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.
Yesterday Bolt and I had a couple of hours to kill while someone was cleaning our house. What to do with a quiet 13-year-old in sub-freezing temperatures on a holiday? My initial thought was the library, until I realized it would be closed for the holiday. He isn’t the type of kid who likes to sit and chat over a meal, so that option too was out. A friend suggested we go hang out at Barnes and Noble, which he reluctantly agreed to do. So, after getting a small breakfast sandwich we headed there. At first, he didn’t seem to know what to do, but I helped guide him to the teen and comic sections while I went in search of travel books. After browsing for a while, we sat down at a table and begin sorting through our chosen books. Before we knew it two hours had flown by. I let him pick a pair of comics to purchase and as we left the store he said, “I thought that would be boring, but it was actually kind of fun”. He is a hard kid to please, but he also doesn’t ask for much, so this was a huge win for us to be able to spend a few comfortable hours in each other’s presence. As we were leaving the store, I was struck by a wave of nostalgia. Sitting for hours in Barnes and Noble pouring over books reminded me of the countless hours my ex and I spent doing the same thing when we were dating and early in our marriage. My ex passed on his love for comics to both of our sons. It was so strange to sit there with my son, doing something my ex and I used to do, while he is across the country creating a new life. Oddly, though, the memory didn’t bring a wave a sadness or grief, but fondness. I am not romanticizing anything, but this memory wasn’t entrenched in the lies of the past decade, but rather in the man I knew then…before…before infertility, before all the lies, before all the affairs. It was a memory that I could dwell in without wondering what and who he was lying to me about. Unfortunately, when the affair came to light, the affairs of the previous decade did as well, and for that reason, I really struggle with my memories with him. However, there is the brief window of time – 4 or so years – that I can think about fondly. So, as Bolt and I hopped in the car, I shared that memory with him too. I want him to know that, while his dad hurt me deeply, I loved him and have some very pleasant memories and hopefully, one day, he will say the same.
It is funny because part of the thing I decided to due to grieve the losses of the past few months was to write a list of all the things I lost. And in writing it, I found the list was much shorter than imagined and even many of the things I had thought of as losses were not actually losses. I am not going to go into detail on everything I wrote, but it was interesting because the more I wrote the less I felt the loss.
The first thing I listed was the loss of my best friend and the more I thought about it, the more clarity has come regarding our relationship. A best friend doesn’t repeatedly lie to and about you. A best friend is honest about problems in the relationship. A best friend doesn’t tell everyone who will listen how lucky you are that he puts up with you. A best friend doesn’t walk out of your life without looking back.
As I look through the list of everything, I see nothing about these losses is irreplaceable, except maybe the loss of a co-parent. Considering he only responds to about 10% of what I email and has not continued to same standards in his house, that we had for our sons together, I can honestly say that is an irreplaceable loss. No longer do I have anyone to consult about issues our sons are facing or have a partner to help parent or give me a break. And no longer do my sons have a day-to-day father that watches tv with them or coaches soccer.
Every other loss is one that can be replaced. I didn’t lose my future, but rather the one I imagined, and I am okay with that. The more I wrote the list, the more I see what I have gained…
- My self-confidence – as a woman and as a parent. I had spent years hearing how much I needed him and, surprisingly, I don’t.
- My future – it was never set in stone, so I realized it was never there to be lost, but only to be gained.
- Freedom – to make decisions without worrying about what he thinks or wishes.
- A relationship with my sons – he had always been the “good cop” in our parenting relationship, so now I get to learn to be both good and bad cop. It is hard, but it is good.
- Quiet – I used to feel the need to fill silences with talking…now I am content to sit silent with myself and my thoughts.
- Potential relationships – I spent years hearing how lucky I was that he put up with me. I watched friends with husbands who treated them like queens. I assumed our relationship was different, but now I see that I settled for feeling like I was not equal to him, so therefore I couldn’t expect to be treated better. Now, in any relationship, friendship or romantic, I have clearer expectations of what I need and what I am willing to give. I can also say that I deserve so much better than what I experienced.
