Divorce Sucks (& other news)

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Having been full of angsty posts of late, I’ve decided to borrow from my new blogging friend Esther’s post from yesterday and write my own version of the Dolly Mama’s Is IT Worth It? about parenting, then and now.

I had the unique gift of becoming an Insta-Mom when I married my now ex-husband. He had a 6-year-old, and I Knew Nothing about being a momShe and I played and read together and walked to K-Mart and bought those little kits with the short pieces of yarn and the hook to make wall hangings and rugs. Every night I read Winnie the Pooh stories to her, doing all the voices, long before Disney took over and did the voices wrong. (Don’t get me started.) I tried to soothe her sad heart when she asked why her mama didn’t want her.

I had her sister, the one child who was stubborn enough to hang onto the inside of my uterus and be born of my womb. Stubborn always and funny and insightful, she had her dad figured out by age 3. He was prone to big, loud lecturing when someone displeased him. He would tell the girls that they “needed to go have a talk!” One dinner time he was being grumpy and argumentative, and a certain 3-year-old spoke up to say, “Dad, go talk to yourself!” (Here you may picture me wanting to laugh so badly that I ended up with broccoli up my nose. And you may be exactly right.) Then at 5 this little reader of mine saw a devotional in a Christian Bookstore and said “Look! We should get this for dad–‘The Men’s Emotional Bible!'”

I refuse to tell the stories of her great insights about me.

We started being foster care parents for the county, and our first baby was a bouncy, noisy, full of life little guy who later joined our family permanently. Did I say “bouncy”? I meant CONSTANTLY MOVING. Constantly finding new ways to be creative with the toothpaste when he was to be brushing his teeth. Constantly experimenting with the spatter pattern of blue ink pens on his wall….you get the picture. My neighbor’s first vision of me was seeing me holding this little love of a boy by one arm to take him away from whatever he was seeking to destroy. Only one chance to make a first impression, right? *Sigh*

Then we added our 4th, a teenager we met in the church high school youth group where we volunteered. She came potty-trained and able to dress herself, also fully capable of dressing herself in the same exact droopy navy blue running shorts–day after day after day.

The marriage in which my ex and I gathered our family died, my having stayed long past its expiration date. Things, for lack of a better way to say it, got weird. I was a traumatized mess, having lacked the ability to take care of myself emotionally in the marriage. I became a mother of very little brain. I was barely available to myself let alone my adult children. But adult children still need a mom, and mine had instead this twitchy, fragile being prone to crying.

Some of those children grew a bit distant. Some, being made of snarkier stuff, were able to just shake their heads at my craziness and know it would change in time.

It was a rough few years.

I'm not a fan of divorce, I never will be. Sometimes, because this is a broken world and we are broken people, divorce happens. Click To Tweet

NOW–my oldest, at one point my stepdaughter, still remembers all those nights reading Winnie the Pooh. We joke that we have grown up together. Some school secretaries have commented that they can see the resemblance between us (I wish! She’s beautiful and thin.)

The stubborn child of my womb, she makes me guffaw with her understated snarky comments on life. She still calls ’em like she sees ’em. She and her husband have taught me the wonders of craft beers.

That active, bouncy boy? He’s an active bouncy 30 year old who still gives this mama lovely hugs when we get together, usually for a movie and lunch. He puts up with my need to take selfies in front of the poster advertising whichever movie we’re seeing, and even mugs along with me.

The daughter of the navy running shorts has branched out, a good plan since she lives in England where it can get ridiculously cold, and wears a variety of clothes now. We visit each other and laugh ourselves silly.

Those sad, hard years after I left their dad have passed. They were awful years, crying years. Struggling years. We all were trying to figure out the shapes of our lives after the huge rending apart of what I had hoped would be a forever marriage and childhood home. I’m not a fan of divorce, I never will be. Sometimes, because this is a broken world and we are broken people, divorce happens. We figure out how to deal with it, with the identity shift. I was once a wife, now I’m not. Everyone once gathered in one home, now we don’t.

