Six Months

It has been six months since the life I thought I know was turned upside down.  At this moment 6 months ago, I had just heard the words “I want a divorce” and then the subsequent revelation of months of deceit.  Six months ago the life I thought I know, turned upside down.  I think it is the appropriate time to reflect on what that has looked like for the boys and I.

The Ugly

  • No one is unaffected by an affair. As I write this, I am in the process of trying to figure out how to get the cat that my ex took out of a shelter in Wyoming and relocate it to Pennsylvania.  Apparently, the cat did not adjust well to the move and a life with small children and lashed out by scratching one, so my ex surrendered her to a shelter.  Even our pets have been hurt by this affair.
  • The raw emotions…to this day moments of grief and anger and even love, will invade my heart when I least expect them.
  • My sons are growing up without a father as part of their day to day life. I am having those conversations about teen boy puberty while never having walked that path.
  • Trust issues and skepticism about relationships are my new norm. I often find myself looking around rooms wondering about the secrets people are harboring.
  • Exhaustion is part of my day to day life. From the exhaustion of grief to the exhaustion of being a single mom…it is my new reality.
  • The financial impact of going from a two-income family to one has been hard on myself and my sons. In my 30s, I should feel financially settled, but instead, I find myself scared about the next bill.
  • The retriggering of old wounds of loneliness and infertility have been pushed to the forefront again.

The Beautiful

  • Bolt and I have never had a stronger relationship. It is hard, because he has become my shadow and will go everywhere with me, but it also means that he is holding on to me.  We talk more than ever and laugh more too!
  • The relationships that have grown through the mess have been amazing. I went from feeling alone prior to the revelation to feeling a community and family I didn’t know existed.
  • My faith had been struggling for years for a variety of reasons, but through this process I have found God to be faithful to provide what I need.
  • Contentment comes easier. Sometimes the simplest things…. a great meal or a cuddle with my dogs or a great family movie night help bring me such contentment in the moment.
  • The future is unknown. Some may think this would be hard, particularly for a control freak like myself, but there is something so freeing about not knowing the future and learning to hand that over to God.
  • Beauty in creation is easier to appreciate. I have a new beautiful niece, who I want to meet in the next year.  I am loving just being outside and feeling the air on my skin or watching a sunset or my sons playing in the surf at the Jersey Shore.
  • Finding out that I am stronger than I thought has been an enormous surprise. Seven months ago, the idea of four days parenting alone was overwhelming…now I am nearly five months in and surviving.

There is probably so much more to say, but it is late and I am tired, with a full day planned for tomorrow.  Let me just say that 6 months later, I am still grieving daily and scared and overwhelmed, but I have also seen God’s provision for the boys and I.  I expect that six months from now, the ugly will be less and the beauty will be more.  It has been amazing to recognize the reality of resurrection after death…

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Asking for What I Need

Why is it so hard to ask for what you need? For me, at least, there are many reasons I struggle to ask people for what I really need.  Probably the biggest one is that I often worry that people aren’t serious when they say, “if there is anything you need…”.  Well, guess what, if they aren’t serious, they won’t follow through and that is okay.  Often, though, I think people say that because they don’t really know how to help people in crisis.

I also worry that if I ask for help, I am seen as incapable of managing.  However, the reality is that no person can be 2 places at once and there are finite hours to the day, so sometimes asking for help is the only option.  Just tonight, I had to ask for help getting one son to team pictures on Saturday and, guess what, five minutes later he had a ride!

I think I often don’t ask for what I need because I don’t know what I need.  As I sat in my therapist’s office last week, she helped me formulate some practical things I could cut back or get help managing.  Due to this conversation, I went to my parents and asked them to pay for a housecleaner to come in twice a month so that I do not spend every weekend cleaning, rather than enjoying my sons.  I followed through and found a wonderful woman within a few days.  When she asked my needs, I started with “well, I am a newly single mom and there just aren’t enough hours in the day”.  I left it at that and, when my quote came in she added a “single mom discount”.  Wow!  This, again, comes back to the idea of being vulnerable.  I am not exploiting my situation, but rather just telling it like it is.  People are more willing to help if they know how much it is needed.

After saying all that, I think it is also important that as friends, we move past the obligatory, “I am praying for you” or “let me know how I can help” (both are great, but often in crisis people need practical support with the day to day life stuff).  Over the past few months, I have learned what it looks like for people to go above and beyond in providing support.  These are some of the things that have helped me the most.

