Summer, grant me peace

It’s 3:32am and I can’t sleep. I’m worried that the boys aren’t getting enough attention. I’m worried that I haven’t been kind enough. I’m worried I forgot two pages in a report I need to submit this week. I’m worried that we’ll all forget to bring back the library books. That we paid too little in taxes. That we paid too much in taxes. That I forgot to fill out healthcare forms. That the dentist is this week not next week. That the house is just messy enough to encourage my children to grow up into slobs. That I forgot to email a friend and that we’ll miss our summer window to get together. That I haven’t planned summer vacation for my kids yet.

By 4:07am I’m worried that I’m not getting enough sleep. Or exercise. Or vegetables.

And that I’ll sleep past my alarm.

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It’s the last week of school. I am dropping off plates for the kindergarten potluck, hummus for the fourth-grade potluck, and petition for the dissolution of marriage at the county courthouse.

I haven’t read a book in four months. I haven’t fenced in five months. There’s just no time. I have crammed life so full of “should” that I can barely breathe. And I’m nauseated. Almost constantly. Wound so tight that I injured both sides and was barred from running for 6 weeks.

Not good for my mood, the lack of running and books and fencing.

I should really have a dance party with the boys before school today. Make a note. Remember that.

My life, through no one’s fault but my own, has become about list making. Planning, mandating, chastising, reporting events and discussions and thoughts. My thinking has become staccato, matter of fact. My writing feels terse. Shamed out of adjectives. I can almost hear the words I type begging for bullet points.

Please don’t waste words.

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This is not just lack of writing time, single parenthood, lack of sleep, or overly intense focus on work, though it is, for the record, all of these. But in a bigger sense, I feel that I’ve become less of a person this year. Is it simply that there’s less to me than I thought there was?

It’s been two years since Spouse and I parted ways and tried to navigate the infuriating, heartbreaking, and complicated world of joint parenting. We haven’t bothered to figure out the logistics, again, through no one’s fault but my own. I didn’t want to add more tasks to my list.

But when I took the 10 hours it required to pause, make appointments, gather documents, make decisions, and participate in the first mediation session, I realized that I put the logistics off intentionally. No, I didn’t want to spend what will likely amount to 30+ hours of the Business of Divorce. But I also didn’t want to face the crushing disappointment of voluntarily ending my marriage. Twice during the mediation session I restrained myself from bolting out of the room. The whole two hours was physically nauseating. Not because we’re fighting, because we’re not. We’re agreeing on everything.

I just don’t want to be divorcing. I don’t want to be married, I don’t want to be in between. I just don’t want any of this. But I’m missing a lot while my life is in limbo, scrambling to be a full-time parent, full-time employee. I’m not making space in those double-time parameters to be even a part-time human.

I missed fava bean season this year, because I was too busy. I missed cherry season, too. I think. My two favorite markers for the shift from winter into spring, then spring into summer. Completely forgot to notice, to taste, to revel. Having the boys’ dad pick them up two days after school means I am not in the right place to stumble across the farmers’ market anymore. And instead of walking the kids to school every day, I’m driving at least three days a week. That means I only caught a few days of vine week in Berkeley, the time where the air is almost dripping with the artificial-grape scent of wisteria during the day and heavy with the scent of star jasmine in the evening. For two weeks, Berkeley smells like living near a nectar factory.

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I missed most of that.

But school ends this week. And though I still have to work, it feels as though everything is opening, languorously, and extended without obstacles until September.

The paperwork is filed. Whatever step is next is just another step. Summer plans and work and divorce are all just steps. And I plan very much to put my head down and just step.

I’m cleared to run short distances, so this weekend the boys rode their bikes and I ran, to exactly the mid-point of what my doctor prescribed. We sat with a cold cup of tea and boba, discussing everything we could think of. And on the ride and run back, they found each others’ rhythms, for at least 20 minutes outgrowing the bickering and assumptions, falling behind each other or surging gently past, without cutting each other off, without discord. With grace and understanding.

I noticed their rhythm. I found mine. I celebrated not panicking anymore, not worrying that they’d hurt themselves or bump into someone else or ride off the sidewalk and into the street. I let myself notice the lack of worry, and to celebrate it.

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I hope with everything in me that this is a beginning. For them, a beginning of a long, hilarious, exhausting, splashy, filthy summer. For me, a transition out of marital limbo and into a realm where I find spaces in which to be. Quietly, mindfully, not shoulding myself to death. For all of us, I hope this is a beginning, a new understanding of each other, with tools to make our family everything we need it to be.

All that from a date on a school calendar and a stack of papers with a courthouse stamp.

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So how’s your divorce going?

Slowly. My divorce is going slowly, thanks for asking.

Everything is fine. We’re still being friendly and still sharing time with the kids. I’m not a big fan of shared parenting, but it’s much better than having one parent erased from the kids’ lives, and it’s infinitely better than what we were forcing to make work long after it didn’t work.

We’re nice enough that we both go to all the soccer games. We’re annoyed enough by each other that conversations go best via text. It’s not a “between a rock and a hard place” kind of situation. It’s a “rock and everything that’s not the rock seems pretty soft” kind of situation.

rock sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago, from my first of two visits

rock sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago, from my first of two visits

The legal stuff has barely begun, but we’re hoping it will be easy. We haven’t disagreed on any details yet, and we’ve covered a lot of territory. It never occurred to me, when we decided to end years of misery with a responsible divorce, where both of us strive toward being respectful and kind, that we’d have to put in writing who gets to decide when the kids learn to drive (both have to agree) or who has to agree to moving to a different pediatrician, dentist, or school (again, we want both of us to agree). This isn’t hard. It’s a lot of thinking ahead, though. Thinking about being linked for decades. Gah.

