Category Archives: Divorce

The fine art of being selfish (excerpt)

I’m currently in the process of taking old posts of mine and putting them together in a book.  Right now I’m working on posts I wrote in 2009 – the days when I was a single mom with two kids and had just met my Mr. Wonderful.  Today I edited one of my favorite inspirational posts, one with advice I have given many times over to lots of moms – whether single or not.

How to regain your sense of self instead of placing your whole identity in your kids.

(P.S. I just wrote an article for the newspaper on a mom, on a journey through fashion, who emphasized this truth as well.  Check it out HERE)

Look for this chapter in my upcoming book on single parenting!

THE FINE ART OF BEING SELFISH (excerpt)

When kids are young, we as moms become totally immersed in motherhood. Suddenly everything is about the kids. It’s our tendency to go from being totally involved in ourselves, our work, our marriage, and our friendships – to being involved solely in our kids. Upon the arrival of these little beings, our whole world suddenly revolves around them.

It’s hard to break away from that.

I was no exception. For most of my married life, I was a stay at home mom. I volunteered at my daughter’s preschool. I carted the kids every single place I needed to go. I gave up going out at night in favor of staying with the kids. I sacrificed my personal interests and dreams one by one as interests and dreams wrapping around them took their place.

I was a mom. That was my name, my identity, and my world.

Most days the kids were the only beings on earth that heard my voice. I’m not saying that this is how it is supposed to be in motherhood, or even that most moms suddenly mutate into this being that resembles more gray than any other color. But that’s what happened to me.

For me, it took a divorce to shake me out of the clutches of “hermitting” into motherhood. It was jarring when my kids spent their first weekend away from me with their dad. I knew that I was aching to have a break, to not have anyone to worry about other than myself. But once that happened, I had no idea what to do with myself. How did I survive before the kids came along? What did I do with myself and my time? Suddenly there were too many hours in the day, and the world was much too quiet. I knew I needed to do something with this gifted time, but what? I didn’t have a lot of friends, having let a lot of friendships go to the wayside as my focus changed. And I really hadn’t done much else but kids’ activities in the past several years.

I needed a plan.

End of excerpt. Read the rest in the eBook “Golf Balls, Eight Year Olds & Dual Paned Windows“.

 

The rage of Taz

bear

This morning my son tore his room apart. Annihilated is a good word. He had so much anger pent up inside of him that he didn’t know how to control it. And so he raged. He threw things. He ripped his bed apart. He knocked over his chair. And he growled deep into his throat with a primal energy as he slammed his hands against the wall.

We were at odds this morning. He got on the video games when he wasn’t supposed to. And though I knew he would argue against any limitation I placed on him for the two minutes of game time, I also knew I had to follow through. So I told him they were gone for the day.

Hence, the rage.

I don’t know what to do when he gets this angry. I know that, probably, the thing he needs most is for me to stay calm and loving with him so he can find an anchor in me and bring himself down. But when he gets that overly angry, being loving with him is like hugging a grizzly bear.

My natural impulse was to get angry back. But I refrained and chose to walk away. I had to get ready for work. He was to leave within the next 5 minutes. I was frustrated that all this was happening at the worst possible time. The last thing I wanted him to do was to go to school totally amped up with rage. So walking away seemed like the best choice.

And that’s when he tore his room apart.

So next I got angry. And when I got angry, I got really angry. I let loose with the language, told him this was unacceptable. And we yelled at each other, both so angry at what was going on.

And then the truth behind his anger came out. Because you don’t just get that angry over video games, you get angry about all the stuff you’ve been stuffing inside. The video games just made all that stuff overflow.

boy holding a teddy bearHe’s angry about stuff going on at school and at baseball – how he’s rejected by the cool kids on his team and deemed fat and ugly by his classmates. He’s angry about being so out of control. He’s angry that he keeps getting in trouble. But mostly, he’s angry over his dad, who failed him many times over during his last visit – a visit that I keep learning more about.

Like that my Ex told him secrets from my past – a past that happened before my son was even born.

Like that my Ex yelled and screamed about anything and everything while my son sat in a corner of the room.

Like that he threatened the lives of anyone who dared to come to his house.

And the latest, that a game of roughhousing took a wrong turn, and my Ex took his anger out on Taz – physically.

And no one was there to protect him.

I am so angry right now. Angry, devastated, torn apart…exhausted…  Mostly, I’m furious with myself that I actually let Taz visit his father all by himself, knowing how delicate Taz is underneath his rough posterior, and knowing that the Ex has a lot of flaws.  And I’m furious with the Ex that he can’t recognize just how much his son idolizes him, even when the Ex lets him down over and over again.  The Taz is always ready to forgive his dad.  He even kept all this a secret for as long as he could, afraid that I would take his dad away from him.

I called the counselor this afternoon to try and get the earliest appointment we can. At Taz’s last appointment, Taz had us all believing everything was fine. But over the past couple of weeks, he has had several intense moments of rage that prove everything is NOT okay. The counselor talked me down over the phone, the concern evident in his voice as he sensed the brokenness in both Taz and me. And we see him next week. In the meantime, Taz is to write down everything that makes him angry in an effort to control his rage. And I have to do my best to remind him that his rage makes it too hard to help him.

In the meantime, my life is still being controlled by a man I never should have made children with or married. I will never be free from his torment. And now, he’s making our kids’ lives a living hell. And I’m tired. So, so tired.

Words cannot express the rage I feel at this man.

This is why.

“I want to come home.”

These are the words my daughter, DQ, spoke to me a month after she moved out of my house to live with her father. They were the words I had hoped to hear from her every day since she left, and yet, they felt so sad as she said them out loud. As her mother, I wanted to scoop her up and tell her of course she could come home. But both of us knew it wasn’t going to be that easy.  After all, I still had to convince her dad this was a good idea.

