Lessons from a divorce five years out

-1

My first husband and our son about a year before we got divorced.

I was talking to a friend

The other day

Who is going through a divorce.

One of a few friends

Going through it right now.

She had the shell-shocked look

I remember from my mirror six years ago.

“This is so

Fucking hard,”

She said.

“It’s

So

Hard.”

I nodded

And nodded,

And could relate:

The hopelessness leading up to

The decision.

Then finally the decision is made and

There’s relief.

But now the process to

Wade through.

I listened to her grapple with

Her partner

Behaving with inexplicable

Cruelty.

The things that are said,

Unprintable even in my

Immodest blog.

Fear masked as anger,

Contempt,

Indignation.

You were partners in

Instinctive survival:

Food,

Shelter,

Sex,

Provisions,

Parenting.

And now it feels like

This person is threatening your

Ability to survive and thrive.

S/he wants to take your money,

Your time with your kids,

Your home.

Both of your survival instincts are flared

And pitted against one another’s.

Even the most amicable divorce

Requires concessions that,

By their very nature,

Feel cruelly unfair.

My biggest fear was that the

Pain

Would last forever.

The pain that was so much more

Complicated

Than just

Getting dumped,

Or breaking the news to the kids,

Which is how I’d conceived of divorce

Until I went through it.

It was a dense and many-layered pain that,

At its peak,

Felt like it might be a major part of me

For the rest of my life.

But here’s my miracle:

Today I had a phone chat with my

Son’s dad

That wasn’t just civil

Or even friendly,

But was truly affectionate.

And the other day I stood on my

Front porch and chatted with

My husband’s ex-wife and

Her new boyfriend and

Was

Truly

Happy

For her and

Hopeful for her future and

Unattached to what it all

Means for me.

My husband came home the other night

From meeting with his ex-wife to

Discuss some weighty matters

About their kids.

And the conversation,

As he recounted it to me,

Was so

Reasonable and

Productive,

I got choked up listening to it,

Observing how this

Relationship between

My husband and

His ex-wife has

Grown since I’ve known them.

It’s not all perfect.

There are still difficult decisions ahead.

But I cannot tell you how

Grateful

I am to

Get along with both ex-spouses in our family’s life.

It is a truly

Stunning evolution.

How has it all come about,

This friendliness?

After fucking things up good

And learning hard lessons from it:

I learned to make concessions to

Simply keep the peace with my ex-husband.

I sensed it was better for my son

For me to let him go for periods of time

Than to fight to keep him all the time.

That meant I was physically separated from him for

About six months

On three occasions.

And now he spends summers with his dad.

As of this writing,

I haven’t hugged or touched

My 7-year-old boy

For about 50 days.

Yep.

I miss out on events in his life.

But I saw not fighting over my son

As a loving act,

Although to the outside it might look–

Well, who fucking cares

How it looks?

Also, I don’t care about fairness anymore.

There is no truly fair outcome of a

Divorce,

Especially with kids.

Everyone gets screwed.

If you pay child support,

It feels like too much.

It you receive child support,

It feels like too little.

The schedule is never quite right.

You might have to spend

Mother’s Day alone–

I did for three years in a row.

My ex-husband hasn’t had his

Son on Father’s Day since 2007.

Completely unfair.

I got used to it,

And then saw the weird beauty of

This little life lesson

Which has served me well in

Other parts of my life.

We can try for fair–

We do try for fair.

But we never truly achieve it.

These days, I prioritize my relationship with my

Son’s dad and

My husband’s ex-wife.

We try to do small things

To keep it friendly between us.

Little actions to build good will have

Countered any ill-will we once had,

And then some.

Besides which,

I truly care about both of them.

Honestly,

My friendly relationship with my ex-husband

And his family

Is one of the proudest achievements of my life.

And it’s not just about our son.

It’s about my ex and me, too.

It works for us to have an

Affectionate relationship that

Doesn’t revolve around our son at

Every moment of every conversation.

Time doesn’t heal all,

But it does help a hell of a lot.

I’ve heard bitter tirades from

Parents of grown children,

Divorced decades ago.

So obviously time isn’t a panacea.

But time is important.

When I look back

Six or seven years to the middle of the divorce

And right afterward,

My imagination was limited

As to what my life might look like,

Or what my ex’s might look like.

It felt like we would be

Forever tightly linked in this

Shitty,

Cruel

Web of mutual distrust and

Animosity.

But today,

I’m free.

As I was standing talking to my friend

About her impending divorce,

I was noticing how physically

Tall and

Strong I felt.

Loose-limbed and agile.

Healthy.