I’m not enjoying the added burden of finding and paying professionals to help us make sure our kids are fairly treated until they’re adults, since we both agree they should be fairly treated.

But I’m trying to be smart about this. Some day he might remarry. Some day I might remarry (hahahahaha that’s a good one). And we have to make sure that what makes sense now is written and witnessed and legal and binding. Because it would really suck to go forward on goodwill, and have someone derail that spirit of cooperation with legal shenanigans.

I don’t enjoy the limitations of single parenting, but my happiness at being done with a very challenging time in my life trumps inconvenience.

gutter, rainwater, pollen, leaves. un-still life.

gutter, rainwater, pollen, leaves. un-still life.

I read exactly one article on divorce before deciding I’m not reading any more. In a highly recommended listicle, divorced women said retail therapy is exactly the wrong choice during a separation.

And so, for a while, every purchase I made seemed like a statement on my mental health, on my divorce, and on my potential for happiness. New shampoo was a cry for help. A new coffee mug was clearly demonstration of intense loneliness. And a new mattress was a therapy cornucopia: in attempting to erase the marital bed I was hiding from reality.

What ridiculous nonsense like that ignores, is that people moving through a change in marital status are just carrying on with life the way a regular person would. If you’re engaged and buying a new bed, that’s symbolic. But my buying a new mattress wasn’t a statement on my mental health. That purchase coincided with an uptick in work that meant I finally had enough money to fix a chronic back issue that had me waking, in pain, on a 15-year-old mattress.

I’m not sure why it was so easy to jump to a place where I associated my choices with my change in marital status. Since high school, I’ve refused to use the word Mrs. because I think it’s ridiculous to categorize women into only two groups: married and unmarried. So why do it to myself?

I thought I’d be upset about my divorce. I thought I’d second-guess myself, feel uncomfortable, or feel ashamed of my choices. But I don’t feel differently. I’m not embarrassed to kiss my kids goodbye after the soccer game because they’re spending the rest of the weekend with their dad. I’m not shamed that the teacher asks gingerly if she can have a conference with me and the boys’ dad together. I think it’s a good question. I tell her we’re happy to have just one conference. And I would feel just as comfortable telling her that we needed to be apart if that were true.

To my Catholic grandmothers, divorce was a big deal. As the adult child of an 1970s divorce (none of which seemed to exist on the same nasty-to-amicable spectrum we’ve set up for ourselves this generation…they were all relatively uncivil and acrimonious, right?), I thought divorce was a big deal.

But it hasn’t turned out that way.

Maybe because I’m not done yet. Maybe because I’m at the center of it, and I enjoy being the center of an issue. Maybe because divorce doesn’t seem intense when it’s such a relief. Or maybe because trying our best to be kind, to talk nicely about each other, to support the kids with whatever they need in the transition to a two-household family, we’ve actually taken some of the biggest hurts out of divorce.

I don’t know. But I do know that, other than the logistics, my divorce is going quite well. Thanks for asking.

Reasonable Question

“Mommy, you know how you don’t love Daddy anymore…I mean, not that you don’t love him or not that you don’t like him, but you know how he makes you sad when he yells at you? Well, do we have to have two camp sites when we go camping?”

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blink.

“Well, honey, some day we probably will have two camp sites. And that might be fun because Daddy will cook on his campfire and I will cook on my campfire, and you can choose which campfire dinner to eat. And you can even choose to eat both!”

“Yeah!”

“For now, we still share a campsite. And we’re a family, even if we live in two houses or have two campsites.”

“And even if we have two marshmallow fires, right?”

“Yeah, Butterbean. Even then. It sounds pretty good to me to have two marshmallow fires.”

“Me, too.”

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But it doesn’t sound good to me. It sounds like what we have to do, to be civil and keep the best of what we have to offer the kids, but I’m lying to my son when I say it sounds good to have two marshmallow fires. It sounds like a waste of wood and excessive pollution and too much work. Two campfires sounds to me like the acrid smell that won’t wash out of my hair for two days isn’t even my smell; it belongs, in part, to someone else and it follows me around for the better part of the week, surprising me with an acid taste in my mouth each time I move my head quickly.

Everyone all together was my hope for their childhoods and for my marriage. I don’t want to offer them two homes instead of one, and I don’t want to pay two rents  instead of one. But that’s our reality. Together, Spouse and I fight. Apart we are much kinder. And I’m not going to rehash here the time honored “but they’re happier now and you’re happier now and sometimes marriages just don’t work but you’re doing a great job of making them feel loved even though clearly you made bad choices and probably shouldn’t even be allowed to have children because you’re so bad at decision making” cycle of self loathing some divorced parents go through. Okay, that I go through.

I will say that it’s uncomfortably hard to tell my kids they can’t have the comfort of having everyone who loves them sleep in one house. Or that we can’t split the team and play man-to-man at book-reading time. Instead, there are really only groups of three, and they have to learn to get a lot less solo attention. They’re the center of a Venn diagram, and one of the adults is generally shut out.