“I feel like I’m giving in too soon,” she confided in me, citing the rule both her father and I had come up with that dictated she would have to live in her dad’s house until the end of the school year, at least. But after she described the drastic differences her life over there had been from her life in my home, I told her it was okay and we would figure this out.

A whole other lifetime ago, life was very different in our family. We didn’t have a lot of money, and things were really tight. When money is tight, so is patience, as well as everyday common decency. DQ’s father and I thought nothing of our verbal sparring matches we held way back then. There were some nights when we screamed at each other through to the early hours of the morning. Eventually, those screaming fights escalated into something more physical.

Abuse was not something that just popped up out of the blue back then. It had first appeared many years before, when we were first dating. The first time it happened, a guy I knew had looked at me suggestively when we were at a party. The guy had obviously been drinking too much, and likely wasn’t even seeing straight. But that one look sent the Ex over the edge, and he challenged him to a fight. Naturally, we were told to leave the party. But when I defended my friend to the Ex, he reached his hand up and came down hard on my leg next to him. He immediately apologized at his action, breaking into tears as he repeated, “I’m sorry,” over and over. I was so shocked over the action that I didn’t know what to do. And I was disgusted in myself as I reassured him that it was okay, placing all sympathy on him over what he had “accidentally” done to me, forgetting that I was the one who had been wronged. The next day, where he had hit me developed into the blackest bruise I had ever seen, taking up my entire thigh.

I often look back at that moment and wonder how things would have been different had I done what many women swear they would do – LEAVE AFTER THE FIRST HIT. It’s so easy to say. But trust me, the grooming from an abuser begins long before that first strike. First, the abuser chooses a girl who lacks self-esteem. In the beginning of that relationship, he puts her on a pedestal – telling her how pretty she is, how much of a better man he is with her, and spoils her with affection. Sometimes, the guy will come to her damaged, and let her help put the pieces together. For the Ex, he came to me only days after I met him to tell me that one of his friends had been killed. He was devastated, sharing real tears as I comforted him in his sadness.

“I’ve never met anyone who cares as much as you do,” he told me.

An abuser will also look for anything they can use to hold over their girlfriend, further chaining her to him. This opportunity didn’t take long to arise. When the Ex and I first started dating, I was also seeing someone else. The Ex wasn’t my boyfriend, and neither was this other guy. So I didn’t think anything of it on Valentine’s Day of that year when the Ex presented me with a rose earlier that afternoon, and I went on a date with the other guy that evening. Yet, at the same time, I knew it wouldn’t go over well with the Ex. Sure enough, the Ex found out and spent the next day screaming at me over the phone. As I tried to plead my case and apologize to him, he wouldn’t hear anything of it. I found myself on the defensive with him, trying to earn his forgiveness.

While the first hit was the beginning of the physical abuse, this should have been my first and last red flag that something was wrong. I had known the Ex for less than a week, and was trying to hold onto him over this mistake. But I felt horrible for hurting him. I had added to his pain so soon after his friend had died. I had betrayed him. I owed him.

He had his hooks in me.

Over the next couple years, I stopped attending many regular teen functions so I could be with him. I stopped hanging being around my friends because they couldn’t stand my boyfriend. I skipped my Senior Project Grad party because he told me he was going to go out and get drunk if I went. And the day after I graduated high school, I moved into a tiny one-bedroom apartment with him. He was homeless at the time, so I felt like I had to just so he had a roof over his head.

We lived in this apartment for one year. That year was the worst year of my entire life. I have actually blocked out so much of that time. Every now and then, pieces of that year will come back to me in flashes, surprising me out of the blue. Abuse does that – it creates holes in your memory. I heard that this happens with young children when there is abuse in the home, affecting their growing brains in those first 5 years of life so that they develop issues later in life. I often wonder if this is why the Taz is the way he is, if it’s because he spent those first several years of his life tuning out his dad beating up his mom.

In that hellish year, I gave up college in favor of working full time. He worked sporadically, usually losing his job because he was stealing from the register or he mouthed off to the boss. I faithfully kept my job, handing my paycheck over to him so that he could pay the bills. We had no car, and never had money to pay for even a simple bus ride. So I walked three miles to work, and three miles back. We also had no money for food. I lived on a Top Raman diet and got down to 98 pounds.

He, on the other hand, was living high on the hog. Somehow he made friends with money. He would come home with new clothes his friends would apparently buy him (as he told me). Sometimes he’d be gone for several days at a time, and I’d have no idea where he was because he’d ignore me when I paged him (those were the days of pagers). When he came back, he’d always have some excuse as to why he was gone – he was helping a friend in need, he was trying to secure a job, he was stranded and couldn’t make it home.

We would get into awful fights over everything. He would choke me, hit me, use his body to push me against a wall. He would lunge at me, and I would instinctively fight back before he even threw the first hit, giving him the open to beat the shit out of me. One time he hit me in the nose causing me to cry out in pain next to an open window. That time, the cops were called. I lied to them, saying it was nothing. They knew I was lying. But in those days, they couldn’t do anything unless the victim pressed charges. Now it’s better because the police can press charges even when the victim doesn’t. But if I pressed charges, two things would happen – he would come back and hurt me, and even scarier to me, he would break up with me.

One of these instances of abuse caused me to hold an empty beer bottle above my head as if I were going to bash it against his head. He had just finished saying something so incredibly mean to me, I couldn’t think of anything else to do. He took the bottle, threw me on the ground, and proceeded to kick me all over my body. Then he left, and I was left alone to cry in the middle of my living room floor. The bruises remained on my body for a week, and I covered them with turtlenecks and long sleeves. But when I involuntarily winced upon being hugged by my sister, my family knew something was up.