As hard has the holiday season was, I feel like it was one of the big hurdles that I needed to survive before I could really start to move forward. I have started the new year with a calmness and peace, as have the boys. As I sat in church today, I was reminded that the faith I profess to follow is based in resurrection. Last year, I experienced the death of my marriage, but I do serve a God who is very comfortable with loss and death, but also in re-birth. So, this is my year of renaissance…of rebirth and finding beauty in ashes.
Believe me, I am ready to put 2017 into my rearview mirror. In fact, I am looking forward to the new year more than I even realized. There is something freeing about putting concrete ending on a year of heartbreak and grief. I had been thinking about what I would say about the new year, but when I woke up, I saw a beautiful post from author, Shauna Niequist:
“Every New Year’s Eve, before we ring in the New Year, we share ten blessings of the year that’s ending.
I love this tradition: instead of jumping forward into new & next, we pause & pray & express gratitude for what we’ve been given.”
That made me stop and pause. For all the pain 2017 has brought, I can also see the blessings sprawled across the pages of the year. When in the middle of a painful season, it is often challenging to see past ones’ own grief, but acknowledging the rays of sunshine is not only important, but part of the healing process. So, without further ado…10 blessings of 2017:
- Bolt and Messi – they are my heart, they are my reason for getting up, and they have taught me more about resilience then anyone I have ever met. They make me laugh, cry, worry, and beam with pride. They are my harshest critics and yet, the most forgiving. Without having them with me, I would have no reason for crawling through this season.
- My furbabies – I have my beloved pups – my two big boys who will hug me when no one else will. I have my 3 kitties, who provided entertaining stories this year. Then there is the bearded dragon that came to live with us as a gift for Messi. She has been surprisingly interesting and helped me break a fear of reptiles.
- My home – in a divorce, many people are forced to move, but we have been blessed to stay in the home we rent. I have slowly removed reminders of my ex, while re-creating a safe space for my own healing.
- My community – I have written about this before, but this year has been about me finding and building a community to embrace.
- My family and friends – my parents have listened to many incoherent rants and tears in the past nine months. They live 3000 miles away, but are also just on the other end of the phone. I also have some new friends and have reengaged with other “old” friends. These people have helped provide some much-needed perspective at times.
- A new job – leaving my job as and ER nurse of nearly a decade was hard, but it was time. I felt like my life necessitated the change, but it has been good and challenging.
- School – in 2017 I completed four courses towards my master of public health (MPH) or 16 out of 58 credit hours. As of now, I have straight A’s, which feels awesome! School has been a great distraction, but also a way for me to start planning my own future.
- The outdoors – I love being outside – whether at the beach or on a hike or walking in my neighborhood. As I sit here, it is 12 degrees and there is snow on the ground, but even breathing in the frigid air while staring at the blanket of white, leaves a feeling a peace. The past few months, I have been so tired that I haven’t been outside as much, and I feel the loss, so I need to work on that this next month.
- Writing – I wouldn’t call myself a writer. This blog was born out of a suggestion of a friend. I am not great at journaling, but something about blogging has allowed me to organize my thoughts into some semblance of coherence. I have ranted and rejoiced. I have been able to diary the process of loss and grief and rebuilding. Looking back allows me to see the growth and the pain of the process.
- Faith – God and I are still in a rough spot. I am still trying to reconcile years of religious platitudes with the truth of my faith. It has been a difficult decade and this year brought my world crashing down. I feel like my faith is in pieces and I am often angry with God, but it has also been the one thing that I can cling to…sometimes just out of habit. However, just when I am about to say, I am done with God…something brings me back.
So, 2017, you have not been kind, but there have been redeeming qualities. I love harder and feel more deeply. I am more appreciative of the small blessings and simple beauties. And, at the end of the day I have a home full of chaos and hormones and laughter and love.
Tonight, is the boys’ last night visiting their dad after an 8-month absence. I have talked to them every night, but just barely, which isn’t surprising given their ages. It hasn’t been terrible, and it certainly hasn’t been stress-free. The hardest was when I practically had to beg them to talk to me on Christmas. I miss them, but more than that I worry about them.
