A brave new hurl

“After our last visit I saw a lawyer.”

My stomach lurched and I stopped stirring the olives in my sweating martini.

She looked straight into my eyes. “I did. I decided I needed to figure out whether or not to leave him. What it would look like. What might happen with the kids. You’re handling things so well. It made me feel like maybe I could too.”

My mind reeled as guilt sucker punched me right in the solar plexus. I was afraid to ask, but what kind of friend responds to such a confession with “And how’re your parents? Did they enjoy Cancun?”

“So what happened?”

“It was a great wake-up call. Bill and I had some serious heart-to-heart talks.” She smiled and her blue eyes sparkled. “I think we’re OK. At least for now.”

The conversation continued for a while as my smart, lovely friend talked about what she loved and hated about her marriage, parenting, living in the suburbs and not backpacking through Europe or spending half of Sunday in bed with a good book or a bad man.

I listened and nodded, commiserated and joked, and ordered another drink.

At bedtime, Good Girl showed up right on cue. “I hope you’re proud of yourself. If you had to go and bust up your family you could at least keep your big trap shut about it. What are you, some kind of divorce pusher?┬áIf you have to be divorced, at least have the decency to be miserable about it.”

It’s hardest to summon Ungood Girl at night, when I’m tired and tigers are on the prowl. Gratefully, she showed up.

“Firstly, you are always honest, which means you talk about the good and the bad.”

OK. Fair enough. I do often say “Divorce sucks, especially for the kids. And it’s really hard not seeing them all the time. I’d never recommend it except as a last resort. Try everything else first.” Passes the manipulation/denial test, no?

But what about the “You look so happy!” observations? Isn’t it irresponsible to make divorce look good?

“Oh, my misguided Good Girl. You’re not making divorce look good. You’re showing strength and resilience as you go through some really tough times. Besides, who wants to be around a mopey, martyred mess?

And think about this: If you want confident, clear-sighted, content friends you need to project that yourself. So get off the guilt wagon, sister. People deserve honesty. Give your friends some credit. Are you hanging around with people who are so easily influenced that seeing you smile once in a while is going to convince them to leave their husbands? Absurd!

Now shut the hell up and go to sleep.

Photo credit: Wickenden via Flickr


The first ten minutes

The alarm jars me awake at 5:00 a.m. It’s dark and I turn the pillow, sinking into the luscious coolness. But if I don’t get moving quickly, I’ll lose the chance to exercise before I have to leave to take the kids to school and continue on to work.

“Just sit up. That’s all you need to do.”

This voice is the opposition to what my good friend calls the I.R.T., or “internal resistance team.” This voice (it’s just one, but I hope others join in soon. Perhaps some of the I.R.T. will defect?) is my motivator.

“Just get your workout clothes on.”

“Just go to the gym. If you get there and don’t feel like exercising you can come home.”

When I start the treadmill, sleep still in my eyes, my muscles feel stiff and unyielding. “Just do 10 minutes. Then you can go home.”

Ten minutes into my run, I decide to do 10 minutes more. Or five minutes at a faster pace. Or 2-minute intervals at a high incline. Have I tricked myself into completing my workout? Maybe. But it gets the job done.

Photo credit: Earls37a via Flickr

An apple in the fridge

I thought about getting divorced for a while. After years of trying, denying, giving up and trying again only to retreat back into denial I was exhausted and drained. Still, considering the idea of actually following through on what had previously been only a fantasy was like leaving my feet dangling over the side of the bed in the pitch black when I was eight. I couldn’t stand it for more than a few seconds.

But the only thing that was going to unstick us was some action. So I forced myself to think about how I could make it easiest on the kids. Not easy, mind you, as divorce sucks for kids in many unavoidable ways. Anyone who’s run back and forth between two homes at 10:30 on a weeknight to retrieve a school project or beloved stuffed animal understands this.

When it became clear that the only way out meant I was going to have to leave, I promised myself I wouldn’t until I could provide a decent place with room for all three kids. I was sure they’d all want to spend lots of time with me. I was their mother.

Looking back, I can see how short-sighted that was. Given a choice, teenage boys opt to spend time AWAY from their moms. But I was grieving for the family I was losing, and contemplating time away from them was unbearably painful. Maybe it wasn’t lack of insight as much as self-preservation to think that they’d all want to spend at least half their time with me.

I bought beds and linens and posters for their bedroom wall. I stocked up on the foods they like and the toiletries they use, and made sure they had phone chargers and video game set ups to minimize inconvenience and maximize familiarity and fun.

And every time I filled the fruit bowl on the newly-acquired-from-Craig’s-List dining table, I took one shiny green apple and put it in the fridge. My oldest son likes tart apples, and he likes them cold. It was important to me that he knew I remembered that.

A few months into our separation, I opened the fridge to see four green apples lined up on the bottom shelf. I sat down in front of the shelves of milk, eggs and cottage cheese and cried.