Eventually, I worked up the courage to leave. Or rather, we were being kicked out because the rent wasn’t being paid. But I moved out and was back in my parents’ home knowing that I would soon be breaking up with the Ex.

That’s when I discovered I was pregnant.

Long story long, we stayed together, and the abuse stopped – for a while. But once we were married and had a couple of kids, it all started back up again. I don’t know what started it – the stress over lacking funds, the fact that we had just lost our third child to stillbirth, the needs of the kids we did have, the depression that was threatening both of us… All I know is that soon we were screaming at each other, he was drinking more, I was being accused of cheating on him, and the hitting began again. Another year of that, and I finally said enough was enough and moved out – for good.

So when DQ asked to move in with her father, the past was the biggest memory that made me want to say no. What if she made him angry? Would he hit her?  If he could hit someone he claimed to love romantically, what would stop him from hitting his own daughter?

This was also on the memories of all those closest to us. When I decided to let DQ go, I had to answer to multiple people who thought I had gone off my rocker. But something told me that I needed to let her go. He was her dad. In all the years she had visited him, nothing had ever gone awry. I needed to trust that it would be okay.

I mention all of the abuse and our past life together because it’s relevant. I have slowly moved past this reality. It took some time, but I am no longer that girl who feels responsible for picking up the pieces. Being a punching bag is no longer normal. Even being called a mean name is not normal.

But I don’t believe the Ex has moved past this reality. I have spent the past couple of years being nice about him, not talking about the abuse – especially here – because he or the kids might read it. I pretend to the public that we had a normal divorce and get along now for the benefit for the kids. And truthfully, we do get along for the kids’ sake. I have forgiven him for all those years of torture, and even own my own part of the puzzle for the times I messed up, as well as when I allowed the abuse to continue by not walking away. But I have also forgiven myself for not walking away, because abuse is so much darker than the black and white of it. Walking away sometimes just doesn’t feel like an option.

In case you were wondering, he never did hit her. He never abused her. They hardly even fought. But life in his home was very different. The depression was still very thick in the air there. Her dad was suffering from it, and spent all his time either working or in his room watching TV. DQ was left to her own devices 90% of the time. There was no food, and she relied on the free breakfast and lunch program at school. In the evenings, she would have to make her own dinner. Often it was frozen pizza or the like.

But more than that, the Ex and his girlfriend were continuing the cycle of screaming matches at night that would last well into the early morning. DQ would lie awake at night as they screamed at each other. And there’s reason to believe that her father was still abusive.

There were other reasons, too, why DQ needed to leave. But those were the biggest. And somehow we needed to convince her father that she needed to move home. We blamed her depression, which was true, and how she was homesick, also true. We failed to mention that we knew anything about the abuse. And last weekend DQ came home with me.

“What happened? “ the counselor asked DQ when we re-enrolled her into school the following Monday. Neither of us wanted to talk about it. DQ looked at me for help, and I stepped in.

“It just wasn’t what she expected,” I explained.

“Not much greener on the other side,” the counselor chuckled.

She has no idea.

I am trying to figure out how to write an article for the newspaper on the fact that DQ came home, and why. I want to give hope to parents who have children that want to try moving out – that they may just come back when they’ve discovered the “grass isn’t greener on the other side”. I still don’t know what to write. I can’t write all this. But I needed to include the truth somewhere. So here it is.

This is why.

Why I let my teen move out

I know I already wrote about this.  In fact, she has already moved.  But after much thought, I decided to also write a newspaper article about what’s going on in our home.  I figure plenty of divorced families are going through the same thing as their child decides which parent to live with full time.  So I am sharing my own personal story.

Note: I am doing ok.  DQ is too.  It’s still a transition, and a lot to get used to.  But so far, everything seems to be going smoothly.

This article will print on January 11, 2013 in the Press Democrat.

LETTING GO

My 14-year-old daughter, DQ, is moving out.

It’s weird, I never thought I’d type these words before she turned 18. But here I am, standing by as she packs up her bags and prepares to leave the nest. My nest. The one I have padded with protection and comfort since the day she was born, through a messy divorce, during financially tight times, and in her tumultuous teen years. She is flying the coop with my assistance when I drive her a full three hours away to live with her father.

And this might just be the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.

For 14 years, I have been her primary caregiver, the one who is responsible for every aspect of her life. I am the one who has filled out her school forms, checked her homework (till her homework got too smart for me), packed her lunches, and made her doctor’s appointments. I was the parent she told about her first love, and the parent who picked up the pieces when her heart was broken a few weeks later. I am her chauffeur, her personal chef, her nurse, her cheerleader, her everything she needed me to be so she can be a happy kid. I’ve gone to every one of her soccer games. I volunteer at the camp she attends every year. And I have done all this on my own. So to hand over the reins to her dad, allowing her to move three hours away and out of my realm of parenting, was way beyond my comfort level.

My first impulse was to say no, absolutely not. But she asked me to at least think about it. So I agreed to mull it over before I ultimately said no.

I was at war with what was the right thing to do in this situation. Of her two parents, I had proven to be the more responsible. Our two children, DQ and Taz, live with me full time, and I have fit my whole entire life within their schedule and comfort. Their father, who moved several counties away a few years ago, has never had the privilege of moving heaven and earth to make it to a parent-teacher conference at the same time as a mandatory meeting at work. I’ve been the parent while he’s been the one they visit occasionally. I’ve accepted that this is what works for raising the kids, and hold no bitterness over this. It’s just the way it is. But to give up my place as my daughter’s primary parent was rocking a boat I didn’t want rocked.

