When the grenade was launched into life a few months ago, I suddenly found myself with a racing mind and heart. Interestingly, I found myself full of stories about the journey the boys and I are in, some of heartache, but also of humor. I hope to chronicle the ups and downs of this unexpected detour.
July of 2018 has been in interesting one in Pennsylvania. As of writing this, my small town has seen 6.79 inches of rain this month alone with more storms forecast before the end of the month. It has been a month of storms, drenching rain, and even flooding at times. I could have sworn I could have driven home in a boat the other night. Oddly, this month seems to be reflecting the past few months of my life. Just when I thought the sun was about to come out, the storm clouds rolled in and unleashed yet another storm…sometimes it felt like this would be the storm where I would drown. While nature is still wreaking havoc outside, it seems that we may finally be approaching a season of rest and recovery.
My son’s health concerns have stabilized, and he is happily readjusting to life at home and being an annoying teenager. Both boys are counselors-in-training at the YMCA and, for the most part, are enjoying the experience. It is odd because as a small family with two boys very close in age, my boys have had limited interaction with kids of other ages and it is funny to hear them describe their experiences with the campers (ages 4-12). This experience has given them some structure to their summer days, but in a very active and physical way. I chose to use this instead of doing summer school as I felt the life lesson experience was more valuable.
On the parenting front, I am trying to mix things up. I know I have written before about this, but teenagers are so peer dependent that I am trying to incorporate that into my interactions with them. Rather than plan “family fun”, I am planning fun things where they can bring friends. It allows me to do fun things with the boys, but in a way that they enjoy. Last weekend I took four teen boys to an escape room. I try and open our home for the boys to play Fortnite with their friends and I provide snacks. It gives me the opportunity to get to know their friends just observe how they interact in a peer setting. If the weather will ever cooperate, maybe I get a group of boys to join me on a hike (something I love doing). I think that as kids become teens it is easy become frustrated at how they never want to do things with their parents anymore, but that is a normal part of growing up. So, rather than get my feelings hurt, I am trying to embrace that and say, “bring your friends”!
Another ray of sunshine currently is my work. First off, I feel like I am good at what I do (and my boss says so too). Nurse case management is hard over the phone and some days are awful, but I have people I call weekly or biweekly who are making life changes to improve their health and I get to help them do that. This week, I also started working at home, which so far has been great. I have a peaceful office set up full of light and pictures and bumble bees and butterflies fluttering outside my window. This new work structure has given me back two hours a day. Yesterday, my lunch time was spent going on a walk with my pups, which helped me reset my mind to jump back into the afternoon.
Next week, I have decided it is time to start paying a little more attention to myself again. When in crisis, the capacity to take care of yourself vanishes. I had no time to work out…dinners were happening at 10 a clock at night…and the pounds have creeped on. With the hours back to my day, I am going to start my days with yoga and walking the pups. The extra time in the evenings allows me more time to make healthy dinners. These are all things that I enjoy and that make me feel so much better emotionally. One of the boys worries about me because I used to exercise every day and I haven’t been able to recently because our crisis literally zapped me of all energy. I know taking care of myself is a great example for my kids, but it will also help my mood and provide restoration for my body and for my soul.
So, for now, I am enjoying this season of peace. While the storms may still be raging outside, for a moment that have subsided in my home. I don’t know when the next storm may come, but I am trying to use this season to heal and restore.
Friday nights are rough in my home. I work Monday through Friday (a relatively new concept after spending the first 13 years of my career working 3 12 hours shifts per week) and my boys are away doing camps during the day. By Friday evening, we are all tired and probably ready to just unwind. I have noticed that one kid and I seem to have high levels of conflict on Friday nights. Tonight, to avoid conflict and fatigue, I stopped by Costco to grab pizza, salad, and a rotisserie chicken. I thought we were doing okay…then came the cherries.