That shifting part sucks. It sucks badly, the in-between, the limbo state.

But in time, with persistence and love, the pieces start finding their new places, the bonds are re-formed in different ways. There’s laughter again, sharing again. Give yourself the grace to walk through the storm–you will come out the other side.

And now there’s bonus material, because I can share the horror stories of online dating. But that’s for another post….

Give yourself the grace to walk through the storm–you will come out the other side. Click To Tweet

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: Are you in a limbo state of some kind, with your kids or your relationships? If so, how can you be kind to yourself in the changing weather of it all?

I’d love to hear what you’ve done for yourself in this sort of situation!

New Definitions

When I was a young wife and mom I thought I’d be a proper grown-up when I had extra blankets in the closet like my grandma did. A quilt or two, maybe one of those fuzzy thermal ones, something to casually pull out when my guest needed warming.

My grandma was my model for everything good–she was sweet, and kind, and hugged me, and holidays at her house were the best when I was a kid. The noise, the food, the people scattered across couches and in the kitchen, and setting up platters and bowls of deliciousness on the dining room table. That hubbub was what I saw as the Perfect Holiday.

As my own children grew and had spouses and families of their own, those holidays together at my house or their houses were my drug of choice. All the craziness of making lists, buying ingredients, planning the meal, all that was worth it to get to the point where we were making jokes about my kitchen being only a two-butt kitchen as four bodies tried to fit and reach and stir in the small space. Any frustration was worth the decorated table and laughter and chattering voices asking for gravy.

Watching my kids and then grandkids grow, trying different recipes and always ending up with too many pies, that was my wife/mama/grandma jam.

When I ran away from home and became a divorced person, I hoped the family meals could go on in some way, some semblance of those times before. But the fractures in the family were too big, to the point we all would have needed lobotomies to be in the same room.

Life, eh?

So I find myself in this curious re-defining stage. What does Thanksgiving look like? How about Christmas? Who can be together? Who can’t? Who am I when my house is no longer a hub? When I no longer have a house? Add in moves a state or a country away and it gets more complicated, not less.

My whole life I’ve lost myself in books, stories of other people’s lives. And movies–I love a movie with a happy ending, the broken, dysfunctional family that reunites and manages to find the central love that binds them together after all. There’s always a decent amount of snarky humor and minimum of one curmudgeon. Eventually there’s a food fight or a dance scene, and credits roll on one-big-happy-family.

I wanted that to be my life. I tried to make that my life. Tried to find a way to make the hard stuff, the big disagreements, the unreconcilable pain, into simply a difficult side story with a soundtrack that lets you know things will eventually be okay. Turns out there are some things that can’t be made adorable, no matter who plays them or how they’re written. Sometimes there’s no redemptive meal around the family table.

I’ve felt a bit lost in these years between the then and now. I’ve done a bit of licking my wounds, made a skittish appearance or two at the homes of my children. I’m looking for a rhythm, as I suppose they all are too. What’s the new normal? It keeps shifting.

I could have joined friends for tomorrow’s Thanksgiving as I have these past few years, but instead I asked my son if he’d like to get together to watch movies and eat Chinese food. Why not? I did make a pecan pie since that’s his favorite. He’s bringing his dog, and I’m looking forward to time with her. Plus this son of mine, he always makes me laugh. And he still always hugs me, even at 30.

I’ll arrange times to see everyone around Christmas, as individual families instead of the whole group. I’ll fly to stay with my daughter and son-in-law in Portland, Oregon, where I’ll half hope for and half against a possible snowy Christmas morning. I’ll talk to the rest of the kids and grandkids throughout the day in California and England.

It’s different but it’s the same. The jam looks different, but it’s still about the people. If the only thing I accomplish is giving those I love a picture of being loved and important, then the definition of family won’t be so different, even when it’s a different shape. Hopefully the definition of me will be something like my grandma was for me, the picture of comfort and love.

