Weddings & Babies and What Would Have Been 10 Years

This was not published elsewhere. It’s just here, for me, and whomever else might find value.

Weddings and babies, weddings and babies… old people – with their pastels, and their shawls and orthodics – they love, love weddings and babies. Why? Hope, of course.

It’s like we’re born with this Big Hope Treasure Chest; our dowry for making it back into the world. And over time, the world takes it back, coin by coin, jewel by jewel, taxation by taxation.

I see the hope alive and well in my young kids. They are just so positive they can do anything. I just upgraded my 4-year-old son’s 12″ bike, to an 16″ bike. He can go much faster now on bigger tires. I heard him tell the babysitter that he was going to ride to downtown Seattle. We live 15 minutes from downtown Seattle by freeway. He would have to cross three bridges and two tunnels to get there. When the babysitter corrected him about the distance and dangers, he wasn’t buying it. He believes with enough effort, he can do anything. Of course, when he gets tired after a half hour with mom, he doesn’t quite understand that it would take a whole lot more effort to ride to Seattle on his 16″ bike. But still, the hope, the belief in himself is there.

Then, the world slowly reveals itself – or we get blinded by it – and little by little, you stop believing you can do anything. You start to understand the true nature of distances and danger and ideas… and one of those things is hope.

Sometimes hope is hard to come by… it can be fleeting, soothing, stolen, make us deliriously happy, move mountains and also be broken. Just a little can save us, too much will hurt us. You shouldn’t let it run out and yet sometimes you have to let it die. It’s as necessary in this life as air. But sometimes, it’s hard to come by. Often, closer to the end and especially, in times of deep sadness.

Today, I woke up feeling horrible for no real reason. I couldn’t get my head on right from the moment I opened my eyes. I was grumpy, edgy, full of sadness. They say the body doesn’t forget. They say our deepest hurts still live on inside us – in our bones, our hearts, our hips, our DNA. They say trauma can actually change our cell structures. It wasn’t until I wrote the date that I realized why I felt so bad.

Today, had I stayed married, we would have made it 10 years. Ten. And if my wedding wasn’t my own precious, crown jewel of hope that this life took – then I’m not sure what is. Some act as though, since I willingly left a deconstructed marriage, that I gave up my right to mourn this day. That I should actually be HAPPY. That because I wanted out of a union which was killing me, that I surrender my right to be sad when an anniversary comes about. They wonder why I miss a man who has caused me so much pain.

The truth is, I don’t. I don’t even mourn my marriage after what it became in the end.

My sadness and anger are for the life that I wanted. The life I planned to live. The life, that when it was good – and there were moments – was the exact life I dreamed of. So forgive me if I’m a little sad and a little edgy. Hope has just been a little hard to come by, today.

But don’t worry, I’m sitting in the front pew with Grandma Louis and Great Aunt Mabel clutching my purse in one arm with my worn and faded, cloth hankerchief in the other, and I’m watching that beautiful bride in white. I can see her bright face. And through the tears welling up in my eyes, I can almost see his proud smile. And in spite of my many years of lost treasures, I can almost remember what that feels like. Weddings and babies, they get me every time.

And whether you can see me or not, I’m here, holding on. And I’m still looking for it everywhere. Because like I tell my babies… the most important thing is trying.

Marriage is a giant leap of hope

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On Settling My Mind and Letting Things Be

Where have I been? Better question, or maybe a statement, where I have I not been.

I’ve been riding my bike by the ocean. I spent the fourth of July exactly how it should be spent, with friends on a boat. I treated my parents and my brother’s family to a nice vacation in the Cascade mountains. I blew my kids’ mind with a moped ride. I stifled my gag reflex and took a picture with my ex husband at Kindergarten graduation. I watched my son be inspired with his first taste of BMX racing. I went to an ironic art show about penises. I saw the sun set and a full moon rise at the same time while on the Pacific ocean. I smoked cigarettes with a very sad man on his back porch while comparing divorce war stories which were so different and yet eerily similar. I adopted two kittens. I had long, hopeful, but sad phone conversations with a friend in another state from long ago who was in the hospital for six weeks with an infected leg and trying to stay clean off meth. Sadly, he was in so much more pain than physical and he’s lost now. I met some amazing women at a blogging conference across the country and sang Rick Springfield while sober. I’ve carried on a lively texting relationship with a man who lives in a neighboring state who might just be my doppelgänger. We have never met but sometimes he reads my mind and we finish each other’s sentences. Go figure, he’s a writer and editor. You’ve never seen such grammatically correct texting which, by the way, is a turn on. I’ve grown an accidental garden of cucumbers. I took a fiction class and wrote my first short story in a year. I penned an anonymous sex article for an online zine which shall remain nameless. I met another really nice boy who I liked a lot. He wined and dined me with smoked salmon and white wine in plastic stemmed cups on a mountain trail. I lost that boy out of fear – his, not mine. But that’s not to say I haven’t been afraid.Where I've been

My fear, though, is right here on this page. I’ve been writing, but not much publicly. I’m bursting with stories, but I can’t get them out. It’s an achy, itchy sort of pain. I start, stop, then ignore, and live to tell more stories squashing the regret for the ones I neglected to get out which now seem stale.

