Surviving the Storm

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.

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Thoughts & Prayers

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.

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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”. 42525CDB-078

Is This Normal?

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.

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The Last Tear

Something about having a free night or weekend to myself, seems to trigger emotional releases in me.  Today, I met my sister half-way to New York City, so the boys could spend the night with her, then cried most of the way home.  My boys are old enough that I have allowed them on some social media, but with that comes their dad.  As I am responsible for making sure their accounts are private and appropriate, I was confronted by the smiling images of my ex and the other woman.  Then, I saw the mutual friends and family who loved those images.  And now, here I sit, with an afternoon free and tears streaming down my face.

When you marry young, most of your friends end up mutual friends.  So, when 14 years later and the rug is pulled out from under you, suddenly everyone comes under suspicion.  I have had to learn who I can trust and those who are safe people.  This is hard to do, and even harder with family members.  I had hoped to maintain a relationship with my ex siblings-in-law, but I realized that I can no longer have people in my life who support my ex and the choices he has made, so today I made the painful decision to write them a note, but explain that I didn’t want them to choose me over their brother, so I was severing our relationship  I have known most of them most of their lives as they are all younger than my ex and I.  I honestly, though, couldn’t stomach the idea of them loving seeing pictures of the life he chose when he walked out the door on the boys and me.

Nine months in and the actions of the man who I chose to love, still bring me to my knees in grief and pain.  Many days, I just feel stuck, like I will never be through this.  Other days, I just wish I had a timeline on this grief, so I could see the end, how ever far it may be.  I am so emotionally exhausted, trying to parent well (and often failing), trying to work, trying to grieve, and trying to move one.  When, when, will I have shed my last tear over the actions of the man who broke my heart?

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Adieu 2017

Believe me, I am ready to put 2017 into my rearview mirror.  In fact, I am looking forward to the new year more than I even realized.  There is something freeing about putting concrete ending on a year of heartbreak and grief.  I had been thinking about what I would say about the new year, but when I woke up, I saw a beautiful post from author, Shauna Niequist:

“Every New Year’s Eve, before we ring in the New Year, we share ten blessings of the year that’s ending.

I love this tradition: instead of jumping forward into new & next, we pause & pray & express gratitude for what we’ve been given.”

That made me stop and pause.  For all the pain 2017 has brought, I can also see the blessings sprawled across the pages of the year.  When in the middle of a painful season, it is often challenging to see past ones’ own grief, but acknowledging the rays of sunshine is not only important, but part of the healing process.  So, without further ado…10 blessings of 2017:

  1. Bolt and Messi – they are my heart, they are my reason for getting up, and they have taught me more about resilience then anyone I have ever met. They make me laugh, cry, worry, and beam with pride.  They are my harshest critics and yet, the most forgiving.  Without having them with me, I would have no reason for crawling through this season.
  2. My furbabies – I have my beloved pups – my two big boys who will hug me when no one else will. I have my 3 kitties, who provided entertaining stories this year.  Then there is the bearded dragon that came to live with us as a gift for Messi.  She has been surprisingly interesting and helped me break a fear of reptiles.
  3. My home – in a divorce, many people are forced to move, but we have been blessed to stay in the home we rent. I have slowly removed reminders of my ex, while re-creating a safe space for my own healing.
  4. My community – I have written about this before, but this year has been about me finding and building a community to embrace.
  5. My family and friends – my parents have listened to many incoherent rants and tears in the past nine months. They live 3000 miles away, but are also just on the other end of the phone.  I also have some new friends and have reengaged with other “old” friends.  These people have helped provide some much-needed perspective at times.
  6. A new job – leaving my job as and ER nurse of nearly a decade was hard, but it was time. I felt like my life necessitated the change, but it has been good and challenging.
  7. School – in 2017 I completed four courses towards my master of public health (MPH) or 16 out of 58 credit hours. As of now, I have straight A’s, which feels awesome!  School has been a great distraction, but also a way for me to start planning my own future.
  8. The outdoors – I love being outside – whether at the beach or on a hike or walking in my neighborhood. As I sit here, it is 12 degrees and there is snow on the ground, but even breathing in the frigid air while staring at the blanket of white, leaves a feeling a peace.  The past few months, I have been so tired that I haven’t been outside as much, and I feel the loss, so I need to work on that this next month.
  9. Writing – I wouldn’t call myself a writer. This blog was born out of a suggestion of a friend.  I am not great at journaling, but something about blogging has allowed me to organize my thoughts into some semblance of coherence.  I have ranted and rejoiced.  I have been able to diary the process of loss and grief and rebuilding.  Looking back allows me to see the growth and the pain of the process.
  10. Faith – God and I are still in a rough spot. I am still trying to reconcile years of religious platitudes with the truth of my faith.  It has been a difficult decade and this year brought my world crashing down.  I feel like my faith is in pieces and I am often angry with God, but it has also been the one thing that I can cling to…sometimes just out of habit.  However, just when I am about to say, I am done with God…something brings me back.

So, 2017, you have not been kind, but there have been redeeming qualities.  I love harder and feel more deeply.  I am more appreciative of the small blessings and simple beauties.  And, at the end of the day I have a home full of chaos and hormones and laughter and love.

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Co-Parenting …or Not?

Tonight, is the boys’ last night visiting their dad after an 8-month absence.  I have talked to them every night, but just barely, which isn’t surprising given their ages. It hasn’t been terrible, and it certainly hasn’t been stress-free.  The hardest was when I practically had to beg them to talk to me on Christmas. I miss them, but more than that I worry about them.

I worry about what this visit is doing to their hearts?  How does it feel to see that dad has moved on with another family?  How weird is it to see him showing love to another woman?  These questions I will likely never know the answer to, nor can I expect that they even could put into words what it must feel like.

The harder issue, for me, this break, has been expecting parenting out of their father.  When we were still together, and even as we were in the process of separating, we had agreed on certain things (or at least I thought we did).  Snap-chat was a big NO for many reasons, largely influenced by the voices of parents that had gone before.  I also had certain expectations on what things could be watched (such as no MA shows).  Apparently, the rules flew out the window the second they arrived at his home because I have seen them do both…with his knowledge or due to lack of oversight.  Passive-aggressive emails ensued, and I should have known better than to engage.  I keep expecting my ex to behave as the man I thought he was, not the man he has shown himself to be.  It is just hard to observe and have not control over what is seen or heard when not in my care.

So, now the question becomes, how do I deal with this?  I used to think my ex and I could co-parent, but that requires two-way communication and he has been very inconsistent with when he choses to respond.  So, unfortunately, a lot of this is going to be placed on my sons’ shoulders (thanks, Mom, for the advice).  I am going to have some difficult talks over the coming months about trust and them earning and maintaining my trust.  Just because they aren’t with me, doesn’t mean my rules for our family fly out the window. I have tried to explain that the rules aren’t about being strict, but about protecting them – emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually, but as of now, it seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

In the meantime, I really need to let go of the idea of co-parenting.  He chose to move thousands of miles away from his sons and refuses to consistently engage in conversations about the boys, so I really shouldn’t be surprised.  I will hold up my legal end of the bargain, but beyond that, I need to make the decisions for my sons alone, and engage them in earning my trust.  We spent 8 years making decisions about our boys together, so it is hard to let go, but for my own sanity, I must.  Here is to re-establishing trust in the new year, of my sons, and of my own decisions as their mom.  And also, to laughter and love and finding our groove!

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