What killed me about the campsite question is that he knows there aren’t easy words to put to the situation: it’s not a lack of love or a lack of like…it’s a dynamic between two people who bring out each other’s worst. And they saw it. We were two people treating each other like adversaries instead of partners. And my children felt it. They treat each other like adversaries, too. I feel the guilt of that hourly.

But now they see that two adults can choose to stop being a bad pair and become better people alone. That people can choose to examine their problems and find a solution. A kind solution. A gentle solution. An unwanted but necessary solution.

Later this month I’m giving a talk on finding your blog voice. And staying true to my own writing voice has meant being honest. I don’t blog so I can put on a mask and pretend. For that I have theater. But a blog voice also means permanence and not writing something I’ll regret and want to delete years later. A blog voice means addressing the pain but knowing that just beyond the empathetic friends and sympathetic readers is a future employer who might read this as part of a decision-making process. So being honest and being forever is challenging in transitions like a divorce. I have to talk about solutions but not really explain the problem. I’m not here to air my marriage and its failings. I’m not going to degrade my co-parent in a public forum. And I can’t be here in full therapy mode. That’s not me hiding the truth. But it’s not me being completely frank, either. I’m not comfortable here, right in between a rock and a brick wall.

This blog is where I tell my stories, and aching for my kids that their family seems incomplete, no matter how we configure it, is my story right now. I want to tell that story. Carefully.

Thankfully, my sons’ version of this story is a delightful revisionist world in which they get double marshmallows.

Maybe they’ll share with you.

 

photo credit: John Morgan via creative commons

photo credit: John Morgan via creative commons

 

Trying Hard Not to Rearrange Furniture

I texted friends yesterday that I might need them to come help me move furniture. By the time they replied their faux excitement about the prospect of carrying my stuff around the house, I told them it might not be necessary.

Maybe.

When I’m stressed, I rearrange furniture. As a child whose family relocated a lot, and as an adult who has moved 17 times since freshman year of college, I learned that change comes in big, obvious, irreversible phases that look like new opportunities amongst the rearranged furniture. Moving to a new place was always about hope and new starts and gentle change. Because everything’s still there, just the space is different.

When my adrenals rattle my teeth with doses of neurochemicals that say I should panic, I connect the sensation with living somewhere new. So I either move or I change the whole layout of the house. I don’t actually plan to move right now, so I need to make my house look as though I’ve moved.

(Totally not my house. I love how that weird suburban McMansion photo shoot used light and a throw rug to make me think they really rearranged. False. My kind of rearranging means this room would have the furniture from another room and all this fly-fishing-cabin stuff would be in the kids’ room. Or garage. Rearranging isn’t moving something two feet. It’s relocating and purging until you don’t recognize the room at all.)

But didn’t I just rearrange a few months ago? Some of the furniture left to go to Spouse’s new apartment. Some got sold. And some went downstairs this week because I’m getting a new roommate.

Yep. I’m 41 years old, newly single parent, and I’m taking on a boarder to help cover the rent. All I have to do is start cooking cabbage and washing neighbor’s laundry and I’ll be a set-piece in a late-Nineteenth-Century American novel.

School started last week, which has unnerved me, too. So the need to rearrange is likely stemming from big changes. But still everyone is healthy and reasonably happy. Despite the separation, the boys’ dad spends a lot of time at our house being a parent and showing the kids that he’s not leaving.

That means, though, his admirable efforts at making the boys feel loved and safe are all. up. in. my. face.

Poor guy. He came over last weekend so I could work. And after a long day of chasing after kids and bikes and scooters, he took a shower.

But he put a new soap in the shower. After I opened the shower door and saw it, I called him to the bathroom and extensively explained the concept of leaving things as you find them. He has thoughtfully moved tons of my stuff in the past few months, and it’s driving me crazy. I put my running shoes by the door so I don’t forget them, he puts them in the closet where they belong. I put the kids’ lunch boxes on the counter because they need to be washed, he puts them in the cupboard where they should be. I hang a jacket on a doorknob because it needs to go into storage, he puts it back in the closet where it used to live. I might have used the phase “You’re welcome here, but you don’t live here, so stop deciding where stuff goes,” instead of biting my tongue, as I should.

For years we’ve been using the nicer downstairs shower. But that is now part of the in-law rental unit, and I’ve consolidated everything from both bathrooms into the smaller one upstairs. And it felt nice and grownup and efficient to finally have a space that nobody in the whole family uses but me.

My shower.  MY shower.

And then I come home after banging my brains against a federal grant proposal, and there’s a soap MY SHOWER.

I am fully aware that he didn’t do anything wrong. The guy wanted soap. It doesn’t matter whether he thought I forgot or couldn’t find the soap, or whether he didn’t think anything at all except “I need soap.” It’s a fair desire, that of having soap in a drenching cubicle whose primary purpose is cleaning. I can’t fault him for wanting, finding, and getting soap.

Except it was my shower. MY shower. Was. Now it has ex-partner-who-wanted-soap-and-found-soap-and-added-soap tainted idea-germs all over it. I don’t want his ideas in my shower.

That’s so stupid I can barely type it. But this is my blog and my truth, so I’m willing to be crazy here, even if only for a little…well, okay, most of the time.

But it comes down to this simple and difficult reality: separating from a partner with whom I will coparent for a long, long time is genuinely challenging. I like the world black and white, not grey. I want extremes. And when I am part of a relationship that ends, I want it to actually end.

