Humor and Hydrangeas

One of the greatest gifts I feel like God has given me over the past few months is this renewed ability find humor in the everyday and beauty at surprising intervals.  In the first few weeks following my discovery of the betrayal, I had those crushing moments and days where I wondered if I would ever be happy again.  Lately, I have found my eyes and soul open and vulnerable, which has allowed me to see, hear, and feel more acutely, both in grief and beauty.

A few weeks ago, I stood at my kitchen at nearly midnight getting ready to finish shampooing my carpets (a monthly process in a home with 2 boys, 2 large dogs, and 2 cats).  I had just made up a batch of carpet shampoo from some Pinterest recipe.  I had run upstairs to grab my machine and stood in the kitchen looking at something on my phone when suddenly there is a loud “pop” and I found myself showered in bubbles.  Looking around my kitchen there were bubbles dangling from the ceiling, the television, a framed picture and myself.  Apparently, my homemade shampoo and continued to bubble up after I put the lid on until the pressure caused an eruption.   My first instinct was to cry in annoyance knowing that more time had just been added to my day before I could curl up in bed.  Then suddenly I found myself laughing this deep belly laugh over the humor of standing in my kitchen at midnight covered in bubbles.

Before the boys came home from Ethiopia, I used to enjoy sewing.  After jumping off the high dive into parenting 4 & 5-year-old boys, I was just happy if I got laundry done and the kitchen cleaned.  Now that they are older and help around the house and are more self-sufficient, I have begun doing things I enjoy again.  One morning in May, I woke up and knew I wanted to start creating beautiful things again and I decided to start by making a baby quilt for my very first niece.  For the past 6 weeks, I have been spending free moments listening to audio books and sewing.  I finished it last week and I love it more than I imagined.  This week the quilt will make a journey to the Midwest awaiting the arrival of its’ owner.  Next up, aprons for a tribe of amazing women who have held me up during this time!19732096_10156327079163294_3163002541257329923_n

One of my favorite workout programs is this funny one called, “Sh’Bam” by Les Mills.  It is just a mixture of dancing to different songs.  For those of you that know me, you might remember that my dancing skills leave something to be desired.  Someone recently compared it to Elaine on Seinfeld, which, admittedly, I had to look up.  So, this program, allows me to perfect my dancing moves in the privacy of my home.  However, lately my newly found dancing skills like to just randomly appear, most notably when our ER ambulance phone rings with “Danger Zone”.   So, yes, that crazy nurse dancing to “Danger Zone” in the middle of the ER is me…I apologize for the traumatizing image.

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Just two days ago, Bolt and I were driving home from Karate when I we passed some green hydrangea flowers.  I began talking to Bolt about how, in a few weeks, those flowers would turn purple or blue or pink or white, dependent on the variety and the acidity of the soil.  He began peppering me with questions and then started asking if unusual colors were possible.  Suddenly, red and blue flashed in my rearview mirror and I pulled to the side of the road and a police officer pulled up behind me.  Apparently, in my discussion over hydrangeas, I had not been paying attention to my speed.  As we sat there waiting for the officer to run my information, I felt myself becoming overwhelmed and then upset as hydrangeas were the featured flower at my wedding.  I began to feel the familiar anger with my ex-husband emerge as I thought how he had stolen my love for those flowers (and how, obviously, he would somehow be responsible for my ticket).  Then, I looked up out of my car window, and right in front of me were a group of hydrangeas in full bloom and in my favorite periwinkle color.  I looked at the blooms and began laughing hysterically at the irony.  When I finished laughing, I looked at the flowers again and realized, they are still one of my favorite flowers, despite the painful association.  The officer came back to my car and gave me a warning, and I drove home thinking about the comedy of the whole situation

When I was in the “depths of despair” (to quote my favorite heroine, Anne Shirley), grief threatened to steal my joy.  It has been a conscious process on my part to not constantly wallow in pity, but to embrace the entire rainbow of my emotional healing.  God has been faithful to provide opportunities for me to grieve, but also for me to experience laughter and joy and beauty again.

