Milestones

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.

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Heroes & Villains

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.

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Waves

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.

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On Your Wedding Day

I am sitting in a hotel room after midnight in Hershey, Pennsylvania while my sons sleep on the floor it preparation for a weekend soccer tournament.  No, I am not cruel.  We have 2 beds, but they refused to share, but also both refused the beds.  Anyway, I digress.  Today, my ex-husband, of under 3 months, marries the “other woman” …the woman he left me for…the woman he left our sons for.  My mind is a jumbled web of thoughts and emotions that won’t be quieted tonight.  So, here is my letter to him…he may never see it, because I am not going to send it to him and because he has made it abundantly clear that he doesn’t want to hear it…, so I leave this for the world to read. I have nothing to hide.

Dear J****,

A year ago, if someone would have told me that tonight I would be alone in a hotel room with our sons for a soccer tournament on the day of your marriage to the woman who you would give up everything for, I would have laughed at the absurdity.  Yet, that is exactly the story that has played out.  I know our marriage wasn’t perfect, but I also never imagined the way in which it would implode in a matter of months (though I now know…it imploded years ago for you).  So, today I release you.  I can honestly say, the love I felt for you is gone and hasn’t been replaced with hatred, but rather a sadness.  A sadness for myself, for our sons, and yes, for you.  I know you think you are marrying the “love of your life” and maybe that is true.  But know this, you gave up the best thing God gave you – a woman committed to staying with you through good times and bad and two amazing sons.  I don’t pretend to know the woman you left us for, but I do believe that a relationship that started in lies will not end in truth.  So, what do I wish for you on this day…a day where I am grieving and where our sons are confused…

May you never be on the receiving end of the kind of betrayal you put myself and our sons through.  I hope that one day you develop empathy…empathy for the lives you and she chose to hurt to be together.  Maybe someday you will be able to look at our sons and say, “I am sorry my actions hurt you, please forgive me”.  Most importantly…I pray that one day you find what you are looking for.

Goodnight and goodbye.  I can’t say that I wish you well…maybe I will be able to someday.  For now, I wish that your restless, longing soul finds peace…not a peace found in the love of another, but a peace found in knowing you are loved by God.

Farewell,

C********

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Drowning

Let me just start by saying, I am writing this from a really raw place.  Yesterday I received some news that set my healing process backwards and plunged me back into a state of confusion and anger and grief.  It is like the scab that was beginning to develop was ripped off, along with several layers of skin.  My two deepest sorrows – my ex-husband’s infidelity and our infertility have merged into this mess that feels like it may destroy me.

I have talked about how prior to adopting the boys, we (as in my ex and I) struggled through the lonely road of infertility and then several failed in-vitro fertilizations.  What I didn’t explain is that our infertility was what they call “male factor” meaning that I was seemingly healthy, but my ex was told that without scientific intervention the likelihood of him ever fathering a child was slim to none.  We spent about 9 months in the thick of IVF without success.  I subsequently gained 30 pounds as a result (something I have never been able to lose) and developed polycystic ovarian syndrome…a condition worsened by weight gain, but also makes it harder to lose weight.  So, for the past 10 years we have not used birth control in hopes that one-day God would grant us a miracle.  Bolt and Messi did not heal that hurt that the infertility caused, nor did I expect them too.  I had always wanted to adopt, but I had also wanted to experience pregnancy and a newborn sharing the traits of the man I loved and myself.  When my ex left, I closed the door on us ever becoming biological parents.

Yesterday morning I awoke to several messages from around the country asking how I was dealing with “the announcement”.  It was several hours before I would find out what this “announcement” was and yes, you guessed it, my ex and the woman he left me for are expecting a baby that was conceived while we were still married.  One son found out via Instagram (since my ex posted it before he had actually spoken to both boys) and the other found out from a phone call, but I had to find out from everyone else.

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So, if you ask me how I am doing, the answer is “not well at all”.  This has triggered so many things in my heart and soul.  It has reopened the barely healing wound of the affair and divorce.  It has opened the scar left by infertility.  More than that, the rejection I faced from my ex, I now feel from God.  They posted what a “blessing” this baby is and it feels like a rubber stamp on their affair and God’s way of saying that he blesses it.  I know God doesn’t, but how could he reward their infidelity with the most beautiful gift…a child?  Talk about kicking a person when they are down.

I am sitting here alone tonight while my kids are 3000 miles away on a vacation with their grandparents.  My ex not only didn’t have the balls to at least email me in compassion over our shared grief and story, but he let me find out through the web of social media.  He also told our sons when they were on vacation and when they weren’t with me to help them process and understand.  The boys claim to be excited, but in their voices, is an undercurrent of confusion.

I feel like I am living in some nightmare.  This isn’t my life.  This announcement was absolutely my worst nightmare.  I feel like the God who had taken me into his lifeboat to rest has thrown me overboard and now I am drowning.

