The hard stuff

I had a heart to heart talk with my son the other night. I didn’t start the day, or the night, with that intention but sometimes life presents a moment of opportunity and you take it. Run with it if you possibly can, these moments don’t come around very often and are fleeting at best.

He’s always been my well grounded, moral compass kid. I’ve always joked that he was born a forty year old man, his wisdom and insight always light years ahead of his biological age. The depth in his eyes reveals a sense of experience from beyond.

You just never know what your kids are absorbing during times of crisis and challenge. You don’t know how they see it all, what it looks like and sounds like, from their vantage point. And they usually aren’t very quick to open up and give you their inside view, choosing instead to keep it inside while they figure out how they feel – or how they “should” feel.

Or maybe they’re just afraid to voice how they feel, because nobody is asking.

Too often I have heard, and have been told, that kids are resilient. They adapt, they deal, they get over it all much faster than adults. They don’t have the same baggage or past experiences to layer onto whatever is being dealt out to them. And don’t forget, they are self-centered and really don’t give much thought to what is really going on in the grown up world of the adults/parents in their lives.

And to that, I say bullshit.

I can honestly say, from my own personal experience as a kid once, that we are kidding ourselves if we think it all runs off of their backs. We are choosing to accept this idea because it makes our load a little lighter, our guilt a little smaller.

It’s really just self protection if we’re honest.

And that makes sense, because during a time of crisis we need to be the strongest we have ever been, for our kids. We try our hardest to shield them from the ugly truths, the struggles and the conflicts, because it’s not “kid stuff”. We’re really trying to protect them, we’re really trying our best and that means we keep as much of it from them as possible hopefully.

At least that’s what we believe, and are told to do. But maybe they don’t see it that way.

Maybe, they are waiting for us to tell them exactly what is going on and where we think it will lead. The good, the bad and the ugly. Maybe they would feel better just knowing. It’s often said that most of our fears come from not knowing, not being able to see the problem or hear the back story.

So we make up our own story, which can be a lot worse.

But, they’re kids and they aren’t in the position to ask for this information, much less demand it, because it’s adult stuff. And it’s personal. It’s really not about them, we assure them, they didn’t create this situation and it’s not theirs to take on or carry. We’re supposed to carry it all for them, while we struggle just to carry what is ours.

That’s parenting, isn’t it?

But maybe while we are busy struggling to carry it all they’ve actually picked up a few pieces along the way, like rocks on a trail – some bigger than others – and they’re carrying them in their pocket, unseen everyday. They don’t show them to us because they can see we have enough to deal with, and our load is already heavy, but those rocks are getting heavier and growing in numbers.

Too hard to ignore any longer.

He surprised me when he asked “what really happened?” My heart broke when he told me, with tears in his eyes, “you left me out of it all and that’s not right”. He had been waiting for me to include him, to include all of them, in what I thought was only my struggle. But it wasn’t.

It was all of ours.

I knew this on a basic level, but I wasn’t ready to admit it before. From all appearances, they were dealing with everything well enough, adapting to our new life as a divorced family. Sure we had some bumps along the way, a few incidents of acting out and the wheels coming off, but we hadn’t fallen apart. Maybe we weren’t quite a well-oiled machine, but we were definitely a machine with a purpose and a drive to keep working – even with missing pieces.

What do you tell them when they ask? How many details do you include, how far back do you go? Do I give him the verbal transcript of that ugly night when it all blew up? The tirade of describing the resentment and the unhappiness that had been simmering, for years I was informed that night, that went unspoken. The harsh judgements spit at me about my character, my integrity, my worth – all coming from someone who swore to love and honor me for the rest of our lives.

Do I admit to the questions that still swirl in my head, that will go unanswered forever. The shadows of memories when I should have “known” something wasn’t quite right, but chose instead to look away to keep the peace. To believe in us and our family.

How do I explain the jagged path, that lead to this place, to my son?

I answered him the best way I knew how, that was the only way I could think of. I asked him what he wanted to know, and I answered his questions, but I did not elaborate with too many details. Broad strokes, the highlight reel. And that was enough, that’s all he really needed to feel included. To feel seen, to feel heard.

To let go of a few of those small rocks he had been carrying around in his pockets.

That night I realized that I work too hard to shield my kids from the “bad stuff”, which is doing more harm than good sometimes. They are on the outside trying to look in and I keep shutting the curtains. Leaving them to wonder, to worry, to write their own story of what is going on and most times not the best story.

How will they learn to deal with the hard stuff, when it comes their way some day, without some idea that it even exists? What tools will they have if I never admit that life is work, not just marriage, but life in general. It doesn’t just come to you warm and cozy without any challenges or tests of your strength and integrity.

Sometimes you have to have grit and determination to push through to the other side of the darkness. Sometimes, you need a flashlight or you need someone to give you a flashlight even if you don’t ask for one. You need help, you need support, you need answers whether they’re the ones you hoped for or not.

You need someone to take on some of the weight of those challenges, to take some of those rocks that weigh you down out of your pockets and carry them for you. Or toss them to the side of the path, out of your way. But in most cases, you have to have the idea that it’s okay to ask for help, to ask the hard questions and to give the hard answers.