 

Enjoy your day, whatever you find yourself doing!

Fountain Mourning

I cried over a fountain. Yup, you heard me, a fountain.

It wasn’t just any fountain, it was the fountain in the back garden. My friend Carrie, who so perfectly had a room to rent at the very moment I needed a place to live, is moving. This means I’m moving too. She’s moving to her happy place, the mountains near Mi-Wuk where her parents already live, once her son finishes his senior year of high school June 2019. My future home is still unknown.

The funny bit is that when I found out I’d need a new place to live come summer next year I wasn’t as upset as when I found out the fountain was moving.

Carrie has been selling yard furniture and some indoor furniture in preparation for moving house. She’s downsizing from three bedrooms, a living room and a family room to a studio. Having experienced this a few years back, I know how much work it can be and how much paring down of possessions is required (I still have a storage space with items that will certainly seem new to me by the time I clear it out). So I get it. I understand the need to decide what of the chairs and couches and dressers filling the bigger spaces are extra and won’t fit into our new lives, I do understand.

But not the fountain!

I knew I’d be moving eventually, I knew at some point my living space would mean living elsewhere. I knew nothing stays the same forever, that needs change and lives change and surroundings change…I knew this–in my head.

But not the fountain!

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The fountain with its burbling water has been part of this Healing Space over my past three years. The fountain has invited birds on many sunlit mornings to splash and chirp and drink, even the hummingbirds I love. The fountain, on the back patio outside Carrie’s family room, had the green dancing limbs of potted vines and Heavenly Bamboo and assorted other delights from our local Ace Hardware nursery. Carrie and I decided back at the beginning of setting up our two separate garden spaces that she chooses a more Zen vibe while I go for whimsical. Her space leans toward open branches where the summer breezes flow through the leaves of many shapes and shades of green, while mine is chock-full of colorful blossoms and garden fairies and pottery birds and a large cement turtle. Her patio chairs and tables ran to shades of a glorious desert scene in deep rusts and tans and some green, while mine surrounds me in bright tropical hues of turquoise and lime green and orange.

She had the idea to collect pallets to build our own version of a fence to carve out our own areas, pallets that are now covered by vines whose leaves are displaying fall colors as the leaves turn vibrant deep reds and browns. Three years. It’s been three years of building and shaping and turning our back gardens into joyful places of peace in our unique ways. And always the sound of the fountain playing in the background, being heard through windows and the open sliding door during bright and warm days.

Carrie had warned me that the huge, heavy cement fountain and bird bath would be leaving. Thankful that she had told me, I knew I could say goodbye the next morning.

Say goodbye to a fountain, you ask? An inanimate object? A chunk of concrete through which water flows when attached to a power source? Goodbye?

Say goodbye to a fountain, you ask? An inanimate object? A chunk of concrete? Click To Tweet

That morning I sat on Carrie’s couch watching the sun dance through leaves around the fountain, light sparkling through the water as it rose from the center. I cried remembering how healing the sounds of that water had been, hearing it in a place where I’d finally come to rest, a year andIMG_2849 a half after I’d left a home that no longer felt safe. In that year and a half I had stayed with daughters, with friends, and finally in a shelter situation when I’d run out of places to go. But now, Home. I had a Home–a place to lay my head that was mine, a converted-garage-sized compact Home. Ikea helped furnish it and I filled it in with books upon books. The colors and textures were all of my choosing, the mismatched thrift store chairs that surrounded the Ikea table were mine.

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But nothing spoke healing like that fountain. A gift of the calming sound of flowing water that drew God’s beautiful birds to it. So I sat on that last morning and breathed deeply and slowly, a final meditation, thankful for the gift of running water and birdsong.

