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.
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.
Let me preface this by saying that I asked my ex to do very little before he left, but one of the things I specifically requested is that he go through the Christmas stuff. I didn’t want to have to face the process of separating ornaments and drudging up memories. Well, he was too busy to do so over the course of 6 weeks, so tonight I had to do it. I pulled out his ornaments and his stocking and they will travel in one of the boys’s suitcases, along with his baby books that he left behind, when they go see him for Christmas. The tree decorating affair was bittersweet, at best. The boys were being obnoxious about helping and then going on and on about how they loved every one of dad’s ornaments and mocking all of mine. I tried not to cry, but there were also a lot of shared memories that were still hung on the tree. Part of me is glad to have this “first” over and done with, but this was definitely one of the harder ones. When the boys had lost interest in decorating, I took our shared ornaments down to the basement, away from prying eyes, and smashed them into a million pieces. It hurt like hell, but I needed to do it.
The truth is, though, that even though our ornaments are sitting in my trash, I can’t do the same with my memories. The tree is beautiful and full of history and while my ex may have moved on, he still shares pieces of the tree and he always will. I look forward to building on to the tree with new memories, but I cannot pretend that 14 years never happened. Some days, it feels like it would be easier, but he will always occupy a piece of my past. Now, I need to work on creating a new future.
It is the first major holiday as a family of three. The winter holidays, particularly Thanksgiving and New Christmas occupy a special place in my heart. I love cooking and gifts and Christmas music and curling up under a blanket. I have approached this season with a heavy heart. Knowing that it was this time last year that my my ex began a journey that would lead to him walking out of our lives, has made me rethink every moment of last year’s holiday season. So, as today is the day we pause and reflect on what we are Thankful for, my thankfulness is often through the fog of tears.
Oddly, I am thankful that the decision to divorce was not left up to me. I am now able to see with clarity that I probably would have never left my marriage, no matter how insignificant I became. And due to the circumstance of how it all went down, the custody battle was non-existent, for which I am grateful.
I am thankful that despite everything, the boys and I were able to keep things somewhat normal. We stayed in our home and they have the same schools and sports teams. We kept our dogs, and even one of the cats made a strange journey back to us.
I am so very blessed that God knew what my heart needed and basically dropped a group of friends and an amazing church community into my lap when I needed it the most. I remember crying out in prayer that there was no way I could stay here because I felt so alone and disconnected from my community. It was like God stepped in and met one of my greatest needs
Lastly, I am thankful for the gift of my sons. The journey to learn how to parent them alone has been hard. We are in the middle of a challenging season with the combination of teen boy hormones, grief, and trauma. There are days I don’t think I can or want to parent them. But, guess what, at the end of the day, we are still a family and as hard as it is, they are everything to me and I am grateful for the gift of being their mom.
So, yes, being thankful is hard this year. My grief and joy are strange bedfellows. I am trying to keep my expectations low knowing that we are all very raw this year. But, Bolt, Messi, and I are showing up every day to live, to laugh, to fight, and to love.
For most of my life, I have often felt like I didn’t fit in. As a teenager, I felt like I was meant to live in a different time. I felt like I started to find myself towards the end of high school and in college, I developed an excellent group of friends who I felt “got me”. Then, when I got married, I thought “this is it, I finally found someone who loves me, and all will be good”. Then, came the infertility…as I watched other couples and friends start to build families, I again felt left out. Suddenly, my friends were busy raising kids and even being around them was a painful reminder. When we adopted the boys, I again thought “this is it”, but I quickly found that in a small community, many families already had their “groups”. As Bolt began to really struggle, it felt further isolating. Why couldn’t I have the American Dream? We then picked up and moved across the country right when I was just starting to feel like I might have found a community. As I have said before, the move was the right decision, but also reactivated that feeling of isolation. Then, well, you know the rest.
Interestingly, in the past few months, I have really connected with the adoptive families group at church. It was feeling so alone that really allowed me to step outside my comfort zone for new friendships. However, with that, the feeling of not belonging has been emerged its ugly head again. While I now feel like I found a group of women who understand what parenting a kid from a “hard place” looks like, I look around the room and still feel so very much like a misfit watching couples mingle with other couples.