During the time when I was to be thinking this over (even though my mind was still set on NO), DQ took the time to patiently discuss all the perks of her living with her father. She talked about her new baby brother over there, how she would get a chance to know him and help take care of him. She took me on a virtual tour of her new town through Google Maps, pointing the cursor towards all of her favorite hangouts a few blocks from her home. She told me about the friends she had there, helping me to get to know them though her description. She handled the whole situation like she was the adult and I was the child. She was patient and kind, helping me with a hard transition. I was stubborn and tearful, refusing to budge.

Then a funny thing happened – my eyes were suddenly opened.

It didn’t happen on my own, but through a lot of help. I talked with my husband at great lengths about the whole decision. I discussed it with a counselor. And eventually, I called my ex-husband himself and talked about the possibility of our daughter moving in with him. After much deliberation and thought, I realized I had much less reasons to say no, and many more reasons to say yes.

So I let her go.

DQI know in my heart that I’ve made the best decision I could for her. DQ gets a chance to get to know her other side of her family, the part that makes up the other half of her. I, in turn, get to feel what it’s like on the other side of the coin – the one where I merely get to visit her instead of seeing her every single day. This still feels like a bad dream. I keep waiting for DQ to tell me she’s changed her mind. Of course, she hasn’t and likely won’t.

But I’ve realized something. Loving a child isn’t just about holding on to them and protecting them. It isn’t just about being there every step of the way.

Sometimes love is knowing when to let go.

One more day

DQ leaves tomorrow for her dad’s. I’ve distanced myself from this reality, treating it like one long vacation. And for the most part, I’ve been blissful in my little world of denial. She’s been busy packing up her room, taking over the washer machine and boxing up anything she thinks will fit into my car for her last trip away from our home. I took her shopping for warmer clothes, since she is leaving the warmer winters of the Bay Area for the snowy weather of the mountains. And I’ve forbid myself from dwelling too hard in “lasts”.

Like, last time we watch cheesy sitcoms together. Last time we trade movie quotes. Last time we bake snickerdoodles. Last time we wrestle over my Spotify account. Last time I treat her to a cupcake. Last time she confides in me over matters of the heart. Last time the two females overpower our house of boys.

It hasn’t been all wine and roses, though. She’s a typical teenager, which of course means she’s been pleasant as pie. That’s sarcasm, if you can’t read between the lines. She’s totally checked out of our house, and counting down the moments when she is out of our evil clutches and living in the wonderful home of her father. It’s funny, a year ago when Frizz was going through his own annoying adolescence of treating adults like gum on the bottom of his shoe, DQ told me she would NEVER be like that. At the time, I was actually dumb enough to believe her. And then she entered high school, and Shawn and I became the stupidest people on the planet. Shawn has received the brunt of this title from her. There is a very small percent of me that wonders how much more peaceful life will be after she moves from here, moves into a home that offers much less in just about everything, and finally sees all we do for her on a daily basis.

Of course, if I think too hard about where she is going to live, I can’t help but freak out a little.

The Ex is barely making it financially. He has a job now, but he’s not known for keeping jobs. Half the time he is working under the table to avoid paying child support. He’s struggling with his addictions, still unable to get a full year of sobriety under his belt. I never know when the guy is telling the truth or pulling my leg. Sometimes he’s lying to hide stuff he’s ashamed of, sometimes he lies to keep himself out of trouble, and sometimes he just lies to amuse himself. He lives in a tiny one-bedroom apartment that he shares with his ex-girlfriend’s female cousin and her two kids. He has his infant son several days a week. And DQ will be sleeping in a closet that’s been turned into a cramped mini bedroom. He doesn’t have a car, and it’s unclear how she is going to get to school every day. His roommate has a car, but knowing the Ex, he’ll burn that bridge soon and will be left with no transportation whatsoever. He can’t even pick up the kids tomorrow as planned, since he failed to secure a car before then, despite the fact that we planned this trip a month ago. He has never been the primary parent of DQ and Taz – that job has always been left to me. And I worry about what he really has to offer her as a parent. Does he have it in him? Can he do this? Am I sending DQ to the sharks, and will she come out worse on the other side?

This is a man who used to abuse me, who chose drugs as his answer to handling life, who took my paycheck and left me to starve, who made my life a living hell until I finally walked out. This is the man who gave me nightmares for years after until I was finally able to let it all go and move beyond the thought of him, leaving all those demons in the past. I no longer hate him. I am no longer angry. But I also no longer have faith in him.

But I know I have to let her go. I feel like this is a God thing, like God is telling me to just trust that everything will be ok. She has friends up there, the kind of friends I wish she could have made down here. She has a chance to really start over fresh, having realized the mistakes she’s made here. I have people all around me who are angry with this decision, questioning me and DQ about this decision. And honestly, I don’t have an answer that will appease everyone about why I am letting this happen. DQ would hate me forever if I forbid this. I have to let her see what it’s like on her own for her to understand. I am running the risk of her deciding she loves it there, and never coming back. I know this, even though my denial is telling me she will most definitely be back when the school year is over. How could she not? What is there over there for her that is so much better than here?

“You’re in denial,” my cousin told me when I let her know for the first time that DQ was moving away, and who she moving in with.  She said it because I was so calm, treating this as if it were a normal case of a teenage girl living with her father.  But it isn’t.  I know that.  It hasn’t been normal since I met the man almost 20 years ago.  But I’m powerless in this decision.  And I hate it more than anyone knows.  And the only way to cope with it is to remain in denial.

