration of possible schools), but not the one most of her elementary school friends and acquaintances attend.  She loves her school, her teachers, and the academic successes she has worked hard for and achieved.  But middle school these days is, for young girls at least, a snake pit of vipers clothed in Forever 21.  I think it might possibly be even harder to navigate than I remember from my own experiences at her age.  Sabrina is a quiet girl who is very reserved unless she is around those she knows well, socially awkward and emotionally immature — a bookworm who still prefers her American Girl dolls to chasing boys.  Needless to say, the social soup of middle school has not been kind to her.

One night recently, as I was tucking Sabrina into bed and only a few hours after telling a friend how peaceful things currently were with my kids (can you say, “WHAMMY!”?), Sabrina broke down crying.  She confided in me that her social situation at school had become so bad that she’d been reduced to eating by herself at a solitary table during lunch.  Lonely and rock-solid certain that every child in the cafeteria noticed her alienation, her pain was capped off when a teacher approached and asked if Sabrina would like help finding a table of other kids to sit with.  Well-intentioned, for sure, but also concrete evidence in Sabrina’s mind that her social deficiencies were obvious to all.

I was at a loss.  I don’t remember this part of middle school; I’m not sure I ever experienced it.  I held her while she cried and soothed her with sincere words of reassurance that she is a brilliant, special, amazing girl that the other children have simply not discovered yet.  She pulled away from me, stared at me skeptically and with disappointment, and said, “No, Mom.  They just see me as that lonely girl with no friends.”

I sucked my breath in and fought tears of panic.  I saw very clearly the danger in what she had just done — she had just labeled herself with a powerful, negative, demoralizing label, and, if she embraced it for very long, it would surely damage her, becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy with enormous ramifications for all kinds of relationships she might have, or not have.

As adults, we can see the harm inflicted by negative labels — both those we place on ourselves, and those we place on others.   We see it in young girls who decide they are simply “bad at math” and therefore give up on it, and in adult women who sell themselves short because they can’t see that they deserve more than they have.  I knew immediately that, while the lunch table issue was temporally painful, it was the label that could emotionally cripple my sweet girl over the longer term.  And it scared me to death.

I often acknowledge that I see parenting as a series of hits and misses — sometimes we are solidly on our game, and hit the ball straight out of the park; but other times we swing and swing, failing to connect with the ball at all, impotent in our attempts to meet the challenges tossed at us.  That night with Sabrina, I was striking out, and I could feel it clearly.  I could see it in her eyes and feel it in her pain.  My inadequacy to address the problem was palpable.

I finally left her upstairs, returning to the living room, where I deposited the whole mess in James’ lap.  He listened, acknowledged that my words would have been empty to her — how many of us believe our mothers when they tell us how wonderful and special we are? — and then set off upstairs to talk to her himself.

For the second time that night, my breath caught in my throat.  Should I stop him?  This was my child, after all.  What if he said something wrong?  But I did not stop him, and many minutes later he returned, having given her a pep talk I could not have, and in doing so, taught me a lesson as well.

James told Sabrina that she is a truly beautiful girl with a good heart and a sweet nature.  He told her it was perfectly okay to be exactly who she is right now; that she is not less than the other kids, maybe just a little different.  And then he told her that when he was a teenager — handsome and athletic and popular — he’d done what boys like him did and dated the pretty, popular girls, but it was the girls like her — the quietly beautiful, smart, and sweet ones that he’d always noticed and wondered about.  And that he’d always wished he’d have had the courage to approach them, get to know them, ask them out on a date.  This last part, coming from the person who is currently Sabrina’s masculine ideal of a man, was gratifying in a way that nothing that I could have said ever would have been.  In short, he said exactly what she needed to hear.

The next morning, Sabrina came downstairs after James had already left for work.  She was a different girl from the night before — smiling and chattering about what was on tap at school that day.  I asked about James’ pep talk, and she beamed, rattling off what he’d said about her, blushing and squirming with delight.

I was enormously grateful to James that morning.  Not just for the precious words he gave to my struggling daughter, but for reminding me that parenting is, if you’re lucky, a team sport.  So, even if you’re having a off-day and can’t seem to score, your teammate can step up to the plate and save the day.  In the years since my divorce, I had missed and then nearly forgotten the sweet benefit of having a teammate — someone with whom to talk over these things, share these little burdens, help you find the right strategy when you’re stuck.

It’s a cliche that parenting is the hardest job in the world, and the most gratifying.  But it’s also a great opportunity to help one another make better decisions and tackle the hard stuff and ultimately make the world a better place by leaving behind better people.  Especially if you work as a team.

FamilyWalkingAway

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