Surprise that’s not a surprise: there’s no ending a relationship with a co-parent. We’re not teenagers anymore and we can’t just stop calling each other and avoid each other at the mall. This is joint-back-to-school-night territory, y’all.

For most of my adult life, I’ve been prepared for the apocalypse, as long as that catastrophic upheaval involves the complete inability to buy soap. I once had a roommate laugh, “Well, at least we’re prepared for the next Great Soap Famine,” unwittingly insensitive to the hoarding tendencies that make me collect soap in neat rows at the back of bathroom cupboards. I had rows and rows of soap in the hall cupboard of many of those 17 apartments, but I’ve been working to whittle down the stock since moving back to the Bay Area several years ago. I don’t need to prepare for the emergency poverty that might strike and leave me without soap (or any means of buying soap). I don’t need to imagine a time when there’s no soap at the store or no open stores when I need soap or no…I don’t know what. I don’t know why I hoard soap. It’s not as though I shower that much. I just know I need to stop hoarding soap. I have enough, I tell myself as I pass the soap aisle. I have enough, I am enough, I will always have enough, I will always be enough.

Don't worry...I would never ever hoard unwrapped soap. They get goopy after a while, you know.

Don’t worry…I would never ever hoard unwrapped soap. They get goopy after a while, you know.

But since Butter was conceived five years ago, I’ve been hoarding shower gel. Not using it, because I do prefer soap. But paring down the soap collection has me compelled to build a shower gel stash. I shouldn’t call it a hoard. That diminishes the mental illness that genuine hoarders have. I only have six or seven half-gallon bottles of shower gel. Whenever Grocery Outlet has the big 32-ounce size of my favorite brand of natural, toxin-free beauty products, I buy the shower gel. And shampoo. And conditioner. But not compulsively. That would be crazy. I only buy another jug of organic cleansing products if the scent is right. There’s no use hoarding gardenia shampoo or rose conditioner. I don’t want my apocalypse miserable, people. I just want to be prepared. And really, really, really clean for the zombies. Or maybe prepared in the event that bake sales in the zombie age become soap sales.

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I only have three half gallons of shampoo, four of conditioner, and six of shower gel. And that’s totally normal and not at all weird.

So my new shower, my space that meant embracing change and taking a deep breath and accepting hard choices…that shower had shower gel but no soap. That shower, the one we haven’t used in the three years since we moved in, was old and small, but refreshing and cozy and mine. And grownup. So I pulled out of the cupboard matching half-gallon pump bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and shower gel. No soap so that the tiny soap dish could be for a razor. So that I wouldn’t have to clean soap-drip off the cramped walls. So that I could freaking have something in this world the way I want it without worrying about sinking into soapless poverty.

And now the man who is permanently part of my life but not of my future, who is a committed co-parent but a distant memory, who is familiar but now a stranger—that man put soap in my shower.

So I told him not to put soap in the shower. I explained my plan and my shower gel and my need to feel like I own something. And to fight the panic of that by embracing a decrease in the shower gel stock.

He understood. And he was gracious about it. He is back to being gracious about my brands of crazy, now that he gets to live somewhere else. Or stay somewhere else most of the time and come over to be with his kids and hear theories on soap use now and then.

I was glad he understood.

But then the next day he rearranged the shower gel and the shampoo and put them in the wrong places and now the shower is ruined.

I just can’t even.

Poor guy. He’ll never understand. He just doesn’t get it.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. He doesn’t have to understand my kind of crazy.

I just always hoped he would.

And last night, when I mentioned the text to my friends asking for furniture help, my co-parent offered to help me rearrange the garage. Full on “pull everything out, purge some stuff, reorganize the rest, and put it all back” hour-long garage shuffle. The type he’s fought for years.

I told him that he’s a very kind person to help me engage in my favorite form of free therapy: work out panic with heavy physical labor.

Maybe he does actually understand my crazy.

Or maybe he feels guilty about the soap.

I'm starting to think I have a real problem, because this photo makes me twitchy. The soap is broken. The. Soap. Is. Broken. That is very bad.

I’m starting to think I have a real problem, because this photo makes me twitchy. The soap is broken. The. Soap. Is. Broken. That is very bad.

 

Where do I post this?

Dear Jay,

I miss you. I pick up the phone to text you at least once a week. There are so many things I want to tell you. Of course I want to tell you that I’m sad you died. But we covered that when you were alive. We were both sorry, and we had absolutely no say in the matter. So we both moved on, toward love and life and enjoying the time you had. I’ve mentioned I feel terrifically guilty for continuing on, right? No, of course I didn’t. Because when the cancer got bad and you learned the pain of how many people avoid death by avoiding their dying friend, you told me that you wanted us all to live and tell you about it and just act as though you were still the same. Because right up to the end, you were the same.

So let’s pretend, just for a while, okay?

We’re writing new software for the office. Can you believe it? What is that dreadful program…twenty years old? I’m hoping we get it done during the summer so the transition is easy. But speaking of uneasy transitions, we were having trouble with part of the old version last week and it dawned on me I didn’t have to struggle. “I’ll just call Jay,” I said out loud. And then I cracked wide open and I just sobbed. In front of everyone, with no way to make it polite or pretty or decent. I just lost my shit. I can’t call you. That is a stupid and horrible fact. And still true, no matter how much I hate it. But I do hate it.