I said to her that

It was the hardest thing I’ve

Ever been through

In my life

By far.

But I wouldn’t go back and

Change anything.

Advertisements

Happy Mother’s Day! I think I’m done having kids

547751_10151367700569149_189076974_nI think

I’m not having any more children.

We’ve talked,

Joe and I.

I brought it up.

“What do you think about

One more baby?”

“Aw, babe,” he said.

“I just don’t think I can.”

His reasons were sound:

We already have

Four kids.

Let’s just focus on the

Ones we have.

Let’s give them all our attention.

(And all our finite financial resources.)

I tried to wage an argument,

But I wasn’t enthusiastic.

The truth was,

I kind of wanted him to

Talk me

Out of it.

So now,

It’s a matter of

Getting used to the idea

That this is it:

My family.

A couple divorcees with an

Assortment of kids:

Siblings,

Step-siblings,

Half-siblings.

We have ’em all.

Somehow I’d thought that

Just

One

More–

Especially if it was a girl–

Would even everything out.

Make it tidy.

There’d be the two older kids–

Full siblings to each other–

Then two younger full siblings–

Then my son in the middle.

The girls would bookend the assortment.

A fifth child to

Tie it all up

In a neat,

Pink

Bow.

Our family has felt like a

Work in progress for

So long.

It’s hard to imagine

That we’re

Finished adding to it.

But I held a newborn baby in my arms

Last week

And felt none of the

Longing

To have my own.

The boxes of maternity clothes in the

Basement that

I was hanging onto

Just in case

I’ve promised to a

Pregnant friend

(Whom I feel no envy toward in the least).

My two sons were

Screaming with laughter in the shower

Together

Last night.

They’re the only ones

I’ll physically bear

It would seem.

My first boy and

My baby boy,

I call them.

It seems a shame to

Retire the ol’ reproductives when they

Still have something in them.

But then again,

It’s nice to think of

Having myself to

Myself

Again

Forever.

Never again the

Intrinsic sharing of

Resources and

Energy of a pregnancy

Or breastfeeding.

And our family?

Definitely untidy.

Three last names

You will spell wrong

If I don’t spell them

Very slowly

For you over the phone.

Pictures reflect our

Mish-mash schedules.

Different combinations of kids

Depending on who is around that weekend.

When we go to bed at night,

I have to think for a minute:

If there was a fire,

How many kids are home

To rescue from the flames?

One?

Two?

Three?

Four?

It could be any of those numbers.

And the different

Mothering

I do to them all.

I’m a different person to each of them

Depending on their needs.

When I think of being a

Mom and a

Step-mom,

The first word I think of is

Fun.

It really is just a

Hell of a lot of fun.

Not every moment,

But there is much to be amused about.

Much to laugh at.

Yep,

It’s hard.

But it’s gotten easier over the years.

I’m grateful for my

Four kids.

They are each divine in their

Own ways,

And they each teach me about the

Divine in me.

An open letter to Sheryl Sandberg

SandbergDear Sheryl,

I have to admit,

I was

At first

Irritated by the whole

Fact

Of your book:

Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.

Here you are,

An obscenely rich,

Harvard-educated executive,

Presumably employing

Nannies and

House cleaners,

Telling me I need to

Work harder to become

Part of your

Rarefied circle of

Multi-millionaire

Stock-optioned

Chief executives.

I thought,

“Fuck.

I don’t want to think about this.”

I know,

I know.

A woman gets paid three-quarters what a man earns.

Women still do

Twice as much

Housework and

Childrearing duties as men

Even while working the

Same number of

Hours.

Women make up only a fraction of the

Highest-paid

Most powerful people in

Business and government.

I know.

But I’m too busy

Working my job,

Making my living,

Raising my children and

Dealing with my house

To worry about this

Big picture stuff,

Okay?

And Sheryl,

What does

“Lean In” mean

Anyway?

Lean in to listen to

You

Hold forth on how

All of us

Wives,

Mothers and

Workers should

Somehow get our husbands to do

50% of the housework and

Childrearing duties?

How?

They already think they do!

So I got out by myself for a walk recently,

And I was swiping through the

Public radio podcasts,

And there you were,

An hour-long interview with my favorite

Public radio host.

Oh Jesus Christ,

I thought.

Fine.

Let’s hear what you have to say.

And I listened to you talk about

The statistics:

Yep.

Only 20 of the Fortune 500 companies are

Run by women.

Yep.

Women still make only $0.77 to the male dollar.

Yep.

Women only make up 20% of Congress, and obviously,

Have never held the most important position in the world:

President of the U.S.

(“Why can’t girls be president?”

