I didn’t realize it was my (former?) anniversary until I saw it on Facebook. “Three years ago today . . .” it said. And there was a picture of so many of us, my people, huddled together in and around and on top of the outhouse that my then fiancé carefully crafted so that it would be useful at camp after we used it as a photo booth.
I couldn’t find him in the picture.
I thought the hard part of divorce was the decision. I remember a nearly full year of agonizing and crying and mourning. Of walking through every possible scenario to save whatever was left. Then one day, I wasn’t mourning anymore. I was done crying and done hypothesizing; the unraveling of our union proceeded with remarkable ease.
But here I am, five months later, and I realize that the hard part is NOW.
The hard part is when you miss your really shitty husband.
The hard part is when you have cramps like Vesuvius and your kid is surly and you think you’ve failed at raising him AND the fucking dishes never end, man. Never end. You just want to read your book, walk the dog, go to fucking yoga, man. You realize that there is no one else to make the coffee, and no matter how shitty a person is, if they bring you coffee in the morning? You remember what that feels like. You still wake up some days and roll over, thinking that a hot cup of coffee will be right beside you.
Even when your shitty spouse seems to do nothing more than make life difficult, there is someone there to yell at. Someone who, for better or worse, knows the only way to stop the tears, catch your breath.
Our life together was not healthy or fun, and the rare good times were too far apart to even create the illusion of happiness. But he was . . . there. Even if the burden of home fell on me, there was another human around. In Case of Emergency.
As a teacher, I spend the end of August and beginning of September coiling, coiling, coiling so tightly that I actively fear the release. I know that something is next, but I’m never quite sure what. It could be a weekend of sleeping, a thrown coffee mug, or a midnight drive. But usually, it’s just a couple of hours of uncontrollable sobbing. (I blame society, not nature, for the record.)
Maladaptive, yes, but there are few people in the universe, who can both push you over the edge and soften your fall. My shitty husband could do both.
Wake early. Make coffee. Notice the sunlight warming your shoulders through the kitchen window.
Choose one album whose story you can follow as you putter: cook, start laundry, find a million dirty cups. Press play. Feel your shoulders, hips, stockinged feet begin to move.
Pull your snarled hair up and secure. Smile at your reflection – a slash of white, earned, you have no intention of coloring.
Turn on the oven. Peel strips of bacon and layer them on a cookie sheet. Place them in the oven and forget about them. Heat two cast iron skillets on the stove. Ease the pages of your red, Betty Crocker cookbook binder open; they are stuck together with drops buttermilk, smears of eggy fingers, years-old flour dust.
Triple the recipe:
1 = 3 eggs + one for good measure
1 c. flour = 3
1 c. buttermilk = 3
1 c. blueberries = entire bag
and so on.
wash – crack – sing – stir – sizzle – flip
Eat pancakes over the stove. Ignore the hot blueberries burn your tongue. To feed the masses, you must first feed yourself.
Drink your coffee while you listen to the last song of the album. Realize that this moment is the first song in yours.
Wake the one, two, three, four teenaged boys inhabiting your house – one yours, three borrowed. Listen to the thud of elephant steps on the stairs, laughter, guitars.
Revel in your status as ‘that house’ and realize ‘that mom’ always has to do a fuck ton of dishes.
Let the boys – paradoxes all of them – scruffy and smelly and intelligent and articulate and infinitely scatalogical – commandeer the music. Cock your head and really listen to the clarinet solo. Be impressed.
Watch the food disappear.
Send them outside. “Pitter patter, boys. Go make music.”
Pour another cup of coffee. Sit on the front steps.
Here’s a throwback piece from last summer. Because I am thinking of summer and baseball season and the sheer improbability that I am the mother of a fifteen-year-old.
June 3, 2015
I woke up this morning and peeled off the sticker to show the start day. I covered up Sunday with Wednesday, the seven days of each week feeling exactly like the number of parenting days I have left.
The afternoon became sunny, with the haze of blackflies that signifies early June in Maine. The boys lost, again, but it was less painful for all of us this time around. They piled into my car, one seatbelt short, and joked as the two skinniest ones strapped in together. We decide to stop at Dairy Queen, me and the four uniform-clad middle school boys. They smelled of spring: sweat and bug spray and hair gel and dirt, and I realized that I can count the days I will have like this.
I think back to the interminable years of early-middle childhood. The ones where I skipped over sentences to finish the bedtime book sooner, or when I was on the couch reading instead of playing Lego. The parenting hourglass seemed full, heavy and oppressive; now it is no longer top-heavy, and the sand is moving faster, faster, faster and I hold my breath willing it to stop.