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Did You Know?

Aside from the requisite “how are you?”, the most frequently asked question I have received over the past three months is “did you know?”.  The straight answer, is “no”.  No, I did not know that my now ex-husband was having a mostly long-distance affair for at least four months under our roof.  Having said that,  I knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t pinpoint what.

Shortly after the election, I felt like our marriage was doing better.  We were having great discussions about our frustrations with the results, but also things we could do impact our own community and healthcare in a positive way rather than just sitting back and doing nothing.  I might even say that the election was somewhat of the catalyst for my decision to go back to school to pursue public health.

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In December, the wind shifted, though.  We began arguing more and he seemed distant.  He called up my parents and asked for a plane ticket for his birthday (in July) to go to Comicon in Salt Lake City, which the happily gave him.  He made some strange comments about maybe having me do my public health internship (which isn’t for over a year) in Arizona, where my parents have a place.  I remember saying something like “are you crazy?  My home is here with you and the boys and there are plenty of internship opportunities here”.  He let it drop then, but brought it up several more times over the coming months.  Apparently, during this same time, he called up my dad and said that I was unhappy here and thinking of leaving him and the boys and moving back to Washington.  My dad just assumed I was going through some homesickness and holiday blues and didn’t take this seriously, and he is still kicking himself for not bringing it up with me at the time.

Over the course of the next few months, I began honestly begging him to find another job.  People kept quitting at his job and he was very unhappy with his director and he was “working” 60 hours a week.  He would work all day, then come home and go immediately to our home office where he would work until dinner or soccer, come down and make an appearance until the boys went to bed, then often go back up and “work” until after midnight.  When I later found out about the affair, I began going through our phone records and found he was spending 1-2 hours during the work day on the phone with her, then an additional 1-2 hours at night after I was asleep.  In February, we got into a big fight over his job and his work hours it was during this fight I finally yelled “you are choosing your job over your family. Do you want a divorce? Is that what this is?”.  He wouldn’t answer me and gave his requisite “I don’t want to talk about this now” and left.  The night I asked him if he was cheating on me was the night he finally gave me my answer.

Aside from the work hours, there were also many subtle clues that something was seriously wrong.  I remember being in the kitchen making dinner one night and Messi was helping and he came in and dropped a few groceries on the floor and tried to go to the office without a word.  I asked him to help put things away or something like that and he barked some harsh comment about how demanding I was at him.  Messi, who idolizes his father, piped up with “that was really rude dad, all she did was ask for some help”.   We had multiple encounters like this, which were out of character for him. I also noticed he hadn’t been wearing his wedding ring and asked him about it and he said “oh, I keep bumping it at work and I was worried it will chip”.  I should have been very suspicious with that because as a hospice nurse, he was way less hands on than in other nursing jobs and he had always worn it.  He also didn’t wear it when we went out as a family and one day in February, I noticed a dust circle it left on the dresser.  In all fairness, I wasn’t always wearing mine during that time, but that was because I gained weight when we moved and it was a little too snug.

As the March date approached of his trip to Comicon, I found myself inexplicably panicked.  I chalked it up to being worried about having the boys alone for 4 days (funny to think of 2 months into being “alone” with them).  I remember bursting into tears at a soccer game because I was trying to figure out how to juggle the boys, my soccer volunteer mandatory commitment, and a big grad school assignment I had due.  This was extremely out of character for me, but I remember sitting on the bleachers crying while feeling this deep dread about the trip and feeling guilty for not wanting him to go, when he hadn’t gone away alone since we adopted the boys.  The day he left for the trip, he hopped in the shower with me and gave me the most amazing head massage and then we curled up together and took a nap before I brought him to the train station.  As he was leaving, I asked him to put on his ring and to be careful and protect our marriage, which he agreed to do.

