The anniversary of the day my ex-husband walked out on me and our sons has arrived. I am happy to say it is with little fanfare or even emotion that I am ending this particular day. This anniversary thing is just a little easier today than it has been in days past. It is hard to believe that I have been sometimes rocking the single mom business for 365 days. It is the hardest job that I never asked for, but we are making it.
It is interesting because the past month has been brutally difficult. One of my boys is really struggling with some major health concerns and I have found myself bouncing from hospital to hospital and speaking with lots of doctors and social workers. It has involved explaining our living situation and the challenges of the past year. I have had to email, call, and text my ex routinely to keep him updated (as per our legal agreement) and I have managed to be civil. I have had to make some tough decisions regarding his health and it has involved changing plans for the summer. Overall, though, I feel much more confident in making the decisions that are right for my family alone. That isn’t to say that my ex hasn’t been told, but rather that given his distance, most decisions are mine. Ironically, the past year has forced me to become more decisive and clearer in drawing boundaries. It is amazing what one woman can do when faced with no choice.
Would I wish this scenario on even my worst enemy? Absolutely not. I have been far from perfect and most days I feel like I am just doing a rehearsal of my life and then reviewing the day for ways to make it better. I am still really struggling to keep the communication channel open with both kids. I am struggling to show them balance. I fear they see the stressed, exhausted mom way more than they should and the silly, quirky, mom on too few occasions. But, for now, I can say, we are doing the best we can. If someone would have told me a year ago all that the next year would bring, I would never have gotten out of bed again. Now, there are days that I feel like yelling “is that it, is there anything else you can throw at me?”. Because, guess what, one year later, I am still standing.
I know I have touched upon infertility over the past year of writing, but many of my friends and acquaintances only know me now through my role as mom. For anyone, who has never experienced infertility, it is a unique journe, and a source of ongoing grief and trauma through one’s childbearing years. Even once a person has given up on the idea of every getting pregnant or giving birth, there are these monthly reminders of what could have been and isn’t. When I think about the things that have caused me to doubt God the most, it is infertility, and walking along side my son through trauma.
The background is that 10 years ago, my ex and I had been trying to conceive a baby for over a year and finally went through invasive and thorough testing to determine why it wasn’t happening for us. After all, we were young, seemingly healthy, happily married, so next logical step was to build a family together. Interestingly enough, the only indication that could be found for our inability to conceive was severe male-factor infertility, of unknown cause,with a very slim possibility of us ever being able to conceive without medical intervention. So, we began the physically painful and emotionally devastating year of IVF, and, 3 rounds later, finally gave up.
The problem, though, with being a 26-year-old married woman is that all your friends around you are starting families. So, while I was grieving the loss of my dream for motherhood, all my friends around me were popping kids out left and right. There was a period of time where I couldn’t go to baby showers, and even church could be triggering, as I was surrounded by pregnant bellies and babies. Meanwhile, I never gave up hope in a miracle for us and yet, every month I got a reminder of what wasn’t to be. It was only in the past few years that I have been able to celebrate the pregnancy of friends and family, with little challenge and true happiness for them.
I think a lot of people assume that when couples who cannot have children, adopt, that is the end of the grief over infertility. Fortunately, I approached adoption with eyes wide open, in that regards. I never expected my boys to fill the hole left by not being able to get pregnant. I adopted because I wanted to be a mom, but I knew I would still miss out on the experiences of pregnancy, breastfeeding, and cuddling an infant, and I accepted that. I also knew that my own experience gave me even greater capacity for walking with them in their own stories. Being their mom is one of the hardest jobs of my life, but also the greatest joys, but there is an inherent grief in adoption. Jody Lander’s summed up the conflict of being an adoptive mom the best:
A lot of people reached out to me after my last post and I appreciate the concern. First off, what I want to say, is that often, when I write, it is in the moment. And there is a reason for that. First off, it is helpful for me to write when I am deep in the trenches with whatever is going on. Writing has allowed me to make coherent sense of my thoughts and feelings. Also, I think it is important for people to hear the feelings of people in the midst of the story. So often, things are written through the perspective of time and hindsight (as is some of my writing). For the most part, though, I write without the luxury of distance. For all those of us walking along side people through difficult stories, it is important to “hold space for the feelings” (said by a friend of mine) without trying to convince people that those feelings aren’t real or valid.