But I can’t complain. I have no right. My life is pretty good now. Which on one hand, seems strange because the hole left by the explosion of my divorce is still hallowed ground. But it’s no longer smoking. And some things are much harder now. Like bills and missing my children. But overall, I still can’t complain. In fact, often times, I look around and can’t believe how stupidly contented I feel in spite of all that I have survived in the last six years with law suits, career moves, divorce and babies.

There are many reasons I feel content in the aftermath of such destruction, but the one that comes to mind is that I’ve settled my mind. For six years the space between my ears was its own battlefield. A constant stream of impossible choices: stay, go, fight, stand down, run, hide, pull out the big guns. And while in some areas, the battle rages on, I have managed to find peace. And that peace has come not by laying down my arms, but by accepting what has come to be.

Why? That is the question I have asked more times than my self-diagnosed ADD would allow me to count. Why did this happen? Why is this my life when I made so many good choices? Why can some people see themselves clearly and others die in search of? Why is addiction such a bitch? Why is it so damn hard to communicate when there are over a million words in the English language with an infinite amount of combinations? Why is love not enough? Why?

And I suppose the peace I have found is not in the answers to these questions – it is accepting that there are no answers. There has been one phenomenal shift in my life which I may never stop writing about and that is… nothing exists in this world without its opposite. There is no definition of light that doesn’t include dark. There is no truth without the lie. The full moon can rise at the same time the sun sets over the ocean. Both exist even when you can’t see them. Especially when you can’t see them.

And so I live with the hallowed ground and the hostile ex husband and the fear of writing and the contented joy of my wild garden and I let it all just be. I fight when I have to, I sit when I need to, I tend the fire inside which aches and itches and might burst any day. I keep asking questions and practice accepting the lack of answers. And with that, I have built a pretty good life.

So that’s where I’ve been. Living. Not perfectly. Not without mistakes and messes and missing pieces, but just letting it all be.

Also, regarding my absence from this space, a couple of months ago I was rattled by the power of what I do here by a few urgent messages from readers. One message, in particular, which I’ve neglected to answer, but the gist of which was… how? How do you live with the pain and uncertainty? How do you let go? How do you face the unimaginable?

I’m not entirely certain, Andrea, but I’ve come to understand that by expanding my view while narrowing my focus was crucial. I came to a point where I included all possibilities and explanations for the fucked up reasons life is fucked up, and yet, I held fast to my own, core truth. Now, I leave nothing out of the realm of possibility, but accept my own limitations. And I hold on. Often, for dear life. And I breathe. And now I know that one can haul around an excruciating amount of pain when you know that joy is riding shotgun. Nothing exists without its opposite and everything is, as always… temporary. Good luck. 

Yin and yang Kittens

My yin and yang expressed in kittens. (Also known as, Alex, left and Benjamin, right.)

Lessons on Loneliness, Translations and Bedtime Stories

Because of shared custody, full-day Kindergarten, and a busy schedule, my daughter and I usually, truly connect during the week on the nights I get to put her to bed; which is approximately 53% of the time. That’s what happens in divorce, you only get a percentage of your child’s life.

I lay with her before she falls asleep, and her inner thoughts and worries come bubbling to the surface like secrets. She tells me as much as she is able to understand, and I translate the feelings she does not have the words to say. Two nights ago she cried big, heaving tears about a recent birthday party where two girls, whom she’s been friends with for about three years, wouldn’t “follow her.”

These three girls spend a lot of time together because I’m also friends with their moms, and we like spending time together, too. These two friends of mine are two big reasons I was able to survive this last year of divorce. They supported me, included me, made me feel like I was not alone in this city where the only family I knew stopped speaking to me the day I filed for divorce.

But lately, I haven’t felt so included. For a variety of reasons I feel a rift between me and these two friends. They are both married. They have two children who are the same ages, and all their kids are friends. They aren’t limited in their plans by shared custody and “weekends off” and the ability to pass the kids off to a husband for an impromptu shopping trip on a Saturday afternoon. When we get together their husbands idle off to the side with their beers and talk about husbandy things. I watch. I listen. I see the updates on Facebook when they go on “date nights” and I have no plus one anymore.

I’ve been feeling this distance and the accompanying loneliness and it hurts pretty bad. So when my daughter cried to me two nights ago about not being “followed,” I cried with her, because I knew she was trying to say she felt alone, and left out. Usually, I’m not at a loss for wise words of motherly advice translated into 5-year-old speak, but I was this night. I just layed there and said, “I know, baby. Me too. Feeling lonely and left out is miserable and it’s okay to cry. I’ll cry with you. Okay? Because I’m feeling pretty left out too.”

Then I remembered this book I bought a couple of weeks ago at a spiritual bookstore. It is a book for kids called, On My Way To A Happy Life by Deepak Chopra. I love this book. I gush over this book. Because I gush, they groan when I try to read it at night, but I read it anyway. And by the end, they are always rapt with attention. It’s one of my favorite things right now.

Deepak Chopra On My Way to a Happy Life

As we lay there crying I asked her if she remembered what the book said about getting the things we want in life? I reminded her that it said she needed to give away the things she wants. If she wants her friends to “follow” her, she’s got to follow them, first. If she wants to be heard and seen and included, she’s got to hear, see and include others. And the best way to do these things, is with a giving spirit, and a happy heart. It was truly advice for us both.

I think I might be a professional loner. I move away from people, I alienate them, I build walls and hide behind them every single day. I choose people who are cold and distant so that I don’t have to thaw my icy exterior. Truthfully, this blog is my alter ego. My everyday self only understands so much, and the voice in my head that writes here is my wiser self that translates what I do not have the words to say outloud.

