Keep Showing Up

parenting

Photo courtesy of soupstock from BigStockPhotos.com

I just finished the second of two parenting classes that I’m required to take as a Connecticut divorcee. Although I’m generally a big government, tree-hugging liberal, I felt cross about the idea of having the State of Connecticut tell me how to parent. Did I mention that we divorcees have to pay $125 for these classes, whether or not we are initiating the divorce? Needless to say, I didn’t enter the classes with a particularly positive attitude.

Because the psychologist wasn’t in control of the room, the conversation devolved into bitching about ex-spouses. The bitching was couched in the forms of questions about children’s welfare. You know, like when you really want to dish a juicy secret about someone, so you tell other people in the form of a prayer request? For instance, “Lucy’s at the clinic with chlamydia because Claude cheated on her and didn’t use protection. She could really use your prayers”? (Come on, you know you’ve been there). The man who asked, “How do I tell my 5-year-old that his mom’s in jail?” didn’t want to know how to help the child. He wanted the class to know that his ex-wife was a deadbeat. That was the gist of the evening.

Let me start back at the beginning of the circle. The first man said that his son lived with his ex-wife in New Jersey. However, the son didn’t feel like talking to him, so he hadn’t spoken to his son in a couple of years. So my inner parenting coach said, “Your son is a minor. He doesn’t know what he wants. You’re the dad. Get in the car and go visit.”

Next.

“I don’t know what to do when my 14-year-old son says ‘f*ck you’ to me.” Inner parenting coach: Mother gives life, and mother takes life away. You give your son everything he has. If he talks to you that way, then you start removing the possessions for which you paid. Starting with the cell phone that you say he uses all night in lieu of sleeping.

Next!

A gentleman who had six kids said that one of his sons was suicidal. He and his wife had been called to the school because his son had carved his own arm with a pencil until it bled. The man wasn’t disturbed about the suicidal part—or at least he didn’t seem to be—but he was disturbed that his wife kept checking her cell phone during the meeting and complaining that her boyfriend hadn’t called.

The psychologist did make a useful comment. He told the man that it was time to “circle the wagons” because he had a serious situation on his hands. The father kept going back to the mom and the cell phone. My inner parenting coach had no time for this one: You slap the cell phone out of her hand, pick it up, throw it across the room and tell her to shut up and pay attention.

Maybe this is why I wasn’t cut out for a helping profession.

“I paid for a trip to Disney before my wife left and now she says I can’t go out of state unless she goes with me.” Moving on. You’re just annoying me. Or try this, my room full of fellow parents: Open your mouths and speak.

New Jersey Guy: Tell your son that even though he doesn’t want to see you, you want to see him. Tell him that you’ll park your car outside of his home every Saturday morning for two hours. If he wants to talk, you’ll be there. Then, show up.

F-you Lady: Tell your son that you don’t care how disrespectful his father is to women. You are going to fight with every ounce of your strength to see that he doesn’t grow up to treat women the way that his father does. Then, stand your ground.

Six Kids Man: Let your useless wife walk out of the conference room with her cell phone. Then, lock the door behind her. Tell the teachers you’re so sorry that you reproduced with a loser, but you’re ready to take responsibility and to throw every mental, physical, emotional and financial resource into trying to help your son. Then, keep your word. You can’t protect him at every moment, but you can let him know that you’re in the fight.

Disneyland Dad: Tell your ex-wife that you will indeed go to Disney, and that if she doesn’t like your decision, then she can come along after reimbursing you for half of the trip. You may also need to open your mouth and speak to the judge about your current state-endorsed Parenting Plan.

I went home to a preschool-aged son who told me he hated me and wanted to live with his dad. He’s been doing this for 16 months, and I’m really getting tired. My own advice rang in my head alongside my desire to pack his little suitcase and ship him off: “He’s a minor. He doesn’t know what he wants. Take away the possessions for which you paid. Throw every resource into trying to help your son.”

Parenting can be thankless, and divorce can be hell. I’m sure the other parents in that class, the ones I was very quick to judge, wondered why I didn’t have a clue about how to defeat my four-year-old nemesis. In the end, I hope we’ll all do what good parents do. We’ll keep showing up, whether or not we have any idea what to do.

What’s in a Name?

Image by pakorn from freedigitalphotos.net

Image by pakorn from freedigitalphotos.net

We have polls for everything, right? This is your chance to help me make a decision. You can read my thoughts about the question and then scroll to the bottom to vote.

I cannot decide what I’m going to do with my last name in January when my divorce is final. Should I keep my married name (Lee), switch back to my maiden name (Vaughn) or go for something completely different, like taking my mom’s family name (Holloway)?