You will survive. It will suck sometimes, but you will survive.

I’ve tried to be better with this idea now that I realize how hard it can be on my kids. I push a little more to have those hard conversations and to be more forthcoming with those sometimes ugly answers. I want them to trust in me that I will always be honest with them, and not just because they had to ask.

Hopefully I won’t need to worry about it so much going forward. Life is running much smoother now for the most part, but then again, life has a way of surprising us doesn’t it?

 

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Blocked out

Over the last couple of years, since this all began to take root and take on a life of it’s own, I’ve had to utilize certain defense mechanisms. Tighten up my world, my inner circle of friends and acquaintances, to keep  my sanity and some semblance of peace.

Circle the wagons against attack and spies, basically.

And as easy as that may sound, in this day of social media and other online opportunities, it can be a pretty daunting task. It takes a lot of thought and planning, consideration and introspection, to know just who that will include. And from where.

You don’t realize how available you are for public consumption until it makes itself glaringly obvious…for all of the wrong reasons.

Early on, my social media use became a bone of contention in my newly budding divorce proceedings. I was drawing too much attention to myself, and our personal business, by explaining exactly what was going on to those closest relations/friends to us while asking for some personal space. Trying to be honest and considerate, asking for some privacy temporarily by unfriending many of them, lead to more conflict in my divorce.

Following that ugly exchange, and a few more later on, seemed like a good time to cut some people loose. For good.

But cutting loose isn’t easy, and it’s not always the end.

“Unfriending” doesn’t build a protective wall around your personal space, shielding you from unwelcome eyes, instead it only puts up a fence. A wire fence that you can still see through anytime you wish, if only with an obstructed view. Look but don’t touch, or contact directly. It’s an invisible boundary, a suggestion to stay out of your business, that’s all. But unguarded boundaries can be ignored and crossed without much notice.

I know that all too well.

So, in the end, it lead to “blocking” the same people, which seemed extreme to me at the start. I wrestled with the idea for awhile, feeling guilty and oversensitive for even considering it. But the proof that it was the right thing for me to do became incredibly clear once I realized that my soon-to-be ex was being spoon-fed information about me from what I posted or wrote.

Information that he wouldn’t otherwise have, or even realize was out there, without help from friends and family, that were obviously trolling my social media. You see, he isn’t on any of the social media platforms, with the exception of one that has nothing to do with Farmville. But that doesn’t matter if you have enough connections that are, who will troll it for you in the name of protection and support.

To say that I felt cornered, vulnerable and exposed, is an understatement.

To know that I would have to examine, analyze and possibly edit everything that I wrote or posted, for the foreseeable future, seemed like a prison sentence for a crime that I didn’t commit. A situation that I didn’t create in the first place.

It was beyond frustrating.

Frustrating to know that there were actually people out there that believed it was their place, their duty, to stalk me and anything that I had written or posted to report back to my ex. Some of them are not even friends of mine, have no real connection to me, but are able to peek into my world through a common thread somewhere in the universe.

The ‘six degrees of Kevin Bacon’ proven once more.

I still question what benefit these people believe they are providing. How would my posting a meme with goats help him gain anything in our settlement? Or insult or threaten him?

He once accused me of plotting his death, based upon a story that I shared on a platform (that he doesn’t use) that I didn’t even write. Because, you know, if I was going to plot someone’s murder I would definitely post it on Facebook first.

Doesn’t everybody?

It didn’t stop with Facebook. It included Twitter and Instagram, Pinterest and Tumbler. Yes, even Pinterest, because I was pinning self-help articles relating to divorce and depression that would give them an invitation to look into my unstable inner psyche and report back on it.

Unfriending and blocking some people that were close to me, some that were originally my friends even before I was married, but may have a thread of connection that could possibly lead back to him, was painful but such a relief. Leaving only those that didn’t share any connection to my ex, or possibly to his soon-to-be new wife, in any way that I could imagine was the only way that I felt protected. Safe.

Paranoid? You bet.

And still, that was not enough. Our lives can intersect in ways that we don’t even think of, for reasons that we don’t even realize. I had to go to LinkedIn and cut the weeds, too.

To see someone pop up as a “suggested connection” because they know or work with your ex, or his new wife, is like opening up a fun-house door filled with clowns or reliving a nightmare that you can’t escape. I don’t post my blog on LinkedIn, but it still made me feel exposed, susceptible to more scrutiny and judgement.

Do I miss some of those people? Yes, a few. Some had a very special place in my heart, added some interest to my life. Many were in my life for more than half of my life.

Do I regret my decision of who I chose to block? Nope.

A lesson that I have been learning, repeatedly it seems, is to do what is right for me. What feels right for me, not what other people think is right or feel that I should do. If I don’t protect myself, if I don’t put my needs or feelings first, nobody else will. And that lesson works in all facets of life.

Wear your seatbelt, look both ways before you cross the street, get off the field when the lightening siren sounds. Safety practices that we all know, and most of us use. The idea behind them is to make our personal world a safer place, to protect ourselves and others.