I justify these things easily. Because life has not been kind to me in the ways of love and so I have grown a heart of thorns. I have been told (more than once) that I am not easy to love. And I’m not. So scared am I of the pain that seems to always follow the fall. So terrified of the vulernability and weakness I’ve laid on the table the moment it all goes to shit. It seems a thousand times easier to stay walled up in my self-imposed cage. This is the part of my disintigrated marriage that I own. I am not easy to love.

But I know I’m not impossible. I did try really hard in my marriage. But sadly, that was a lost cause for many reasons. And I am all the more frightened from it. But I can’t give up, right? I have to keep trying. Somehow, I have to find the wisdom to keep turning toward the light. I know this now. This blog helps.

But it’s too late to change what has already happened. It is too late to go back and impart this wisdom on my 23 year old self, my 27 year old self and my 36 year old self. But it’s not too late today. Today I will choose to do the scary things, like trying to give away pieces of me without being frightened how they might be treated. And I will do this by taking the pieces that others give me, and caring for them like they were my own. I will give away what I so desperately need. To be seen.

We always hear that our children mirror our emotions. My daughter and I crying together over our shared loneliness of these same friends in our lives has never illuminated this more clearly for me, and thus, it has never been more clear what I must do.

There are only two people on this planet I have never held back from loving. They have had all of me from the moment they were conceived, and I hope they always will. These two are my greatest translators in this crazy world about the meaning of love, and if for no one else, (actually, I can’t think of better people) I will try for them. I will do the scariest things just to show them what happens when you’re brave enough to expose your heart.

And so, even though everytime I open this page I’m scared, I will continue to open it. Even though I am terrified of loving another again, I will try. Even though my unwisest self pulls me into the shadows behind my walls and thorns, I will continue to step out into the sunlight. Because they need to know a world with that kind of warmth. And we will be each other’s translators of that kind of love.

Why I Stopped Asking “Why Me?”

Sometimes, I get really bogged down in the why-me’s.

Why did MY marriage fail? statistically speaking, it shouldn’t have happened. We dated 3 years before getting engaged. I didn’t get married until I was 27. I waited to have my first child at 31. We were college educated – had successful careers. All these things statistically point to marriages which have a low probability of divorce. We should have beaten the odds. But we didn’t. We didn’t. We didn’t. I didn’t.

They say the divorce rate hovers around 50%. Well not in my socio-economic world. I have ONE divorced acquaintance and we became acquaintances BECAUSE we’re divorced. It’s a lonely world this upper-middle class divorce thing.

Okay, so my marriage failed. Shit happens. Fine. But then I start in with the why-me’s of having an angry, vindictive ex. I hear stories about ex-husbands who would do ANYTHING to make sure their kids were well cared for either by them, or their mothers. They willfully help with fixing cars, extra-curricular activities, they talk civilly and kindly to their ex-wives, they attend birthday parties and holidays because they understand that he kids come first. Why does my ex not even look at me? Why will he do anything in his power to hurt me? Why did he take me to court and make me spend my savings just to get a basic level of support?

Yes. Why me?

That leads to a lot of self-blame. Because being a victim is not in my DNA.

What fatal flaw did I make? What road sign did I take a left at, when I should have turned right? What is wrong with me?

Truth is, there’s a lot wrong with me. There’s a lot wrong with all of us because we’re human beings and we make a million mistakes a day. There isn’t some pill you can take to stop being human. You can’t medicate or even meditate the condition away. Believe me, I’ve tried.

You can read the rest here on Scary Mommy.

 

 

A Sorta Movie Review of “Home”: May Be Spoilers

Today was a bad day. The last few days I’ve been having an email battle with my ex over (what else?) money. It’s ALWAYS about money. My ex makes more money than 99% of Americans and he will dicker with me over $90 for our daughter’s gymnastics. It’s exhausting, and honestly, makes me so angry I can’t think, or should I say, I can’t NOT think. And so with all this thinking, I had a pretty bad day.

I got behind on work while I fixated on the issue of money this morning. As if the email battle wasn’t enough, I talked to mortgage lenders about my impending home refinance. So far, my mortgage will be going UP at least $200 a month. Then, I read articles about cutting the food budget. After that, I came thisclose to dismissing my attorney because I just CANNOT pay one more ginormous bill. Then, because I hate myself, I emailed my accountant to get an update on my taxes which promises a hefty bill in one week due to being self-employed. By the end of this, I wanted to run away. Very literally just put on my running shoes and keep going… forever. (If my ex is reading this he’s doing it with a smile in his face.)

Even though my work went unfinished, I still had to pick up my preschooler by 1pm. He always bring a smile to my face. However, in light of the unfinished work, he played on his iPad until I got a handle on my work. Then, I managed to collect all the used batteries and CFL light bulbs from my house and take them to a hazardous waste collection at Home Depot. I HAD to. I knew it was probably going to be the most productive thing I’d do all day.

Then, I picked up my Kindergartener from the bus. Another smile in my life. And when we got home all she wanted to do was play Minecraft on her iPad, and I had no energy to fight her, so I didn’t. And I got to finish more work.