The other challenge I find, that churches are designed around families. You look around a service on a Sunday morning and are surrounded by families. I stand there in worship and often find myself overwhelmed by how alone I feel. I have one son who sits who his hands over his ears and both regularly excuse themselves for a bathroom run. I worry that people are judging me for the behavior of my sons. Part of me wants to shout from the rooftops, “I am doing the best I can”. Then, as I joined the sparsely attended singles group I hear that the church has so many groups that it can’t “publicize” groups that don’t feed a majority…
All while these thoughts are going through my head, I can’t help wondering if these experiences are teaching me empathy for the lonely…the left out…the misfits. I must take hold of the truth that we all have our own stories and those stories can either make us or break us. I don’t know the future, but I also believe that God can make beauty from ashes.
It was six months ago this evening that my ex walked out of the door of our home for the last time. It was six months ago that I embarked on the oft lonely journey of single parenthood. At the time, I frequently said that I figured the first six months would be the hardest…and now how I wish that were true. Maybe things will surprise me, but if the past few weeks is any indication, it will likely get harder before it gets easier. I foolishly compared this situation to other times of transition such as the move across the country or adopting the boys. However, I now realize that I spent three months running on adrenaline, and it wasn’t until the boys settled back into school that I began to understand the routine of single parenthood.
Being a single parent means I am the first one up in the morning and the last one up at night. I am responsible for making sure my sons are up and ready for their first glimpses of morning and that the doors are locked, and the lights turned out, ushering them into sleep. It is sometimes a wonder and a privilege to have such great responsibility for the two young men asleep in their bed. When there are two parents present, it is easy to pass the buck, so to speak. Now it is just me. That isn’t to say that I take full responsibility for the men they become, but rather, I take full responsibility for what I teach them over the next few years.
So, how are my sons doing? There are days, I feel like I have a good understanding, but the reality is that this transition is complicated by the own transition their bodies are experiencing. I have two middle school boys, in the throngs of puberty, and it is hard to tell where the trauma of the past few months ends, and the puberty begins. Probably, a lot of the challenges of the past few months are a combination of both.
Bolt has been a challenge to me from day one. When he was finally diagnosed with autism, four years ago, it did provide some clarity to some of the issues that were so challenging, but it didn’t provide any solutions. With autism, routine and structure are something that makes Bolt feel safe. His own trauma has also made him extremely in need to have control over things in times of transition. I feel like the past few months, he has latched onto one thing after another that he can control. His latest fixation is hand hygiene for anyone preparing his food (which is me), so therefore he stalks me through the kitchen to snap at me the second he perceives that I have gone too long between hand washings (which means like every two minutes). It helps to remind myself of the why behind the what, but let me just say that at six in the morning, I don’t want to be yelled at because he didn’t hear the water running.
Messi is in such an odd place and I am really struggling to figure out what is just typical teen angst and what is his own trauma. He started middle school this fall and loves it. I am getting the usual glowing reports from his teachers and peers. At home is another story. He is downright rude and condescending to me more often than not. He is very inpatient and critical of most things I do. However, the second he wants something, he turns on the charm. It actually reminds me a lot of the interactions I have had with my ex over the past year or two, so some of me wonders if he is just mimicking him. At school and sports he is social, but at home he is withdrawn. I routinely find him under his bed listening to music, with a dog curled at his side. He won’t talk about what has transpired over the past few months and he says everything is wonderful between him and his dad, but…
So, those are some of the areas that are hard and I don’t have a magic wand to make it all better. At the same time, there is some real freedom in being a single parent. The decisions that are made are mine alone. I also feel like because I have been forced to take on the role of only present parent, I have also had to learn to be both “good cop” and “bad cop”. I can be the fun one and spontaneous. Just tonight, I agreed to let the boys go see the new “Thor” by themselves (gave me an opportunity to study). I try and surprise them with pizza some nights or some special treat from the grocery store. I also feel like I really know my sons better. I know what will make them angry or frustrated, but I also know ways to make them smile. Often when two parents are around, each parent takes on a different role to their children.