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No Longer a “We”

I got married at the ripe old age of 21.  Granted, I was a pretty mature 21-year-old, but I was still very young.  I had gone from living with my parents to college, where I had two roommates, then I met my ex-husband and we married the summer before our senior year of college.  I don’t regret any of that.  However, because I married so young and never lived alone, I never really developed my own identity.  I was always part of a “we” as an adult.  There are wonderful things about that.  I didn’t flounder in dating land for years.  I didn’t get my heart broken by boys and men.  I learned early to make sacrifices for the happiness of another person.  Essentially, we grew up together.  We really began our adulthood as a couple.  We made our first major financial decisions together.  We experienced some of our greatest sorrows together.  We became parents together.  My adult life has relished being part of a “we”.

Overnight, the man who felt like half of me, vanished.  I honestly felt like someone had cut off all my limbs and I didn’t know how to walk or even move without him at my side.  That is the beauty of marriage, the whole “two becoming one”.  But when that one becomes two again, it is messy and it is like learning to swim without any limbs.  I missed the comfort of waking up next to the comfort of my best friend.  I had never made any major decisions as an adult without his input and suddenly I found myself having to make decisions for myself and my sons without him.  While I was trying to figure this out alone, he was planning his new life with her and her kids.  He jumped from one we to another we.  Even now, months later, I still talk about my life and my parenting as “we” …I suspect I will get better taking individual ownership over time, but I am not there yet.

Despite the grief over losing my partner in crime, I am finding some freedom in it.  Suddenly the future is the great unknown.  I get to do things I find fun, plan events that interest me, and spend my evenings focusing on my priorities. Other than my sons, I don’t have to consider another person when making decisions.  In just a few short years my sons will probably be on their own life adventure.  One may live with me for a while, but for the most part I get to start planning my own future.  I resume graduate school for public health at the end of the month and by the time I graduate, both of my sons will be in high school.  I feel like in some ways, suddenly the sky is the limit.  I don’t know what the future holds, but maybe, for the first time in my life, I am learning to embrace the adventure known as life.

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Dancing in the Rain

Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…It’s about learning to dance in the rain.

Vivian Greene

I have this quote up on a wall in my house.  It is inspirational and reminds me to live in the here and now.  A summer storm blew through Pennsylvania this evening and I opened the door to let the dogs in from their evening bathroom run.  As I waited for them to come in from the rain, I heard the glorious sound of raindrops on the roof above me and I got a sudden urge to dance in the rain.  I let the dogs in and grabbed my phone and put on a song and I danced under the canvas of darkness and heavy rain.  It is one thing to do it figuratively, but another to do it literally.  There was something cleansing and healing and freeing about feeling the warm summer rain pour down on my head and across my skin.  The darkness allowed me the freedom to dance, skip, walk and just feel.

A friend posted this today:

“Morrie Schwartz, who taught social psychology at Brandeis, was the subject of the best-selling book “Tuesdays with Morrie”, his final teachings to his friend Mitch Albom before death. In the midst of the agony of Lou Gehrig’s disease, he told his last student:

What I’m doing now,” he continued, his eyes still closed, “is detaching myself from the experience.”

Detaching yourself?

Yes, detaching myself… You know what the Buddhists say? ‘Don’t cling to things, because everything is impermanent.'”

But wait, I said. Aren’t you always talking about experiencing life? All the good emotions, all the bad ones? How can you do that if you’re detached?

Detachment doesn’t mean you don’t let the experience penetrate you fully. That’s how you are able to leave it.”

I’m lost.

Take any emotion – love for a woman, or grief for a loved one, or what I’m going through, fear and pain from a deadly illness. If you hold back on the emotions – if you don’t allow yourself to go all the way through them – you can never get to be detached, you’re too busy being afraid. You’re afraid of the pain, you’re afraid of the grief. You’re afraid of the vulnerability that loving entails. But by throwing yourself into these emotions, by allowing yourself to dive in, all the way, over your head even, you experience them fully and completely. You know what pain is. You know what love is. You know what grief is. And only then can you say, ‘Alright, I have experienced that emotion, I recognize that emotion. Now I’m free to detach from that emotion for a moment’…I know you think this is just about dying, but it’s like I keep telling you. When you learn how to die, you learn how to live.”

Today I found out my ex-husband of just over a week announced his engagement to his Facebook tribe.  I knew it was coming…he had called and told me a wedding date over a month ago, but I was surprised by the grief this news brought on.  I felt worthless and disrespected on unloved, even though I know none of it was true.  Instead of trying to hide from those feelings, I let myself marinate in them for a little bit and remind myself of what is true.  I am loved and deserve respect and I am priceless to my sons, my family, and to God.  So, as the rain pelted me tonight and I danced, I allowed myself the freedom to let go and to live and to dance through this storm…

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