 Lee

Pros:

  • It’s been my name for 13 years, and I’m used to it.
  • Most of my writing credits (and they’re oh so numerous, LOL) are as “Jacqueline Lee.”
  • It’s the same name that my sons have, so their teachers don’t have to get in the habit of calling me by a different name.
  • No switching names on driver’s license, Social Security card, etc.

Cons:

  • I will no longer be married to that guy as of January 15, so isn’t some kind of change in order?
  • I would probably be stuck with that name as a writing credit for a long time, even if I remarry someday. It would never go away.

 Vaughn

Pros:

  • It’s a strong step toward a changed identity.
  • The change could demonstrate independence after an unhappy time.

Cons:

  • It’s inconvenient to change all of my ID cards and my bank accounts to reflect a new name.
  • Jackie Vaughn is a stranger to me. I’ve changed so much that being Jackie Vaughn again seems like a step backward in some ways.
  • It’s tedious to remind everyone in my sons’ social sphere that I’m not Mrs. Lee.

 Holloway

Pros:

  • My mom raised me, and I’m much closer to that side of my family.
  • “Jacqueline Holloway” sounds kind of pretentious and important, doesn’t it?
  • It’s a real fresh start. It’s a change that doesn’t feel like a step backward.

Cons:

  • Again, it’s inconvenient.
  • Changing my name to “Holloway” feels like an unusual thing to do, and I am not a person that colors outside of the lines very easily.

Vote Now!

Thanks for voting! Also, leave a comment if you have any advice based on your own experience or the experiences of people in your life.

Still Here

Image credit: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/photo_18083888_the-words-hello-i-am-a-survivor-on-a-nametag-sticker-to-symbolize-your-perseverance-or-dedication-to.html'>iqoncept / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

This Thursday will be one year to the day that my husband left. Fourteen years ago, I spent a good portion of October in a hospital waiting for my mother to die. The two biggest losses of my life, written on my mind’s October calendar page, separated by 14 squares and 13 years. October, the month when we’re surrounded by falling and dying leaves. Mother Nature wielding her metaphors with a sledgehammer.

I look back over the last year spent on my own, and I’ve accomplished nothing remarkable. I’d like to say that I’ve journeyed a lot, but maybe I’ve endlessly walked the perimeter of Square One. But I do give myself credit for one thing: I’m still here. I made it. I may not have conquered, but I survived.

I’ve survived my first year of paycheck-to-paycheck existence. I’ve endured months of fatigue and apathy, during which working took every ounce of willpower that I could muster. The phone still works, and the lights are on.

I’ve adjusted to the understanding that I never knew my husband. Expressions of love weren’t real. Times that I remember as happy weren’t. A timeline of events seen through one lens has been reprocessed in the harsh light of reality. For investing 115 percent into my marriage, I received a big tsunami of suck.

The word “unfair” doesn’t touch the experience of being ditched and then blamed for the breakup by my kids. But through it all, I haven’t spoken a single negative word about their father in front of them. I’ve lived through a constant onslaught from my youngest son during which I’ve heard that I’m not nice and that I’m a bad mommy. I’ve stayed the course through his countless temper tantrums that have included screaming, kicking and throwing nearby objects. I’m sure the blame will continue until they’re old enough to understand.

But I did something worth celebrating: I made it.

I hoped for a year of triumphant personal growth. I’m not sure that much growth happened, but I did survive. I did it with the help of friends and family that listened and did little things like remembering my birthday, writing me encouraging messages and taking me places. The energy to rebuild isn’t there yet, but if I keep showing up, then I have to believe that I’ll find it. The challenges aren’t going away, but I’ve learned that I have what it takes to survive.

Some people, like my mother did 14 years ago, face terrible circumstances in which survival isn’t a matter of will. But when I look at circumstances that can be controlled, I think that maybe survival isn’t necessarily for the fittest. Perhaps, in the end, it’s for the ones that want it most.

I want it, so I’ll watch the dead leaves fall. And as they drift down around me, I’ll count myself among the living.

I Bring Order to Chaos

A good friend came to visit me in December. I picked her up at the airport and said to her, “Normally, people clean before they have company. I have low motivation.” I came home the next day to find my friend doing my dishes. Did I mention that she was 20 weeks pregnant?

I started considering my New Year’s resolution. Sure, I wanted to diet and exercise, but since I’d failed at that resolution for the last seven years, I thought I should do something more attainable. I decided that for 2013, I’m working on cleaning. It all started with my bathroom cabinet.