One more day.  And then the whole world will be changed.

Letting her go.

‘Letting our children go’ is a lifelong process for parents, one that we wrestle with again and again, and each parent has to wrestle with it in his or her own way. — Mister Rogers

My daughter is moving away.

It’s weird typing those words. I always knew there would be a day I would have to face this reality. But I thought it would be at 18 when she left for college rather than when she was only 14 years old.

And I’m sorry to those of you I haven’t told this to in person. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around it on my own.

I’m conflicted in this decision. It didn’t come lightly. DQ came to me about it months ago, and I thought we had tackled it then. I thought I laid down the law enough for her to want to stay. But several new things happened and the subject was brought up again, this time with more urgency.

So what happened?

First, her boyfriend moved 3 hours away to Redding. Having wrapped her whole social life up in him, she found herself in foreign territory. She had no close friendships, a strained social life, and the person she used to spend every moment with suddenly nowhere around.

Second, she spent a really great weekend at her father’s house, spent some quality time with her new baby brother, and got back in touch with some friends she knows who live in Grass Valley, where her father lives.

Third, she insisted she needed a change of scenery so she could start fresh.

When she first came to me about wanting to move in with her dad, I considered it for only a second before I refused. But she was persistent that I at least think about it. She laid out some very specific reasons as to why this wouldn’t be such a bad thing, noting the Christian friends (ooh, she’s good) that she hangs out with up there, how she wants to get to know her baby brother better, and showing me a map of where she would be living if she were there – taking me on a virtual tour of the town through Google Maps.

She got me thinking.

The past 6 months or so have been really rough with DQ. Her teenage years have not been the most pleasant as she goes through her Jekyll & Hyde emotions. One moment she’s the loveliest of all people. The next, I have to keep my hands out of her cage or she’ll bite them clean off.

I also understand the need for change; the realization that so many mistakes have been made that the only choice is to begin a new direction in a new place. Of course, she’s a teenager. Mistakes are going to happen over and over again. My understanding of her need for a change of scenery goes hand in hand with my concern over the fact that she’s once again running from problems she’s created. This isn’t the first time she’s wanted to run away. She did this with her old school two years ago when the drama became too much to handle. Now she’s doing it again by moving to Grass Valley.

What if it happens again once she’s there?

Her father had the same concerns when we spoke on the phone today. We had a really good, bare bones conversation about DQ’s desire to move in with him. It made me feel a ton better to hear him raise all the same concerns I had about her – even before I voiced them.

What if she falls in with the wrong crowd there?
What if she pushes all of his buttons and makes him furious, as she’s known to do?
What if she gets there and decides she wants to leave again?
What if he can’t afford to have her there?

We discussed all of these at length. He was surprised I was even considering it. I kept asking him if he had any reservations, any at all, that it was ok if he did…

“Do you want me to have reservations?” he finally asked me with a chuckle.

“Yes!” I said, laughing as I admitted I wanted him to give me the out so that I could tell DQ “no” and let it be known I wasn’t the only one who felt that way.

At any rate, the decision has not been made 100% final. The Ex still needs to contact DQ’s proposed future school and find out what needs to be done to get her transferred there. And I put the caveat out there that I needed to talk to DQ’s counselor before it was a done deal. But admittedly, the decision is 99% a sure thing. I’ll be sending the Ex half of my child support check to ensure he is still paying off his back support while still being financially fair about it as he takes DQ into his care. I’ll visit every couple of weekends, making the trek over there to hang out with her. She’ll come back on holiday breaks, though how we do this so it’s fair for both kids is still a detail we have to figure out. We’ll also have to figure out how she’ll attend training weekends for the camp she’s on staff at. It’s all a bunch of messy details.

But strangely enough, I think I’m ok with this decision. I mean, I’m totally sad about it. It’s going to be weird not having her around. I’ll probably be totally depressed for the first couple of weeks.  She’s the one who makes me laugh the most. She’s not just my daughter, she’s kind of like a friend. We have a million inside jokes. I mean, who’s going to quote every movie we’ve seen hundreds of times with me? Who will I watch Glee with now? Who’s going to have living room dance parties with me, or embarrass me with her totally dirty jokes?

But I also know it’s not the end of the world.

She’s moving 3 hours away, not across the country. It’s still unsure if this is a permanent move, or just until the end of the school year.  We’re all keeping this open as a trial, with a minimum of 6 months time.

Perhaps a little space between me and DQ will be healthy. And, can I just say it privately here?  Perhaps it will give her a bit of a reality check.  Or not.  But it makes me feel better to think so.

But beyond that, I know how important it is for her to get to know her baby brother. And in a weird Freudian way, I know it’s also good for her to get to know her dad better and be around him.

This could be good for all of us. We’ll see.

Defending my no-good Ex

photo by Etsy/KitschyHippo

My former mother-in-law called me this morning while I was working. I looked at the phone and considered letting it go to voicemail for just a moment. When she calls, the conversation tends to be one-sided, usually filled with her speaking….or speaking over me if I try to chime in as well. And I’m forced to be on the phone for much longer than I want because I can’t even tell her I need to go. However, I hadn’t talked to her in awhile, and I do love the woman very much. So I picked up.

She had called to tell me she was thinking of the kids and me, that she had been thinking of us often. And moments later she was apologizing because she was going to start to cry. My MIL is a crier. It’s just a fact. Love her, accept her tears. And so I excused myself from my desk and found a quiet room where we could talk without worry about who was listening in.

She wanted to know about the kids, expressing interest in seeing them soon. I had to break it to her gently that they’d already had spring break.

“Oh, I knew I should have called sooner,” she lamented. But I reassured her that it was a decision the Ex and I had already worked out since the kids were overrun with activities during the week.