Divorce changes things in ways you can’t predict. It’s tempting to believe you can keep things largely the same, and just face a few practical challenges such as making sure the kids have two of everything essential, one for each home.

But my son doesn’t think of my apartment as home. And at his age he never will. Home is what I left. And that’s where he wants to return each night.

As unpalatable as it was to have to schedule time to see my teenage son, I had to let go of the way I wanted things to be and respect his need to choose his home base for himself. Fighting and denying it was making me angry and bitter. Accepting it lets me relax into this new relationship we’re developing, one closer to the parent-adult child bond I hope to have with all three of them someday. It’s just a few years sooner than I expected.

You worry because you love the payoff

Or at least, I’m pretty sure that’s why I do it. I’ve been on this earth long enough to know that people only do things that offer some sort of payoff. Really. I used to gossip about others (OK, I still do occasionally but I’m trying to stop in conjunction with my effort to become less judgmental. More on that in another post.) because it made me feel superior to them, thus better about myself.

Well, that’s what I thought. It was a temporary high, with no lasting effect because, really, we only feel better about ourselves when we actually do something to improve the way we move in the world. Trying to take down your neighbor because she sends her kids to school with Lunchables instead of the turkey sandwich and apple you pack doesn’t count. Besides, your kid is trading her sandwich for a bag of Doritos and 10 Skittles. But I digress.

I discovered the elusive worrying payoff when my son came home late one night. Fat drops of rain cut through the beam of his headlights as he bumped into the driveway, and the relief that washed over me offered quite a rush.

Was a few moments of pleasure worth an hour or so of imagining him careening off the road on a washed-out curve? I don’t think so. The other problem is that worrying can take up the better part of a day. I mean, I’m practically a professional worrier. I can begin the day worrying that the kids will be late to school today and finish the day worrying that they’ll be late tomorrow, with plenty of other worries in between.

Yeah, I’m the life of the party when worry has me by the throat.

We can be a lot more fun – and get a lot more done – when we learn to be at peace with uncertainty. The best way I’ve found to move in that direction is to build the confidence that I can handle whatever life sends my way. This means working to have a healthy body and emotional stability. How? Well, I’m still working through that. I think regular exercise is a good start.

Tiger wrestling

I have to make a presentation at a conference next week. Thinking about it makes my heart race and my thoughts rev like Kyle Busch in a 45-mile-per-hour zone. I’m wrestling tigers again.

I’m not sure where I read this (I read a lot of stuff), but it’s helped calm me when fear rises up and threatens to dissolve my mojo. That physical reaction I’m feeling is the same one cave women felt when a saber toothed tiger threatened to turn laundry day into an all-you-can-eat buffet. The thing is, that reaction was appropriate for cave women, who needed to fight or fly at the prospect of a tiger lurking in the grass.

It doesn’t seem fair, but my body reacts the same way to the thought of tripping over my words in front of a bunch of mild-mannered communications professionals. Oooo…scary. Still, it happens and it’ll be back with a vengeance the morning of my presentation. So I have to keep telling myself, “There are no tigers.”

That’s really what I say to myself. It helps remind me that, although I have enough adrenaline coursing through my veins to leap over the podium and sprint to the safety of my hotel room, I’m not facing anything life-threatening.

Once I wrestle the “tiger” into submission, I’m able to think more clearly and keep my wits about me. I’m not lulled into post-dinner couch sitting relaxation, but that’s a good thing. I like to call that little edge of anxiety that remains my mojo. It’s there to remind me I care about what I’m about to do.

Fiery orange fingernails

On vacation in the summer of ’99 I saw a youngish mother like me, with two girls roughly that same ages as my two sons. But while I was matronly and plain, she was fit and stylish with strong, lean legs, a bouncy ponytail and brightly lacquered orange toenails. I hadn’t polished my toenails since 1993, the year my first child was born.

“She probably neglects those girls while she pampers herself,” I sniffed. This despite the lovely smiles she shared with them and the laughter that floated over from her little family’s picnic blanket. I watched them talk and pass sandwiches around, her girls comparing their own freshly polished toenails.

I never met that woman, but her equally orange fingernails squeezed marks in my brain. How could she take care of herself like that but still be a good wife, mother, daughter, friend, employee? The answer swam around for years, just beneath the surface of my consciousness. Like a tiny tadpole, it grew stronger, bigger and more restless. Until it finally broke through.

Taking care of herself was what gave her the strength and energy to take care of those she loved.

Trying to do everything for everyone, keep everyone happy, calm and supplied with clean socks and homemade cookies, and rarely uttering the word “no” had slowly depleted my own stores. As I approached my 40s, I was dangerously close to empty. This good girl thing just wasn’t working for me anymore.

So I tore up my good girl contract. And I’ve been ungood ever since.