My son asked me,

Dishearteningly,

Just the other day.)

And it matters,

You said.

It does matter.

Because decision-makers

Make decisions

Based on what they know.

And we still have

Men

Making most of the decisions for us

About policy in

Government and in our

Workplaces.

And those men

Just don’t know.

They

Don’t

Know.

They don’t know how

Laughable

An eight- to twelve-week

Maternity leave is because

They

Can’t

Have

Babies.

And the argument is,

I guess,

That we’ll have eight- to twelve-week

Maternity leaves

(Mostly unpaid, BTW)

Until we get some decision-makers who’ve

Had a

Baby.

Okay Sheryl,

You know what?

You might be right.

Maybe it does matter.

This uneasy truce I’ve had with

The world as it is

Is based on the fact that,

For the most part,

I haven’t experienced a lot of

Overt

Discrimination–

Or so I tell myself.

I think I’m doing pretty well for myself.

My job pays decently–

Indeed, I make more than my husband.

It’s flexible,

Work from home, flex-time, etc.

My husband and I both think

We do more than half the

Housework and childrearing–

Or so our arguments would have you think.

Things are fine for

Me.

But you know what Sheryl?

I think you’re right.

It’s not just wages and power positioning that have

Stagnated.

It’s my imagination for

What’s possible.

I’ve stagnated into thinking that

Because my life is

Reasonably manageable,

Everyone else’s must be, too.

(But the statistics don’t bear that out.)

And I tell myself:

Maybe a 12-week maternity leave

Is enough.

Maybe it’s okay that women don’t

Make as much as men.

Money isn’t everything.

But those are lies

I’ve been telling myself.

So as I’m writing this,

I look at my husband across the room,

Playing his guitar,

Absorbed in his task,

Oblivious to his wife

Seething with gender injustice

A few feet away.

And I know he’s not the enemy.

He’s not trying to

Keep me down.

Out of the 3 billion men

In the world

Wielding outsized power over

Women,

He’s the one I have to

Sleep next to every night.

I can’t go to war with him, Sheryl.

And I know that’s not

What you’re asking me to do.

But that’s the old

Model I have in my

Head.

I sense that it starts in the house,

For me anyway.

It’s not just money–

It’s time, too.

Time and energy.

So I’ll reflect,

Sheryl.

You’ve given me something to

Think about.

And I’ll buy your book.

Not that you need the money for it.

Baby daddy: take two

I was scared of comparisons

This second time around.

A second baby,

With a second father,

A second husband.

A man who’s done it all before.

I would ask him questions

About the pregnancies and

Births of his two first kids.

A lot of it he said he didn’t remember.

But some things he’d describe:

He was a long-haired 21-year-old

Making big decisions,

Trying to do the right thing.

He said after his daughter was born—

The only Packers game he’d missed

Since he started watching football—

He came out in the waiting room

Where his parents were,

Tried to tell them it was a girl,

Started sobbing.

This time around,

Three months pregnant,

Touring the L&D ward at Regions Hospital

Joe started telling me about

How nice

The hospital was where his

Kids were born:

Wood floors,

Homey furniture,

Decent food.

Comfortable pillows.

Tears gathered in my eyes and

I snapped at him:

“That hospital isn’t covered by our insurance.”

He looked at me in surprise.

“You keep comparing.

I’m scared of you comparing,”

I said.

“But I’m not comparing,”

He said, mystified.

“It just feels like you are,”

I said, crying a little,

I’m sure not the first

Expectant mom to

Cry during the tour of the

L&D ward.

“Okay, I’m sorry,”

He said,

Ginger with me.

I wasn’t an emotional wreck during pregnancy,

But there were a couple topics that got me flared up,

And “comparison” was one of them.

This was a man whose

First wife heroically gave birth

Twice

With no pain killers.

With my first son,

I had asked for every pain killer they had:

Gas,

Local topical anesthetic,

Epidural.

I wanted to try for

“Natural”

This time around,

But what if I couldn’t make it without

Pain killers,

And Joe would compare

This birth

To his older kids’ births,

And I would fall short?

As it turned out,

I did have Rocky with no pain killers

In a steadily progressing,

Eight-hour labor with

Twenty minutes of pushing.

(It’s funny to think of me

Worrying that I would be

Concerned with comparisons

During labor and delivery;

I had forgotten how completely

Consuming

The process of giving birth is.)

I didn’t dream

As a little girl

Of having

Two

Baby’s daddies

And a husband with

Private memories of the

Births of his first children

That I’m not a part of.

But now that Rocky’s born

The comparisons aren’t as scary.

The story’s been amended.