Truth is, though, the reason they didn’t go was because their father had been arrested and then released over another assault situation that just seems to fall in the path of the Ex. Both kids hinted they didn’t feel like seeing him after this happened, though they also insisted they were fine about him. But I felt more at ease having them home and promised them I would take the fall for the decision by placing blame on their activities and my decision over anything else.

“I don’t really talk to him that much lately,” MIL told me about the Ex. And she expressed the shame and embarrassment she felt when she saw his mugshot in the newspaper last month. I briefly considered what it must feel like for the parents of felons, you know, the ones who do something so heinous they’re considered the scum of the earth. But what about their parents, the ones who didn’t commit the crime? Granted, the Ex only beat up his roommate, supposedly for bringing drugs into the home. The man was left with a headbutt to the forehead and 14 stitches in the face, and the judge still wiped the slate clean for the Ex. But still, his mugshot stared out at my MIL from the newspaper the next morning for the whole county to see.

“He’s 35 years old. When is he going to grow up?” She seemed at a loss over his decisions lately. He couldn’t pay his bills. He had to start over in his sobriety once again. And he was having another kid with a girl who was proving to be even more unstable than the Ex.

“5 babies, three women,” she sighed. And I had to remind her that this was not her situation to stress over.

“Remember when I was pregnant with DQ?” I told her. “I was 19, and we had no way of supporting ourselves. Neither of us knew what we were doing. But look at DQ now. She’s really a great kid. Who’s to say that this kid won’t be great either?” I asked.

“I’m not disputing that,” MIL said. “I’m certain this kid will be wonderful. But neither of them is capable of taking care of a kid.”

“Maybe this is the kick in the pants the Ex needs to be able to grow up,” I told her. It had worked for me. I’d been a baby having a baby. I shudder to think about how immature or irresponsible I’d be on the selfish path I was heading had I not gotten knocked up so early. DQ had saved my life and made it better, even though I had briefly landed in the desperate world of a single mother.

“It’s possible that the Ex did this on purpose,” I told MIL. “It’s possible that after messing up so many areas of his life, including the distance between him and our kids now, he was looking for another chance at doing something great. This kid might be that chance.”

“But what about DQ and Taz?” she asked. “How are they taking it?”

“DQ is thrilled,” I admitted. “She can’t wait to come down there for the summer and help take care of the baby. And I guarantee, she’ll be totally hands on in this baby’s care.” We both laughed at my maternal little teenager before MIL realized I hadn’t mentioned Taz. “He’s fine right now,” I told her. “But he’ll be jealous when the baby comes because this kid will be with his father all the time, and Taz can’t.”

As the conversation went on, I came to a revelation about the Ex. It has been years since I could claim to be in love with him. And many of the past years I’ve harbored anger and resentment at the man he wasn’t, holding against him every single way he had failed us. But today, I was reassuring his mother that hope was not lost, and giving her ways she could help her son so he wouldn’t fail.

“He can’t do this on his own,” I told her. “He just doesn’t know how. He needs someone who will hold his hand all the way through so that he won’t give up before he succeeds.” I was suddenly aware that I might be the only person, except for his kids, who really knew who he was and had learned to accept him – faults and all. Would I let him stay in my house? Not on my life. I know well enough that his natural tendencies lean towards dishonesty and immorality. But I also know he’s trying, and really does want to be a better person. He just doesn’t know how. I’ve realized that my feelings of hatred and resentment towards him have been turning towards empathy for a man who is just struggling with a lot of odds in his way – odds he put there, but odds nonetheless.

Of course, it helps that I don’t have to see him or talk to him all the time.

“You always make me feel better,” MIL told me. “I love you.”

“I lov-,” I started.

“…so much,” she said, cutting me off. Some things never change.

It’s been months since I’ve seen any kind of child support from the kids’ father, and the checks I was getting were just enough to help fill my gas tank. It’s been even longer since he’s even seen the kids, and likely to be a few more months still since he lives hours away without reliable transportation. It’s possible he won’t make it to a baseball game for the Taz, watch him perform at his hip-hop recital, or see DQ graduate from 8th grade. He’s never taken them to a dr’s appt, paid for braces, or figured out how to get one kid to baseball at the same time as indoor soccer for the other.

But he does what he can. He calls the kids at least once every week or two, holding meaningful conversations with them each time. DQ may just be the only person who can be totally blunt with him, calling him on his crap, and not be blown off. And no one looks up to the Ex like Taz does.

It’s far from perfect, this split home dynamic and all the messy jigsaw puzzle pieces that go with it. But they fit together to create the portrait of what we’ve assembled as our life. And maintaining a sense of distance and understanding over protecting my own personal stake in our fragile world helps to keep the puzzle from blowing up and having to start all over again.

Well, at least for today.  I mean, I still get the opportunity to bitch about him whenever he does something stupid, right?

The wicked stepmother, part 1

There was an elephant in the room, and ignoring it wasn't going to make it go away.

Frizz, my (future) stepson, milled around the kitchen putting his lunch together for the school day. We were both moving around each other, doing our best not to disturb the other in the dance we did every morning. He moved like I wasn’t even there. I just tried to stay out of his way. Neither one of us spoke more than an obligatory “good morning” greeting to each other. And even though I wished him a good day before he left, he said nothing back as he rushed out the door for school.

I wasn’t sure how to act around this teenage kid. First and foremost, I was sensitive to his place in the house. He had lived here all his life, most of it with his mom and dad together under the same roof. Me, I was the intruder, the one who took his mother’s place in the house – even when I made every effort not to take his mother’s role in his life. He already had a mom. And I was hoping to take on the part of “friend” rather than parent.