Then, I made dinner. I say I “made” dinner, but what I really did was will myself to assemble food onto a plate and not cry into it. After that, I needed a change of scenery, but I didn’t want to spend any money, so I talked the kids into seeing a movie with me at a junky theater where I still had a gift card. And when your dates are 3 feet tall or shorter, your options are limited. We saw Disney’s new Pixar movie, “Home.”

Chances are, with a Pixar kid-flick you’re going to get some sort of deep, uplifting message wrapped up in a cute, funny narrative. It was just what I needed and “Home” did not disappoint.

Home3Basically, adorably squishy aliens called “Boov” invade Earth and evacuate all the humans to Humanville which resides in Australia. One, feisty little girl named “Tip” was left behind in New York City while her single mother was taken in the original round-up. At the same time, there is a misfit Boov named “O” who is running from all the other Boovs because he’s done yet another “bad” thing. He accidentally sent a party Evite “reply all” to the whole universe, which in 48 hours will reach their enemy, the Gorg, and alert them to their new planetarian home, which the Gorg will promptly destroy. Calamity ensues.

The Boovs are hopelessly clueless to human nature. By invading the planet, they think they’re doing humans a favor. The Boov do not have friends or families. They look out for only themselves. They do not engage in laughter or dancing or “fun,” and they can’t understand why humans do. Their most redeeming quality, so they believe, is that they are masters at running away and averting danger. Today, I was a Boov.

Tip and O cross paths and Tip convinces O to help her find her mom. This is when the journey and trials begins. At first they are not friends, O is selfish, and just wants to avoid being “eliminated,” while Tip is angry at the Boov for taking her mom. But trial after trial, trust is built between them. Tip teaches O how to be brave and how not to be selfish. Then, there is one poignant montage where they tell each other their fears. Both of them are the same: loneliness. Perhaps loneliness is an organic, not just human affliction? Anywho, just after this montage it shows O lovingly taking care of Tip while she sleeps because now he understands — now, he has a real friend.

Damn. Isn’t that just how this world works? It isn’t until you are brave enough to be vulnerable that you earn real friends? I have not been brave Home2lately. I’ve been pushing people away. Some days, it feels easier to be alone rather than love one more person who can hurt you.

So, Tip eventually finds her mom in a series of scenes which are set to emotional music and the tears flowed down my face like rain as my 3 year old twirled my hair in his fingers on my lap. God, I have never known the meaning or power of love until I had kids. Mother-Love brings me to my emotional knees every time… even in animated Pixar.

Well, O is eventually redeemed and proved the hero when he discovers what their enemy, the Gorg really want from the Boov. It turns out that the Boov’s fearful leader, Captain Smek, ran cowardly away from a meeting with the last remaining Gorg many years ago.  In running away, he inadvertently stole the next generation of Gorg which resided in a nondescript rock; a rock which Captain Smek festooned to a talisman and called it the shusher because he hit Boovs over the head with it and said “shush.”

As it turns out, all along the Gorg never wanted to destroy the Boov, they just wanted a rock that contained the next generation of Gorg. In other words, the Gorg’s entire family.

When O explains this to Tip, he repeats a phrase he said to her in the beginning when he was trying to understand her emotions. He couldn’t understand why she was so angry even though she cried like she was sad. He coined the phrase, sad-mad. And as it turns out, the Gorg was just sad-mad, too.

Sad-mad. That’s me. That’s who I’ve been my whole life. I’m a nondescript rock on the outside, bubbling with life you can’t see on the inside. Instead of opening myself up and showing the world all my great stuff, I harden walls and get mad. I push people away, sometimes hitting them over the head saying “shush” until I’m this lonely, lonely thing. If you read this blog, you might disagree with me considering the amount of vulnerability I display here. But this is the only place I do it. To a computer screen. To (mostly) faceless people. If you meet me in in real life and mention my writing I will immediately and expertly change the subject. This public, digital forum is strangely too personal for real life.

The sad-mad

Anyway, being called out by a Pixar movie put me in a state. I was not sad-mad, I was just sad. I came home and put my kids to bed. I lay with my son first. My thoughts went elsewhere, to scary things, and I struggled to bring them back to his eyelashes. How they blinked slowly. How they half-way opened, then shut, then opened again. I began to cry. I put my head close to his and whispered, “I love you.” He wrapped his arm around my head and said, “me too.” Then one of my tears dropped into his ear and he said, “gross mom!” and put a blanket over his ear to protect it. I laughed because it was funny and ironic.

Then, I lay with my daughter and we talked about sad-mad. She asked me if I’ve ever been sad-mad. Usually, I gloss over the truth about her dad and me because I want to protect her, but inspired by the message of being vulnerable I said yes, I have. She asked me when, and I told her the truth. I was sad-mad over the fact that daddy and I couldn’t stay together. Suddenly, her body tightened and she put her hand to her face. I could tell she was touching her eye. My daughter is stoic. She rarely cries. I felt her face, it was dry. She said, “I’m not crying, Mom. My eyes just watered a little bit.”

My heart shattered into a million pieces right then and there. She hides her tears but I KNOW, because I’m her mother, that our volatile divorce weighs heavy on her little 5 year old heart. Then I told her that it’s okay to cry. That I cry about it sometimes, and it’s okay. I told her I wished she cried more just to let it all out. She asked me why I was crying, because by this time, I was holding back sobs, something I never do in front of them – my sadness is an unfair burden. I told her it was for the same reasons her eyes watered. And that it was okay. I was okay. She was okay. And everyone was going to be okay. We talked about a few other things about her daddy and me, and she seemed relieved. Then she said, “Okay, what now?” as if she was ready to move on to the next subject which might delay her bedtime. And I laughed because how funny and ironic.