And now we can add ‘police your online presence’. I’m building an iron wall around mine with a secret password.

What’s so funny?

Late last year, I took my youngest to a comedy show over the holiday break. The comedian was considered ‘clean’, so safe enough for myself and my twelve year old. He was someone that I usually didn’t go out of my way to see, or even listen to on the radio when I had XMradio, but I’d heard good things about his act and how funny he was supposed to be. My son was excited to see him, so how bad could it be?

Usually, the main act has an opening act, someone to warm up the audience. I love this part because you usually get to see someone that is up and coming, or possibly local that you may be able to see again if you pay attention to the venue ads and local radio spots. But this time, the main act did his own opener. He did about thirty minutes of stand up, without his usual props.

Just him, the stage and the microphone.

That’s fine, I thought. Interesting way to start the show, and a lot more effort on his part to be the opener and the main act. Kudos to him.

Then he started speaking.

His main bit, that was pretty much the only bit, was about the fact that he was now divorced after over twenty years of marriage and two children, and had fairly recently remarried a much younger woman. A yoga instructor. She’s vegan.

And she’s 18 years younger than him.

He blushed like a school girl when he admitted this, the camera zooming in on the twinkle in his eye was shown on the big screen for those of us not fortunate enough to sit closer.

This garnered an overwhelming response from the audience, mostly the men sitting there…with their wives and girlfriends. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Lucky bastard. You could almost feel the back-slapping, high-fiving, attaboys snickered in the room.

Then he went on to tell us all about his new wife, and her pregnancy with their twins. Yes, twins. But of course, he didn’t see the big deal about it all because he knew all about this pregnancy stuff, and having babies, from his previous experience. He’d already done this a couple of times over twenty years ago. How much could have changed?

He’s a seasoned pro, after all.

He was the calm, easy going one in the house as they prepped for their new additions, while his yoga instructor vegan wife was frantically preparing and reading every book in existence to be ready. She was baby-proofing the house like crazy and gathering recipes for organic baby food, while he stood by and shook his head in an adoring fashion.

The more he talked, the more agitated I became. He stood there smugly telling the world how freaking awesome his life was now that he basically dumped his first wife of over twenty years (and two grown children) to have this new, updated 2.0 version of his life. He stood there in his black denim jeans and button down shirt, trim and fit but still 54 years old, bragging about his thirty-something wife and their two year old twins.

And the audience laughed. They cheered him on. Even the women were laughing. And all I could think was…

What’s so funny??

Seriously. What is so funny and amusing about this entire schtick? Why should we be expected to indulge his oversized ego telling stories about ditching his first family and creating a new version of his reality, in the name of entertainment?

Why are we laughing??

During all of those years he was out making a name for himself, traveling all over the world at times, she was at home raising two kids, building a life for their family and keeping the home fires burning for his return. That was part of the plan, wasn’t it? For him to be successful and “have it all” someone had to stay behind and keep the stakes planted and tend to this seed of a life plan, for this tree of success to grow.

That was the point of both of their sacrifices being made, to build a life. A life with a shared history and a shared goal. Making them stronger, bonded for life, in the end.

It would all be worth it.

Maybe it was too soon for me. Too soon after signing the official papers on our divorce to hear this, too soon to hear people laughing at someone else’s expense.

Especially someone just like me.

Too soon to watch someone bragging about being an asshole. And too soon to watch people laugh with encouragement while he did it.

And while I was disgusted with him, I was just as disgusted with the women in the audience around me who were laughing right along with him, and all of their jeering husbands and boyfriends. I thought to myself, they honestly don’t think it can happen to them, do they? They think it’s a “them” problem.

That’s the real joke. The real punchline.

Every woman in a marriage wants to believe that she’s in a fully committed relationship, that she’s figured out the secret to long-lasting love and happiness with “the one”. She’s safe. He loves her and they have a great life, with great kids and friends and family. Sure, it’s hard work and sacrifice at times, but that’s what it takes to get to the rewards.

The good stuff.

Maybe they even feel that they’ve made it over the “hurdle” of what? The seven year itch? Or maybe ten is when you feel that you’ve come to the smooth road making it easier to navigate life’s twists and turns. Or is it fifteen, or even twenty years?

By twenty they’re solid, right?

They’re a team working towards a common goal. They are committed to the end game, together. This is the good part now, the kids are almost grown and the struggles are fewer, it’s time to enjoy the fruits of their labors and their golden years together. There is light at the end of the tunnel. They feel sorry for all of those other women who aren’t as lucky as they are.

You know how I know that?

Because that’s exactly what I thought at one time, not so long ago. I also thought we had made it through some of the toughest life challenges and struggles we could imagine, we had put in the time and the hard work, and we were looking at the reward years now. Finally a time for us, as a couple, to really live and enjoy our lives together.

It almost embarrasses me now to think of how naive and trusting I had been for so long.

The saddest part, to me, is that this is a growing trend. It once was thought to be an odd circumstance for couples to divorce later in life, but now it’s so common that it even has a name: gray divorce. And the statistics are showing that it is now the fastest growing demographic of divorce, couples divorcing after twenty or more years of marriage.