Image

Okay, sure. I went crazy with the label maker, but having a cool new toy for labeling my cabinets made organizing seem (almost) fun. Another good thing: Since I’m broke thanks to my divorce, I had to shop mostly in my mudroom and my basement for my projects. At Jackie-mart, I found hooks, containers, shelves and all kinds of good things. After reacquainting myself with my hammer and my drill, I moved to my kitchen and dining area.

Image

My bedroom became organized as well. Look at the lines on that bedding. Does it scream straight or what?

Image

For nearly two years, I’ve worked at my kitchen table. I had a desk in the corner of my living room, but it served as a place to stack paper and kid toys rather than being a functional office. For my next task, I rearranged my living room with the help of my estranged husband and created an office for myself. I will no longer get peanut butter on my laptop.

Image

I’m planning to organize my apartment through January and then work on starting a cleaning routine in February. I’m using the Home Routines app on my iPhone, which lets you set daily and weekly cleaning tasks. The app also divides your house into zones, and you work in one zone per week for 15 minutes per day. When you finish a task, you tap the screen to give yourself a gold star. You can tap to another screen to look at the tasks you’ve accomplished for the day.

Image

At the end of 2012, I was feeling decidedly not awesome. However, as I organize my physical space in 2013, I find that I’m simultaneously organizing my headspace. Sometimes, it isn’t fun because it unleashes anger and crying bouts. But those emotions are cleansing, and they clarify where I need to go next.

In addition to organizing, I’ve challenged myself to take care of household repairs. I put a kickstand on my bathroom door, which always closes because my floor is crooked. I put a new headlight bulb in my car, and I purchased a ceiling fan light kit to install in my room. In small steps, I’m proving that I have what it takes to be on my own. I’m not alone by choice, but I’m choosing empowerment over emptiness.

Angels Love Bad Men

Image

If you’re a Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash or Waylon Jennings fan like I am, then you know of the super-group called The Highwaymen. Consisting of Nelson, Cash, Jennings and the stalwart songwriter/dreadful singer Kris Kristofferson, the group had a string of hits back in the late 80s and early 90s. I recently went on a trip with my friend, who had their greatest hits album on her ancient iPod. I loved hearing those songs from my childhood, so I downloaded a few of them when I arrived at my destination.

I’ve enjoyed listening to Waylon Jennings croon, “Angels love bad men, that’s how it’s always been.” It’s a great song with cool chord changes. I’m not sure if the premise is true, but the song made me think about the mistakes I’d made in the process of marrying my STBX (soon-to-be-ex). The most obvious mistake has been corrected, as my gaydar has been permanently and painfully recalibrated. I can also think of a litany of other mistakes: setting my cap on one person instead of looking at multiple options, agreeing to a wedding that I didn’t enjoy and believing that every person has one special soul mate.

But so what? I can’t jump into the Delorian, fire up the flux capacitor and tell 20-year-old Jackie to rethink her choices. I made the smartest choices that I knew how to make at the time, and I chose the path that I thought was healthiest. In the book The Paradox of Choice, author Barry Schwartz talks about maximizers and satisficers. Maximers always want to make perfect choices, and they find themselves paralyzed by the buffet of options that they face. Satisficers, on the other hand, tend to be happier, because they make decent choices instead of perfect choices. They make decisions more quickly, and they tend to be happier people overall.

As a married person, I did my job. I made my decisions with integrity, using the information that my STBX chose to give me. I treated him well and created the most loving home that I knew how to create. I kept my vows and loved as completely as I knew how to love. When the man you thought was your life partner rejects not only you but also your entire gender, falling into the trap of blaming yourself is very easy. “If I’d been thinner, if I’d cooked dinner more often, if I’d been a better housekeeper”—all of those things have gone through my mind (and they sound frighteningly traditional, don’t they?). However, I’ve come to realize that it isn’t my fault. I was given incomplete and sometimes totally false information. The relationship was built on half-truths and therefore had no chance of succeeding.

I’m no angel, and in spite of his extraordinarily selfish actions, my STBX is not entirely a bad man. The decision to commit to spending your life with someone is one of the most important choices we ever make. I worry not so much about the existence of good men as I worry about my own judgment. Will I make the right choices for the future, or will I find myself totally deceived just like the first time? I don’t know about the future, but I do know that even though I can be knocked down, I can also, like those inflatable clown punching bags, keep returning to an upright position. And as my beloved Highwaymen sing, “I’ll be back again…and again…and again.”