I saw your kids a couple of weeks ago. So sweet. You know they’re sweet, but I want to remind you. I love hanging out with them. Your oldest is retreating into herself, which we predicted. She’s so unsure of herself right now, which is about her age not about missing you, it seems; but she’s strong and fierce and she’ll start to own her power soon enough. I worked with her on math and kept pointing out how well she does when she settles down and believes in herself. And she does. That’s you, right there: she believes in herself. Your life is looking pretty successful, right? Minus the whole death thing, you win at life.

You know, I should apologize for being seethingly angry at your funeral. It wasn’t really my fault, though: not one of those people at your memorial was you. And I came to celebrate you and talk with you and be with you. But there were hundreds of people, and nobody knew what you know or talked the way you talk or thought the way you might think. Jerks. It was lovely, if you’re into that kind of thing. I’ll take our backyard talks over a lovely memorial any day of the week, but I don’t get to choose.

Let’s see, what else…Spouse and I finally settled down into a quiet space where we could talk, and we both agreed we need to try being apart. It’s been much better since we agreed to separate. He’s kinder and funnier. I’m more calm and accommodating. The stuff you and I talked about with the kids has gotten better. I just wish to god I could have told you all this before you died. You knew. I knew. We both said out loud we knew. But we all thought it would be another five years, at least, so he and I could see if we could make it better.  Nope. Maybe your death got me to that calm, quiet place where I could see the forest despite the trees, but I don’t think so. Either way, we decided a couple of days after you died. Either my timing sucks or yours does. Since you’re not here to defend yourself, I’m saying it’s you.

So I’m rearranging my life now. It’s nice, and it’s scary. It’s sad. I’ll bet you know what I changed first. I’ll bet you know both of the things I changed first. Who cares about closets or couches, right? I rearranged the kitchen and the books.

I completely redesigned the fridge and cabinets, and tossed all the spices I hated. And it still doesn’t feel like enough. I might get new spatulas. Will that make things feel better? They work just fine, but they just seem sad and old and past their prime to me. Spatulas as metaphors. What a dork. You know those mugs we loved? I kept only those four, and donated all the others. More room in life when you get rid of what you don’t want, right? Right. I packed away all the wedding photos but left the family photos so the boys know that everybody in our family is welcome. He is welcome. He just doesn’t live here. Was that weird after your divorce? You aren’t  married, but you see your co-parent all the time? I am wildly uncomfortable, but I kind of like it. I like not being cut off from a part of my old life and I like seeing them happy with him. I don’t like the in between of having him over so much. I’d like a couple of weeks genuinely solo. But that’s silly because it’s not good for anybody else.

Parts of this process are nice. It’s nice to feel happy. Really. I had forgotten. And I know most people are expecting me to be troubled and sad and overwhelmed. But it feels quite good to breathe. I’m eating better, I’m sleeping better, and I’m more relaxed. Because that giant weight lifted off my family. Not just off me. Off the whole family. It feels as though a secret is out and everything is better. Did you feel that way when you came out? Or when you split up?

Even the books are now more honest. They’re not all grouped by literary period, because I’ve pulled those that I still haven’t finished (or even started) and put them on their own shelves. The unread, the Next, the “as soon as I have time” sit on their own shelves, begging to be noticed. Not posturing as part of a cluster as they would in a bookstore, hoping some day I’ll remember my intense need to read them. This is my house and these are my books, and I want the unread to remind me of what’s left to come, in a big ol’ honest FUTURE shelf. Two, really. I know you left a lot of unread books. I’m glad that was only sad to you for a little while, until you moved into that “between two worlds and unconcerned with earthly nonsense” phase.

But a few threads of silver lining the cloud don’t make the whole process of unraveling my marriage any easier. I’m overwhelmed by all the “what comes next”s and the “what have we done”s and the “what if we’re wrong”s . I wish I could ask you about how it went for you when you split up. I keep remembering what you said, though. The divorce is not even going to be a speck on the fabric of what forms your kids. Your death will be the defining event, bar none. I feel so dwarfed by the magnitude of that statement. I’m so sorry for you and A and the kids. I’m so grateful for my family. A family spread across two households doesn’t matter. Nobody’s dying. We win!

Ha.

Your manuscript is still in my desk. Your number is still on my phone. I actually closed my facebook account because they posted a message to me last week. “Jay misses you. Write on his wall!” I said a few really bad words at the computer, closed it, and went to rearrange the DVDs. There aren’t very many, but it made me smile to shift them around. They used to sit in simple his/hers piles. Now they’re John-Hughes/not-John-Hughes piles.

Jay misses me, eh algorithm? Well, he might, but I doubt it. Jay’s dead. Jay doesn’t miss me one-millionth as much as I miss him. Jay has moved on to something completely different. I’m here struggling to remember that change is good and a given in life. Most changes are good, if you find the right way to look at them. And my life now is better. And it’s going to keep heading in that direction, except when it doesn’t. Life: messy, and rarely easy.

Messy and rarely easy. Like your life, and like your death. I know those last weeks were horrible, and I’m glad you died, if only because it stopped the hurt and the sadness and the waiting. I hope your afterlife is going well. Maybe write me back, if you have a chance. It would be nice to hear from you. The past few months have been harder because I can’t talk to you. So bust out all your other-worldly tricks and give me a shout. Even if you think getting new spatulas is a bad idea.