Let that sink in.

Googling it recently, the example given was of Al and Tipper Gore divorcing after FORTY YEARS. What the hell?? When do you know that you’re truly in it for better or for worse?

And I get it, people have been poking fun at this cliche of older men leaving their wives for much younger versions (to hang onto their youth, let’s be honest) for years now, but that doesn’t make it right. It shouldn’t be something worth bragging about in a crowded room, or congratulated on as some sort of accomplishment.

And maybe it wouldn’t be so funny if more women spoke up about the upheaval and the destruction of their lives that comes out of it, how it steals their entire life, their very existence and identity, in one crushing blow. Everything that they’ve worked for – and believe me, it is work. They’ve sacrificed of themselves for years to help build this life, working behind the scenes managing it all, to get to this place.

And suddenly, it’s all taken away, usually without warning.

They have been fired, let go, pushed out of their own life without any apology or remorse. Some women never recover, emotionally or financially. It’s too late in the game now.

Maybe if we heard more statistics about how women are affected by this growing trend, heard more voices from the women who have been a victim of this new movement, maybe people wouldn’t be so cavalier about it and so willing to laugh about it.

Maybe, it wouldn’t be so funny.

 

 

 

Clusters

You always hear that things happen in three’s. It’s usually referencing the deaths of movie stars or famous people, but other things also do I’m sure. It sounds so religious, the trinity symbolism being carried through the ages, but in many ways and often times it’s true. It just works out that way.

I think I’ve personally dispelled the myth of the threes for myself. Mine are more like fives or sixes. Clusters.

And maybe they aren’t really happening to me in clusters, maybe I only notice them after there are a few things in a row strung together, usually only able to connect the dots in the aftermath.

During my last pregnancy I was 39 years old. We already had two boys that were around 18 months apart, but now we had waited almost five years to decide to add to our family. One last baby to have our desired three. Before I turned forty.

My ex is from a family of three, I am from a family of three, it only seemed right to follow the pattern. The trinity and all, God’s plan right? That wasn’t the reason, but it made sense in some way. Three is a solid number.

During that pregnancy I had a cluster of bad luck events that I can only blame on hormones sucking out my braincells. Seriously. I cannot remember being this big of a moron during the other two pregnancies.

I was also a bit younger with the first two.

The cluster included a fender bender in my brand new minivan while trying to park at the school, only weeks later filling up the tank with the wrong gas in the same newly minted minivan (my first experience with a diesel tank…and my last), missing a school ‘thank you’ award ceremony for room parents (which I was that year) that left my oldest son standing on a stage in front of the entire school, with flowers in hand, waiting for me to appear (yeah, I still wince and feel sick to my stomach every time I remember that one) and walking right into a glass door not realizing it was even there, my very pregnant belly bouncing off of the glass to the horror of one of my friends.

Where is a camera when you need one? That would have definitely been YouTube worthy.

You can’t always blame hormones on mishaps or uncomfortable circumstances in your life, sometimes it’s just life happening to you – or karma, or bad juju, or the universe speaking to you, whatever you want to name it. The fact that it happens in a string, or cluster, may only be because you can now look at it as a whole and connect the dots.

Maybe you made one off decision that lead to a multitude of more challenges or surprises than you expected. Too many to deal with properly, in constant succession.

It’s like a wound that is left uncared for, not properly cleaned and bandaged, without first aid. At first it seems that it can heal on it’s own, it’s not that big of a deal, it’s only a scratch and you’re healthy and strong. But then dirt gets into it or you scrape it again. The skin around it can’t heal properly, it weakens and your body’s resistance gets lower the longer you leave it unattended. It gets infected and the infection spreads.

After a couple of these life challenges, your resistance and resilience gets lower and you just can’t fight as hard any longer. You can no longer make sound, rational decisions, or deal with life’s surprises as well as you could before. And that causes you more stress, adding to your already overloaded heart and brain, leaving you desperate to catch your breath and grab onto something or someone, for help or support.

You just need to take a break from it all. You need time to heal and get stronger.

Along this “life happening” journey of divorce, I’ve learned a lot, and dealt with many “clusters”. More than I ever expected, in a multitude of ways, and sometimes more lessons than I ever wanted to learn about the world and the people I thought I knew.

I’ve grown in ways that were born out of making tough decisions, decisions to protect myself and my kids mental health. Sometimes it included distancing myself from the very people that were close to me, that I trusted deeply, to save my own sanity. Family and friends, clubs and social circles, have now been trimmed of excess to reduce the possibility of new energy-draining events that will only weaken my resistance. I’ve gradually begun to create new boundaries, to insist that people respect them, finally drawing a line in the sand and sticking to it.

Standing up for myself more often than usual is only an added bonus.

And I know I was brutal at times, sometimes even hysterical I’m sure, no longer employing my usual habit of censorship to save someone’s feelings it was most likely shocking to some. But to make them listen, to really hear me and finally ‘get it’, I had to use extreme tactics. I had to be blunt and brutally honest, for fear that I wouldn’t be heard or taken seriously once again. I needed to tell them everything that I had been thinking for the last week, month, year…or decade.