Friends and Lovers

I don’t miss you during the night watches. I miss you during domestic times, like dinnertime and breakfast. I miss you on weekends when we should be going to the places that we always went. When I go to the movies, or to a bookstore, or to a café, our ghosts are there, in the chairs where we once sat contentedly, talking and laughing the way that we used to talk and laugh. Our relationship was never about passion but about daily moments, the embrace of family, the warmth of shared histories and frequent hilarity. The familiarity satisfied me but ultimately left you restless, looking for something more like surrender, searching for the flames of passion to replace the slow burn of hearth and home.

As I grow closer to the end of my marriage, I’ve been turning over the compost, looking over the decisions that I made and why I made them. Years ago, my mother told me that you always miss a friend more than you miss a lover. I chose a marriage of friendship when, 12 years ago, I married my best friend. As we dismantle our shared life, I realize that friendship on its own just isn’t enough for a lifelong partnership.

People choose their relationships for different reasons. Some people thrive on passion, while others build partnerships based on companionship. I suppose that the best relationships find a workable balance of both key ingredients. As a mature woman, I’m asking myself why I chose friendship with minimal romance for my first marriage. For now, my best answer is that I wanted the safety that I rarely felt in my own nuclear family. I looked for kindness. I looked for someone who believed in me and affirmed who I was in so many ways, accepting passion on a really basic level in exchange for safety.

After I can finally talk about my first marriage without bursting into tears, I will try on a variety of relationships to see what the mature me likes best. I do know that I loved many things about marriage, and that I will marry again. Maybe I’ll upgrade from “mild” to “medium” or “hot.” Even so, I still hold out hope for the chance to share life with a friend. Not that I want the flames to fizzle out, but I know that time and geriatrics take an inevitable toll on anyone’s romantic life. But if I’m looking into the sunset of my life with my dearest friend’s hand in mine, cherishing the life we’ve built together, then I know I will be at peace with the choices I’ve made.

Thankful

What can I say I am thankful for this year? It’s so easy to feel sorry for myself, to wallow in the misery generated by my broken heart and my broken family. I have absolutely no financial security, and I soon won’t even have health insurance. I don’t sleep well these days. Sometimes, I don’t sleep at all because I stay awake feeling petrified about my future. At times, I don’t think I can endure the grief and sadness of losing my marriage. One day last week, when I didn’t think I could survive the pain, I told myself that I was going to take the day one hour at a time. I set the timer on my iPhone for one hour, and when I survived that hour, I set my iPhone timer for another hour. I kept doing this until the day ended.

Yet I can be thankful, even in the face of the most painful experience I have ever faced. To begin with, I’m so thankful for my sons. I would endure this agony and loss a million times over if I knew that, at the end of the process, I would have my children. My children are a mix of me and my husband, and they wouldn’t be who they are if I hadn’t made children with the man who is their father.

I’m thankful for the friends and family who have been there for me throughout this experience. From the friends who text me or send me Facebook messages to see if I’m okay to the family members who check in on me, I’ve learned how fortunate I am to be loved. I am not a person who’s good at asking for help and support, but I’m learning to ask, and I’m learning about the kindness and generosity of the people who care about me.

I’m thankful for the memory of my mother, who also divorced at the same age that I am now. I remember how strong she was for me and how hard she worked to both support me through the changes and to redefine herself. When I think of her and the example that she set for me, I know in my heart that life can be salvaged and that something beautiful can always rise from the ashes. When I feel like I can’t go on, I think of her strength, and I know I can have the same strength for my kids.

I’m thankful for my husband and for the years that we were married, as strange as that sounds. My husband is a good man and, although I grieve the loss of our marriage, he is being generous about sharing time with the kids, generous with his money and generous about listening to me express my pain and grief. My husband gave me so many years of kindness, caring and encouragement, and his friendship has made me who I am today. I didn’t have a lot of men in my life who were good to me, but my husband did so much to restore my faith in the male gender. His support helped me to form my identity, and I will always be grateful that he’s been a part of my life for the past 20 years. When all of this shakes out, I know the friendship that we’ve shared for so many years will endure. Because of him, I don’t look into the future and think, “All men suck.” I believe that I will someday find the kind of complete love that I deserve. And because of our years of marriage, I know that I have a great deal of love to give. At some point in the future, I will be okay.

Finally, I’m thankful for the open road that is ahead of me. I didn’t ask for my new circumstances, and I don’t know what life has in store for me. I do know that the support of the people who love me, I will find the strength to embrace what lies ahead. I know that one day I will wake up and find that I feel less hurt and more hope. I will have a better life.

For all of these things, even though my days are dark and uncertain, I am thankful. I choose gratitude over bitterness. I choose optimism instead of resignation. I choose to live rather than to fade away. And I choose to keep believing in a better future.