She’s right. Okay, what now?

How to Love Someone Who Hates You

The latest venom my ex husband spat via email was, “I won’t be wasting another minute of my life trying to explain something to you.” This came after I asked simple and reasonable questions regarding the split of our financial lives. You see, he’s a financial advisor. This is his area of expertise, and, foolishly or faithfully, I let him have control over it since before we were even married. Money has always been high on the list of things he loves.

And so here I am at 37 and I haven’t done my own taxes for 12 years. I didn’t even know how much money we had, or where it was located, until I decided I needed to leave this marriage. I have always respected money, but it was never on the list of things I loved.

And now, after orders have been handed down by a judge proceeding a lengthy and costly trial, we are finally separating the last part of our entangled, paper lives. Logically, there are things I still need to know, details to sort out, and just like everything else up to this point, he refuses to be a catalyst for moving forward, still stuck in a need to punish, to hate, to impose revenge.

And yet, he’s the father of the two people I love most in this world, and he will be until the day I die. They love him, and so, I too must find a way not to hate him.

The only way I know how to do this is to remind myself of his humanity. Some days, when the venom flows and my daughter tells me that she no longer wants a kitten because daddy says I won’t take care of it, the effort it takes to remind myself of his humanity feels like slogging through quicksand. Even so, I take a deep breath and force myself to honor and respect this person who does not respect me, who, I have no doubt would smile upon learning I had a terminal illness and find joy in any misfortune which might befall me.

This is the most challenging thing I have ever had to do.  It stretches my capacity for compassion and then forces me to stretch further, deeper, down to the bottom of everything I have until some days, I am all but empty.

It requires a daily practice of remembering over and over and over that he is simply, a human being. He is fallible. He is blinded in so many ways – just like we all are from time to time – to what really matters in this life. And that is another thing I must practice daily; reminding myself over and over what really matters in this life.Picture saved with settings embedded.

And so I have come to realize that his hatred of me, is actually a blessing. I get to remember over and over what I love, what deserves my love, and the power that love contains. 

These children, they taught me what love is and what it is not. The love I feel for them, it humbles me, it reduces me to my elements. It feels like those pictures you see of galaxies far, far away; unimaginably expansive, mystically beautiful, mysteriously familiar. This love is elegantly simple, and intricately layered, and has no comprehensible outer edge. It contains all the elements of the universe.

It is a the strongest thing I know and it is what I’ve come to understand as the most important thing in this life. And the truth is, just like the stars it has immense power.  It will give you strength to do the unimaginable. It will even make you to pray for your enemies. And so I do. And so I do.

On Choosing to Live with Ghosts

Today has been about pictures and ghosts because my house is haunted.

My Kindergartener has one of those “About Me” posters due in school in a month. Normally, I am a professional procrastinator with a black belt in inventing distractions. Something like this wouldn’t get my attention until the evening before it’s due. But I can’t afford that luxury anymore. It’s one of the many luxuries I gave up when I left my husband. In my new reality, I know that I have two more weekends with my daughter until it’s due, and that means, I have to gather supplies (poster board), find pictures (spend an hour looking through files on my compter), order said pictures (through Costco) and afix these to her poster while coaxing her into writing sentences about them… in Spanish. It’s going to take a little forethought and planning. This also means I have to look through pictures of her father. Happy pictures of before. Oh look, there we are on the beach! On vacation! In the backyard! What a great day that was! Remember!?!?!

Although it was a little torturous, I wouldn’t dare leave him out of her poster about her. 

I selected one. While I was at it, I decided I might as well fill that multi-picture frame collage that used to house our wedding photos. It’s been sitting empty on my wall, like a hallow reminder of this past year. So I selected a whole stack of great pictures of me and the kids from the past year. The beach! Vacation! The backyard! What a great day that was! Remember?!?! And then a few more, for a few more empty frames.

After procuring these pictures at Costco… on a Saturday… with two kids in tow… because clearly I hate myself and put very little value on my sanity… I came home and started taking the frames apart, replacing older pictures with new. I have this habit of leaving old pictures in the frames behind newer ones. I’d done a pretty thorough sweep of “our” pictures many, many months ago, but in this process, I found a picture of us. We were smiling, a beach in the background. A ghost.

This house is full of them. It’s haunted from the concrete slab up into the rafters, which is probably why he doesn’t want it. Call me crazy (you wouldn’t be the first) but I do. Yes, I want to live with these sad, haunting apparitions, and let me tell you, they linger E.V.E.R.Y.W.H.E.R.E. They’re scattered about in the corners of closets disguised as dusty, ancient, random man-detritus; a belt, a lone shoe, a tie clip. They are in some trees he planted still thriving in the yard. On the top shelf in the garage, behind the coolers.

Along with these sad, melancholy ghosts are also these increbibly bright spaces. The space in the living room where my daughter took her first steps often pulses with the softest light. The spot in the driveway where my son learned to ride his bike is forever in sunshine even in the dead of winter. The electric magesty of the other tree where we hang our peanut butter bird feeders and homemade bird houses leaves me breathless. And there’s this warm glow that comes from the front doors of the neighbors who are friends and the friends who are neighbors. But my favorite bright space is the flattened and stained carpet where my children run their paths through the only house they’ve ever known, the house where they were born. These paths have this beautiful, lusterous sheen, which might actually be apple juice, but it’s still so, so lovely when the sun hits it just right.