So, the reason for sharing all this, is that I am walking in a very difficult space right now and I am only touching on the edge of the story. This whole baby thing, reactivated a lot of my own trauma over my over infertility and brought some of those feelings from 10 years ago back to the surface. But now, I am having to process through them in the middle of trying to grieve through the end of my marriage and the upcoming anniversary of the day I found out my ex was cheating. Oh, and yes, I am still trying to be mom and walk alongside my sons as they try to process their own feelings and as we try to find our footing as a family of three. Don’t worry, we have a therapist to help!
People have expressed concern over my anger and bitterness with God. I have been walking a very hard journey for a decade and there have been glimpses of God’s grace and love, but I have spent many years feeling alone in my faith. I am not saying I am walking away, but lately I feel like my faith hurts. It hurts to see God bless other people while I am struggling. It hurts to hear people tell stories of God turning evil for good, when it isn’t my experience now. I will never understand why so many times God has answered my prayers by saying “no”. I know I have mentioned in the past, I love the show, Gilmore Girls. There is a scene in the end of season 6 that the words keep playing over in my head:
“So I am hanging on to the bumper and life goes on and the car goes on, and I get really badly bruised and I’m hitting potholes. And it hurts. It really hurts. So yesterday I had to let go of the bumper. Because it hurts too much.”
Some days, I just want to let go of the bumper because hoping that God will intervene, hurts too much. Yes, people can give me all the advice in the world, and all the anecdotal stories of people that have had God intervene greatly. But right now, right in this moment, I am badly bruised.
I knew it was coming. After all, they announced their “miracle, blessing from God” last summer. This was the hill that I felt I would die on. It felt like some cruel, cruel joke from God. I thought I worked through it. I thought I was dealing with it better. Then it happened. In usual fashion, I did not find out directly, but rather an email saying that the reason he was late again on childcare expenses was that he spent “all day in labor”. Then, I was in the car with my son and I looked over and there was a picture of a baby on his phone. So, it happened.
I think for the past 7 months or so, I just blocked it out of my mind. I thought, surely God wouldn’t really bless them for cheating with the one thing I prayed hardest for my entire marriage. I guess I was wrong. He leaves me, leaves our sons, and is immediately handed the gift of a second chance…a chance given while he was sleeping with another woman while we ere still married.
Am I bitter? Yes, yes, yes. I don’t understand. I am here struggling to make ends meet, with two boys that don’t want anything to do with me. He is living the good life – new baby, new wife, his kids adore him and worship the ground he walks on. So, maybe my kids have the right idea in their agnosticism. God rewards cheaters and liars with blessing after blessing. I get the crumbs that are left over. Yeah, God exists. I am just not sure I want anything to do with him.
The one-year anniversary of the day everything changed is rapidly approaching. I can now see that the events that transpired on March 23, 2017, were traumatic and changed the course of my life. The subtle reminders are there. The weekend he left for “Comicon” (otherwise known as his scheduled weekend to consummate his affair) was the same weekend as my boys’ yearly March soccer tournament, which always gets re-scheduled do to weather. That weekend is coming around next week, and the tournament has been re-scheduled, yet again. When he left last year at this time I was anxious and uneasy and couldn’t put my finger on why. I now know that deep down I knew something was wrong long before my mind new exactly what. I am approaching this weekend with eyes wide open, but that doesn’t make it easier. I am unsettled and anxious. There is a pit deep down in my stomach. I am sure they are approaching it as some sort of anniversary, while I am having to approach it as a trauma-versary, so to speak.
I am raising sons that have both experienced trauma as young boys, in losing their birth families, so I am familiar with what trauma is and how anniversaries of trauma can affect people in unusual ways. I know that I need to give myself extra grace to grieve and emote. My head knows this stuff, which will allow me a little more control of the emotions, but that doesn’t make it easier. A year ago, I was married, albeit starting to feel that something was wrong. A year ago, I thought my husband had always been faithful to me and now I know how untrue that was. A year ago, I envisioned raising our sons together and allowing him to pick up some extra slack so that I could finish grad school. A year ago, I was able to support my family with our two incomes and now I struggle to get by on my salary with a small amount of child support. A year ago, things were so very different from the current reality.