That weekend went very smoothly for the boys and I and they were well behaved.  We saw Beauty and the Beast and went out to eat.  The soccer tournament had been cancelled due the big snow storm earlier in the week.  During that weekend, though, I believe he only called us once and Mr. Social Media, did not post a single picture of this big event he had been so looking forward to.  When I later asked him about it, he said “oh, it was just kind of low key and I just wanted to save my memories for myself, but I sent you and the boys a few pictures”.  He returned home on a Sunday afternoon and immediately my peaceful weekend with the boys was brought to a halt.  He walked in the house and began stomping around complaining about the mess of boxes (an Amazon delivery had come right before we headed to the train station) and was very short with the boys and I.  It would be 5 days before I would ask him the conversation that would shatter my world.  And yes, that trip to Salt Lake City for “Comicon” (planned in December), was the trip where he met up in person with her for the first time and they spent the weekend together in a hotel.

So, the answer to the question people have kept asking is no, I did not know, but I knew something was wrong.  I falsely attributed most of it to his job and I did try and address it and I tried to fight for my marriage by asking him to find another job.  Should I have pushed more, and sooner?  Maybe, but I had nothing concrete to push him on.  You know, the old saying “hindsight is 20/20”.  Friends, my reason for telling you all this is that if you think something is wrong in a relationship, it probably is.  Don’t be afraid to ask those tough questions, but be prepared for an answer that might threaten to swallow you whole.

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Of Ticks and Shirtless Starfish

Had someone told me when I moved from Washington, that 2 and ½ years later, I would wake up one morning to find myself a single mom to two nearly teen boys, I would have laughed and maybe run away from home.  Then one Friday morning in May, I woke up and began the journey with my sons that I never dreamed of or even thought I could travel.

Bolt is in middle school, so his bus comes almost 2 hours before Messi’s elementary school bus.  That means, before first light most of the year, I must try to wake him up for school as alarms just don’t cut it.  I say try, because it is just that.  He is a very sound sleeper and waking him up has involved various alarms, me singing my Beauty and the Beast renditions, torturing him with Justin Bieber songs on playback, shaking his bed and anything else I can think of.  For those also on the journey of raising teen/tween boys, you may find this this article helpful.  If you don’t have the privilege of parenting a shirtless starfish (aka teen boy), read this and pray for all of those that face this daily battle.

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On this particular morning, I was nervous and a little on edge.  Just as I was beginning my wake-up attempts with Bolt, I hear a scream from Messi’s room.  He is yelling over and over “mom, mom”.  I panicked because neither of my son’s yells for me and given our current family situation, I had no idea what to expect.  I throw open his door to find him sitting up, sleepily and saying over and over “a tick is on me, help me find it”.  At first, I thought he must be dreaming as he had several ticks removed after a field trip the day before (we do live in the heart of tick and Lyme Disease country).  Then he yells “watch out mom, it is crawling up your neck” and again I think he is dreaming until I felt something crawl up my neck.  At that point, I believe I screamed or squealed and did some sort of exorcist dance that caused said tick to be launched across the room.

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We then captured the tick in a tissue and found several more ticks in Messi’s bed.  The sheets were then burned in holy water (or rather washed on the hot cycle).  Thankfully this entire tick event, provided the needed wake-up excitement for Bolt and we began our day.  Thinking back on that day, I smile with complete fondness and laughter.  It was like God was sitting up in heaven laughing at me and giving me the gift of “you got this girl”.  Today I needed a reminder that I can do this, ticks, shirtless starfish, and all.

Darkness

I have been thinking about this post all week.  I know it needs to be written and to be honest, because that is who I am.  However, I don’t want to come across as bashing my ex-husband.  Having said that, this post may come across slightly bitter and angry because the time I am describing is full of those emotions.  Read with that disclaimer in mind.

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I am a homebody at my very core.  I love coming home and a lot of energy has gone into making my home a safe place for myself and my family.  After the details of the affair came to light, overnight my home went from being a safe place to being a battleground.  I remained in the master bedroom and my ex-husband moved up into the office, but every other room was shared space.  Over the course of the next six weeks I begged him repeatedly to leave and he adamantly refused.  He continued carrying on with the affair, now just openly, while I struggled to process and grieve without having a safe place to do so.