Sometimes I envy his new digs; the top floor, spacious, two-bedroom, corner condo with a view of the pool.  I don’t actually know what it looks like inside, because he won’t allow me in the building, but I’m fairly certain there are no ghosts living there. He is the type of person who doesn’t look back and has no desire to do so. I assume it’s because of the sadness that arises when you do. And for this, I also feel sorry for him.

Because I choose to live with ghosts, because I survive with them, too.

Because life is a messy mix of the joy and the pain. There can’t be one, without the other. There is no definition of light that does not include the dark. And somewhere deep in my knowing I’ve learned that there is no gratitude without ungratefulness, no love without loss, no future without the past. Most important, I know that I could never know where I’m headed without remembering where I’ve been. And where I’ve been, is right here the whole time.

So I learn to live, and maybe even love, or at the very least appreciate, these ghosts.

And plus, there’s this thing about ghosts and pictures… over time, the light… it fades them.

The Hero’s Journey: You Will Survive

The Hero's JourneyI open this page a lot. I write some words. I erase them. I try again. I close the page.

When I first filed for divorce about a year ago I was still taking night classes at The University of Washington. It was my last semester of my two-year certificate program. I pulled my professor aside and told him what I was going through, and that I may not be able to complete the weekly assignments. He said something that stuck with me, “Don’t worry. The writing will come back. Just keep showing up and coming to class, the writing will come back in time.” 

It’s not that I have nothing to say. Actually, I have SO MUCH to say. I just can’t find the right words to say it right now. I have been disconnected from that part of me that knows how to express what’s deep, that part that can sort out the pieces of truth lying in weight on my heart, that thing that spins sadness into meaning.

Did you know that only 5% of divorces make it all the way to trial? So, chances are, if you’re getting a divorce, you’re going to “settle” before you see the inside of a courtroom. Both parties are going to put the hurt and anger aside, perhaps agree to disagree, and make plans for the next phase of life; hopefully putting the children’s needs first.

Not in my case. Nope. No such luck. And I have a lot to say about accepting your circumstances.

The last two months I’ve been through mediation, trial prep, and yes, a three-day trial. I’ve sat next to a judge for several hours and plead my case under oath and threat of perjury. I’ve spent thousands of dollars, and countless hours in preparation and hand-wringing. It has been other-wordly. It has taken a deep reserve of strength I did not know I possessed. And I have a lot to say about strength.

I never wanted to be in this position. In fact, I tried really, really hard not to get to this point. I tried to compromise. I tried to look the other direction as someone stole from me and my children. I tried to get along for the greater good. But each time I gave a mile, they wanted a hundred more. And part of the reason I filed for divorce was because I was determined NOT to be bullied into one more wrong decision. So, I ended up in court. And I have a lot to say about forgiveness.

The claims I’ve had to fight are nothing short of outrageous; from abuse, to mental-illness, to alcoholism, to neglect. Everything has been thrown against my wall to see what sticks. So far, none of it has… because none of it is true. This is what happens when you divorce a bully. It’s the same variety you see on the playground; angry, insecure, unable to process their emotions by any other means than abuse. And I have a lot to say about standing up for yourself.

But all of these things are precisely the reason why I can’t write. Each time I open this page, I start to write something meaningful, and a few paragraphs in, I drop into the overwhelming injustice and fear. My ability to see the bigger picture is clouded in fear. And I have a lot to say about fear.

But at the end of the day, it’s not about me. It’s not about every slight or allegation tossed my way. It’s about something bigger. It’s about the human condition. It’s about what it takes to overcome life’s seemingly insurmountable obstacles. And that is the lesson in all this mess. And I have a lot to say about that.

Because life isn’t about what happens to you. It’s about how you rise to the occasion. It’s about how much grace, how much faith, how much perseverance and the unfathomable strength of the human spirit to overcome what’s been laid upon its doorstep. Because we are no victims of this world. We are witnesses. And we need to stay aware, awake, and determined to stand inside the fire, be burned, and live to tell the story. And I have a lot to say about stories. 

I’ve grieved buckets over this loss in my life. I’ve grieved oceans for the loss in my children’s lives. I have disconnected from my tether to this world, and I have lived so that I can tell you what it feels like to come back from there. And the lessons are the ones you’ve seen a hundred times in what Joseph Campbell laid out as… THE HERO’S JOURNEY.

1. Every one of us will pass through a door. Many of us will be pushed, some of us will choose, but we will all pass through this door. The door is labeled, “The Path of No Return.”  It is a one-way trip. Once you step passed the threshold, there is no going back. The life you knew is gone and the one before you is unknown. Beyond the door is solid black. You cannot see an inch in front of your face. There is no sound, no smell, no way of knowing what lies beyond. This is your own, personal, hero’s journey. Don’t think for a moment it isn’t.

2. If you are not pushed through, the first thing you must do is choose to pass. But before you do, muster up as much faith as you can. It may not be a lot, but you’ll be surprised how little you need. Faith will be your only armor, your only ally. It will be the drop of water in a desert, and the crumb of food which will sustain you for days. Pack it in whatever you can find; a pocket, a purse, a knapsack on a stick. You will need nothing, BUT this going forward. Don’t worry about how much you have. Faith is like marshmallow, it expands the more you use it.