It is June, the school year is winding down, and the enormity of life hits me like the proverbial wall in the last four miles of a marathon. Except – I’m not ready for this to be over. My legs are fresh and I JUST hit my stride. But I can see the trajectory now: instead of arguing over too much screen time and the dangers of drinking soda, we will be talking about grades, drinking, drugs; learning to drive, safe and respectful sex, SATs; choosing a college, a career, and finding time to visit. Like love in a John Green novel, my parenting days have unfurled slowly, then all at once.
I placed the small, yellow pill on my tongue and swallowed dry; knowing this was the right choice, but mourning what might have been. My imaginary minivan, Disney vacations, and family meetings; the loudest cheering section for every soccer game, comically lost and forgotten siblings; and the sweet, slow burn of controlled chaos. Moving seamlessly from parenting to grandparenting with too many animals, my husband and I having just enough time for a quick grope as we pass in the kitchen.
My parenting time has been quiet, if not lonely. In solo parenting, you are The One: the designated worrier, disciplinarian, parent-teacher conference goer, and tucker-inner. If you go down – no one is there to lift you up. And that is okay. It is okay for our kids to see us as humans. We learn to apologize and explain. We become kinder to ourselves and to others. We know that everyone has a story.
I never planned on being mom to an only, and maybe there will be more. Eventually. My decision to be done, for now, is a cross section of pragmatism, biology, and acceptance; acknowledging that another, also rich, life is possible even if it is not the one I had imagined.
A post in which I use a tired metaphor because my brain is tired and I can’t really think of anything else.
If I were a geologist, I would have seen the earthquake coming. Unless it’s one of those disaster movies (why do I love them so much?!) where the fancy ass scientists don’t recognize the warning signs and only the nerdy crazies know what’s coming but nobody listens to them. In that case, someone would have noticed, but I digress.
I should have. (Shit. Does that make me the obtuse and narcissistic scientist? Let’s pretend no.)
I barely got out in time. I am, if we’re sticking with this metaphor, still driving as the ground crumbles behind my back tires. But we all know that I will make it. You all know that that dusty truck ALWAYS drives toward the rainbow.
But now I recognize pieces of my life are beginning to settle into old and new places.
I am consumed with hope simply because it has been so long.
It’s itching at my clavicles and my heels. It was there all along.
This is new. Before, I drove and sobbed and contemplated and reckoned carefully. I am sure I am not finished driving and sobbing and contemplating, but it is no longer ALL.
And the aftershocks are coming, I know. I am going to do just what I always want my characters to do: keep my running shoes on, pack water, look up.
The Announcement: Time to preorder friends. My across-the-web friend, sister, and mentor, Glennon Melton of Momastery, is releasing her second book. Love Warrior. It is about marriage. But it is also about us. (Do you love that I’m telling you about this book I haven’t even read? I can do this because I have been reading with Dear G for so so long. I know the story that gave rise to THIS story, and I trust in G and her infinite wisdom and grace).
This is some of what she has to say:
“Listen to me: Some loves are perennials—they survive the winter and bloom again. Other loves are annuals—beautiful and lush and full for a season and then back to the Earth to die and create richer soil for new life to grow. The eventual result of both types of plants is New Life.
New life for annual and perennial plants. New love for annual and perennial loves. Nothing wasted. No such thing as failure. Love never fails. Never never. Are you still married? Your love did not fail. Are you divorced? Once? Twice? A third time? Your love did not fail. It made you who you are inside of THIS VERY moment. Love never fails.”
Some Bravery: Glennon (see above) has this idea that life is brutiful, the inextricable qualities of brutal and beautiful. I’m reminded now, more than ever, that they truly cannot be separated, and that one colors the other in a constantly shifting perspective.
Right now? Life is messy and complicated and heartbreaking. Life is beautiful and amazing beyond belief, and I wonder if this part of life is the psychological equivalent to what Phillip Petite felt like while walking between buildings, suspended directly in between beauty and freedom and impending death. I need to tell this story, yet, this is not all my story to tell. But I have learned so much. So much about addiction and love and mistakes; about my own capabilities, and the patience of my friends. I have learned I am learning I will be learning.
I, of course, know that big storms bring big problems, and that people and structures are put in danger because of these storms. I don’t wish that upon anyone.
What I am jealous of is the stop-everything-gather-food-and-family-and-do-not-leave-home imperative.
You see, I am a teacher and mother to one teenager, two rivalrous dogs, and far too many chickens. And even when everyone is at odds, I enjoy the moments when we are all home (when weather removes any chance of escape!) more than any others. Power goes out. Eventually we get bored. The dogs fall asleep, as does my husband. Or he and Colby both finally run out of any other option for entertainment and play board games with me. We sit by the fire, scrounge for food, huddle under blankets. We are present. There is nothing to do next, no place to go.