Love,
C

Coming home

A long travel day, a long conference day, a long travel day. Moments of embarrassingly loud laughter, long stretches of insect-splatting boredom, sparks of intellectual fireworks, flawless time with friends, and a breathtaking moment of euphoria.

art institute of chicago Chagall exhibit

Back home, half of the plates are gone. The wedding china, which we’ve always used as everyday dishes. Their absence makes space for the boys’ two favorite dishes to rest together on the same shelf. Finally. I don’t like these little upsides. They feel like laughing at a funeral.

Half of the drinking cups are gone. Makes the collection a little coffee-focused. Kid glasses and coffee mugs and a set of happy-making mathematical highballs. With a lot of what I expect just…gone. Maybe I’ve expected too much. And by “maybe,” I mean “of course.”

The dresser he’s had for decades is sitting by the front door. It’s ready. I don’t know if he’s ready. I’m not ready. That’s too bad. We have to be ready. We don’t, of course, but he’s moving and “ready” isn’t the point.

We’re in for a lot of change. There is no “my side” of the bed anymore. Or the fun we had every year on New Year’s Eve of switching sides of the bed. Just for a year. Just to see if it settles anything. Or unsettles anything. Or everything.

What will I do now to shake things up? Have a conversation with myself?

I emptied the mission-style letter-writing desk I picked out, so he can take it to his new apartment that I hate and is too far and is all wrong and is none of my business. And I had him move my work desk from the dining room to the bedroom. My bedroom. Two closets just for me and more space than I’ll ever need. Maybe I’ll move the kids into the master with me, and we’ll move all the furniture in that too-big room and we’ll be happy forever without any problems or fights or unmet needs. The end.

The expectant hope of a new home, where unpacking the books and kitchen tools is so important because they set the stage for everything…I’m doing that in my own house. Not my own, really. A rental I can’t afford by myself. I’ll figure that out later. After I reorganize everything in the manic hope that rearranging until 3am will make the next day okay.

I want to move because there’s too much house for three. I don’t want to move because the last thing the kids need right now is more change. I pause for a deep breath of gratitude that we have that choice. I’m glad for that choice.

I offered some of the framed photos and he accepted. Will it upset the kids to see blank spots on the walls where their photos hung for three years? Will they be happy to know he wants their photos decorating his life or will they notice only the absence? Of photos, of couch, of father visiting four days a week but clearly just a guest.

Did I make him feel like just a guest in the marriage? An employee, an afterthought? Probably. A few plates and cups and a couch isn’t making as large a dent as I thought it would. Did he not have enough of him here, or do I just not notice how much is really leaving?

The little one, my sweet, irrational, King-Kongesque little butterbean wants to know why Daddy has to move his furniture. Why is he bringing things to his new place? They haven’t really understood yet, because it’s been just talk. I think he believed the new apartment he saw was somehow just a daytime space, like for work. Dad sleeping somewhere else because he doesn’t live here? He has literally no friends with divorced parents. Nobody else in our family is separated. I’m sure there will be a trophy or a plaque issued for that particular honor soon enough, but Butter has no frame of reference. Until now. So I’ve taught him about rainbows and mammals and glitter glue and divorce. Gee, that feels exactly the opposite of terrific. “We’re still a family, and we’re living in different houses. We still love you and we both want to be with you all the time. We just don’t do a good job of being with each other.” But that’s not true anymore. We do a very good job of being with each other. So then…why?

There will be questions. I know this will come. “But you are nice together now. Why can’t you be in the same house now that you know how to be kind together?”

I don’t know.

I really don’t know. I’ve asked that, too. For now, or for good, “he doesn’t want to” is the truth the boys won’t hear. We carefully unify in our answers in a way we never did when we were together. And I can’t tell them their dad said that he only has enough kindness for temporary, transitional interactions. I’m in the bargaining phase, though. “If we can keep being this way and we can both work hard on maintaining this civility and mutual respect and…can’t we just please…” It’s been so much work for years just to stay together, so much constant stress to keep from either sinking into depression or running screaming for a distant land that there’s an ease between us now. And I want to keep that ease. Can’t we be like this and stay a whole family? In one place? Can’t we please? I want someone to answer that for me. Because everything would be different, right? We’d be different people with different interests and different approaches and different priorities? We would heal all our issues and be to each other what we should be. To stay together we could do that, right? Maybe. Let’s just try…I know, but maybe try for four more years? It’s only been 15 years total. Why would we assume we know anything yet?

He’s happy and acts like the man I met, animated and clever and fun. The man I married. I try not to focus on the fact that he’s happy because he’s leaving. Because he doesn’t have to anymore. I was a have to.

The wine and the cookbooks are staying. We split the mixing bowls and he got new cutting boards. I want new cutting boards. The beer’s all gone. I rearranged the fridge at midnight, so the veggies are finally in the crisper and the shelves organized by meal. He doesn’t pack school lunches, so why does he get to put the peanut butter in the door? I don’t want it in the door. I don’t want tortillas in the cheese drawer. I don’t want soda crowding the shelves. One for when he visits, and one for my mom. One. They only get a tiny piece of my space because I need to control the space, hold up the house’s walls as they start pressing in. I want all the lunch options together, dammit. Can’t I have that?

Yes, now I can. Oh, and how’s that feel? Everything better now that you can control the peanut butter?

Didn’t think so.

