Google “I hate married people” and the first thing that comes up is this post.
My heart does break at the comments I get from folks who Google this phrase, so acute is their loneliness and resentment at the wedded. (I am so sorry to those to whom I have not responded. I am an irresponsible blogger sometimes. Please know that I have read your comments, and I have nodded deeply in sympathetic understanding). Some have asked me what I think now.
To answer your question: a year and a half later, I can’t say the same thing holds true. Not one bit.
Perhaps it is because the sting of my ex marrying another woman two months after our divorce has lessened. In fact, I see it for the sad, desperate move that it probably was. Or maybe for them, destiny–and who wants to mess with that?
The Married to me are no longer evil invaders from another planet. They do not exist merely to torturously remind me of my single status. I am not sure how or when that happened. Now they are just people, who happen to have found one another –online or at a party or at school or in a bar or through a friend at work or bumping into one another at a restaurant/coffee shop/sporting event/Bar Mitzvah/church function/fill in the blank here with the Story of How You Met.
The Married may be more miserable than I can ever imagine, or they may be more in love than I can ever imagine. The reality is probably, for most, somewhere between these extremes. We all have days filled with light and misery, an ever-swirling mix that changes with the ever-shifting sands of inner and outer conditions. This is true whether we are single, separated, divorced, widowed, childless or not.
A married friend called me recently to lament a recent torturous dynamic that has been unfolding between him and his wife. ”Marriage is hard work,” was pretty much all I had to offer in response. I must admit I suddenly felt lucky to be single.
Lucky!?! To be single?
Now that I am dating again…I think about Planet Marriage as this vague destination where the hamster wheel journey is all supposed to be heading. I guess.
I was chatting with this 32 year-old young whipper snapper yesterday and he asked me: What are you looking for?
Hmmm. That is a tough question. I told him that I feel more comfortable with saying what I am not looking for.
Too much, too soon.
Men who treat me in any way badly.
Men who treat me in any way badly.
Did I mention men who treat me in any way badly?
That actually does help me clarify what it is that I am looking for these days. They happen to be 3 S’s.
Does that sound boring, or what? So-called boring is now, to me, very attractive. I can say with fair confidence that I am done with artsy anguished types or alcoholics and/or the super intense, ultra-charismatic dudes I used to gravitate to like a moth to a flame. And oh, did I get burned.
My friend said something to me that was just brilliant: The slower you go, the quicker you know.
So…is marriage on the table? Is it the be-all, end-all, the pot of gold at the end of the dating rainbow? I admit to recently checking out a book from the library called Find a Husband after 35. Some 15 step process to getting a ring on your finger in 18 months or less. Have I read it? No.
After a year of intentionally not dating, I have kind of gotten enamored of my independence. I go where I want (more or less) when I can. I choose my own meals, and don’t have to worry about what anyone else wants (besides my kid, and he’s so picky it comes down to 3-5 things total). Time - minus kid time, minus work hours, those few precious hours that are left - is all mine to waste, to savor, to do with as I please.
Marriage no longer purely equals comfort and safety. These things I have found on my own. What a splendid thing to be even able to write those words and truly mean them.
Marriage equals facing life together. And I do like that. Life is so cool, so crazy, so wild, so sacred - it would be nice to be on that roller coaster with another adult person.
I read some book about dating by the “Mars and Venus” guy. I expected drivel but it was surprisingly good. Something he said that struck me is how we women try to deceive ourselves that we don’t need a partner. Well technically yes, for many of us, that is true. We don’t need one to survive anymore in the harsh world. We may not even need one emotionally - I for example, get pretty emotionally filled up from the love of my child and my friends. But deep down, we do need to be loved, cherished, and cared for, just as we have the need to love, cherish, and care for someone — in the romantic sense of the word. It is a human need. I almost cried as I contemplated this.
Yes, I do need a man, but not in a needy way. Does that make sense?