Because in the end, in the thick of the cluster, what more did I have to lose?

I needed to purge. To unburden myself and strip away the heaviness I had been carrying for so long, trying to protect their feelings at my own expense. I needed to vent, unload, scream and let it all out.

I needed to breathe. I needed the surprises and challenges to just stop, for awhile. I needed someone else to take some of the weight off of my shoulders, for just a little bit. If only for a day, or an hour, I needed a free pass to not be the normal version of me that they were so used to seeing, to believing, who they wanted me to be to fit into their world view.

My life was messy and hard and relentlessly pushing down on me. I had to build the walls, put in the moat, and protect myself and my kids to weather this storm of clusters, with or without them. I no longer had spare energy or extra brain space to worry about pleasing other people, or saying or doing the “right things” to keep the peace. I was in survival mode and it was my turn to need support, understanding, love.

And for some, it was too much to ask. They weren’t prepared to understand or support. Or love.

Over my lifetime I have been an enabler, an empath as it’s commonly called these days. It started early on in childhood, and with each passing year and each new relationship added to my emotional history, it grew in strength. I slowly buried who I really was, denying myself what I truly wanted out of my life, my relationships and my dreams. I put myself at the end of the line to wait patiently for it to be my turn, because there were always more important issues and bigger problems for the people in my life. More urgent matters, that needed more attention, than anything that could be going on with me.

I was the therapist, the organizer, the sympathizer, the cheerleader, for everyone…but myself.

I’ve lost a couple of family members, and a couple of what I considered close friends, in the last year or so during this storm of challenge and change. I don’t regret it, as horrible as that sounds. I think everyone needs to purge once or twice in a lifetime, possibly more often than that, to really clear your mind and your soul, to reset your moral compass and your personal boundaries.

Change is part of growing, and growing isn’t always easy.

These days I feel lighter, able to breathe and relax a bit more. My days of pleasing others at my own expense, or at the expense of my children, are over. Am I sorry that I’ve lost people along the way? A little, but it’s really more about disappointment than sorrow.

Disappointed that those same people that I’ve tried to give my best self to, tried to be supportive of, couldn’t rise to the smallest challenge of just being there for me in my darkest hour, my darkest year. Unable to show understanding when I needed it the most. Unwilling to protect me in even the simplest ways. But instead of filling my heart with regret and sorrow over that loss, I’ve filled in those gaps with people that truly bring joy, happiness and support into my life.

People who can give of themselves as well as receive, reciprocated support and love.

The next cluster may be just around the corner, because that’s how life works, but it doesn’t scare me as much now that I’ve tightened up my inner circle and feel more secure in who I am and the boundaries I’ve set. I’ve come through the longest cluster of my life, a better and stronger version of myself, surrounded by the people who only want the best for me and will help me fight for it. I’ve rebuilt my support system, revamped my walls and boundaries, with the hope that I am better prepared for the next cluster when it comes my way.

 

Is this all there is?

I was watching an episode of “Dexter” with my son the other night – yes, we bond over serial killers and crime scenes, there are worse things. In this episode, Dexter is helping a woman track down her rapists – yes, plural – to kill them.

What are friends for, right?

She recounts the experience of leaving her fiancee at the altar only three months before her life took this ugly turn, and how she had arrived at the decision not to marry him. It was so real, so full of truth, and sounded so eerily familiar that I almost couldn’t breathe.

She told Dexter how she had pushed herself hard all of her life to please her parents. She was a good student, the first in her family to go onto college to get her degree. Followed by her masters. She was involved, athletic, smart. She was a good girl. Then she met the “perfect” guy, fell in love, and that eventually lead to planning a wedding. She had checked all of the boxes, and done all of the right things, her entire life.

It wasn’t until she was almost at her wedding day that it finally struck her. This is it.

For the rest of her life, she would be part of a couple that had the same friends, the same neighbors. They would have cookouts in the backyard on weekends, visit their families for holidays, attend PTA meetings and birthday parties for their kids, and have “date nights” once a week. They would do these average but good things, for the rest of their lives, and grow old together. That was it, that was the sum of her future life.

Is that all there is? she wondered. And so, she didn’t show up to her own wedding.

The reason that this struck me, made me sit still as stone as I listened to her, was the fact that I had basically the same epiphany about 18 years ago. Not at the altar, of course, already married with a child.

It was a typical day in our fairly new tri-level home. I was already a stay at home mom, taking care of our baby, who was about a year old at the time. He was in the pack ‘n play in our bedroom, watching a kids singing show, while I scrubbed the toilet in our attached bathroom. Innocent enough.

Something that I did weekly, along with all of the other household upkeep and day to day life. But for some reason, that day, it suddenly washed over me…this is it.

This is my life for the next thirty, or probably more, years.

We will have the same friends and neighbors, that we have over for barbecues on weekends and parties for our children’s birthdays. Our families lived close enough that we would see them on just about every holiday (and I’m talking every holiday – that includes Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, and any other “day” holiday you can imagine), every birthday, milestone and reason to celebrate. We would probably live in this house for awhile, until we could afford to move into something bigger, but not too far from the same area most likely.

