Shared History

Let me preface this by saying that I asked my ex to do very little before he left, but one of the things I specifically requested is that he go through the Christmas stuff.  I didn’t want to have to face the process of separating ornaments and drudging up memories.  Well, he was too busy to do so over the course of 6 weeks, so tonight I had to do it.  I pulled out his ornaments and his stocking and they will travel in one of the boys’s suitcases, along with his baby books that he left behind, when they go see him for Christmas.  The tree decorating affair was bittersweet, at best.  The boys were being obnoxious about helping and then going on and on about how they loved every one of dad’s ornaments and mocking all of mine.  I tried not to cry, but there were also a lot of shared memories that were still hung on the tree.  Part of me is glad to have this “first” over and done with, but this was definitely one of the harder ones. When the boys had lost interest in decorating, I took our shared ornaments down to the basement, away from prying eyes, and smashed them into a million pieces.  It hurt like hell, but I needed to do it.

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The truth is, though, that even though our ornaments are sitting in my trash, I can’t do the same with my memories.  The tree is beautiful and full of history and while my ex may have moved on, he still shares pieces of the tree and he always will.  I look forward to building on to the tree with new memories, but I cannot pretend that 14 years never happened.  Some days, it feels like it would be easier, but he will always occupy a piece of my past.  Now, I need to work on creating a new future.

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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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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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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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Letting Go to Live

On Friday night, I found myself sitting in the dark filled with melancholy, which has been fueled by my exhaustion.  I started my new job this week working “normal” hours (9-5:30) for the first time in my career as a nurse.  I am eager to establish a new routine and a new normal for the boys and I, but I was just so very tired.  I have been waking every morning before dawn to workout, walk the dogs, and have a short quiet time before waking Bolt for his summer school classes.  By the time Bolt hops on the bus, I have approximately 30 minutes to shower and get ready before hopping in the car for my 40-minute commute.  This week work has been brutal as I have been staring at a computer screen doing corporate training for five straight days.  I often find that with any major transition, such as a move or new job, it zaps my energy and drains my battery like a phone on data roaming.  By the time I get home from work it is nearly 6:30 and this week I have been blessed with a sitter who had the boys fed and off to their evening activities by the time I got home (with the help of Blue Apron).

As I sit here, I worry about the coming months, once soccer kicks into full gear, and school resumes for the boys and for myself.  I worry about how I will learn to juggle kids, pets, exercise, cooking, cleaning, chauffeuring, school work, laundry, as well as fitting in some fun and laughter.  I am a worrier by nature and these are the things that will wake me from dead sleep, even when exhausted.  I am trying to learn to let go of certain things and embrace others.

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Things to Let Go

  • Elaborate, home cooked vegetarian meals every night
  • Clean house with all the boys’ clothes and dog toys picked up before bed
  • Dinner at the same time every night with the same food for everyone
  • Staying up until midnight trying to get ready for the next day
  • Keeping too tightly to a schedule
  • Making sure everything is “done” before allowing myself some time for fun or doing something fun with the boys

Things to Embrace

  • Simpler, home cooked meals (some with meat for the boys, if I have vegetarian leftovers for myself) with meal prepping on Sundays
  • Clean kitchen at night (if the kitchen is clean, my whole house feels cleaner)
  • Planning our evenings ahead so that I know when we can try to eat together, even if it is at 8 pm.
  • Giving myself a bedtime (a tired mom does not make for a nice mom or good employee)
  • Continuing to get up early for exercise, dog walking, and quiet time for my mental and spiritual health
  • Looking ahead at the week on Sunday so that things don’t catch me by surprise, but also allow for deviations in schedule
  • Spontaneous and planned fun activities

At the end of the day, my sons may not remember the beautiful meal I made with all the food groups, but they will remember the 15-minute spontaneous pillow fight (thus the reason I have a stash of old pillows under my bed) or roasting s’mores in the back yard.  In the meantime, I seriously need to find a few single mom hacks to make life just a little bit easier.  The rest I must give over to God.

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I Thought You Said You Were Strong

Tonight, Messi and I were driving home from soccer and just chatting about our day and somehow got on the topic of his dad.  I found myself staring ahead sadly and clenching my teeth (a new habit I cannot seem to break).  Messi looked over at me and I told him how I am trying not to talk badly about his dad in front of him, but sometimes it is hard and hearing about him and his new life makes me sad.  Messi suddenly said, “but I thought you said you were strong”.  I started at the comment and it made me wonder where Messi began equating sadness with weakness.  It became a teachable moment for him as I explained that being sad doesn’t mean you aren’t strong.  He followed up his comment with, “then what does it mean to be strong?”.