It is the end of January and we have had 0 of those moments this year. It has been endless and brutal. Lovely at many moments, but utterly exhausting.
Our lives are busy in the best ways: great friends, various interests, hockey and hockey and hockey. But when the busy is paused – man, those are the moments.
Friends, I hope you are all safe and warm.
And also that I will get at least one big snowstorm, preferably BEFORE April, this season. I mean – I don’t live in Maine for the mosquitos.
It’s been a doozy, friends. One for the books. A year to remember. Interminable, exhausting, exhilarating, and joyful. But sweet hallelujah — the school year is OVER.
Have I told you this already? With my endless bitching and moaning and OHMYFREAKINGGODAMIREALLYSICKAGAIN? book slamming? Sorry. Really. No one likes a Crabby Patty, and I ended the year like a napless five-year-old with uncomfortable clothes. In the classroom I was all smiles and “These things happen, guys” when my students were concerned. In the office and at home, well, not so much smiling – a lot more napping and stomping and unremitting diarrhea. But you know what? These things happen.
A student of mine had a similar year; it seemed like they couldn’t catch a break between crisis and injuries and illness. I’d like to write a revisionist history where I handled my setbacks in the same way as my student. However, I didn’t, but I learned a lot.
Some chronic health issues have colored the last few months. While untimely, it has forced me to examine the ways in which I spend my time and energy.
And the dogs. My God The Dogs.
Sam is recovering from surgery to repair her cruciate ligament and meniscus. Everyone is saying “poor Sam” but you know who you should feel bad for? Her poor mom. Literally. Poor. She’s being spoiled and loved and well cared for. Her sister is pissed.
Sam has doggie rehab/physical therapy once a week. Consequently, Bella likes to terrorize her at least once a day. Now Bella looks like this as she goes to doggie daycare:
Then they can snuggle like the best friends (bahaha!) they are.
Oh, and we’re trying to keep the chickens and garden alive. What? Oh yeah. By ‘we’ I mean Matt. Obv.
So between illness and runaway chickens and injured or otherwise assholish dogs, I nonchalantly asked Matt if he would want to go to the beach with us this weekend. July is a hot, uncomfortable mess with Colby going between our house and with his dad. I desperately wanted to do something fun – with all of us. I was so surprised Matt agreed that I kept waiting for him to come up with an excuse not to go. I was okay taking the kids to the beach on my own – I always have been – but I was really hoping for his company.
We made arrangements for a friend to come along (lest Colby be stuck with the old farts all by himself), and I packed the car last night. I took sandwich orders: pb with fluff and nutella (x2), gluten-free pb and nutella (x1 and g.r.o.s.s.), pb with nutella and a banana (x1). I packed drinks and four tubes of sunblock and hats.
I had us in the car by 8 a.m. and we were off.
We drove and listened to the radio and barely heard a peep from the kids. Thank you teenaged sleepiness and Nintendo DS.
As I scrambled up some rocks, it dawned on me that we are still in the sweet spot of parenting. (I’m sure you’ve heard me say this already – and I’m sorry if you’re not there yet. I’m not trying to throw this in your poor, sleep-deprived and over-stimulated face. I’m just letting you know: Trust me. It gets better.) I was ahead of the kids, not directly behind or beside them. I could climb a bit, stand ahead, and know that they were coming along (instead of being convinced of their imminent deaths). Matt and I could carry on a conversation EVEN IF THEY WERE OUT OF EYESIGHT. I knew that they were okay.
I run anxious already, but it’s like I never knew how debilitating it was until the fabric of worry and doom and danger that had covered me all started to unravel. I think I lost a strand in the third grade when Colby could finally tie his shoes. Another when we entered into a new school community. Another with some honest conversation. Another here, another there, until WOMP – here I am.
We got home from super-awesome-beach-day a couple of hours ago. Not long after that, Matt left with the dogs and Colby left with his dad. Even a year ago – the sudden absence of all of my people (yes, dogs included) from my immediate reach would have sent me into a vortex of nothingness: where I couldn’t concentrate on anything less something catastrophic happened and I needed to be ready to run. But – here I am, sitting on my front steps with a glass of Pinot and talking to you!
I don’t know if THIS is the result of Colby’s independence or my, uh, maturity (does that make me sound geriatric?). I guess I hope it’s both.
So I spent the day in thanks. Thankful for the warm air that felt better than my heated blanket EVER will, thankful for the company of my husband who will swim in the cold, cold ocean with me, the soft breeze and the sound of the waves. Most of all, I was thankful for the opportunity to read AN ENTIRE SECTION of the weekend Times, on the beach, knowing that my kid was just a half a beach away, and he was just fine.