There would be football and basketball games for the guys to watch at the bar, Tupperware and Candlelight parties for the wives to attend to order more of what we really didn’t need. Possibly a group camping trip, with all of our kids, once or twice a year. Baby showers, graduations, funerals, weddings and everything else in-between with the same people.

That was it. That was our future. My future. For the next thirty plus years.

And for some reason that day, with the toilet brush in my hand and the sound of ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ being sung in the background, I thought to myself “Is this all there is? Is this it? There has to be more.” I could see our future like a movie montage, because it was all so familiar already.

How did I get here?

This is what I had always wanted, had dreamed of, wasn’t it? I wanted to be married to a good guy, live in my own house to take care of, have kids and be a mom. But that wasn’t always the end story I had seen for myself, had always dreamed.

In the beginning, I had also seen a career in a big city, meeting new people, making big decisions and earning my way through life. Having one of those cool apartments with the hardwood floors and glass doorknobs, downtown over a convenience store or bar. Walking to museums and plays, getting opportunities to travel and see the world somehow. I had dreamed of being independent.

I wanted more.

As much as I loved what I had, and really did want it, I also wanted the other side of the dream that I didn’t really give myself much time to figure out. After graduating from college, the constant mantra of “you need to find a job” was pounding in my head, and repeated by my parents, so I basically took the first job I was offered. Not in the city, not in a cool design firm like I had always dreamed of, but instead a corporate art department job with benefits and vacation time. And a commute of about an hour, to another suburb, still outside of the city.

All of this came flooding back to me that day, while I looked around, toilet brush still in my hand.

When my ex came home that day, I asked what it would take for him to be offered a position in another country and if it was possible. I had heard of others in his line of work taking jobs in France, England, Germany. Why not him? He explained that he didn’t have the qualifications to go; he didn’t speak another language, he didn’t have any foreign clients, and he was married. They usually preferred to send single people who were more available and easier to move.

I still pushed on with the idea, telling him that if an opportunity ever came up to go somewhere else, like another country, I was willing to move. To have a new experience. If I couldn’t make it happen personally, I was willing to support him to make it happen.

Oddly enough, only a few weeks later, he was approached for a foreign assignment.

And as they say, the rest is history. That began the crazy, and challenging, journey that lasted close to ten years. And that journey brought me here, to this place. This place in time, in location, in mind and soul.

Almost back home, but not quite. Almost back to “normal”, but not really.

It wasn’t the dream I had dreamed when I was a child, or in high school or college, but it was very much like a dream in many ways. The meaning to the old adage “be careful what you wish for” became incredibly clear as time went on though.

It was amazing and exciting, the new experiences and meeting new people from different backgrounds, speaking different languages – so much to learn about the world! So much to explore. But at the same time it was also scary and confusing, and sometimes more difficult than I ever could have imagined. There were many highs and lows along the way,  over the many years and multiple moves, making me stronger in the end.

It had challenged everything I thought I knew or understood, pushed me out of my comfort zone, made me question everything about my previous life. There was more than one “right” way to do things, and more than one type of person or food or language. It changed the very core of who I was, for the better, in my opinion.

Would I have been just as happy without this experience? Would I have gotten over my feeling that there had to be more to life, blamed it on hormones or sleepless nights with a teething baby? Shut my mouth and just went along with the program, like everyone else was happily doing? I mean, what you don’t know you don’t know, right?

No need to second guess it or go through the list of possible “what if” scenarios now, it was the life I was meant to live. It was more than the life I had ever expected, or even thought I wanted. It was life changing.

I had asked myself so long ago “is this all there is?” never realizing where it would lead, how it would end, or how it would shape me in the future.

But now I know, no this isn’t all there is, there is so much more.

 

 

 

 

What if…

Such a common thought, for most of us at some point in time…”what if?”

I’ve had too many to count of these unsettling commentaries running through my mind over the past year or two. If I’m honest, I’ve had that commentary running through my mind for years, always looking for the hidden answer, the deeper meaning or secret message.

Like a game show, I always wonder ‘what was behind door number three?’ What did I miss?

The internal conversations of “what if” range from small scenarios, maybe tiny bits of conversations that went wrong, or smaller actions that became something bigger and harder to live with than I had ever imagined or expected.

What if I had done it differently? What if I had said yes instead of no this time?

When the idea of getting divorced was first brought up, said out loud in an almost business like way as a solution to our stalemate, it seemed surreal. The room seemed to get bigger and I felt smaller, quieter, my brain was filled with cotton dulling the sounds and senses of it all. I was numb. It felt as if it wasn’t really happening to us, I was just witnessing a movie or a scene from a play from another seat, in another room.

Maybe it was all a dream? Or a nightmare?

It didn’t seem like something we would really do, considering our level-headed decision making history. We had done so much together over the last twenty five years, experiences that challenged us beyond our imaginations sometimes, and still managed to stick it out to figure out solutions together, as a partnership. This was just an idea, right? It was a test for both of us, a game of chicken really, wasn’t it? Was it really so broken that we couldn’t fix it this time? Were we really that far apart in our goals and future plans?