I couldn’t help but cry when I thought of this soothing gift of nature I’d been blessed to share in–breezes, water, the green of leaves, the vivid colors of blossoms, and the splashing of birds visiting the fountain. Tears come even now as I write about it. What power nature has to soothe our souls and minister to our broken spirits. I’ve slept, I’ve prayed, I’ve read, I’ve dreamed, all to the sounds of birds and the gurgling of water. Cool spring breezes have washed over me, as well as the warm air of summer, out in the back garden. Now the crisper air of fall races through the foliage, but the water and the bathing birds are missing. I’m making peace with that.

The tears that sprang to my eyes as I watched the fountain for the last time reminded me of how deeply it had become a symbol of Rest and Healing. That even the birds had ministered to my bruised soul. That time spent in the back garden had been a living balm, especially when the hummingbirds would come close, the thrumming of their wings near my ears, asking why I was in their space. The sparrows and finches would sit in the branches above me, chirping and chatting before swooping down to their daily bath.

What power nature has to soothe our souls and minister to our broken spirits. Click To Tweet

So that morning before the fountain would move on to another person’s back garden to be loved and used by their neighborhood birds, I watched it, I listened to it. I memorized the way the morning sun sparkled in the water. No birds came. Did they already sense the fountain was moving on?

I’m thankful for these past three years. I’ve shared space with people who haven’t judged my dark days. I’ve grown, I’ve learned, I’ve processed old hurts so I could let them go. I pray that the fountain will nurture the new owners half as much as it’s nurtured me. And then I tell myself it’s perfectly fine to shed tears at our parting.

 

The bring your own beverage conversation: What is one way you’ve judged yourself harshly and unnecessarily? What brings your soul healing? Plan to spend some self-care in the next few days doing whatever it is that speaks calm into you.

BE KIND TO YOURSELF–YOU’RE WORTH IT.

 

The beauty of acceptance.

I get so excited and giddy when it’s time to have my hair colored and cut you’d think I was headed for a month in Hawaii.

My hair appointments are two hours of freedom to simply Enjoy. I get to enjoy conversation with my stylist who has made sense of my hair when it went from straight to curly-ish, and who has fought bravely to tame my difficult grays. It’s a problem I don’t have to solve–I can trust her and RELAX.

There are few times when I’m this good and non-neurotic about letting myself breathe slowly and melt into acceptance of the exact place I find myself in at the moment, whether physical, mental, or emotional. Less pleasurable things are of course harder to accept–think dentist appointments. There I am forced to concentrate on breathing, also on releasing the death-grip I have on the chair arms. Pain of any sort takes more work.

There’s a gift to be appreciated in this place of Accepting and Allowing life to be exactly whatever it is at the moment. My second-guessing goes away, and the judgmental voices in my head are quieted when I’m present in the moment. Balance lives in this space where I’m simply observing my life, not obsessing over the past or the future.

I’m fortunate to have an amazing therapist who has helped me find my way out of the minefield scattered with all the Lies in my bones, and here are some articles I’ve found while wandering through Psychology Today online that speak to the ways we can change our brains and learn to be present:

  • How to develop “Zen Presence”  This is the type of mindfulness that helps us to be aware and observant of our thoughts and emotions as we move through our days.
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy I don’t know if my Favorite Mental Health Professional (my therapist) calls it this, but it certainly describes much of what she’s been teaching me. Basically, what good does it do us to avoid/judge/deny our emotions? If there’s trauma or depression or chronic pain etc., denying our feelings will only cause more distress. Better we should learn to accept how we feel, learn from those feelings and find ways of moving forward and being productive.
  • Meditation: Ancient Practice With 21st Century Application In the third sentence the guy uses the word “fart.” Of course he’s my favorite. ANYway, this article does a great job of explaining how meditation and mindfulness practice work together to quiet the mind, ease stress and so much more, all by actually changing our brain chemistry! How cool is that? I’ve seen more self-acceptance and less judgment as I’ve learned these techniques.