But I didn’t even know how to talk with him, and he felt more like a stranger than someone I had gotten to know over the past 3 years.

I genuinely liked the kid. He was smart and slow to anger. When my 10-year-old Taz was bouncing off the walls and both Mr. W and I were ready to throttle him, Frizz would just look at him and calmly say “Chill out, dude.” It was way more effective than anything I could ever say.

But there were things about this teenager that drove me nuts. He had no concept that after 11pm he should move around a bit more quietly. Flushing toilets seemed a foreign concept to him. His favorite music was a pounding beat with no melody whatsoever played at ear-splitting volumes and on a loop. Random moments of jumping jacks weren’t uncommon from his second story room. His videogaming slowed down the rest of our Internet usage. He claimed we were (and I quote) “robbing him of his childhood” by expecting him to do chores and help out around the house. He slept in on weekends till the afternoon after staying up till the early hours of the morning….

And then there was his habit of blatantly ignoring all of us.

“I just don’t feel like talking,” Frizz eventually explained to his dad when Mr. W tried to get a response out of him repeatedly, only to be met with silence. It was infuriating, his silent way of giving us the finger just because he knew it would piss us off. He didn’t talk back (unlike my 13-year-old daughter DQ was famous for) or say anything that could be held against him. He just didn’t speak when spoken to.

I was concerned over my growing feelings of resentment coming out of the lacking relationship Frizz and I shared. I took all his teenageness personally, as if it were a direct attack on me. And I worried that neither one of us would be able to move past this awkward phase we were stuck in. I longed to be able to joke around with him the way I could with my own kids. And I was jealous that I never got to see the funny, insightful, sarcastic kid that Mr. W kept bragging about in Frizz.

I had always hoped that I could be that cool stepmom, like the awesome non-judgy stepmom in the movie Juno, or something reminiscent of Kim Rosenthal-Doonesbury, that hip young thing Mike Doonesbury married in the infamous comic strip.

I wanted to be the one Frizz would go to for dating advice since no teen can actually talk to their parents about the opposite sex. I was hoping we could have regular hangout time when we could talk about how teenage years suck and share some of our favorite MP3s. Being more than a decade younger than Mr. W, I was hoping Frizz would find me a welcome addition to the household.

What the heck was I smoking?

To be fair, I had no idea what the kid thought of me. Most of my energy was spent trying to not piss him off or step on his toes, and the rest was spent resenting the fact that we weren’t bosom buddies and I couldn’t joke around with him the same way I could with my own kids. However, I didn’t know him. And he didn’t know me. Never once did he express dislike for me, but he also never expressed any kind of feeling about me whatsoever. Overwhelming every emotion I had involving this kid, the biggest was a hope that we could overcome this sense of distance.

Something needed to change.

To be continued…

10 secrets about your kids and divorce

My sister shared with me this little bit of advice when I was first going through my divorce: “There are two sides of every divorce – yours and sh**head’s.” On that, there are two kinds of divorces out there. The really ugly ones, and the ones that are just pretty bad. Ok, there are ones that are completely friendly and even resemble something like a friendship. It’s rare, but it does happen (i.e. Mr. W and his ex. Yes, he’s perfect. Yes, it’s sickening). But for the most part, divorces are not what you would call pretty. And I think it’s safe to say no divorce feels good. Let’s put it this way:  the person you once loved more than anyone in the whole world, who knows every single thing about you – from what makes you tick, to what your biggest pet peeves are, to what pushed buttons will set you off – has now become your biggest nemesis. And they hold all those gifts you once trusted to them as their own personal weapons to bring you down. And it’s not like you’re the innocent here, either. You have all the same weapons at your disposal to hurl at them with full force. Fueling the fire are a whirlwind of hurts and broken promises, as well as the knowledge that all hopes and dreams made together are suffering a painful death alongside a marriage that was supposed to be forever. Add in the reasons for the divorce in the first place, and you have a tiny World War 3 unfolding in a courtroom.

And I haven’t even mentioned the kids yet.

I have seen countless marriages crumble to the ground, the former husband and wife battling it out against each other, forgetting there are innocent bystanders standing in the crossfire. And every single insult or retort they put in the holster of their broken hearted gun and fire, they are nicking the very beings they claim they’re doing their best to protect, and who the battle is supposedly for in the first place.

It’s not like I’m free from guilt here.

In the beginning of my divorce, I had a really hard time remembering the very person I felt betrayed by was also my kids’ father. The way I viewed him was completely different from the way they saw him through their eyes. And I had to teach myself ways to keep my own personal opinions about him to myself.

The best way I could do this was to separate the person that was my ex from the person that was my kids’ father.  And it also meant that when it came to speaking about him in front of my kids, I could only speak FACT. If any sentence wasn’t something that could be printed in an Encyclopedia, it was better kept for times when they were out of earshot, or never spoken aloud at all.

And no, “Your father is a jerk” cannot be considered a biographical fact.

Let me divulge several secrets.

First secret – Your children have two parents. And they love both of them. Their father may have cheated on you. He may have lied to you up and down. Your wife may have spent every penny you had, or never gave you any sign of appreciation. That is not your children’s concern. That is YOURS.

Second secret – Your children do not share the same kind of relationship with your ex as you do. Even if he was the worst husband in the world, or she was the worst wife in the world, that person is still your children’s other parent. And even if your marriage is ending, the fact that they have another parent does not change.

Third secret – The relationship your children have with each parent will affect the adult they will one day become. If they have a bad relationship with their father, the kind of man your daughter chooses or man your son will grow up to be will be affected negatively. If they have a bad relationship with their mother, your son and daughter may also suffer in their life choices. But if they have a good relationship with their father and mother, it affects their adult choices positively. It’s actually best to encourage a healthy relationship between your children and their other parent.