Shouldn’t someone say something, back pedal, stop us from doing this? But nobody did.

Once the big decision had been made, agreed upon in theory, my mind began to spiral around the events that lead us here. The most current events, not the long list of small slights and disappointments that built up our resistance to one another over the years, like bricks building a wall.

That’s when a new set of “what ifs” began.

What if… I had just agreed to make the move for his new job? All that I had researched about the new location – the housing, the schools, the neighborhoods – proving to me that it was not the right fit for us as a family, put in a box in the corner of my mind, ignoring the deep gut feelings that I had about how our kids would (or wouldn’t) adjust to another move because the timing was completely wrong for all of them.

What if… I had disregarded the disappointment and hurt that would come from my extended family to find us moving away again? What if I had just thrown it all to the wind, blindly trusted, and jumped in with both feet?

What if… I didn’t think about anyone else, not even myself, and just did it?

What if… I had done what I had always done in the past, just trusted that it would all work out for the best, for all of us? What if I had just chosen our marriage, our partnership, over the perceived well-being and happiness of our entire family? Would it have saved our marriage? Would we be blissfully happy in our new location, glad that I was talked into it, with everyone seemingly well-adjusted by now?

What if… I was wrong about my theories, my research, my fears?

Did I put too much stock into some of the reasons not to go, some of it just fear of another change, did I devalue the importance and weight of our marriage?

What if… after that ugly night, when he told me all of the things he hated and disliked about me, I had gone to him and tried to “fix it”? What if I had told him that I would try harder to be a better partner, to be the kind of wife he wanted and deserved, and I would do whatever it would take to keep us together. Even if that meant moving.

What if… I had accepted his offer that we could continue “doing this” for twenty more years? No apology offered, no excuse for his ugly rant tearing me apart, just accept it as our way of life and love and moved forward to the finish line.

What if… I put it out of my mind and pretended that it didn’t really happen?

What if… I had accepted his now obvious peace offering on Christmas day, a trendy designer workout bag and matching top, as an unspoken apology and just moved on? What if I had continued to shop for a Christmas gift for him even while hurting, and gave him a similar fence mending gift?

Would that have been enough to stitch us back together? Would we just pretend that he hadn’t said any of those hurtful things, and just kissed a bittersweet thank you on Christmas day to move past it all, both of us accepting it as one bad night brought on by stress, travel and work.

Would he have continued to commute for us, his family, as a peace offering until we were ready to move?

What if… I had told him from the beginning, from the earliest days of our slowly growing apart, exactly how I felt when he treated me like I didn’t count? What if he had told me how disappointed he was with me and my apparent shortcomings then?

What if… we had figured out how to really communicate with each other years ago? Would we have stayed married this long because we could work things out and understand one another, or would we have divorced years ago realizing that we weren’t really right for each other?

Maybe we would have come to the conclusion that we had different expectations of marriage earlier on, and acted upon it, before we spent twenty years trying to hold it together.

What if… we had just broken up at the end of that first summer or first year?

We never would have gotten here, to this ugly place of broken dreams and unfulfilled promises, and maybe we both would have had happier marriages with other people? Maybe we would have taken completely different paths that made us each happier, and feeling more secure, more fulfilled, more loved. Maybe not.

But, what if…?

 

 

Unpacking the boxes

One thing that seems to reappear repeatedly over the last six months, is the idea that once you are divorced, and “enough time has passed” that you should be “over it” and get on with your life. The amount of time is a sliding scale, depending upon who you’re talking to, it can range from six days to six weeks to six months or more. Getting over it can relate to anything from the idea that you still cry sometimes for no reason at all, you still cannot speak his name without feeling sick, or the crazy idea that you haven’t started dating yet. What are you waiting for??

Why are you so stuck? they wonder.

At least that is what the message feels like in most of these instances. People mean well, I’m sure…or at least I hope. That would just be one more insult to this entire injury. They really do want what is best for you, what will make you feel better and make you happy once more. Divorce is often compared to death of a loved one, the grief is almost the same they say, there are stages and no two people experience it the same. The only difference is that the so called loved one is still around, alive and well, just not with you.

But I think it’s more comparable to moving to a foreign country, without knowing the language or the customs, and being expected to jump right in and feel at home almost immediately. And you’re expected to not only understand it all, but accept it as your new normal life without any further expectations or allowances. You can handle it, right?

The only problem with that scenario is that moving to a foreign country is not the seamless experience we’d all like to believe, or hope, it to be. And neither is divorce.

First, when moving to another country there is most likely a language barrier. Before you move, or even accept this journey, you realize that there will be a new language to learn and navigate. Of course, you’re usually assured by many caring souls that “everyone speaks English, you’ll be fine!”

Well, that would be lovely if it were only true.

And I think we can all agree that working with a room full of lawyers, paralegals and other divorce professionals, there will be language that will be more than confusing and anxiety inducing. It’s not your regular run-of-the-mill grocery list or coffee chat, is it?