My need does not cause me to do stupid s–t today. I acknowledge that it is there, rather than let it drive everything.
There is something liberating in being vulnerable enough to admit this need, to be open to it, to see it as part of my humanness and not as some fatal flaw.
So…back to Planet Marriage. It is a place I’d consider landing on some day again. And I guess no longer hating the inhabitants of that planet is a good start. They’d be more likely to welcome me in that case, wouldn’t they? In the meantime, I gaze out at the horizon, at Planet Marriage, just one spinning ball in a universe vaster than I can ever conceive of.
It has been 365 days since I have been out on a date, or even remotely pursued anything with men. It was a conscious choice I made last year, after a long string of bad decisions, near fatal attractions, a glut of embarrassingly adolescent behavior, and much scraping my heart up off the floor. The Year of Loving Myself Passionately has officially come to a close. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m still planning on loving myself passionately, but I am now open to someone else loving me passionately as well. I’m officially Back on the Market. (That makes it sound so tawdry, doesn’t it?)
I’m coming back around this time from a whole different point of view. This year of not dating has grounded me in a way that just about nothing has. Freed of the constant low-level (and often high-level) obsession with Finding a Partner, my mind and heart opened up. New awarenesses rushed in. My spiritual growth took a quantum leap.
I spent a lot of time grieving my divorce at a deeper level, something which I needed desperately to do, but used dating to sidestep. I moved through consecutive and sometimes overlapping stages of longing for my ex, then anger at him, then envy. Raging against What Is, and then arriving at a place of cautious acceptance. Then the acceptance began to feed on itself. I found myself angry at my ex less and less of the time, brooding about What Could Have Been less and less of the time, until I had a staggering realization:
It just wasn’t meant to be.
When I could really accept that, and I mean REALLY accept that, it was as if the clouds opened up and the angels burst forth in song. Birds flapped their wings en masse and did aerial pirhouettes. I felt the last drops of bitterness seep out of my pores, the last dregs of self-pity melted away, and I was a changed woman. I won’t say that I’m completely over my divorce, but I have truly moved on in my heart, and this means that I am now ready to allow someone new and wonderful in. The ghosts of my marriage are not mucking up my aura.
So now, I am back on the market, but I’m coming at it from a whole different place. I’m not desperate. Not at all desperate. I used to have “desperate” stamped on my forehead, people! I positively oozed desperate.
Have there been times when it was lonely? Hell, yes! There was one Friday night when a friend had to cancel, and I simply couldn’t bear to be home alone. I got all dressed up and sat in a hookah bar for quite a while, breathing in secondhand smoke and drinking bottled water, until I attracted a twenty-something, unemployed bartender who invited me to sit at the table with him and his friend. That was maybe the closest thing I had had to a date all year, but when he invited me to go out dancing with them, I had to decline. I had made a commitment to myself. Do I regret it? Hell, no.
But mostly, I had good times hanging with my girlfriends. Much girl bonding was had. I worked on a lot of personal writing projects and read a ton of books and articles. I was present for my grandmother’s death and stayed sane and stable through it all. Many mornings and evenings were spent in contemplative prayer and meditation. Of course, I had a whole lot of fun focusing on my relationship with the most important man in my life: my son. And I watched a shitload of RomComs, post-apocalyptic films, and lowbrow comedies. Netflix is a single gal’s best friend.
Last Friday (Christmas Eve) I went to a Jewish singles’ event, and I met a really sweet guy, a single dad who was fun and easy to talk to and cute. We have been emailing and texting a little bit, and he has not yet asked me out, but I am not all freaked out or much focused on that. A year ago, I would have been beside myself waiting to be asked out. I would have been calling all my girlfriends and talking about it for hours. Or I would have asked him out, and either gotten rejected or wondered if he accepted just to be polite. If he does ask me out, great - if not, I am just not getting all depressed about it. Period. It’s his deal, not mine. I’m a catch. Someone will come along and be bright enough to realize that.