  • A listening ear – to all those that have talked to me as I have cried and ranted…there was no judgement, just support. Also, sometimes it helps if you call the person as sometimes it is hard to believe that people really want to talk to you.
  • Spontaneous care baskets – it can be as simple as flowers or a card with some fresh cookies or a basket of treats or even a gift card for a massage. All these things acknowledge grief, while show the need for a little TLC.
  • Food – it could be Blue Apron gift cards or a hot meal delivered to the door. Both have blessed me in so many ways.
  • Household help – one friend came for the day and helped me clean, another has come over and helped with a car issue and other things around the house I know nothing about
  • Help with kids – for me, being the only driver at my house has necessitated the need for frequent rides my sons. For a parent of a younger child, it might be offering to babysit.
  • Providing needed items – My parents took my boys shopping for school clothes and my church sent us a gift card and some basic school supplies.
  • Be a liaison – I am new to this area, but I have friends that have reached out to their community to help me find child support or suggested where to look for a service I might need
  • Financial help – I am not saying to write a blank check, but sometimes the offer to pay for something (like housekeeping as my parents did) or the give a discounted service, is extremely valuable. It isn’t the option for everyone, but it is for some.

Over the past few months, I have had countless conversations at coffee shops and on the soccer field or late at night over the phone.  Never in my life, have I realized how loved I am and I am grateful to the friends and family who have taken the time to remind me of God’s love.

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The Empty Tank

As I hopped in my car last night to begin my 45-minute trek home, I began to think about my evening plans and plans for the week.  The more I thought about everything that needed to be done, the more overwhelmed I got…and soon I found myself sobbing all the way to my therapist’s office.  I had asked the boys to walk over from their middle school soccer practice to the local YMCA where I would pick them up after my appointment.  I spent 10 minutes finding parking and finally arrived at the office and sat down on the couch where all it took was “how are you” for the tears to start falling.  Let me back up by saying that it normally takes a lot for me to start crying and I in the 6 sessions with my previous therapist I never once even came close, but in my third week with this therapist, the waterworks were flowing…maybe a sign that it is a good fit, but also could also represent just how exhausted I am.

Let me explain my current schedule.  I get up weekdays at 5:20 (I gave up trying to get up earlier to work out for the time being), wake up the boys, make breakfast and lunches for the crew (pups included), and when the boys are on the bus at 6:37, I hop in the shower and leave the house by 7:05 for work.  I work until 4:30 and the boys also have soccer until 4:30, so after practice they have been going to the YMCA, as I have yet to find someone interested in watching them for two hours.  By the time I pick them up it is between 5:15 and 5:30, so we quickly do a run home for a snack before one of them has a 6:30 travel soccer practice until 8pm.  Sometimes, I can fit in a dog walk during the practice, sometimes I have another appointment scheduled during that time.  Soccer ends at 8 and then we head home, where I make dinner while they do homework.  We eat dinner around 9pm…then by the time they are in bed it is 10 and I need to work on school assignments or the bare minimum house cleaning.  I try to get to bed between 11 and 11:30…Saturdays are soccer, school work for me, and an evening movie with the boys.  Sundays are church, grocery shopping, cooking a few things for the week, housecleaning, and getting ready for the upcoming week.

I am not saying all this to be dramatic, but rather to say that this is the reality that many families face.  When there were two of us sharing the load…when my ex worked the Monday to Friday job and I worked 3 12 hour shifts a week, we shuffled.  I worked on meals on my days off, we shared the back and forth to and from practices (he more than me, as a coach) or appointments.  Now, I find myself trying to do it all and I can’t.  I am losing my sh** here trying to do it all, while still trying myself the time to think.  Not to mention, we are still grieving and needing a litle more grace to process in whatever way we need.  Something has got to give.  As I sat in my therapist’s office explaining this, she agreed, but we both struggled to find the what that something is.  I miss having someone to share the enormous responsibility of parenting and yet, I find myself so grieved and angry with my ex for leaving the state to let me do this alone and just waiting for me to fail.

So, here I lay…awake late, despite my need for sleep, because I had to do one of my mandatory shifts to maintain a per diem status in the ER.  The bags under my eyes are growing.  I am so very exhausted and my tank is running on empty…every few days I can add drops into my empty fuel tank, but it feels like just enough to keep this car from stalling.  But seriously, this is not sustainable and I can’t see the solution…

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I Am Not One of Those…

I grew up as one of those very black and white people…right and wrong, yes and no, etc. So, I have a tendency towards being judgmental (shocking, I know).  Over the past few years as I begun living my own story…full of the joys of motherhood and the scars of infertility, I really began trying to look past the external facade and think about the story behind the mask.  Interestingly, though, I have struggled with this when thinking about divorce.