His books are gone. My Modernism shelf has a lot of detritus cluttering it; bits and pieces he found as he packed are sitting by Gertrude Stein and Djuna Barnes and F. Scott Fitzgerald. I don’t want old CDs and cat toys and a battery recharger blocking James Joyce. I reject that arrangement. I want to just sell all the books because there’s not much about language experimentation from the 1920s I want in my face right now. Thank goodness I don’t own any Hemingway or I would have burned it last night. He’s just exactly the guy on whom I’d like to take out my anger. My Faulkner shelf is too high to put things on it, thank goodness. Alphabetical, same publisher and cover system, not too carefully lined up, but solid and supportive in its panic-inducing insanity. Am I going to have to change these shelves? I grouped the books as intentionally as I could: by literary movement when possible, geography when appropriate, and read vs. unread vs. half-read status as necessary. But there are other methods that could make sense, could inspire more reading, could excite my boys into a world of incredible literature. I’ll do that tonight. Because at 4 and 8 it’s crucial that they see a wall of books arranged flawlessly? I worry myself at times, except that I’m consistent, so I know nothing’s too wrong.

What is going to become of my books? What if we move? What if I can’t bring them all? Should I sell them now and just say goodbye? What if, what if, what if? A good reason to get even less sleep. What if? Thinking myself in worried circles like a child rubbing a lovey against her almost sleeping cheek. Or a woman tracing the yellow wallpaper of her room.

My feminist theory shelf is still half-empty—listing and slumped with the freedom of not being packed like literary sardines—from my two-month effort to write the paper that begged me to write it for four years. It was well received. I need to edit it and get it to a journal soon. It’s just too awesome and I want it available to anyone who might care.

I don’t feel awesome, though. There is guilt for swelling with freedom and pride. Now that I’m supporting the kids on my income, there is a constant fear in my freelancing way of life, working this week on too many projects, that the projects will dry up next month. I’ll look for something permanent once these clients slow down.

There is frustration with the same conversations, the same petty bickering, the same nasty under-breath comments said in retreat from a dialogue. Get back here. Talk to me.

You’re not coming back, are you.

I want the ease, the kindness, the joy. I want a relationship, not a roommate. I want surety but not at the cost of how I believe a family should treat each other, at a minimum. I want to know what it will be if we fight for us, though he said he’s not going to try anymore. I want to know what it will be if we give up, so I can decide based on what it’ll be like in a year, two years, ten years. I want to know what is best for everyone, I want to know in advance, and I want to know precisely. With numbers and measurements and guarantees.

Because so much of life is measurable and knowable. Ha. If you want guarantees, get married. I’m pretty sure a promise to someone you love is good enough to carry you through 80 years or so.

I want to know what to want. And while I’m figuring that out, I’ll move the dining room table and change where we keep the art supplies just in case that helps. Anyone have a feng shui book for where to put glitter glue and markers to ensure good decision-making and emotional well-being?

Just close your eyes

There is an exercise we do in fencing warm ups: we balance on one foot. And then we switch to the other. And after we switch back, we balance on each foot with our eyes closed.

You find out two things when you close your eyes and balance on one leg. 1) A surprising amount of balance predicates itself on vision. 2) Your proprioceptors function amazingly well if you get out of their way. Because the human body should adjust, balance, and re-adjust in response to stimuli. In fact, the human brain should also adjust, balance, and re-adjust in response to input.

So why do I feel as though, only a few weeks into the initial process, that a divorce is knocking my body and brain so far out of whack they can’t adjust?

I know this isn’t supposed feel easy or simple. I know after 15 years the path isn’t going seem as clear as we’d hoped when we finally, finally admitted how wrong our marriage has been for so very long.  I have proof, from the Interwebs, which tell me whenever I ask, that feeling all of the feelings is normal, even during an amiable split. Read some really lovely and awful and heart-felt descriptions of the journey from the incomparable Heather of the EO and my new blog-crush Carla of All of Me Now.

By the way, any time someone says their divorce portends a good thing, and that they’re both doing a great job of addressing the issues they could never address while married, you should give them caramel, the way two of my friends did. Because I can tell you that “doing a great job” of splitting up is something like doing a great job reading Heart of Darkness. It’s ugly and awful, and nobody would ever recommend it to anyone else. Caramel I can recommend unequivocally to everyone. Divorce and/or Conrad? Not so much.

But until a couple of weeks ago I thought, because I’m quite keen on control and planning and overthinking, that I could make a nice tidy plan for how this breakup would go.  And that it would. Go. Just follow a path toward eventual harmony and paperwork and a co-parenting friendship.

Rather like the way I thought I was rather balance-y at fencing. Until I close my eyes. Turns out I balance myself by finding stable points ahead of me and staring at them. When I close my eyes, that stable fixative point ghosts into a bleeding black puddle behind my eyelid, and the swimming scarlet and yellow vitreous drowns my efforts to clench myself into balance and unnerves my thinking mind enough to make me wobble. A lot.

Navigating through the day in an almost-former-marriage feels a lot like wobbling on one foot with your eyes closed. [My eyes closed. I can’t speak for you, nor should I. If you ever try both the blind one-foot-balancing trick and the initial phases of separation in the same week, let me know how they compare.] I feel as though I have it all under control, barely, until I blink. And then logistics and hurt and choices and relief and work and timing and panic and money and regret and discussions and feelings and my poor, sweet, vulnerable little boys all swim in green and blue and purple venous blobs before me like a lake of bruises beneath which I’m drowning.