What is strength (for me)?

  • Getting out of bed to feed my kids when I feel like burying myself under the covers in grief.
  • Showering, shaving my legs, wearing nice clothes and makeup when it seems like no one cares or notices.
  • Exercising, not to be thin, but to be healthy and help battle depression and anxiety.
  • Going to work every day and finding a new job to fit with the changing needs of my family.
  • Walking my dogs, for their health and enjoyment, and for my emotional well-being.
  • Re-engaging with my faith and not being bitter with God.
  • Planning new adventures for myself and for my family (Costa Rica – we are yours for 10 days in February).
  • Talking and writing about my story because I am the only one who can.
  • Embracing both old and new friendships.
  • Having fun
  • Allowing myself to engage with my emotions – grief, joy, anger, forgiveness, anxiety, and peace.

I gave Messi kind of a less articulate response to his question, but this was the essence of it.  Strength is a choice.  For me it is about living fully, tears of grief and joy, laughter at the absurd, and loving and being loved in return.

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Healing Through Connection

Choosing to remain in Pennsylvania and not retreat to my beloved Washington State as I began the journey of single parenting, was a challenging decision.  In the two years I had lived here, I had yet to make many meaningful connections, and, while my sons were doing well, I knew that I would need my own tribe to support me.  I sat crying to God one night that I couldn’t do this alone and over the past few months he has placed some amazing people in my path who are walking along side me.  However, this has required me going outside of my comfort zone.

In the first few weeks of my discovery of the betrayal, I reached out to those “safe” people – immediate family and a few friends who I have known for over 10 years.  I had allowed some of the relationships with some of my oldest friends fall into disrepair over the past few years, but with one phone call, we picked up where we left off.  This group of amazing women have talked to me late at night and listened to me cry, rant, and process.  I also have never been super close with my sister and was very embarrassed to call and share what was going on, but she has been a rock of support during this time and has taken the boys for fun weekend adventures in Brooklyn, NY, where she lives.

The adoption community can feel like a very small world at times.  Over the years, I have kept in touch with many adoptive moms, either because our kids knew each other in Ethiopia or because our kids have similar health issues.  Most of these women are also very familiar with the often-lonely road of parenting a child with an attachment disorder.  These are the women who have helped me process the betrayal by “one of our own” and helped provide wisdom on how to help my sons cope. They cheer on my successful parenting moments and are a great listening ear when it all becomes too much.

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Image credit and The Story for my choice of photos

Over the past 18 months, I have run into several people from a local church.  I have run into them at my work, my son’s school, and through mutual connections.  It was like God was starting to put them into place, before I knew I needed them, so that when my world crumbled, I could find a church home for the boys and I.  Ironically, this church community has a whole ministry dedicated to serving adoptive families and has also been having some tough discussions about social justice and racial issues, both issues near and dear to my heart.  Some of my newest friends are women I have met through this church connection who are also adoptive moms.

Probably the most important connection of all, though, has been the process of reconnecting with myself and my faith.  This process is often lonely and reconnecting with my heart has been done in tears, in prayer, in walks outside, in listening to music and podcasts, in reading, and in the silence of allowing myself to feel.  Somedays the process of reconnecting to myself and my savior has left me crushed by the weight of my emotions and yelling at God for allowing this to happen.  At the same time, I feel like I have a better understanding of who I am as a woman, a mother, and a child of God, than ever before.  I will leave you with my new anthem, by recording artist, Nichole Nordeman…

They told me
I’d never get to tell my story
Too many bullet holes
It would take a miracle
These voices
Inside my head like poison
Trying to steal my hope
Silencing my soul

But my story is only now beginning
Don’t try to write my ending
Nobody gets to sing my song

This is the sound of surviving
This is my farewell to fear
This is my whole heart deciding
I’m still here, I’m still here
And I’m not done fighting
This is the sound of surviving

These pieces
The ones that left me bleeding
Intended for my pain
Became the gift You gave me
I gathered those pieces into a mountain
My freedom is in view
I’m stronger than I knew

And this hill is not the one I die on
I’m going to lift my eyes and
I’m going to keep on climbing

This is the sound of surviving
This is my farewell to fear
This is my whole heart deciding
I’m still here, I’m still here
And I’m not done fighting
This is the sound of surviving

I’m still here
Say it to the ache, lying there awake
Say it to your tears
I’m still here
Say it to the pain, say it to the rain
Say it to your fear

This is the sound of surviving
This is my farewell to fear
This is my whole heart deciding
I’m still here, I’m still here
And I’m not done fighting
No, I’m not done fighting
And I am still rising, rising
I’m still rising
And I’m not done fighting
This is the sound of surviving