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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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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I Am Not One of Those…

I grew up as one of those very black and white people…right and wrong, yes and no, etc. So, I have a tendency towards being judgmental (shocking, I know).  Over the past few years as I begun living my own story…full of the joys of motherhood and the scars of infertility, I really began trying to look past the external facade and think about the story behind the mask.  Interestingly, though, I have struggled with this when thinking about divorce.

I grew up believing in marriage – my parents have been married for 36 years and have weathered lots of ups and downs, but remain committed to one another.  I believe that marriage was a lifetime commitment and that there were very few “exceptions” for leaving a marriage.  I still believe in marriage, despite my experience.  I believe in the beauty of two people choosing the ideals of “until death do us part”.  I looked forward to growing old with my ex-husband.  That being said, the longer I was married, the more I understood that marriage is hard and the black and white exceptions to divorce were maybe not as black and white as it seemed.  Yes, infidelity is an “exception”, but what about emotional infidelity when one partner repeatedly goes outside the marriage for emotional intimacy?  What about abuse…where is the line between physical abuse, emotional abuse and the partner who treats the other like they are “less than”.  So, over the past few years, I would see someone who is divorced and appreciate that there is probably a lot to the story, but “thank goodness that isn’t me”.

And I here I sit before 7 am on a Saturday, as I was awoken at 5 unable to stop thinking about my own marriage, relationship issues, and now divorce.  I tossed and turned for over an hour thinking about my ex and the pain of the past 6 months…and that dragged me into the pain of the past few years.  The longer we are apart, the more I recognize how unhealthy our relationship was for years.  I can’t really talk about that right now, but I can say that his infidelity was just the final nail in the coffin of a marriage where I had been considered an unequal for many years.  One thing I never want to hear again was the thing my ex would always say, jokingly “oh, she is so lucky I love her because no one else would put up with her”.  It is only now, months later, that I can see how much I believed that.

So, now I sit here as a divorced woman and the judgmental side of me is trying to creep out because “I am not one of those…”.  There is this side of me that wants everyone to know that I am not divorced because my marriage failed, but because my ex is a liar and cheater (which is true).  However, I have really had to work on not setting up some hierarchy of divorce where those of us “with good excuses” are at the top, then assorted reasons fall at various levels.  I am really trying to look at women (and men) who are divorced and acknowledge that, no matter the circumstances of a divorce, no one enters a marriage with the thought that it will fail.  We all walk the stories of our relationships and every marriage is full of its own unique struggles…and every divorce hurts.  There is no hierarchy here.  I am just one of the legions of divorced parents trying to grieve, trying to heal, and trying to love and parent through pain…and just live my own story.

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