This year, I have discovered that I have a kick-ass life, an amazing life, a life so jam-packed with blessings it’s ridiculous. What’s different now is that I’m not “seeking” a partner. I’m just putting it out there that I am in a good place. I’m now ready to be swept off my feet, and I am confident that the right man for me will come along to do some sweepin’. When he does, it will be meant to be.
My grandmother is dying. This is the woman who raised me from the age of five years old. For years, I criticized her. I blamed her for a lot of things that I felt were wrong with my life.
It’s strange. In the face of her dying, all of that has dropped away. All I feel now is wonder that she sacrificed her golden years to mother me when my own mother was lost to a haze of a schizophrenia diagnosis and unspeakable suffering. All I feel now is her love for me, and my love for her.
My grandmother is dying.
It feels weird to write this sentence. I know it sounds morbid, but we are all dying, every day, aren’t we? We just choose not to focus on that. It makes sense. To focus on that fact, day in and day out, would likely make us all crazy. Instead, we focus on the mundane details of life and getting through each day. Me, I spend a lot of time Trying to Be a Better Person. (I just bought yet another parenting book tonight.) I also spend a lot of time Beating Myself up for not Being a Better Person. I think if I read enough books, I will figure it out and somehow magically become Good Enough.
Now, I have a situation in front of me. My grandmother is dying, and she lives all the way across the country. She is alone; my uncle and aunt live about two hours away, but for their own reasons, they can’t be physically present. So it’s pretty clear to me; it’s my job to show up and be there. It’s not about some sense of moral obligation: I can’t imagine not being there.
I talked to a dear teacher tonight, who herself has been through this journey of letting go of a parent - twice. She reminded me that the timing of all this could not be better. We both expressed our pleasure at this arrangement of circumstances.
I know that assessment may seem kind of baffling…but what she means is that I have the freedom to be present. My ex is willing and able to take care of S when needed. He is only in pre-K and not high school, so I can take him with me to San Diego if needed, too. I can stay in her house for free. My job will allow me to be flexible and work from anywhere. All options are open to me.
I said to my teacher tonight, “I’ve been prepared for this.” I’ve experienced so much death, so much loss, that this is not unfamiliar territory to me.
My grandma has largely lost the ability to speak. Yet I know she is still in there, aware of what is going on. She had some lucid moments when I spoke to her today.
“I’m coming out there, grandma!” I yelled into the phone.
“whenareyoucoming?” she slurred back.
This, I took, as permission to come.
She also managed to say “I love you” a few times.
My parents both died suddenly, without warning. I know we could all go out that way. But I feel that here, a gift is being given to me. The gift of some time to say goodbye, to be able to respond with compassion to this suffering.
“This is the death that will heal the other deaths,” my teacher said.
I cried at the simple truth of that sentence, the simple truth of being called to be present to my grandmother’s dying.
Strange how everything recedes in the face of this thing called death. All the Big Issues that have been squirming around on the surface of my consciousness. I can’t even be jealous of my ex and his wife and baby. I try to summon up that part of myself, the part that was so bothered by his leaving me to start another family, and I can’t find it. I can’t even stress about being single, and fall prey to that same old story: No One Will Ever Love Me Again. None of that chatter really seems to matter right now.
Today, I dropped my son off with my ex and I found myself driving in the direction of the Tibetan Temple in Poolesville. It could not have been a more beautiful day - sunny and clear and dry, with a breeze shaking loose the leaves on the trees. As I drove, I listened to a chant I had listened to while I was pregnant, a chant to the Great Mother, and I cried and sang through the tears, and it was exquisite.