I’ve been using the Headspace app on my phone, and it’s been helpful in teaching me different aspects of meditation. The app has a variety of topics like Anxiety, Focus, Pain Management, and even some sport related ones to explore once you’ve completed the basic 30 day introduction meditation sessions. I was relieved to find there’s even a way to look at the inevitable thoughts that start darting about while trying to focus on your breath.

Calm is another app suggested by both my doctor and the therapist teaching the pain management class I’m currently taking. I’ve been playing around with it the past few days, and it has quite a few ways to help you get a better night’s sleep–music, nature sounds, stories read quietly, meditations. Other topics include resiliency to stress, relationships, anxiety, even commuting.

There are others out there, have a look around and find what suits your needs. Both of the apps I’ve tried have some initial parts you can use for free with a cost after that. But if you keep looking I know there are some freebies out there too.

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: What is a space or activity where you are in the moment and happily accepting of the circumstance? Are you willing to do some work to gain that same acceptance and lack of judging in other areas?

Remember–all of life is a process, and the good stuff tends to take practice!

Growing Up.

“As a child I was molested by a man who was really hairy,” she told me. Now a middle-aged woman she went on to say of her husband, “I make him shave his body.”

“Oh!” I said, filing this startling fact away in my brain for later perusal.

Today I understand why her actions were unsettling to me: she was still living in that place of early trauma rather than working to heal and move away from it.  Trust me, I’ve been there, and it’s a terrible neighborhood to buy a house.

I’m happy to be identified in a myriad of ways–as the woman who laughs at her own jokes (I can’t help it, I crack myself up!) As a creative soul. Someone who listens. Someone who keeps growing and learning to be a better human on this planet, the best one I can be this side of heaven. Remember me as someone trying to get her foot out of her mouth. As someone with far too many hobbies, far too many books. Someone who forgets the occasional appointment, and who walked 50 feet away from the four-year-old at Disneyland forgetting for a moment she was there.

I don’t want to be identified by my early trauma, like I remember the woman from the beginning of this post: “Oh the things that poor dear went through, no wonder she makes her husband shave his armpits.”

Being a slow learner, I definitely took my time to begin the healing process from the Triggery Badness of my childhood. But I’m getting there. For me that’s the goal–to move out of that neighborhood. Become a grown-up in all ways. No longer a traumatized seedling, but a well-watered and mature tree. (Perhaps you’ll also think of me as a woman with mad metaphor mixing skilz. With a Z.)

Some of the steps I’ve taken toward that goal (with the help of my favorite Mental Health Provider, my therapist) have been:

  • Looking at the Truth of my experiences
  • Admitting to myself what is true of those years and what were the Lies I told myself to keep the pain of those events at a distance
  • Allowing myself to grieve over what were very real hurts and losses
  • Making a practice of staying aware of my emotions and their messages
  • Learning to pay attention in my life, to be present.

These sound like wonderfully psycho-babbly steps, but what does any of that look like?

As a child I coped by hiding from what terrified me by literally closing myself in my bedroom closet with my books and toys. Sometimes I disappeared by running off to the swings at the park–anything that would silence the loud, mean voices of my parents arguing, the shoving of furniture and too often of each other.

I felt responsible for how I was treated–for being touched inappropriately by my father, for not being as interesting as my older brother and his friends. I turned off my instincts and stopped listening to my emotions and pain because I didn’t like what they were telling me, that life wasn’t so positive. The truth of what I went through? Not nice. Not nurturing. Lie #1, No Mistakes, only Goodness and Getting Along.

As a child my home never felt safe. When was the next explosion or long cold spell coming? I couldn’t know, so fear started making a lot of my decisions. Fear’s kind of safety for me looked a lot like hiding, staying out of harm’s way. Stay Under the Radar and Don’t Have a Differing Opinion joined No Mistakes as firm (but not helpful) beliefs I carried into adulthood. Let me just say here: the coping mechanisms of a five-year-old child do not serve one well in the six and over age bracket.