The tension of pregnancy

Released.

Life is good.

Life is peaceful.

Our family has taken its shape:

Yours,

Mine and

Ours.

Why I need you in the delivery room with me

It started with a discussion

My husband and I were having–

You could call it an argument–

About the difference between

Animal and

Human

Birth.

“Have you ever watched a cow

Give birth?”

Asked my husband.

“They just moo and

Work the calf out of their body.

It’s all a

Natural process.

There’s not all these

Medical

Interventions.”

I was a little pissed off at

His audacity–

He was including pain interventions in his argument–

Plus I was skeptical that

He had ever

Watched a cow give birth.

However, it piqued my interest:

Is live birth as

Complicated for other animals

As it is for humans?

I took to the Internet

And learned a thing or two about

Human birth.

Turns out

Four-legged mammals have a relatively large

Pelvic opening to push their young through.

Because we walk upright

Humans have relatively

Narrow pelvic bones.

Not only does a human baby’s head

Barely fit through the pelvic opening,

It even has to make a

Quarter turn

Right at the end to make it out.

“That’s why,”

The doctor on the

YouTube video explained

As she

Barely

Slid

An infant skull through a set of

Pelvic bones,

“Humans are the

Only animal that

Need

Help

To give birth.”

Wow, I thought.

So true.

Other animals go off to be alone,

To hide,

When the labor pains come.

We animals

Call for help.

The social instinct,

I thought,

Would seem to have a

Darwinian purpose.

The truth is,

I’m only starting to grasp how much I

Really

Need

People.

When I was young,

I confused an

Independent streak and a

Love for solitude with

Not needing people.

I remember once during my

Freshman year of college:

I watched a group of girls go

Down to dinner together,

And I, who hadn’t made an effort

To make friends, got ready

Alone in my dorm room.

In a spasm of loneliness, I thought,

“I don’t need people.”

And I knew immediately:

It wasn’t true.

I do need people.

It’s an instinct as strong as the

Need to eat,

Or sleep.

It makes sense:

As a species, we literally

Wouldn’t survive birth

Without help from others.

And here’s how that

Played out for me in the delivery room on

April 28, 2012

As I labored and delivered my son.

Four people in the room with me:

Midwife, nurse, doula, husband.

The midwife and the nurse were

Guiding my little son’s

Bobble head into the world.

My husband and the doula were at my head,

Holding my hands.

As the contractions

Built into their gripping pitch, and

All I knew was the

Black, vacuous void of

The pushing,

I had to

Touch

My husband.

I had to grip his hand,

I had to hear his voice saying,

“You’re doing it, Jen.

Good job.

You’re almost there.”

The sound I remember most from

Rocky’s birth six weeks ago

Wasn’t his first cry.

It was the gasping sob

My husband let out when I had finally

Done

The impossible,

And he yelled,

“Babe, you did it!”

And everyone in the room was

Laughing and smiling.

Do it alone?

Good god, no.

Grip bed rails with my hands, or

Dig my fingernails into my palms?

That would’ve been hell.

I needed my husband’s hands to grasp

As much as I needed the midwife to

Guide my son’s relatively huge head

Through my relatively narrow hips

(Who knew?).

And that’s,

I guess,

Part of what makes me

Human.

My big childbirth fear

Our doula perches on the edge of the

Chair in our living room.

She has short sandy hair,

No make-up.

I am cuter than she is,

Which I hadn’t realized was important

But is.

You don’t want a cute doula.

“I think I’m going to sit on the floor,”

She says, and slides off the chair into

Lotus position.

She pulls papers and notebooks out of her

Whole Foods bag and

Fans them in a semi-circle around her.

The rug she is sitting on

Needs a good vacuum,

And some spot remover.

She folds her freckled, braceleted hands in her lap and

Smiles up at us.

“So,” she says.

“Let’s talk about your

Fears.”

Ah yes.

My fears.

The whole point of this meeting.

I’m lucky. My fears don’t consist of

Fistula,

Rupture,

Hemorrhage,

Obstruction.

I’m not afraid of dying,

Or of days in agony,

Or crippling lifelong injury.

But I do have fears.

“Okay, so,

Remember I told you my

Mother died in January?

Of Alzheimer’s?

Well,

I haven’t really been that

Upset

About it.

I haven’t been crying.”

I look at Joe for confirmation of my stoicism,

And he nods.

“I don’t know why.

I feel weird about it.

Like, have I been too busy to grieve?

Or was it that she was sick for so long

I’ve done a lot of the grieving already?

I don’t know.