Fourth secret – If you keep your children away from their other parent, they will resent YOU. Let me state that this does not apply to dangerous situations with another parent. But in normal divorces, a child MUST have access to each parent whenever possible. After all, it was YOUR divorce, not theirs.

Fifth secret – if there is some sort of character flaw in your ex-spouse, your children will figure it out on their own. They do not need your help finding it. First of all, if you are telling them what is wrong with their mother, they will defend her to the death. Second, you will have taken away their ability to form their own conclusion. Not only that, disparaging your children’s other parent will actually have the opposite effect – they won’t hate them, they’ll hate YOU. Kids are smart. And they see through a lot of the bull we tend to be blind to.

Sixth secret – Your children are wonderful. Every single part of them. After all, they’re made up of parts of you. But they are also made up of parts of their other parent. When you disregard their other parent, you are disregarding a part of them. And it will make them question if you really love them, or only the parts that remind you of yourself. How fair is that?

Seventh secret – The majority of your opinion about your ex-spouse is influenced by the anger you feel towards them. After all, they were once wonderful enough to make children with. Remember this if you ever need to speak about your children’s other parent in front of your kids.

Eighth secret – Your ex will move on. And your children may love this new person. And they may hate her. That is not for you to decide. Your marriage to their father is over. If your ex chooses to have a new partner in their life, your child should be allowed to develop a relationship with her without you interfering.  Again, this is only in regards to the most normal of situations, and not one that is dangerous.

Ninth secret – Your children are not your spouse. I know that sounds weird, so let me explain. They are not the keeper of your secrets. They are not to be confided in over worries or fears regarding the other parent, being single, or any other adult feelings that they are too young to absorb. Your children are your CHILDREN. It’s not fair to burden them with anything that will keep them up at night.

Tenth secret – YOU WILL BE FINE. So will your kids. Divorce is not the end of the world. Your kids will survive. You will survive. Sure, it’s not the path you chose when you first started out. But it does mean that a new path has been realized. Rather than standing in one spot, looking back at what was just given up, start looking forward to how to make things good. This is the BEST way for your child to grow up healthy – by seeing their parent pick themselves up in times of adversity and keep on going.

The ghosts that haunt

My ex is not my favorite person in the world. In fact, while I no longer harbor resentments against him in any regards towards the demise of our marriage, I also do not sit here and think friendly, loving thoughts towards him. I am not sitting here putting daggers in the voodoo doll of his memory either. I just don’t give him a thought at all. Let’s get that out of the way right now.

I divorced him for a reason, and I am very happy not being married to him.

I also do not speak much about him, neither here nor in my real life. He is my kids’ father, and I respect that. And when he is mentioned, it is because my kids have brought him up and want to talk about him – about their excitement to visit him, about missing him when they can’t see each other, or about an issue they’re having, etc. I have separated the lines between his role as my ex-husband and his role as my kids’ father. As far as I’m concerned, my ex-husband is dead. Yup, it was awful – by some flesh eating bacteria that rendered him pretty much unrecognizable. My kids’ father is alive and well, and a very real part of my kids’ lives. I can deal with my kids’ father. But my ex-husband is decaying in the ground as we speak, and every now and then I go and dance on his grave.

However, just when I think that I’m rid of the body his ghost comes back and haunts me, affecting me in ways of letting me know that maybe I do harbor some residual effects from being in a bad marriage. And just the simplest forms of animosity between us send me in a tailspin, mixed with emotions of fear, anger, loathing and resentment. And I find myself sick to my stomach over someone who isn’t even a part of my personal life anymore, but who will be a part of my life one way or another through our children – for the rest of our lives. And above all, it makes me upset to know that even when I have physically moved on with my life – through love, career, and picking up the pieces that were shattered in the beginning – I will never be free from the hurt and pain and every other negative feeling that comes from a bad marriage.

I will never be free from him.

Our conversation the other night didn’t go well. Or I should say, it didn’t end well when I found myself on the end of a phone with a dial tone, his last word given before he hung up and prevented any further words from me. It came without warning, no tense conversation to precede it. He had been done talking, and so I should have been too. And I don’t know about you, but for me being hung up on is by far the worst way to gain my favor. It made my blood boil. And in that moment, I hated every single part of him in an anger that only he can bring out in me. And the fact that he had that much power over me and my emotions only made me angrier.

And yet, even while fuming mad at my ex, I had to somehow address the infractions the kids had committed while at his house. Part of me felt like letting it lie. After all, whatever wrongs they did were at his house, not mine. From what he told me, it didn’t seem like that big of a deal. And besides, I didn’t call him whenever something went wrong here. I just dealt with it. So why did I have to deal with these things when they were at his house, when his complaints felt more like tattling than an effort to deal with it together?

“While at my house, YOUR kids did this….”

And truth be told, a big part of me felt like “GOOD, glad to hear our kids are paying you back for every time you have been a jerk to me.” And being that he had just hung up on me, that feeling was a bit overwhelming. But on the other hand, since I am the primary parent, I am the main guardian in charge of molding these kids into the adults they are to become. And this is where separating my ex from their father had to take place.

Of course, it had to wait until I had put some time and space between the phone call, as well as a bit of time to talk smack out of the kids’ earshot. But once done, I sat each of the kids down and we went over behaviors they should be exhibiting with a parent, or any adult for that matter. And then I kissed each of them goodnight, turned off the lights, and retreated to my room where I pulled out a little tiny voodoo doll and tortured it a little before I fell asleep.