Disentangling lies like those from how I move about in the world changes things drastically. What? I can go out into the world and be mindful for my own safety? It’s okay if people don’t like me? I can have my own ideas even if someone doesn’t agree?  Staying aware in my life helps keep me safe and lets me wander farther afield, a good thing since this is a big old world.

Coming to terms with the Truth that I cannot be perfect sounds so simple, but those early Lies run deep in us, they etch themselves in our bones. It takes awareness and practice to heal them and learn better, truer ways of thinking and acting. What is my body saying to me? What emotion am I feeling? What is my pain saying?

Grief is probably nobody’s idea of a good time. But without grief there’s no closure. One thing I had to recognize as true was that I would never have the kind of mother I yearned for–someone who appreciated me simply for being me, who’d want to call me up to ask how my day had gone and was there anything new with the kids? I felt ripped off and I felt guilty for feeling ripped off. I judged myself as Bad and shoved that pain into a box and into a dark corner of the garage. Unfortunately, that box and the next box and the next box just weighed me down and kept me living in the house of that old trauma neighborhood. Few of us really want to clean out the garage, but sorting through those dog-eared boxes? I felt relief. Acceptance. Moving day was coming!

My hope for what I share of my story is that you’ll be encouraged to see that even at 63 I’m learning, growing, changing. And any of us can if we want to–we can trade those old, unhelpful Lies for Truth. We may have to sort through some boxes of junk to get there, but we can. We can accept what’s true about the garbage we’ve been storing, and then we can send those boxes to the dump.

My mind is so much more at rest these days. Next week I’ll share one of the tools that has helped me learn to let go of some of what was never mine to store in the first place.

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: What ways did you learn to cope with difficulties when you were young that don’t serve you so well anymore? Did you develop certain beliefs about people or life that don’t make much sense for you now if you’re honest about it?

 

 

 

 

 

How did I become this person?

…this “dogs in a stroller” person? Here’s how.

Once upon a time it was 2002. You know, the 2002 that came after the world was supposed to end in 2000. That one. Finding ourselves still quite alive those two years later, and my job having been downsized, our family got Barnaby (the smaller dachshund on the right) and in 2003, Morris. These two pups were brighter of coloring and spryer of step back in the day, just as I was younger, spryer, and without a standing every-six-weeks hair coloring appointment. And then…time. Time went by.

I became this stroller-full-of-dogs pushing woman because time marches on and change and even frailty happens. The dogs wear out more easily, and I’m in less of a hurry (and possibly wear out more easily. Ahem.) So we three walk a while, then we sit a while. Then I push them a while, and we sit down a while. Walks with the dogs have become more of a process than they once were, 14 years back. They’re a different thing, not worse, not lesser, just different.

My sister and I used to laugh about the things we could remember from our twenties, for instance, “All thirty-nine of us!” and the things we’d forgotten–like, what joke was that a punchline to anyway? We’d talk about our childhood, and about how this child or that she had babysat was now married with kids, I’d debate when to let my hair go gray, and she, the older sister, would tell me that she Refused To Age Gracefully! Then suddenly she was gone at 62. Did not see that coming. And my life was different, lesser without her in it.

I could go on about embracing the new and the changes and the pain and the joy blah blah blah and yada yada. But if I’m honest, most of life we don’t really see coming. Some of the good things I didn’t see coming years ago? That at this point I’d be less fussed by what other people think of me. And that I’m a good enough friend and mom when I relax and am myself. That walking more slowly with old dogs means I see more of what’s around me.

The Lies are slowly losing their hold.

What will I do for myself today?  Breathe deeply. Today I’m calling that Good Enough.

The BringYourOwnBeverage conversation: What lies do you see losing hold in your life? What do you think of me color-coordinating my outfit with the dogs’? KIDDING!!!