I spent the evening cleaning out the fridge to accommodate the food I grabbed Costco. The boys were left to play games, talk to friends, etc. and things were going okay. Right as I was finishing off cleaning up the kitchen, my high conflict son came in and discovered I had gotten him some cherries. He quickly dug into them and before I knew it, he was spitting his cherry pits at me. I tried to distract him, then he started spitting them at the recycling can and when I specifically told him to stop, he looked at me and kept doing it. It seriously felt like an argument with an obstinate toddler. At the point that he began spitting them at the recycling can, I told him that the consequence was having to take the recycling out tonight. He then proceeded to argue about why he shouldn’t have to do it and he wouldn’t let me ignore him. So, I, doing the only thing I could think to do (though knowing this never works with him) said if he continued arguing, he would be doing dishes all week. The nonstop arguing and telling me why he wouldn’t do what I said continued and before I knew it, he was at 3 weeks of dish duty and we were getting nowhere. What I was doing wasn’t working – staying calm, but firm, and I was feeling myself increasingly agitated and feeling quite hopeless that he would ever stop arguing. Finally, I said that we were done for the night and told him we weren’t getting anywhere with this argument and we could pick it up in the morning, but I was tired, and walked away. Suddenly, he was in the kitchen taking out the recycling. He finished his job, then I thanked him. I then told him, dish duty would resume as normal next week and told him I wanted to extend him a little grace, explaining how I know Fridays are rough for the two of us. We fist bumped and things were back to normal. I even flashed a flashlight in his eyes and screamed in his ear (two things he does to me routinely) and asked him what that felt like. He grinned at me and told me it didn’t feel very good then skipped off to bed with a Labrador in tow.
I tell this story because it really felt like a moment of breakthrough with him. A few months ago, I realized that Friday nights were our highest conflict night and began trying to make some changes to try and minimize the conflict. For all that, Friday nights come, and we are all irritable. This week has found me a little more on edge, for a variety of reasons. I haven’t been sleeping well…lots of nightmares about the events of the past year…and I realized that yesterday would have been my 15th wedding anniversary…tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of my divorce…thus explaining my sleeping difficulties. My son is also going through his own issues and the two of us can become explosive in conflict. I wouldn’t say that I did anything particularly right tonight, except for the moment that I realized no number of punishments or consequences was going to end this fight. I think it is a natural tendency as a mom to make sure that my kids have consequences for their actions. However, what does that look like when the conflict is so high that nothing I say or do, or any consequences serves as a deterrent to the actual argument? Kind of like a toddler having a meltdown because he is too tired, there is no way to reason or logic with a teen boy in that situation. So, at that point the only option was to just stop. So, I stopped engaging with the argument. I stopped insisting he do the recycling. And I told him that I was tired and walked away. Tonight, that shifted the dynamics, and we are both going to sleep in peace.
I started writing this blog a little over a year ago and if someone had told me then that things would just get harder, I would have closed the book and walked out. But alas life just seems to be throwing the boys and I one curveball after another. I seriously feel like a slinky who has been stretched to the point of no return. I am really caught at this point of “bring it on” or if one more thing happens, it will b e THAT thing that finally breaks me.
Over the past three months I have watched one of the boys get dealt a card that I wouldn’t have wished on my worst enemy. I have had to walk alongside him, guide him, have patience (and often fail), and make some tough choices on his behalf. And I wish 3 months later I could say we have light at the end of the tunnel. However, he has an illness that is run as a marathon, not a sprint, and I don’t know if we are at mile one or mile 25. All I know, is, yet again, he is not with me and I am having to trust professionals to take care of him.
In the meantime, things aren’t great for me or my other son. Our home is full of the silence of an angry teen, and the exasperated voice of a mom on edge. I spend most days feeling like I have lost both kids and will never get them back, all the while reminding myself that teen boys are known for their lack of communication and bad attitudes. I have also had to take a step back and put myself in their shoes and acknowledge that hanging out with mom is probably not cool at age 13, so how to be present without being pushy.
The past few weeks have been isolating. I remember writing a few months ago about the importance of asking for what you need. Well, what happens when you ask for it and the answer is “no” or “I am busy”? I have had family members say that they are done listening to me vent and if I want to vent “get a therapist” (which I have done, unsuccessfully, twice). I have no one I can ask for help as simple as helping me move a piece of furniture. The problem is, the people I know have similarly chaotic, busy lives, leaving little room or time to help. This is not a condemnation of any of those that told me no, or that they were busy, but more a realization on my part of how few people I know that I can ask for help. Worse, though, are those who I have reached out to who have been silent. I supposedly belong to a very generous church “family”, but I feel like that generosity is only extended to those in the “in crowd”.
Then, there comes this point where you become tired of always being the one to reach out and ask for help or even share what is going on in your life. I stepped back from social media mostly for the past few months, largely because I got tired of seeing all these people that I know and feeling like there were very few who I could ask for help. In the past month, I have maybe had two people (other than my dad), just text or call to check in on me. I often feel like if something happened to me, no one would notice for months. I am not saying all this to evoke pity, but rather explain my silence. There just comes a point where reaching out and asking for physical help or even a listening ear and just not getting what you need, is harder than trying to do it all alone. And before anyone throws back at me “get a therapist”, it is a similar issue. For those of you that have been in therapy, you must give up a lot emotionally and be vulnerable, but there comes a point where if you have done that a few times with a few people and you aren’t getting the help or tools you need to heal, that it is more traumatizing to keep going and trying than not. So, for now, while I know I cannot do it alone, I feel like I haven’t found many who are able to walk this lonely journey with me, so I have no choice.