3. No matter what (and I can’t stress this enough) you must pass through this door. If you were pushed, this is not your choice, but accept it as though it were. It will be one of the hardest steps you take in your life, and if you only have to do it once, count yourself as one of the blessed. But you must pass. You can’t say no to this journey. The life behind you has already changed, and the only way to grow into yourself is to walk through this black hole and into the unknown. Walk slowly.

4. It’s okay to be afraid. If you’re not afraid, you’re not doing it right. Gather your loved ones. It is now that you will find out who these people are. Hint: Sometimes they’re not who you think. 

5. Then begins the gauntlet. It feels like one of those pitched black, rollercoaster tunnels at an amusement park that goes on for days; it’s chaotic, unsteady, frightening, nausiating. In fact, you will probably throw up a few times. You’ll feel like you’re falling forever and there will be no guarantee of safe landing. Just breathe. That’s your only job right now.

6. Then you will fail. Miserably. And it will hurt. A lot. But know that this is part of the journey, and wrong turns in the dark are a part of the deal. Keep moving.

7. You may drink a fifth of vodka, smoke a pack of cigarettes, go on a bender in Vegas or yell at your mother… ask for forgiveness as soon as possible. Most importantly, forgive yourself. You will need to do this a lot. You should try to get used to it. (Ask me how I know.)

8. Test your faith. Submerge it in water for three days, hold it up to flames, put it in the dryer on high heat. All it will do is get stronger but you won’t know this until you test it. This is a good thing, a hard thing, but a good thing.

9. Then keep moving. Keep trying. THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IS TRYING. Again. And again. And again. 

10. You’ll make progress. It will feel like moving a mountain with a teaspoon. But keep moving. Keep breathing. Keep trying.

11. Then one day, probably when you least expect it, there will be  pin-prick of light in the blackness. This light is the “other” side. It will always come no matter how much you think it won’t. It’s called hope.

12. Right about now you will feel accustomed to the dark, but you’re not, don’t let the dark fool you. You were never meant to live there, you’ve just forgotten about the light. It’s okay, that’s what the faith was for, pull a little from your pocket and forgive yourself for doubting. Keep moving.

13. When you see the light expand from a tiny dot, into a ray of sunshine, now is the time pause, look behind you, take stock of all the stumbles. Then turn around and face the light again. Pull out a little faith for sustenance on the last stretch. Keep moving.

14. There will be no ticker-tape parade or crape paper finish line to burst through. You will not win a medal for surviving. Stepping into the light is more like a gradual stroll. One day, you’ll turn around, and that darkness will seem a hundred miles away. Now is the time to stop moving. Stand still. Empty your pockets and marvel at all the things found in the darkness – self-worth, perseverance, real relationships, insurmountable faith – turn these things over in your hands like precious gems. Hold them close. Know that they are yours and no one can ever take them away. Be proud. Be humbled. Say thank you.

15. Now you’re ready to tell anyone who will listen about your story. Tell them it was painful and scary and you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy. Then tell them you lived. And they will too.

That is the message I keep trying to tell. That is the message I will probably tell for the rest of my life. Stay tuned. These precious gems have so much to say.

The Push

I have a thing for bald eagles. My affection began on a cold March morning on the island of Kodiak, Alaska. I was working. I’d just gotten off a small plane from Anchorage and I was driving to a small local hospital for a surgical case. As I drove my rental car in the icy, early dawn, down a narrow, two-lane road dug into the mountain side, I saw a few bald eagles fly in front of me. I followed their path up the mountain where they perched on a bare tree. As my eyes focused, I realized there were hundreds of eagles perched in the trees. When I looked back down the mountain toward the shore, I saw a cannery where even more bald eagles were swarming like the seagulls do on the shores of the city I call home. The surprise of seeing so many of these relatively rare birds swooping and flying above made me giddy with laughter. I couldn’t stop smiling. I was positively awe-struck.

There’s a bald eagle who regularly sits like a sentinel on a street light over the one of the long floating bridges in Seattle. I saw him there often the last two years on my way to writing class at the University of Washington. I named him George. George became my talisman. As I began to cross the bridge each week I’d say, “okay, if I see George today then what I’m feeling is right, and if I don’t see George, then what I’m feeling is horse shit.” There’s a 50/50 chance I’m going to see George.

Eagles have no real predators. They’re at the top of their food chain. They are powerful, graceful, majestic, stoic animals. They represent freedom; the very reason they are our nation’s symbol. In the winters, and during migrations, eagles are solitary animals. But in the spring, when it’s time to mate, they return to the same nest, the same mate, year after year. They are monogamous. The dads even stick around to co-parent the babies.  Mama eagle and daddy eagle share the duties of feeding and defending the nest for about six weeks, that’s when they literally push their babies out. Six weeks, then push. I would be the world’s best mother if it only took six weeks to raise babies with equal help from their father AND I got winters off. Seriously. Best. Eagle Mom. Ever.

But the hardest part about being an eagle mama would be the push. Imagine. You’re perched on a cliff side or the top of the tallest tree – you have your two, skinny babes who you’ve basically just given birth to and kept alive for six weeks –  and they’ve never spread their wings, not even once. Yet, you must hurl them from the nest and hope they fly. Now, imagine you’re the baby eagle. You’ve never flown, and suddenly, your loving mother picks you up with her massive claws and tosses you overboard, six, seven, eight stories from the ground with nothing but air and faith to hold you up. Pretty harsh.