I am a fighter.  I could say that I got it from my Irish-Catholic side of the family, but, in reality, I was born this way.  Throughout the course of our marriage, if I had an issue, I wanted to talk about it, hash it out, and fight if necessary.  I thought my ex-husband was a good fit for many years because he would allow me to do so and rarely get angry.  In hindsight, and even over the past year or so, I realized that this was hurting us.  He wouldn’t fight – not with me and not for our marriage, but rather internalized his anger and frustration and used those pent up frustrations for an excuse for his infidelity.  As you might imagine, the period between the affair revelation and his moving out was full of arguments.  I was angry and hurt and many issues kept coming to light as the web of lies unraveled.  In my fighting nature, I confronted him on many of these things and looking back, I probably should have just let it go.  I fought because I wanted him to apologize and feel guilty.  The closest I ever got to an apology was “I am sorry for hurting you”, not “I should not have had an affair, I should have talked to you, I should never have lied to you, etc.”  These were not pretty arguments either, they were full of me yelling in between sobs, cursing (something I rarely do, but apparently my inner sailor emerged), and struggling to put my feelings and frustrations into words.  The thing about me is that I can be articulate on paper, but struggle with it conversation and even more so when fighting.  I am not proud of these fights and these were me at my very worst, but even as I was fighting with him, I was begging him to leave so that I wouldn’t have to be constantly confronted with the pain of what he had done to me.  Shortly after he moved out, I found out he had been recording me during these fights and sending the recordings to family and friends.  He recorded me at my most ugly and vulnerable and sent those recordings to “show how crazy she is” and to “get people on his side”.  In many ways, I am struggling more with the fact that he recorded me as I grieved and yelled through the end of my marriage, than by the affair itself.

In between the fights, there was also the very real things that had to be done.  I retained an attorney and found a therapist.  My weeks became full of appointments and paperwork and trying to sort through our finances and the logistics of divorce.  I found myself sitting in Planned Parenthood one day (as my OB-GYN couldn’t get me in for 2 months), waiting to have STD testing done because in our fights I found out that this was just one of many affairs that he had over the years.  So, not only had he hurt me emotionally, he had put me at risk for a sexually transmitted disease.  I also had a graduate school class to finish (and I did, with a solid “A”).  Oh, yeah, and I still had two sons with school and soccer, who needed me to be mom and to feed them and check homework and help them process what was happening to our family.  I was also busy applying for new jobs as I knew that I could not continue working 11 am to 11 pm as a single mom.  Surprisingly, I got it done and managed to work full-time as well.

This six-week period was extremely dark and painful and still kind of a blur in my mind.  I talked to friends and family constantly.  I went on lots of long walks with my dogs.  I exercised every day and did lots of yoga.  I listened to podcasts on my walks and read some books.  I began the process of letting go of my future and grieving.  I vacillated between the stages of grief on almost an hourly basis.  He finally gave me a move-out date and I approached that day with dread and hope that I could finally move on.  Then, the night before he was scheduled to leave, I came home from work and took the dogs on a long walk so he could have some time with the boys.  I came home from the walk and began getting ready for bed when I heard him say “I am heading out”.  I peeked around the corner and said “oh, are you staying at a hotel tonight?”.  He responded again with “I am heading out”.  I looked at him confused.  He then said, “I am headed to Tennessee tonight” and he turned around and left.  I don’t know what I expected, but this is not how I envisioned our goodbye.  I thought maybe I would give him one last hug or shake his hand or something.  Instead, he lied to me about even the day he was leaving, took my cats, and headed out without even allowing me a chance to say goodbye.  Nearly 14 years of marriage and he didn’t have the courage to look me in the eye and say goodbye.

Transitions

Yesterday morning I sat in my car outside my attorney’s office, wiping the tears off my face.  In my purse, were the signed documents ending my marriage effective today.  There is a sense of relief to put some closure on the emotional hell of the past few months, but there is also a sense of loss in the finality of its end.  For all the anger, I have towards my ex-husband, it is made sadder by the loss of my partner, my confidant, my lover, and most difficult of all; my best friend.