I worry about what this visit is doing to their hearts? How does it feel to see that dad has moved on with another family? How weird is it to see him showing love to another woman? These questions I will likely never know the answer to, nor can I expect that they even could put into words what it must feel like.
The harder issue, for me, this break, has been expecting parenting out of their father. When we were still together, and even as we were in the process of separating, we had agreed on certain things (or at least I thought we did). Snap-chat was a big NO for many reasons, largely influenced by the voices of parents that had gone before. I also had certain expectations on what things could be watched (such as no MA shows). Apparently, the rules flew out the window the second they arrived at his home because I have seen them do both…with his knowledge or due to lack of oversight. Passive-aggressive emails ensued, and I should have known better than to engage. I keep expecting my ex to behave as the man I thought he was, not the man he has shown himself to be. It is just hard to observe and have not control over what is seen or heard when not in my care.
So, now the question becomes, how do I deal with this? I used to think my ex and I could co-parent, but that requires two-way communication and he has been very inconsistent with when he choses to respond. So, unfortunately, a lot of this is going to be placed on my sons’ shoulders (thanks, Mom, for the advice). I am going to have some difficult talks over the coming months about trust and them earning and maintaining my trust. Just because they aren’t with me, doesn’t mean my rules for our family fly out the window. I have tried to explain that the rules aren’t about being strict, but about protecting them – emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually, but as of now, it seems to have fallen on deaf ears.
In the meantime, I really need to let go of the idea of co-parenting. He chose to move thousands of miles away from his sons and refuses to consistently engage in conversations about the boys, so I really shouldn’t be surprised. I will hold up my legal end of the bargain, but beyond that, I need to make the decisions for my sons alone, and engage them in earning my trust. We spent 8 years making decisions about our boys together, so it is hard to let go, but for my own sanity, I must. Here is to re-establishing trust in the new year, of my sons, and of my own decisions as their mom. And also, to laughter and love and finding our groove!
As a kid, I would occasionally do jigsaw puzzles. As one gets older, the challenge becomes doing more challenging puzzles with lots of pieces. The worst was when someone (or some tail) would destroy your progress or spill the pieces everywhere. Right now, my heart feels like that.
I keep gathering up my million-piece jigsaw puzzle, picking out the edge pieces, and whoosh, something scatters them again – a “miracle” pregnancy, a quick remarriage, now Christmas without my kids. So, right now, I am sitting here trying to gather the pieces again. I also suspect that when I do gather all the pieces there will be some missing. After all, you can’t give your heart to someone for 14 years and expect them not to take a few pieces with them.
What does it look like to piece your heart back together? I wish I knew. Some things have helped…safe spaces at home…pets…candles…new traditions. I need to get back into exercise because it helps focus some energy and makes me feel better. I also need to find a manageable way to process the grief. A few people have suggested the process of writing down what I lost. I will be doing that over the next few weeks. I have also ordered a few books on grief and healing…the divorce books just weren’t helpful, but a therapist said what I am going through is more like a trauma and grief, so I am going to try and go down that path.
I finished my grad school classes until March, so I am going to prioritize some of my energy into healing (again). Christmas is nearly the last of the “firsts”. Tomorrow it will be 9 months. Nine months of pain, nine months of yelling and tears. It has been also nine months of finding that I am stronger than I knew and that my heart has a bigger capacity for love and pain than I thought possible. I cling to the hope that one day I will look back and see that this jigsaw puzzle is finally put back together…maybe sans a few pieces, but more beautiful because of how hard I worked to recreate the beauty.