I suspect that for the rest of my life this time of the year will always bring out the before and after comparisons. Right now, those are hard comparisons because the boys and I are in such a rough season. I hope that eventually I will be able to see the “after” as the best part of my life. I am not there yet. I see the glimmers of what could be, but it is not yet a reality. I am still hurting and grieving and raw. Somedays, the events of last March wake me from sleep or bring me to my knees in tears. I want to one day see myself as a strong, capable, woman, mother, and employee, but most days I feel like I keep dropping the pieces that I am juggling.
So, as I approach this trauma-versary, please give me grace. I am trying to put the past in the past, but I also know the importance of allowing myself to feel through things rather than pretend everything is okay. I know the next few weeks will be hard and triggering, but I must just live through them. It has been a year of firsts, some good, some bad, but all necessary.
In the wake of the Parkland shooting a meme went around, which I shared because it resonated with me over my thoughts on the shooting, but also my thoughts on anyone in crisis. It crossed out the words “thoughts and prayers” and replaced it with “policy and change”. For someone that professes a faith in God, this may seem and odd thing to share. However, having lived through my own crisis over the past year, I understand what those words do and do not mean to me.
When someone says they are thinking of me or praying for me, it feels like a punch to the gut. I know it is a phrase that is meant well, but when you are in crisis, you don’t want people watching from the shore as your ship sinks. When you are in crisis, you want someone to jump in the boat and help bale out the water. I am not discounting the power of prayer, but you don’t need to tell me you are praying – I know that people who really love and care for me ARE praying, even if they don’t tell me.
So, what is the opposite of the phrase “thoughts and prayers”, to me? It is action. It is bringing a meal to a struggling family. It is offering to come watch someone’s kids, so they can get away – whether for some self-care or support groups or whatever. It is someone helping with the cost of house cleaning. We all have our gifts, some of us are blessed with abundant finances, or the ability to stay at home with kids, or great cooks, or great networkers. When people are in crisis, they need some doers to step in and help share a little of the burden. And if that is not a possibility, a phone call is invaluable. I have spent the better part of a year barely keeping my family from sinking and sometimes it is exhausting to always be the one reaching out for a life preserver.
Ten months ago, I began this extremely lonely journey. I have found that I am stronger than I ever thought possible, but sometimes it is the insignificant things that can tip me over the edge. Today Messi had surgery and as I tried to schedule his post-op appointment, I nearly broke down. My sitter is out of town, I am working full time, and the person sitting at the desk didn’t seem to get the reality that I truly had no way to get him to the appointment. We finally figured something out, but it was just a reminder of how it feels to be living in a situation where you are barely staying afloat. So, for my friends near and far, please don’t take this as a cry for help (though I wouldn’t turn it down). Rather, it is a reminder for all of us that when we know someone in crisis, those prayers need to be paired with some practical action otherwise they just feel hollow.
First off, let me just say that next time I go on vacation with my kids, would someone try to slap the fantasies of us getting along right out of my head? I am not saying it has been awful, but with teen boys, tropical paradise does nothing to cure their natural apathy or make them suddenly willing to open up and chat…. or even just make an attempt at pleasantry towards me. The grunts to my questions are still very much alive and the “pretending” they don’t hear me is ever present. Don’t get me wrong, we have done some amazing things. We have whitewater rafted and hiked through the rainforest, and seen all sorts of critters. Probably the highlight for them was ziplining through the Cloud Forest of Monteverde.
For those that do not know me well, I wouldn’t say I am unadventurous – after all I have hiked on glaciers of the North Cascades and along the cliffs of the northern coast of Kauai. I went to Ethiopia alone, having never travelled internationally. I moved my family across the country, knowing no one. However, I have a very deathly fear of heights, particularly when I must rely on another device (swinging bridge, ropes course, or harness) to keep me safe. Many years ago I used to lead for a youth program called Young Life. As part of this experience, I would take a group of teenagers to camp every summer and we would do ziplining and ropes courses. I did it every year, but it was not something I enjoyed. I loved going to camp with the kids, but this part of the experience I approached with trepidation – worse yearly. When I stopped leading (shortly after the boys came home), I banished the thoughts of ever having do get harnessed in and fly through the air again. Of course, why I would think that when I had two very athletic and adventurous boys, is beyond me.