From my lawyer’s office, I drove to a jewelry store where I traded in my rings and had the diamonds removed to create a ring representing the most important thing I took out of my marriage, my sons.  The tears threatened to fall at various moments, but I didn’t want to get rid of these rings in bitterness and anger, I wanted to repurpose them into something beautiful.  I look forward to sharing the result!

This week is a week of transition for myself and for my sons.  As I close the door on my marriage, I also close the door on my career as an ER nurse, a job I have proudly held for the past 9 years.  My last day in the ER is Sunday and, while I may remain in a per diem status in the ER, my actual career is changing.  In just over a week I start a job as an RN Case Manager for a major insurance company.  I am nervous, but excited.  Also, this week will be marked by what would have been our 14th wedding anniversary and the arrival of two of my sisters-in-law for a visit. It is such a strange series of changes, in many ways, but at the same time, it feels right for the wind to be shifting in so many directions at once.  Bear with me during this time of transition.

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Messi

When many people think of adoption, I suspect it is a kid like Messi they envision.  From the day we picked him up at the orphanage in Ethiopia, he was ready to be part of our family.  I credit this to his birth mom, whom he lived with until she died when he was two (his birth father died either right before or after he was born).  He spent the first two years being a loved son and being part of a family.  After his mom died, he lived with an aunt and uncle for a brief period, but they were unable to financially support him or provide medical care.  He then went to an orphanage in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, run by Italian nuns.  While orphanage life is far from ideal, he had a sweet temperament and it was obvious that he was a favorite of the nuns.  When we went to pick him up, they told of stories of him sitting in the infant nursery and helping the nannies rock babies and give them bottles.  He is a natural caregiver and after we returned to the United States, he quickly got over his complete terror of dogs and became their beloved boy and he became their caregiver (and boss).  At the time, we had a dog named Nemo (as well as Max, who we still have).  I vividly remember him stomping his foot and dictating to Nemo (whose name he couldn’t say, so it was Memo), “Memo, sit down, Memo, go to your bed, Memo eat your dinner”.  While Bolt was initially very quiet (and is still not a huge talker), Messi was a talker from the beginning.  Having lived with Italian nuns, he spoke a little Italian, in addition to Amharic, and had started learning a little English.  He quickly picked up English because he was a little parrot and would repeat everything back.  His transition to becoming our son was remarkably smooth and he has continued to be a pretty “easy” child to raise…talk to me again a few years when he is in the middle of his teenage years.

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I call him Messi after his soccer hero, Argentine soccer star, Lionel Messi.  If you spend any time with Messi, you may find that he has lots of interests and can have an intelligent conversation about most things, but his real love is playing soccer.  He started playing a few months after he came home and has developed into an excellent player.  He recently made his soccer club’s “A” travel team, a goal of his since our move two years ago.  The wonderful thing about him is that he loves all practices and games and eagerly awaits both.  He is a natural leader on the field and most of his best friends are his teammates.  This summer he is excited to go to his first overnight camp, a soccer camp, of course.

Off the soccer field, Messi is loved by peers and adults alike.  He is great with people and knows the names and interests of all his classmates.  You can often hear him asking a girl about her ballet recital or another boy about his baseball game.  He always tells his teachers goodbye and “have a nice day”.  While being dyslexic has made school a little more challenging for him, he normally puts forward his best effort.  I often remind him that he can’t be great at everything and that his social skills one of his greatest strengths.

Probably the most challenging thing about Messi is the insanely stubborn streak.  If he doesn’t want to do something he will flat out refuse and there is no amount of rewards or punishments that are enough incentive for him to do something he has decided against.  Of late, he has decided to put down his foot about attending church and every Sunday morning is a battle.  The funny thing is that I don’t think that he dislikes church as much as he protests, but rather he has decided to be difficult about it and difficult he must remain.