The temple grounds were overrun with stinkbugs, which are rampant in our area. I have always been very afraid of insects, and the stinkbugs made me so uncomfortable. I forced myself to sit there in meditation, but could not close my eyes, nor could I focus on my breath which rattled shallowly in my chest. I kept vigilant, instead choosing to listen to sound, like the sounds of the birds, the crickets, and the leaves falling to the ground. I felt the visceral fear of one of those bugs landing in my hair, the dread at the sound of the low whirring of their heavy bodies flying through the air. I prayed for my grandmother. I sat in meditation in front of the stupa for about half an hour. Then I ate my lunch in the sunshine, swatting the occasional stinkbug off my purse or pants leg. By then, I had reached the limit of my ability to tolerate the bugs, and it was time to go.
As I was getting ready to head back to my car, I looked up to see a flock of hawks circling above. (This is not the first time I have seen a hawk recently. Just yesterday, S and I noticed one while driving out in the country.)
Today, one by one, the flock broke up and each hawk glided away in its own direction. I wonder what prey they were stalking with their magnificent eyesight. I immediately knew the hawks were an omen. In my prayers, I had asked for a sign showing me what to do next. The hawks were my answer. I know of hawks to be visionaries and messengers. I understood that they were telling me to see what is in front of me and to do what needs to be done, with humility and without hyperbole, while keeping an eye on the big picture - a bird’s eye view, if you will.
As I approached my car, I saw that it was literally covered in stinkbugs. I made a mad dash for the driver’s side door, trying frantically to get in before the stinkbugs did. I was largely successful - only one made it into the car, and I gently shooed it out the window. I was amazed as to how persistent those stinkbugs were. I was exceeding speeds of 50 miles an hour for quite some time, and still they clung to the car. They did not let go, even when I had driven all the way back to DC - some 45 minutes’ journey. Eventually, they dropped off into the air. They have lessons of their own, about the time to hold on and the time to let go. Though I am afraid of them, they also have something to teach.
Tonight as I prepare for sleep, I feel full. There is sadness and there is fear, but there is also a sense of embarking on a new path. “When this is all over, you will feel as if you are returning in a suit of clothing that is too big for you. It will feel strange at first, but you will grow into it,” explained my teacher.
All I know today is that I am ready to do the next right thing. I am ready for whatever life (or death) brings.
I was supposed to fly out yesterday for a work conference in LA. The day before I left, I got a call: my 88 year-old grandmother had collapsed and was in the hospital in San Diego. Immediately, I shared this information with my boss and she said to me, “go and take care of your family, we will be OK without you until Thursday morning.”
As soon as I landed, I drove down to San Diego to be with her. It felt like a small miracle that I should have a flight already booked, just as she went into the hospital. It was unclear what had happened to her exactly - perhaps dehydration, perhaps complications from her diabetes? The doctors didn’t paint a clear picture.
“Growing old sucks,” she declared to me, on more than one occasion.
She was her usual cantankerous self, except more confused. I had never seen her so foggy. Her mind had always been as sharp and clear, even if her body had been less than cooperative. Now I found her displaying clear signs of dementia: forgetting things that had been told to her a few moments before, repeating the same inaccurate information over and over and being absolutely adamant that her version of her reality was the right one. For example, she was certain that she had been given three glasses of prune juice, when she had only had two - but no one could convince her of that fact.
She is also extremely hard of hearing and no longer hears words spoken in a normal tone of voice. The words also must be articulated just right to bounce off her eardrums. I have been the unofficial interpreter to nurses and doctors, yelling in just the right pitch and tenor so that she could understand what the nurses and doctors were saying to her and also translating her odd requests to them in a way that made sense. I have been her advocate, running down the hall to fetch nurses when there was no response to her numerous call-button queries. I see how hard it must be to be in the hospital with no family nearby and no advocates to make sure that you are responded to in a timely manner.
She told me numerous stories of shitting herself in various institutional settings because people did not come in time to help her to the toilet. She also shared a rather convoluted story of shitting in China into a hole in the floor. I’m not sure she ever traveled to China - this was the first I had heard of it.
“You’re full of shit stories,” I mused and we both laughed at that one.