As a mother of a newly minted Kindergartener and 1st time pre-schooler, I have done some pushing. Each time I have to let go, I hold my breath and pray. I wonder if mama eagles feel the same way? But if I’m honest, at the same time – in the wild, chaos of a messy divorce – I feel like the child who is falling. Many days I feel like I’m descending with nothing but air and faith to make me believe I have wings.

I suppose eagles would never really know the majesty and privilege of being an eagle until they discover their wings… I suppose my babies won’t either… and neither will I… and maybe none of us ever would. It’s only learning to use our wings that allows us to know the freedom of flying.

But oh, The Push. It is the most agonizing thing, and yet, at the very same time… it feels like the greatest act of love. As if maybe there’s balance in this messy, messed up mess. Like the ecstasy of flying BEGINS with the fear of falling, and the hardest things in life contain the GREATEST amounts of love.

Will we ever stop being pushed from our safe homes and off the cliffs of life? If we’re never forced to rely on faith, will we stop being faithful? Will we forget we’re eagles if we don’t use our wings? Is that the point of it all? Learning to fly and then teaching others how to fly, too?

Tell me George. Is what I’m feeling right?

Bald Eagle Wisdom

Letting Go of the Shoulds and the Coulds

I didn’t think I was going to cry that much. I thought I’d be stoic and happy and excited, mostly, but I guess sometimes I don’t know my own heart.

I started to tear up as we got in the car to drive to the bus stop. I saw the neighbors outside. Their son is the same age as my daughter, and although he’s going to a different school, he’s also starting Kindergarten today. A threesome, they were taking the obligatory “first day of school” photo. The dad was dancing  trying to make his son smile. The mom was making sure his hair was fixed and his sign was straight. They both got a chance to take a picture (that wasn’t a selfie) with their son. I choked back a knot in my throat as I pulled away.

Then we got to the bus stop. Some other neighbors were there, a foursome, mom, dad, little brother and their daughter who is going into Kindergarten at my daughter’s school. They chatted, played man-to-man while I worked a zone defense with my two. I took a few selfies, only one turned out.

Then I watched her step onto the bus and the tears came hot and fast. He should be here, I thought. He shouldn’t miss this. But he did. Because that’s one of the punishments the ex doles out for divorcing him — refusing to be anywhere I am even if it’s a birthday party, a dance recital or the first day of Kindergarten.

I got in the car and drove to her school to meet the bus. I wanted to be there when she got off to show her where to find her classroom. I wanted to deposit her safely at the door; see her walk in for the first time. As I drove I silently shook my shoulders and stifled my sobs so my son wouldn’t hear me from the back seat. When I parked, I quickly texted him a picture of her going off to school. I have to try, right?

As I pulled up, the school walkway was full of moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas all saying goodbye, wishing the little ones a good day, giving kisses and hugs and taking more pictures. You’d think there were a bunch of rock stars walking into the building with as many cell phones were in the air. I guess there were.

He shouldn’t be missing this, I thought again. How can his hatred overshadow this? I tried to get angry but I couldn’t. I was just overwhelmingly sad. I hurt for her. But of course she wasn’t fazed, or at least it never shows. In 8 months she’s gotten used to the idea that mommy and daddy never talk, and are never in the same place at the same time. She knows this is how it is, and isn’t yet aware that this isn’t how it should be. She doesn’t know that these two adults, her parents, should be able to set aside the hurt and the anger and come together for her sake. She doesn’t know these things yet.Yet.

I don’t get to pick her up from the bus when she arrives home from her first day of Kindergarten. I won’t get to give her a hug and ask her all about her day because it’s her dad’s night. I’m going to try to call later, but there’s no guarantee he’ll answer his phone or respond to my text. This is another punishment he doles out for divorcing him; refusing to let me speak to our children when they are with him.

As I pulled away from her school the tears came still, but they were more in resignation than sadness. Because in her 5-year-old-wisdom I realized she’s right. No matter how much I wish things could be different, they aren’t. Know matter how much I KNOW they should be different, they probably never will be. Because this is how it is, and there is a certain amount of freedom in letting go of the shoulds and the coulds. Maybe she knows that already and it’s ME who is the one who doesn’t know yet. Yet.

As I flipped through the pictures I took of her first day of Kindergarten, I uploaded a few to Facebook and Instagram. Then, as I often do, I lingered over a few and studied her face; the moment she saw the bus coming, the moment her brother pushed me out of the way to give her a kiss and she lifted him from the ground, the moment she walked down the hall and didn’t turn back…

1st day of Kindergarden

The more I looked, the more I wanted to cry. But then I noticed something truly astonishing… I’m an editor by profession and I spelled Kindergarten wrong.

kindergarden

Then I laughed myself silly. I laughed so hard I cried for a whole other reason.

Oh life with your irony and pain and constant changing of the rules. Thank you for reminding me not to take myself too seriously. Seriously. I needed that. 

Have fun at school, sweetie. I know you’re going to come home and teach me so much more than you already have… and I can’t wait.

XOXOXO,

Mom

P.S. This is how your brother feels about you going to Kindergarten… or garden… or whatever… at least I tried!

Brother with sign

P.S.S. Nothing’s perfect, but we do have to try. 

Love you,

Mom