So I open my eyes. And I try to balance without focusing so hard. I try to let my body balance me rather than trying to force everything with my mind. I try to trust and I try to breathe. And I try to memorize how my body feels with this balance so that when I close my eyes I care less how it looks than how it feels.

And each day happens. And each night does, too. And the next day there’s another endless string of challenges.

And when I let my body handle those obstacles, rather than relying just on my mind, it’s like living in molasses. Because letting go and not controlling the hell out of everything taps proprioceptors I’ve never used before. I’m so slow right now. I type slowly. I think slowly and answer slowly. I’m even running so  slowly that I’m considering seeing a doctor. I’ve lost more than a minute per mile off my regular, don’t-have-to-try-for-it pace. That minute, on every mile I’ve run for the past month, is gone. Lost to the ether. I hope some young person in love and full of hope is running faster with my minutes. I miss them, but I’m willing to lose them forever if they go to a good home.

The words “a good home” make me a little maudlin. And by “a little” I mean “ask me in person because I’ll admit very little on a public blog even though I’m pretty darned honest here at good ol’ NaptimeWriting.”

All I know is that if asking my mind and body to do too much leaves me wobbling, I need to balance smarter. Eyes open, deep breath; eyes closed, rolling with the wobbles. Because that’s what learning experiences are for, right? Strengthening muscles you didn’t know you had? Part of me says, “but I don’t want these muscles because I promise I’ll never need them again.” But I will. For the rest of my relationship with the boys’ father, I will need these blind-balance muscles.

And that right now is the saddest part for me, after the waves of gut-punches at what this adult tower of cards means for the boys: I’m building muscles I don’t want to need. But I do need them. And so I will build them. I have to.

Eyes open, deep breath; eyes closed…let go.

 

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Dancing on marbles

Life is one big precarious attempt to not tumbling ass over teakettle, I am now convinced. And I’m trying to see the joy in the slapstick of walking boldly across a slick path made unpredictable with hundreds of marbles. Because every time I’m posed to post on this very spot about something lovely, I’m walloped upside the head with something decidedly unlovely.

And every time I want to wallow in the unlovely, something decidedly lovely distracts me.

You are likely aware, if you’ve been reading here for a while, that my gobsmackingly awesome children are finally starting to get along. Wise friends with three boys told me that once the little guy hit Four it would get better. And it has (with all the caveats about the fact that three people in the same house, none of whom has much emotional control, are rarely in the same mood and on the same page). Sometimes, now, when the first pats of butter-yellow light slip through their blinds and plop onto their beds each morning, Peanut and Butter wake up willing to engage in silly, playful interactions rather than surly, bickering nastiness. Sometimes. And that has increased the quality of life around here immeasurably.

Part of the boys’ getting along more probably roots in the fact that their Dad and I are being much calmer now that we’ve decided not to live together. Less struggle begets less struggle. So far. When there is tangible paternal-absence and marked maternal-lack-of-running-time, when the there might be a struggle or two. See the above metaphor about making steady progress along a marble-strewn path.

I’m sure that, in part, the boys’ kindness to one another stems from a fabulous trip to Boston. We walked the Charles, we spent our tourist dollars at Marathon Sports on Boylston. We ate good food (my GAWD I’ve missed Red Bones) and we practically lived on the T. We cheered for marathoners until we were hoarse. We even offered our fluffernutters to the many, many police working the course on Patriot’s Day. (One indignant Statie told me he already had his peanut butter with jelly, thank you. And then I believe he was fired for inMassabordination.) We spent time like a family, and it was good for everyone.

Part of the increased sibling harmony also stems from a deep sadness that has stilled my otherwise frenetic pace. The death of my friend has brought a rather large dollop of “I don’t care about anything any more” to my endless to-do lists and my frantic need to prove myself worthy through incessant activities.

As we made it through the memorial, we found out that a mutual friend, who was diagnosed with leukemia around the same time Jay had his first surgery, has relapsed. This little boy, who spent kindergarten in Children’s Hospital enduring rounds and rounds of chemo, and whose family learned a gratitude few of us will ever fathom, enjoyed first- and second-grade without cancer. Now his leukemia is back. He’s going through a couple of weeks of chemo before a bone marrow transplant.  We’re all trying coming together as a community, again, to get people checked, at no cost, to see if they’re matches for any of the many Americans in need of bone marrow. And maybe, if enough people get the free test, we can find our little guy a match!

So that’s exciting. If you’re one of the people who’s into bright sides and finding the joy of surfing the marble-covered path to tomorrow, it’s enlivening to have a purpose. To help. To appreciate and breathe and put one foot in front of the other. Nothing brings me out of “what’s the point” like a bone marrow drive.

Go hug your family. Email your friends and tell them you love them. Take a deep breath each morning, and relish what’s good.

And consider being tested to see if you’re a match for, and can help give a great life to, a sweet little boy.

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https://www.facebook.com/amatchforbay

 

The Loh Down on Divorce

Sandra Tsing Loh, whose writing I admire and whose voice is all too often in my car, is ending her marriage of 20 years. And she has some intensely interesting things to say about women, marriage, and American culture.

Check out her intriguing article over at The Atlantic.

Made me thing of Orenstein’s book Flux, and of several conversations I’ve had lately with friends about limited hours in the day and priorities. Consider, for instance, her argument that “To a certain extent, men today may have more clarity about what it takes to raise children in the modern age. They don’t, for instance, have today’s working mother’s ambivalence and emotional stickiness.”