It breaks my heart that life has had us end up on opposite coasts. While she drives me completely insane most of the time, now that she is in her waning years I wish I could be closer. Theoretically I could do it - my job allows me to work from anywhere, and S could go to school anywhere. Yet I feel that it would be wrong to deprive him of time with his father on the east coast.
Pretty soon, when visiting hours are over tonight, I’ll get back in my car and drive to my work conference. I am thankful for the small miracle that allowed me to stay with her for the past few days while she is in here. She is supposed to be discharged tomorrow, and will go home to her round-the-clock caregivers. I know she is taken care of, and I have no illusions that I could do it and also take care of Sami - I’m not that much of a martyr. But still, I wish I could be there, just to pop in on her here and there.
“I hate to see you leave, Leah…” she said, looking so sad and weak in the hospital bed.
I may consider relocating us temporarily if she does not bounce back from this. She is really no longer capable of talking on the phone - her hearing has gotten so bad and she does not wear her hearing aids. She raised me from the age of five years old, and how I wish I could reciprocally be there for her in her time of need. It just seems so wrong to be on the other side of the country. I must either accept it, or do something to change it.
Growing old sucks.
“I’m sad,” S said plaintively as we drove home from an errand tonight.
“Why are you sad, honey?”
“One is not enough.”
As I asked questions to get more out of him, it became clear that he meant that *I* am not enough. I’m not being paranoid here. He literally rattled off the names of all the people at his dad’s house (dad, wife, sister, and currently aunt) and said he wished we could all live together.
“Don’t like just one,” he repeated (again meaning me). I like a lot a lot. More parents.”
I tried not to take it personally. After all, he’s four. And his little mind is probably processing a whole lot. He goes to his dad’s one day a week, and coming back after that must be rough - even though he says how much he misses me, and he never seems upset about coming back to me.
How do I compete with all that is going on over there - the dad, the wife, the sibling?
The answer is, I don’t. I don’t try. I can’t.
I am in so much pain right now. It’s as if everything S said tonight highlighted and underscored all my worst fears and vulnerabilities. Kids have a way of doing that sometimes. Perhaps by osmosis, he has picked up on the way I have been feeling for years, ever since his father departed, that our little family of two is not enough.
Oh, I try to smile and put on a brave front, but he must feel the sadness, the sense of lack, of incompleteness, radiating off me in waves.
He makes me want to go out and find a partner post-haste and get knocked up. Right. Now. So I can give him the family he wants. So I can stop feeling so alone and so not enough. But that’s just plain crazy. That is me trying to compete with my ex, who in his infinite wisdom built a new family on top of the smoldering ashes of the old one.
I tried to do what he did. I’ve been there, done that. I was not as successful as he was, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.
Actually, that is not entirely true. At basically the same time that my ex began his Year of Skipping Out on Fatherhood so he could bond with his new girlfriend, I went out and found a man right away. This man was a very decent and good man and wanted to commit to me. He was actually into the whole family thing. I kicked him to the curb after three months because his love, his attention, felt like hands around my neck, squeezing, steadily, harder. I was too raw, too wounded, to let him into our lives. The closer he got, the more I retreated. I was just not ready.
And so I am one. Just one.
So here I sit tonight…feeling so wounded by the words of my child who was just telling me how he felt, with no idea how it would impact on my fragile psyche. Tonight, I am feeling even more not enough than I usually do.
Old habits creep in. I want with all my heart to reach out to a man for attention, for confirmation that I am OK, lovable. I will not do so. I will not violate the vow that I have taken this year. A vow to learn to love myself. What better test than this?
Maybe in the midst of the tidal wave of not-enoughness, I can look for the good here. My son and I love each other. We have warmth and affection, and I endeavor to treat him with respect and kindness. We have a beautiful, cozy home that we share. We do a lot of fun things; I am always on the hunt for new and exciting activities for us to enjoy together. I am not a perfect mom, but I am relatively certain that I am a good-enough mom. Maybe even marginally better than good enough.