Yesterday, we enjoyed a great walk through the Cloud Forest, but the whole time, my fear was building. When the walk was over, it was time to do what the boys had been looking forward to for months – zipline through the forest. Some people may ask why I did it if I was so afraid. However, with both leading youth and parenting my sons, I feel it is important to lead through fear. It isn’t about overcoming the fear for me – I will probably always be afraid of ziplining. Rather, it is about showing my sons that I can, and will do things that scare me. So, as I watched the boys take the leap, I knew I had to do it as well.
The hardest thing about this experience was that it was not just one zipline, but rather 13! We went from platform to platform, high above the treetops. Yes, the scenery was beautiful, but, 13 times I had to step off that platform and trust that the equipment designed to protect me, would do just that. It is fortunate that I did not know just how many times I would have to do this, otherwise I would have never gotten off the first platform. So, my legs shook, tears rolled down my cheeks and my stomach heaved, but one time after another, I got hooked onto the line and off I went.
As I was walking through the forest, finally on solid ground, I began to cry in earnest. It felt like the fear of the past year just washed over me. When my ex walked out the door for the last time on May 4th, 2017, I put on my harness and had to trust that it would work out. I have gotten to a platform and swore, I couldn’t leap again, but, when you’re the only one, you just buckle up and pray that the harness will not fail. There are days that the task of getting out of bed seems monumental. I have had some rough landings, been pelted by rain and wind, spun around mid-air and approached things backwards, but I am still here, as are the boys. I hope someday that this whole single mom to teen boys thing feels less like a leap of faith and more like a walk on solid ground, but for now let’s just double check that the harness is secure. Hopefully, someday I will be able to look back and I say, “I was terrified, but I kept leaping”.
For every 100 books on parenting a newborn, there is probably like one on parenting a middle schooler. I remember yelling at my ex one day “next time you decide to abandon a family, don’t do it when the kids are in middle school”. All of us were once this precious, awkward age, straddling childhood and young adulthood and we lived to tell the story, or write about it. But, if you are anything like me, the middle school years, may still be a blur of anxiety. I prefer not to think about them at all. Yet, now I find myself parenting alone during perhaps one of the most challenging ages and I feel so ill equipped.
I currently have two 13-year-old boys living under my roof and I keep thinking “but I have never been a teenage boy”! Most days, I feel like I am talking to myself. The average response to my questions is a grunt, if they acknowledge me at all. One day, I tripped over something and gloriously landed in a laundry basket, yelping in pain as I landed. Forget the Olympic athletes, managing to land in a laundry basket without breaking yourself or the basket, a truly marvelous feat. One of my sons took one ear out of is headphone, cocked his head to the left, looked at me (perhaps just to make sure I was not injured enough to not cook dinner), and once he determined that I was alive, put the headphones back on and resumed his video game – no questions asked. I frequently ask them to do something and get a lot of “I heard you already” or “I know what I am supposed to do” only to wake up the next day to NONE OF IT being done. There are many days, the only words I hear are “when is dinner ready” and “can I check Amazon for…?”. One boys showers and primps for 30 minutes a day…. the other I have to question if he has showered this week or when the last time he took off those soccer socks was. Two nights ago, I came into the kitchen at 5pm to see that one had made himself FIVE burritos and was eating them…then he trotted in the kitchen 90 minutes later to question if dinner is ready yet. One boy drinks a half a gallon of orange juice every other day, the other a gallon of whole milk. I often just look at them in complete bafflement.
In between all this typical middle school boy stuff is the undercurrent of “should I be worried” and “is this normal”. For a middle schooler, I don’t think there is any such thing as normal, but it is more question of “is this too abnormal?”. If my ex had walked out when they were say, eight, it would be right to be worried if they suddenly became withdrawn, listening to music for hours on end, and sleeping until noon. Yet, they are 13, and even if the behavior change is sudden, I know I cannot rightly blame everything on my ex. So, I find myself doing a lot of observing, trying to listen more to their non-verbal cues, and trying to not make a big deal of everything. Developmentally, their behavior is appropriate, but it is also behavior seen in grief and trauma. So, sometimes it is difficult to determine where that line is and when to worry and when to intervene.
Friday the boys and I embark on our first vacation as a family of three. I am trying to keep my expectations as to their behavior low. At the same time, I really want this to just be a fun trip. The past year has been anything but fun, and I want to create some memories of us enjoying doing something cool together. I want my boys to see me smile and laugh again. I want us to learn that we can be happy as a family, even though our family looks different. I see this trip as kind of a milestone and I want to use it as an opportunity to bury the past year and start the next phase of our life.