The anniversary of the day my ex-husband walked out on me and our sons has arrived. I am happy to say it is with little fanfare or even emotion that I am ending this particular day. This anniversary thing is just a little easier today than it has been in days past. It is hard to believe that I have been sometimes rocking the single mom business for 365 days. It is the hardest job that I never asked for, but we are making it.
It is interesting because the past month has been brutally difficult. One of my boys is really struggling with some major health concerns and I have found myself bouncing from hospital to hospital and speaking with lots of doctors and social workers. It has involved explaining our living situation and the challenges of the past year. I have had to email, call, and text my ex routinely to keep him updated (as per our legal agreement) and I have managed to be civil. I have had to make some tough decisions regarding his health and it has involved changing plans for the summer. Overall, though, I feel much more confident in making the decisions that are right for my family alone. That isn’t to say that my ex hasn’t been told, but rather that given his distance, most decisions are mine. Ironically, the past year has forced me to become more decisive and clearer in drawing boundaries. It is amazing what one woman can do when faced with no choice.
Would I wish this scenario on even my worst enemy? Absolutely not. I have been far from perfect and most days I feel like I am just doing a rehearsal of my life and then reviewing the day for ways to make it better. I am still really struggling to keep the communication channel open with both kids. I am struggling to show them balance. I fear they see the stressed, exhausted mom way more than they should and the silly, quirky, mom on too few occasions. But, for now, I can say, we are doing the best we can. If someone would have told me a year ago all that the next year would bring, I would never have gotten out of bed again. Now, there are days that I feel like yelling “is that it, is there anything else you can throw at me?”. Because, guess what, one year later, I am still standing.
Today as I watched friends around the country participate in the March for Our Lives, I immediately was struck by a feeling of guilt. After all, I am a mom to two teenagers, and gun violence in schools is something I fear daily. I have long been a supporter of stronger gun control laws. I should be there. Then, the quiet voice in my head caused me to pause. Should I really have been there? Today was the first game of my son’s state cups game in soccer. So, rather than hold a sign, marching with thousands of others, I stood in the bleachers watching my son play something he loves.
This is a battle, I know all moms face. Often the things we “should” be doing compete for that space of time with our kids. It can be cooking a healthy meal or chauffeuring kids to practices. It can be cleaning the house verses taking time to have a tea party. For me, I often must choose between watching a game or doing a much-needed chore around the house. And, on a weekend like this, it is choosing to stand in three layers of clothing to withstand the unseasonably cool weather, so that I can watch a soccer game. Yes, I wish I could have marched alongside friends, but I don’t doubt the choice I made today.
The boys and I are in a unique season. They only have one parent present and able to participate in their day-to-day adventures. Last night, a group of new-ish friends came over to help me do some long overdue deep cleaning that I haven’t had time for. Many times, they stopped me from all the “I should” statements that I tried to make about the state of my kitchen. They reminded me, and I must constantly remind myself, that there is one of me juggling many hats. Sometimes, serving a pre-made dinner and a bag salad is okay. Sometimes it is okay to let others march for you. For me, it is about triaging my life and prioritizing my family. There is so much I am passionate about and it is easy to feel guilty for not constantly fighting for values I hold dear. Maybe one day I will find myself with more time and emotional energy in my life, but for now, my priority lies in the three people living under my roof – myself, Bolt, and Messi. And so, as I finish this, I have a half-done grad school assignment, but for tonight it will wait, as it is time for a movie with the boys.
I know I have touched upon infertility over the past year of writing, but many of my friends and acquaintances only know me now through my role as mom. For anyone, who has never experienced infertility, it is a unique journe, and a source of ongoing grief and trauma through one’s childbearing years. Even once a person has given up on the idea of every getting pregnant or giving birth, there are these monthly reminders of what could have been and isn’t. When I think about the things that have caused me to doubt God the most, it is infertility, and walking along side my son through trauma.
The background is that 10 years ago, my ex and I had been trying to conceive a baby for over a year and finally went through invasive and thorough testing to determine why it wasn’t happening for us. After all, we were young, seemingly healthy, happily married, so next logical step was to build a family together. Interestingly enough, the only indication that could be found for our inability to conceive was severe male-factor infertility, of unknown cause,with a very slim possibility of us ever being able to conceive without medical intervention. So, we began the physically painful and emotionally devastating year of IVF, and, 3 rounds later, finally gave up.