But here’s my fear:

That in the rush of emotion after the baby’s born,

In those first seconds,

The grief will

Suddenly

Surface,

Or be unleashed.”

Our doula is nodding,

Jotting in a notebook

Labeled with my name.

I fall silent,

Imagining it:

A surge of bitter,

Unacknowledged emotion,

Having its moment

Then and there

In the delivery room.

Ruining it.

Ruining the birth.

I hate this shit.

Grief.

“That makes so much sense,”

Our doula says, writing something,

Then looking up at me.

“And I’m so sorry about your mom.”

We talk for awhile,

And as she’s leaving,

Our doula hugs me and

Thanks me for telling her about my mother.

“I think your mom will come up during the birth,”

She says.

“I think it will happen.”

A few days later,

Something happens:

At my mom’s funeral in January,

I had asked my dad for her wedding ring.

I wanted to wear it for a while.

That was three months ago,

And he just remembered to give it to me

That week

After our meeting with the doula.

We were having lunch,

And he pulled the small cardboard box out of his pocket.

Presented it to me.

My mom’s ring.

“I have it now,”

I tell our doula on the phone.

“I’m going to wear it in the delivery room.

She’ll be

There,

Sort of.”

I am talking excitedly

Because the fear-dread is gone.

If there’s grief,

There’s grief.

I’ll let it in the room

And give it a symbol–

The ring–

And some

Words,

Tell my husband and our doula

I’m thinking about my mom.

Acknowledge the grief.

“What a fabulous idea,”

Our doula says.

“I love it.”

I don’t love it,

But I’m peaceful with it.

And that’s more important.

Step parenting is hard

I broke my own rule the other night:

When Joe is disciplining my son,

And I don’t agree with what he’s saying

Or how he’s saying it,

I support him at the moment in order to provide a

Unified front,

And bring it up with him later,

In private,

In our bedroom,

After the kids are tucked into bed.

That’s the ideal.

But it didn’t work quite that way on Friday.

Me, Joe and my six-year-old Victor

Went to a circus-like burger and malt shop for dinner,

Magenta and azure murals of dancing cartoon figures on the walls,

Us glaze-eyed from a long week of school and work.

My boy wasn’t listening:

“Don’t run,”

And he’d run.

“Don’t put your burger on the table,”

And he’d put his burger on the table.

The more he didn’t listen,

The more Joe fixated on him not listening:

“If I have to talk to you

One more time,

You won’t get a root beer.”

Victor tried to climb into my lap.

“Mom, I get a root beer, right?”

“Not if Joe says you don’t,”

I said wearily.

It went on like this for a few minutes:

My boy lapped at his water like a dog,

And Joe told him not to.

My boy blew bubbles in his milk,

And Joe said, “Stop.”

I tried to restrain myself,

But I finally couldn’t.

My mouth just opened and

Brightly, I said to Joe,

“Let’s talk about what Victor’s done right today.”

Joe’s gaze swung across the formica table top

To me,

And then he and I started going at it:

“You need to lay off.”

“But he needs to listen.

It’s a safety issue.”

“But this isn’t working.”

“He’s doing it on purpose.”

“No he’s not. He’s six.”

“Well, something needs to change.”

“Does it? Is something wrong?”

And on and on.

So here’s the underpinning of this

Conflict:

Joe doesn’t love Victor like he’s his own son.

Victor has a dad,

And Joe has children.

Those roles are filled.

Same with me.

Joe’s kids have a mom;

They don’t need another one.

We both love our step kids;

But not in that

Blindly unconditional way we do our own.

When Victor doesn’t listen,

I assume he’s just a distracted six-year-old

Developmentally incapable of following

Every

Single

Direction

He’s given.

Joe sees some insolence,

Some intention in the behavior,

That would

Never

Occur to me.

The thing is,

We’re both right.

And sometimes,

We can both admit that.

Step parents can offer a lot:

They aren’t befogged by unqualified love–

Their objectivity can clarify the most

Confounding parental delusion.

Joe and I can do that for each other–

Not every time,

But enough to be hopeful.

Somehow,

On Friday,

It happened:

We had a productive conversation about

Step parenting

At the moment of disagreement,

In front of one of the kids.

I truly witnessed Joe’s face

Soften

With hurt feelings as he described how

Victor ignores his attempts to

Ask what happened at school

Or at wrestling practice.

And he listened

Non-defensively

To my points about

Developmentally normal behaviors

That don’t always need to be

Disciplined.

Afterwards,

It was Joe who was the lightest of all

Walking out of the restaurant,

Jokey with Victor, and flashing

Grateful looks in my direction.

So it worked

This time,

And for today.

Maybe it was the malts.