Messi is very inquisitive and follows me around the house peppering me with questions.  Google and I have become very good friends.  He also loves to create things.  He is an excellent cook and will normally make his own breakfast (or dictate to me what he likes, if he is in a hurry).  No cereal for him, but rather an omelette with fresh tomatoes, basil and goat cheese or a snack of bruschetta with a balsalmic reduction on a baguette.  He is also very helpful around this house and has a tool box to make small repairs.  Just this week he finished refurbishing this beautiful garden bench.

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Messi’s Refurbished Bench

Since his dad left, he has been hesitant to talk about it and insists he is doing okay.  They still talk periodically and exchange texts or play video games online, but I think he misses the day to day companionship of having his dad just around.  I am trying to give him the space to process a grieve in whatever way he needs.  He is a delightful kid with a solid sense of himself, so he is doing what he needs to do to feel “safe” …whether that is listening to music or sitting up his room with the dogs or playing with friends or building a bench.  Of late, he has become very helpful in making sure the house runs smoothly while I am working and helping his sitter keep up our routine.  I was joking with him that he is now a “parent in training”.  Seriously, though, he is a joy and is maturing into a responsible, empathetic, kind young man and patient brother.

Bolt

To protect the privacy of my sons, I will be using nicknames.  My oldest I have nicknamed Bolt after the runner Usain Bolt and they actually have a little bit of a resemblance.

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Bolt is 13 years old later this summer.  I often joke that he must come out of the womb with his middle finger up at the world…and this isn’t a terrible thing.  He lives life on his own terms and has a bit of an edge to him, carefully honed living for years at an orphanage in Ethiopia.  I spent many years wanting to soften his little heart, but I think I have reconciled myself this being part of who he is and not trying to change it, but rather to use it to his advantage.  Bolt struggles with some of the issues many adoptees face, trauma and attachment issues, and is also autistic.  He can argue about everything and nothing.  He doesn’t really like to be touched, but it happy to get into your personal bubble (a common characteristic of autism).  He doesn’t always know how to get positive attention so he spends a lot of time irritating and annoying people just to get them to notice him.  These are all issues he is working on, but they are deeply imbedded.

Why do I call him Bolt?  Well, he is insanely fast.  Flying home from Ethiopia nearly 8 years ago, he and his brother got loose in the Washington D.C. airport and, even then, I couldn’t catch them.  They got as far as the service dog entrance before security caught them.  I was meeting a friend for coffee in between flights and her first introduction to them was watching them bolt across the airport.  At age nine, he began running 5Ks and even a 10K.  His first 10K time was 42 minutes, exactly double his 5K time.  He then took a break from running and did most of his running in soccer, but this spring he joined the middle school track team and is finding his stride again.

Bolt is also a bit of a comedian with a more mature sense of humor.  He loves The Simpsons and can often be heard snorting at the computer as he watches the antics of Homer.  He tells jokes and laughs at himself.  The past few weeks, he has been exploring, what I have called, his “gangsta” humor with lots of “yo mama”.  I am not sure where he got it, but it makes me smile.

Bolt also has his own perspective on many things.  A few years ago, he walked into the hospital to bring me coffee with his dad and brother.  He had been told to wear a coat seeing as it was February and below freezing.  He, of course, refused said coat.  On the way out of the hospital, he began shivering and this was pointed out to him.  He responded with “that isn’t shivering, it is my chin dancing to its own rhythm”.  His observations on the world are entirely his own, and as he is maturing it is interesting to see him think and question and engage the world in the way that God created him.  A few weeks after our life was flipped on its head, he was sitting in the car (his favorite place for deep conversations) and he started talking, “Mom, I know you talk a lot about making choices.  You know, the choices Dad is making don’t just affect him, they effect all of us.”.  I could only respond with a “yes” and tell him that personal choices have the power to help and hurt people we love.  As I begin this journey as a single mom, ushering Bolt into his teenage years, I find myself listening more, not just to his words, but to his actions.  I also have taken his quote from many years ago to heart and have begun to embrace him dancing to his own rhythm.

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