The Holiday Doldrums

It has been a while since I have written and part of it is at risk of becoming a broken record.  I wish I could say the past few weeks have been good or at least uneventful, but it isn’t just the case.  We seem to vacillate between mini disasters and chaos with my own meltdowns thrown in for good measure.

Both boys are struggling, with one able to verbalize and externalize his anger while the other holds it in with contempt for me while pretending nothing has changed.  We have reached the point that I am in the process of getting more services to help the boys and myself.  I started going to DivorceCare to work be around other people who have been through similar experiences.  But, as my therapist said, “your story will usually win”.  Believe me, this is not some contest you want to win and when I sit back and detach from this story, it feels too much to be true.  But, alas, true it is, and there is a lot to it that I have not even written bout.

I have worked on building some new traditions for the boys and myself.  Some have been flops (the Elf on the Shelf where we all take turns), and others have been big successes.  I have been filling their advent calendars with coupons for fun things or breaks from chores and other small treats.  That has been fun to create that little excitement every day.  At the same time, Messi has really dug into his atheism and refuses to acknowledge any part of the Christmas story.

One of the greatest challenges of this past few weeks is the anticipation the boys have regarding their upcoming trip to see their dad.  Messi is counting down the days and knows all the grand plans.  Bolt is tentatively excited, but nervous and confronting his own issues with his dad.  It has been over eight months since they have seen him, and a lot has changed for everyone.  As for myself, facing the holiday without my sons and knowing that January could be rough…well that has me a mess of emotions.

The past week has seen me yelling and on my knees sobbing on the floor, sitting through church services with tears flowing, and overwhelmed.  I haven’t had a working kitchen sink since Friday due to a drain clog and I have a door with a missing plate glass after an accident by Bolt.  I have had help from unexpected sources, but at the end of the day it is the boys and I and we are a mess right now.  I am looking forward to making it through this holiday and picking them up at the airport knowing that this first is over.  Until then, I will try to relish the quiet warmth of winter – warm heat, chilly days, and the stillness of snow.

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When Thankfulness is Hard

It is the first major holiday as a family of three.  The winter holidays, particularly Thanksgiving and New Christmas occupy a special place in my heart.  I love cooking and gifts and Christmas music and curling up under a blanket. I have approached this season with a heavy heart.  Knowing that it was this time last year that my my ex began a journey that would lead to him walking out of our lives, has made me rethink every moment of last year’s holiday season.  So, as today is the day we pause and reflect on what we are Thankful for, my thankfulness is often through the fog of tears.

Oddly, I am thankful that the decision to divorce was not left up to me.  I am now able to see with clarity that I probably would have never left my marriage, no matter how insignificant I became.  And due to the circumstance of how it all went down, the custody battle was non-existent, for which I am grateful.

I am thankful that despite everything, the boys and I were able to keep things somewhat normal.  We stayed in our home and they have the same schools and sports teams.  We kept our dogs, and even one of the cats made a strange journey back to us.

I am so very blessed that God knew what my heart needed and basically dropped a group of friends and an amazing church community into my lap when I needed it the most.  I remember crying out in prayer that there was no way I could stay here because I felt so alone and disconnected from my community.  It was like God stepped in and met one of my greatest needs

Lastly, I am thankful for the gift of my sons.  The journey to learn how to parent them alone has been hard.  We are in the middle of a challenging season with the combination of teen boy hormones, grief, and trauma.  There are days I don’t think I can or want to parent them.  But, guess what, at the end of the day, we are still a family and as hard as it is, they are everything to me and I am grateful for the gift of being their mom.

So, yes, being thankful is hard this  year.  My grief and joy are strange bedfellows.  I am trying to keep my expectations low knowing that we are all very raw this year.  But, Bolt, Messi, and I are showing up every day to live, to laugh, to fight, and to love.

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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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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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Embracing Fear

I think one of the struggles of those who identify as “control freaks” is fear.  I don’t like to do anything without thinking of variables and outcomes, so sometimes I avoid being spontaneous or overthink things.  Over the past few months, so much of my life has been out of control that I find myself embracing the unknown and embracing my fears.

I was a fearless kid, but around middle school something shifted.  There was some bullying and I sank into the safety of my mind.  I found myself diving into fictional worlds and with the internet, the worlds were expanded through chat groups.  I emerged in high school and developed a solid group of friends and the same in college.  I met my ex the beginning of my sophomore year and we were great friends and study mates for 6 months before we started dating.  In hindsight, I now see some of the disfunction of our relationship.  Rather than push me to be better, he fed off a lot of my insecurities.  It was a lot of “don’t worry about it, I will take care of it” (even when he didn’t). When we would go to group functions, he was the social butterfly and I just tagged along, but he never tried to actively include me in things.  I often felt like a third wheel when we went out, like I was holding him back.  Over the past few years, I dreaded going places because it was like watching his performance while I sat in the back ignored.  Again, this isn’t about bashing him, but rather seeing that this affair was the straw that broke us, but it was far from the only issue.  These subtle things had created a deep fear that I didn’t live up to expectations or I wasn’t capable of doing things without him.

Fast-forward to May, when I woke up one day a realized that I had to do it all.  I had to make those phone calls I hated making.  I had to be more social and meet the other soccer parents, so I could ask for rides!  I had to drive places when driving is not something I enjoy.  So, I started doing those things and what has emerged in me is something interesting.  No longer to I get anxious when I think about driving into New York.  The phone calls are now part of my day (and now my job).  I now socialize with the other soccer parents and don’t hesitate to ask for a ride (or give one).  I also just dive in without overthinking things.  I just managed to get my cat home from a shelter in Wyoming in a matter of weeks because I was willing to ask friends for help, make numerous phone calls, invite strangers into the story, and just trust that it would work out.

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I also have been finding my sense of adventure returning.  I walk every day at lunch and started looking around during my walks and, in the process, found a network of public trails in the woods behind my work, that I walk daily.  Rather than sit home and sulk over Christmas, I texted a friend and am going to spend it with her family (can we say time for a tea party!).  I just bought a ticket to go see P!nk by myself in Philly this spring!  I have also started thinking about my future and the things I look forward to doing.  Maybe a hiking trip in Africa or South America or whatever.  And guess what, it doesn’t scare me to think of doing it alone!

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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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Asking for What I Need

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

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

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

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

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

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

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