I grew up believing in marriage – my parents have been married for 36 years and have weathered lots of ups and downs, but remain committed to one another.  I believe that marriage was a lifetime commitment and that there were very few “exceptions” for leaving a marriage.  I still believe in marriage, despite my experience.  I believe in the beauty of two people choosing the ideals of “until death do us part”.  I looked forward to growing old with my ex-husband.  That being said, the longer I was married, the more I understood that marriage is hard and the black and white exceptions to divorce were maybe not as black and white as it seemed.  Yes, infidelity is an “exception”, but what about emotional infidelity when one partner repeatedly goes outside the marriage for emotional intimacy?  What about abuse…where is the line between physical abuse, emotional abuse and the partner who treats the other like they are “less than”.  So, over the past few years, I would see someone who is divorced and appreciate that there is probably a lot to the story, but “thank goodness that isn’t me”.

And I here I sit before 7 am on a Saturday, as I was awoken at 5 unable to stop thinking about my own marriage, relationship issues, and now divorce.  I tossed and turned for over an hour thinking about my ex and the pain of the past 6 months…and that dragged me into the pain of the past few years.  The longer we are apart, the more I recognize how unhealthy our relationship was for years.  I can’t really talk about that right now, but I can say that his infidelity was just the final nail in the coffin of a marriage where I had been considered an unequal for many years.  One thing I never want to hear again was the thing my ex would always say, jokingly “oh, she is so lucky I love her because no one else would put up with her”.  It is only now, months later, that I can see how much I believed that.

So, now I sit here as a divorced woman and the judgmental side of me is trying to creep out because “I am not one of those…”.  There is this side of me that wants everyone to know that I am not divorced because my marriage failed, but because my ex is a liar and cheater (which is true).  However, I have really had to work on not setting up some hierarchy of divorce where those of us “with good excuses” are at the top, then assorted reasons fall at various levels.  I am really trying to look at women (and men) who are divorced and acknowledge that, no matter the circumstances of a divorce, no one enters a marriage with the thought that it will fail.  We all walk the stories of our relationships and every marriage is full of its own unique struggles…and every divorce hurts.  There is no hierarchy here.  I am just one of the legions of divorced parents trying to grieve, trying to heal, and trying to love and parent through pain…and just live my own story.

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The Language of Family

When my sons came home from Ethiopia in 2009, they were four and five years old, thus they had years to learn to speak, listen, and communicate.  Immediately, we jumped into the challenges of parenting children who literally cannot understand what you are saying.  Quickly, I discovered that I had to simplify my language – I learned a few words in Amharic, but really, I began communicating through my arms and gestures and pointing at things.  One of the first things I remember is “ow, house owie” when trying to explain why “hurting the house” (i.e. coloring on walls, picking off paint, setting curtains on fire) is bad.  Messi acquired English quickly, Bolt a little longer.  Within the next 18 months or so, I could effectively communicate with my sons.  However, I still found myself speaking “simply” just to avoid trying to explain terms that are hard to define.

Fast forward to 2017.  My sons are in middle school, we are hurting, grieving, and surviving.  However, I feel the emotional “language” of our family never really caught up with the developmental stages of my sons.  We still use a lot of “happy, sad, mad, frustrated” when we all know that emotions are much more complex than that.  What appears happy may actually be confused or what appears angry may reflect sadness.

Over the past few months, as I have sat in both the therapist of my son and of myself, I find myself thinking about the language I use to communicate with my sons.  It is still simple, which can be useful, but the problem is that the language of being part of a family is not simple.  Families are messy and involve love, hate, grief, joy, contentment, safety, anger, frustration, and so many other feelings and ideas.  I have been trying to make a conscious effort to expand the language of our family to reflect on its complexities.

Of all the language I use, the one term that comes out daily is GRACE.  Give each other grace to grieve, grace to be angry, grace to laugh, grace to be annoying, and grace to walk in the moment.  As I tucked my son in tonight, on his first day of school, and he was being a punk, I had to take a step back and verbalize that “it looks like you need a little grace tonight”.  Of all the language, I use with my sons, grace is the one I want them to remember when they think of our family.

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Parenting Through Vulnerability

I am not a crier.  Sure, I will get teary during a moving part in a movie or book, but as for crying about my feelings, it just doesn’t happen much.  I am much more likely to lash out in anger over my grief than to cry.  However, over the past few months the tears find me during unexpected moments…driving home from the grocery store, seeing that empty seat at church, or trying to open a jar that refuses to budge.  Interestingly, I feel like writing has helped me release my anger, but has also left me feeling raw as I lay out my story for my friends (and the world) to read.  One unexpected result of this new vulnerability is the effect it has had on my parenting.