Then there are the customs. Some countries expect a kiss on the cheek when you greet people, others expect a kiss on both side of your cheeks, some shake hands with their left hand, others with their right. Some bow, or avoid eye contact all together. There are so many possibilities, and so many nuances, to each set of customs that it can all feel overwhelming when you are first learning the ways of the culture.

It doesn’t come easy.

The same can be said for the journey through divorce, really. You go into it thinking you know how it’s going to go, how people are going to behave, believing that you will all be in agreement for the most part, and understanding where everyone is coming from basically. You will work together because you know each other and you think you share the same customs and values. But it’s not that easy, at least not usually. It may begin that way, and last for the first couple of months, but somewhere along the line you realize that you both have entirely different expectations, and the people guiding you have a completely different playbook than either one of you possess.

You all have different cultures with different customs. And you need to agree somehow.

Oh sure, there are those incredibly amicable couples who basically make up their own agreements, sign them, take a selfie with their divorce document and then go have a drink afterward to celebrate…that’s more than moving to a foreign country, more like moving to another planet! But let’s be honest, that’s not the norm by a long shot.

Then the big part comes, the unpacking.

If you’ve ever moved, which I have numerous times including overseas, you remember the never-ending packing and unpacking that goes along with moving.

Packing those boxes is easy enough. You fill each one until it’s full, tape it up, label it and move onto the next one. You carefully place the delicate items together, wrapped in paper and bubble wrap, to protect them. Sometimes you even hire professionals to do the packing, to make certain that it all gets to the next destination intact (this isn’t always a guarantee, of course, as I’ve learned too many times to count!)

But then, once you arrive in your new destination, your new foreign country, you now have the herculean job of unpacking it all and placing it where it “belongs” in  your new home. Sounds easy enough, sure. Just put it…somewhere. Of course you need to make some decisions along the way; which room, what shelf, which cabinet or drawer. It takes organization, and patience.

And time.

Usually, the normal timeline for one of our major moves was about a year to completely unpack and feel “at home” in our new location. It sounds like a long time, doesn’t it?

It’s not. It sometimes flies by, and sometimes drags by, all at the same time.

Because you still need to learn the language and the customs of this new place while you are unpacking. You still have to go on with “normal” life, grocery shopping and taking care of household details, figuring it all out as you stumble along in this new world. Your phrase book clenched tightly in your hand, panic rising in your throat almost daily, hoping to meet someone who understands you.

There is a lot of unpacking to do after a divorce.

Not just the material things from the life you have just untangled, but the memories and the moments you shared. As a couple, as a family, with your friends. They’re in boxes. Not always physical boxes, but boxes in your mind and in your heart. In the dark corners of your memory, too. Some are unlabeled, others are dusty from being ignored for so long.

In the end, you need to unpack and place it all. Sometimes you give some of it away, or pitch it entirely. Other things are too sentimental to get rid of, but too painful to keep. Those things end up in the basement, or crawl space, to be found at a later time by someone else.

After you die, if you’re lucky.

It takes time, sometimes more time than you ever expected. More time than other people expect, most definitely. Sure, some people are great at unpacking and hanging the curtains and artwork within days of moving. They’re hosting luncheons and cookouts within weeks, they’ve painted, decorated, joined clubs and planned the next holiday almost immediately. They’ve made it a “home” without missing a beat, without missing anyone or anything from their previous home. They adapt easily.

Others of us need more time. We unpack carefully, place and buy furniture thoughtfully, to make sure we will like it for a long time. We are not hasty decision makers, we don’t hang just any curtains to cover the windows or buy just any couch to furnish our living room. We take the time to research it, shop for it, compare it, to find the best fit.

We need to be sure. We want it to be right, to be exactly how we want our home to feel.

And just when you think you’ve unpacked it all, the boxes and the wrappings have been removed and everything is in it’s new place; you’ve started to smile and laugh again, you feel lighter and more positive about your future…you stumble upon another box. It was hidden in the back corner, under a rug or a blanket. It’s small, easily overlooked because it’s been buried for so long. You didn’t even think you moved it with you, or remembered that box being there.

You have to open it though, you know you do.

This box is a memory, or a scent, or a photograph that’s fallen out of a book. It’s a number in your telephone that you come across as you scroll through your contacts, it’s a wrong service call to your house instead of your ex’s, it’s a song on the radio, a name on a street sign. It’s simple, unassuming, and yet so complicated and heavy.

For such a small box it carries a lot of weight.

This isn’t the only box you’ve missed or forgotten, there will be more unpacked boxes along the way, boxes that will open whether you choose to or not. Some of these boxes just burst open, completely unexpected and take your breath away. Blur your vision, get caught in your throat, stop you in your tracks.

Pushing you back to the starting line.

Some you just stumble across accidentally, others are opened by family or friends without any realization that the contents could be toxic, unwelcome or even hurtful.

There are so many boxes that you don’t even know exist. Until you do.

So, the next time it is suggested that I should get over it, move on with my life, start dating again to find someone new, or hear suggestions that enough time has passed why am I still so hung up? I will have only one response to offer.

I’m still unpacking the boxes.