The problem, though, with being a 26-year-old married woman is that all your friends around you are starting families. So, while I was grieving the loss of my dream for motherhood, all my friends around me were popping kids out left and right. There was a period of time where I couldn’t go to baby showers, and even church could be triggering, as I was surrounded by pregnant bellies and babies. Meanwhile, I never gave up hope in a miracle for us and yet, every month I got a reminder of what wasn’t to be. It was only in the past few years that I have been able to celebrate the pregnancy of friends and family, with little challenge and true happiness for them.
I think a lot of people assume that when couples who cannot have children, adopt, that is the end of the grief over infertility. Fortunately, I approached adoption with eyes wide open, in that regards. I never expected my boys to fill the hole left by not being able to get pregnant. I adopted because I wanted to be a mom, but I knew I would still miss out on the experiences of pregnancy, breastfeeding, and cuddling an infant, and I accepted that. I also knew that my own experience gave me even greater capacity for walking with them in their own stories. Being their mom is one of the hardest jobs of my life, but also the greatest joys, but there is an inherent grief in adoption. Jody Lander’s summed up the conflict of being an adoptive mom the best:
A lot of people reached out to me after my last post and I appreciate the concern. First off, what I want to say, is that often, when I write, it is in the moment. And there is a reason for that. First off, it is helpful for me to write when I am deep in the trenches with whatever is going on. Writing has allowed me to make coherent sense of my thoughts and feelings. Also, I think it is important for people to hear the feelings of people in the midst of the story. So often, things are written through the perspective of time and hindsight (as is some of my writing). For the most part, though, I write without the luxury of distance. For all those of us walking along side people through difficult stories, it is important to “hold space for the feelings” (said by a friend of mine) without trying to convince people that those feelings aren’t real or valid.
So, the reason for sharing all this, is that I am walking in a very difficult space right now and I am only touching on the edge of the story. This whole baby thing, reactivated a lot of my own trauma over my over infertility and brought some of those feelings from 10 years ago back to the surface. But now, I am having to process through them in the middle of trying to grieve through the end of my marriage and the upcoming anniversary of the day I found out my ex was cheating. Oh, and yes, I am still trying to be mom and walk alongside my sons as they try to process their own feelings and as we try to find our footing as a family of three. Don’t worry, we have a therapist to help!
People have expressed concern over my anger and bitterness with God. I have been walking a very hard journey for a decade and there have been glimpses of God’s grace and love, but I have spent many years feeling alone in my faith. I am not saying I am walking away, but lately I feel like my faith hurts. It hurts to see God bless other people while I am struggling. It hurts to hear people tell stories of God turning evil for good, when it isn’t my experience now. I will never understand why so many times God has answered my prayers by saying “no”. I know I have mentioned in the past, I love the show, Gilmore Girls. There is a scene in the end of season 6 that the words keep playing over in my head:
“So I am hanging on to the bumper and life goes on and the car goes on, and I get really badly bruised and I’m hitting potholes. And it hurts. It really hurts. So yesterday I had to let go of the bumper. Because it hurts too much.”
Some days, I just want to let go of the bumper because hoping that God will intervene, hurts too much. Yes, people can give me all the advice in the world, and all the anecdotal stories of people that have had God intervene greatly. But right now, right in this moment, I am badly bruised.
I knew it was coming. After all, they announced their “miracle, blessing from God” last summer. This was the hill that I felt I would die on. It felt like some cruel, cruel joke from God. I thought I worked through it. I thought I was dealing with it better. Then it happened. In usual fashion, I did not find out directly, but rather an email saying that the reason he was late again on childcare expenses was that he spent “all day in labor”. Then, I was in the car with my son and I looked over and there was a picture of a baby on his phone. So, it happened.
I think for the past 7 months or so, I just blocked it out of my mind. I thought, surely God wouldn’t really bless them for cheating with the one thing I prayed hardest for my entire marriage. I guess I was wrong. He leaves me, leaves our sons, and is immediately handed the gift of a second chance…a chance given while he was sleeping with another woman while we ere still married.
Am I bitter? Yes, yes, yes. I don’t understand. I am here struggling to make ends meet, with two boys that don’t want anything to do with me. He is living the good life – new baby, new wife, his kids adore him and worship the ground he walks on. So, maybe my kids have the right idea in their agnosticism. God rewards cheaters and liars with blessing after blessing. I get the crumbs that are left over. Yeah, God exists. I am just not sure I want anything to do with him.