Looking for a cheery Christmas post? Then stop, back away, and check back next month. Last night I had major meltdown #98. After weeks of hearing of all the grand plans that the boys have with their dad over Christmas break, I walked in to find one of them playing a video game online with one of other woman’s kids. It felt like I had been slapped. I had no idea that for months, my ex had been grooming the relationship with her kids and mine. Yes, I am sure it is good that they won’t all be total strangers, but it caused everything to come crashing down. My ex leaves me, in May and since then has bought a house, gotten her pregnant, gotten married, got an IPhoneX, and now he will have my sons for his “perfect family” over the holidays. I, meanwhile, am going to a friend’s and will try to not make Christmas miserable for her family. It is just so hard to hear about the “perfect” life he is living, all the while I cannot seem to get through the grief.
I told a friend last night that it s like a cavernous bullet wound. Nine months ago, I got shot and that bullet has never been out, rather just meandering through my body and causing problems when I least expect it. Yes, some people might say that God “has been faithful” and is providing relief in the form of friends helping fix broken windows or helping with the kids or a sitter that has not quit. But, honestly, I feel like it is really just band-aids on the bullet wound. It is like God is tossing me the leftovers just to make me shut up about everything for a few days.
I am tired of this grief just stopping me in my tracks. I am tired of trying to keep my sh** together and failing. I am tired of my kids seeing me cry. And before you all throw out “you need to see a therapist”, I have…two different ones. One just sat and listened by did nothing to help me grieve and the other one kept having me do tasks and I felt worse and more like a failure every appointment. The reality is that this whole scenario is just so bizarre, it sounds like something out of a bad book or movie, but it is what I live with every day. And I have yet to find a therapist that is able to help me work through it without making me feel like every time I lose it, I have failed my sons and am screwing them up. I am going to try and start Divorce Care in the new year, but I risk going into that with even too messy of a story for a group setting.
So, tomorrow I will place my sons on a plane, ask for a hug, and be denied one, because, yeah, my sons won’t even hug me anymore. I will be lucky to get a mumbled “love you” and then will likely try and call them every day and get a 2-minute conversation, if they answer at all. I am not being a pessimist, but I do know my sons. Then, while everyone is celebrating Christmas with family and the birth of the savior, I will be struggling to hold it all together all the while feeling like there is something very wrong with me that has lead up to the events of the last year. So, whatever, bring on another band-aid, when I need a lot more than that.
It has been a while since I have written and part of it is at risk of becoming a broken record. I wish I could say the past few weeks have been good or at least uneventful, but it isn’t just the case. We seem to vacillate between mini disasters and chaos with my own meltdowns thrown in for good measure.
Both boys are struggling, with one able to verbalize and externalize his anger while the other holds it in with contempt for me while pretending nothing has changed. We have reached the point that I am in the process of getting more services to help the boys and myself. I started going to DivorceCare to work be around other people who have been through similar experiences. But, as my therapist said, “your story will usually win”. Believe me, this is not some contest you want to win and when I sit back and detach from this story, it feels too much to be true. But, alas, true it is, and there is a lot to it that I have not even written bout.
I have worked on building some new traditions for the boys and myself. Some have been flops (the Elf on the Shelf where we all take turns), and others have been big successes. I have been filling their advent calendars with coupons for fun things or breaks from chores and other small treats. That has been fun to create that little excitement every day. At the same time, Messi has really dug into his atheism and refuses to acknowledge any part of the Christmas story.
One of the greatest challenges of this past few weeks is the anticipation the boys have regarding their upcoming trip to see their dad. Messi is counting down the days and knows all the grand plans. Bolt is tentatively excited, but nervous and confronting his own issues with his dad. It has been over eight months since they have seen him, and a lot has changed for everyone. As for myself, facing the holiday without my sons and knowing that January could be rough…well that has me a mess of emotions.
The past week has seen me yelling and on my knees sobbing on the floor, sitting through church services with tears flowing, and overwhelmed. I haven’t had a working kitchen sink since Friday due to a drain clog and I have a door with a missing plate glass after an accident by Bolt. I have had help from unexpected sources, but at the end of the day it is the boys and I and we are a mess right now. I am looking forward to making it through this holiday and picking them up at the airport knowing that this first is over. Until then, I will try to relish the quiet warmth of winter – warm heat, chilly days, and the stillness of snow.