I think it would be fascinating to ask the boys to describe me as a parent, but I don’t know that they would be able to describe my parenting personality.  Prior to becoming a single parent, I think they would think of me as the facilitator.  I am the rule follower and like to have everything done before we have fun and have a tough time relaxing until things are done.  I like the dishes done when I get home from work and the house clean before we watch a movie. I also like to be prepared for serious conversations.  The past few months have been chaos as I struggle to juggle logistics through grief.  Through this process a new mom has emerged.

The boys have seen me cry, and not just silent tears, but my body wracked with sobs, more in the past 5 months than in the prior 8 years combined.  It isn’t like I do it on purpose, but sometimes I am just completely overwhelmed and they are sometimes present when that happens.  In the past two months or so, I have begun talking with them about it.  Sometimes I will come home from work and say, “it has been a really rough day and I need to just go into my room for a little bit”.  One night, in particular, something was triggered, and I began crying as I was making dinner.  As soon as I finished cooking, I told the boys I needed to go process alone.  I came back about 30 minutes later to find them having eaten, and now cooperating to put away dinner and clean up the kitchen.

I have been talking to both boys a lot about giving each other grace.  The frequent conversation is something like “we are all grieving in different ways and we need to give each other the grace to have a bad day”.  It has been amazing to see them respond to that…. sometimes Bolt will stop picking on Messi or they will clean up without being asked or stop arguing with each other.

Being vulnerable with my sons hasn’t really involved me laying out the specifics of what is on my heart and mind, but rather acknowledging that something is going on that is larger than what they may understand.  Sometimes I say, “oh, I got some sad news today” or “I had a phone call that upset me” and that is enough to make them pause.  Earlier this week, as I prepared to meet with my new therapist for the first time, I kind of laid out the plans for the night and said that I would be unavailable for an hour and when they pressed me on it, I explained I was seeing a therapist.  They asked me why and I didn’t spill the details, but did say “the news about your dad and the baby have upset me and I need to talk to someone about it”.  I have been careful to try not to bash their dad in front of them, while still acknowledging that his actions sometimes upset me.

I feel like it is through me being willing to show my emotions and talk about how they are affecting me, that both my sons have responded in a way where they are more willing to talk to me and ask me tough questions.  Remember, I do have two middle school boys, so having more serious conversations does somewhat reflect their developmental stage.   However, I don’t think they would be as willing to engage in these conversations with me if I was not exhibiting my own vulnerability.

I think there is the tendency as parents to try and be the strong, stable ones for children.  There is value in making our kids feel secure and safe.  However, I think there needs to be a balance.  My kids need to see me working through my own issues and asking the tough questions, so that they understand that this is a normal part of the human experience.  They need to see that mom does not have it all figured out, but is striving to keep growing.  So, I guess for me, this season is teaching me the value of living authentically and vulnerably, not just for myself, but for my sons.

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Juggling Hats

As the dust has settled over the latest news to rattle my world, I have settled into a deep fatigue.  I have been struggling to find enough hours in the day to do all that needs to be done from exercise, walking the pups, keeping house, working, cleaning, and mom-ing.  On top of that, I still need to work on the process of grieving and healing, because I know if I don’t do that work, then everything else will suffer.  The boys have returned from 10 days with the grandparents and we are getting ready for the upcoming school year.  I started up grad school again this week and my job is beginning to feel like less of a mystery.  It is hard to prioritize both what needs to be done on the practical level, while also prioritizing what my heart and soul need.  The past few days, I have actually done a lot for the latter…Saturday I spent the day in fellowship with an amazing group of women, all adoptive moms, as we talked and ate and laughed and got our first tattoos.  I remember sitting around the table that evening and feel some of my burden be lifted as I found a community willing to walk alongside me in my season of loss and grief.  Sunday, I braved meeting a woman I had never met from church, as we went to see Wicked in Philly.  It is not something I would have been comfortable doing a year ago, but now is the time for stepping out of my bubble.  Tonight, I did a much harder thing and went to see a therapist.  I saw one a few months ago, but didn’t feel like it helped much, but after last week, I knew I needed to find someone, and hopefully someone more skilled at the circumstances I am facing.  It was good and she already gave me some tools to help work through some of what I am experiencing.  Here is to hope that I can find a balance between all the hats I am juggling and am still able to find rest for both my body and soul.

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