So, while initially, I thought the first six months would be the hardest, I now think it will probably be the first year, at minimum. We are sitting on the ledge of the holiday season, after all. We have not done Thanksgiving without dad. I haven’t been without my sons at Christmas. We have a vacation planned for February…one that was originally planned as a family of four. The next six months will be full of more milestones as we begin to rebuild our lives as a family of three. For now, all I can do is take it one milestone, and one day at a time.
After a few weeks lull, I started thinking more frequently about my ex again. I am not sure what prompted my brain to start dwelling on the past, but I have found myself lost in my thoughts on more than a few occasions over the past week. This, of course, was partially what prompted my grief filled weekend. However, unlike in previous times of grief over this whole situation, this time the grief wasn’t rooted in anger or betrayal; this grief was rooted in the loss of the man I thought I knew.
So much of what I have shared and written about paints my ex out to be a horrible person. There is no doubt that the things he did to me and the betrayal of our marriage are horrid. Walking out on one’s children for “the love of my life” is despicable. However, I think maybe one of the greatest challenges is reconciling that the actions of the past year do not really reflect a large part of the man I shared my life with and the father my sons knew.
My ex is very charismatic – he can talk to anyone and has a George Clooney smile where his eyes crinkle into slits when he smiles. He is great at massages and I still miss him working out the kinks in my shoulders after a crazy shift in the ER. Most importantly, he was (and yes, was, is the correct term) a great dad. He was patient with our sons and always willing to stop and teach them something. He was very physical – allowing them to wrestle or tickle him. He was soft-spoken and rarely raised his voice. My sons love him dearly.
So, while it may be easy to see him as the villain in the story, I cannot, because, for many years he was my hero. I wished I could be more patient and more fun and more like him. What happens when the hero and the villain are one in the same? My head and my heart don’t even know where to put it…I spend days trying to make sense of everything and it overwhelms me at times. I am also reminded of the times I have played the villain in this story…there are many. The truth is that in this life there are very few true heroes and probably even fewer true villains. For all the beauty and evil in the world, it is all shaped by someone’s story and sometimes the line between the villain and the hero isn’t that clear.
Recently I read something online from an elderly gentleman about grief coming in waves. At the time I understood it, but at the same time I was thankful how my waves of grief were so much smaller. At the same time, I was talking with another person about how I had finally reached the point that the circumstances of the past several months no longer consumed my thoughts. Then this weekend happened…call it fatigue after finishing a tough grad school class (at least with an “A”), call it frustration from arguing with two middle school boys daily, or just call it life. Whatever the case, the wave, or even tsunami of grief washed over me this weekend.
This morning I awoke and began the usual Sunday battle of trying to get the boys out of bed for church. I tried to make the morning positive with delicious pumpkin chip pancakes. As I went through the plans of the day, the boys started in on me on how I never do anything and make them do everything, all the while staring at their phones and making no attempt at getting ready. I lost it and basically said I was leaving for church, but I wasn’t dealing with their crap anymore and if they felt the need to act like jerks they could stay at home. Bolt followed me out to the car, Messi took advantage of my minor meltdown and chose to stay home. I cried all the way to church and through half of the service. Sometimes once the wave of grief starts, all I can do is ride it to shore. The rest of the day was followed by these waves (albeit smaller) …I haven’t cried this much in months.
I did allow myself to feel the grief and think about what it was that hurt so much. It isn’t so much that I miss my ex-husband – the past few months has given me a lot of clarity about the problems in our marriage. So, what was I grieving?
- A partner to unwind to and with at night
- A co-parent…this single parenting stuff is no joke
- A male role model for my sons
- My masseuse
- A warm body in my bed as the nights get cooler
- A shoulder to cry on when things felt overwhelming
While I have way more support from friends and my community than I did even 6 months ago, the reality is that when the doors to our home are closed for the evening, it is just me struggling to parent alone. Single parenting is hard and it very lonely. While I am grateful for the healing that has taken place over the past few months, today was just one of those days where I had to ride the waves.