But yet, what do I do with what he said tonight? It is in his heart, it is his little truth, at least tonight it was, and I may hear this out of his mouth again. I must honor his feelings, which I did. I explained in the most loving way possible that his entire family loved him, even if we did not live together. I named each person by name - even HER - and repeated that they loved him.
His eyes grew heavy and closed, and he drifted away from me into his dreams. Maybe he dreams of the complete family he longs for. I am sorry I can’t give that to him. I can only offer my heart, my unconditional love, my support, my encouragement. I can only hold the space for him to grow into the person he wishes to become. I can only cheer him on as he moves in the direction of his dreams.
I will not be able to prevent all pain and sorrow from entering his world, but I will do all I can to help him to weather the storms and come to intimately know his own strength and resiliency.
Maybe that is not enough, but that is what this mother has to give.
My prayer is that he walk through life knowing always how much he is loved, and always feeling that he is enough.
I offer that prayer to myself as well.
Divorce tears apart so many things.
Two relationships that I have continued to mourn: the loss of a sister-in-law and a stepson. I was close to the both of them - as close as you can be when they live in another country. I immediately felt comfortable around my ex sister-in-law, from the first moment we met. She was really the closest thing to a sister that I have ever had, being sibling-less. I remember the last time we visited my ex’s country, when S was just seven months old. After he went to sleep, my ex, his sister, and I spent hours separating pumpkin seeds from their salty white shells, popping the green seeds into our mouths, and talking late into the night. We revealed gory details of our childhoods, swapping war stories and memories. The three of us shared the “bond” that comes from having a truly terrible childhood, and all the assorted scars that go with that. (It was one of the things that I think attracted my ex and I to each other - the simple, brutal fact of our woundedness - but that is not enough to sustain a marriage.)
I also really adored J, H’s son from his first marriage - who is almost exactly ten years older than S (their birthdays are three days apart). The last time I saw him, he was a funny, slightly effeminate twelve year-old living with my ex here in the US. My ex and I were in what I called our “separated and working it out phase that never actually worked out.” J and I used to do yoga on the rug in my ex’s apartment and watch “Hannah Montana” together on TV. I took J and S to the pumpkin patch around Halloween and we had all kinds of fun outings together. I would have been more than happy to be his stepmom, and I would have loved him like my own.
Recently, I was reviewing some old digital videos from a time when ex had borrowed the video camera. I discovered some hilarious lip-synch videos that J had made of himself. First I laughed, then I just broke down and cried, missing him, my cool little buddy.
J moved back to my ex’s country sometime during the period when my ex decided to take a year off from fatherhood, and I didn’t know this until months after the fact. All that time, I was wondering what he was telling this kid as to how and why his baby half-brother suddenly stopped coming over.
I haven’t heard anything about J in almost three years. I wonder if he mourned in any way the abrupt end to our relationship. I know I did. I wish I had been able to say goodbye to him and explain in an age-appropriate way why I disappeared from his life. It’s not clear to me if anyone explained anything to him, and that pains me greatly.
So…to get to the point, my ex sister-in-law is visiting the US this month. My ex informed me of this, and I wanted to badly to see her. I was afraid to ask him if it was OK to see her. I am not sure of the etiquette, or the appropriateness around such things. The last time I had reached out to her, it was through Facebook. It was during that year when my ex took the year off from fatherhood, and I asked her if she had any insight as to what was going on. She said that she did not, that he told her that I wasn’t allowing him to see S. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I figured that he must be in a really bad way if he was lying to his own sister like that. It gave me some insight into the pain and shame that he must have been feeling around his actions.
I agonized and deliberated over asking to see her. Women in my single moms’ support group had some insights - mainly that if we had been close, that it would be OK, and not inappropriate, for me to reach out to her.
It had not been my intention to pour my heart out to her, but that’s what I ended up doing - weirdly, in full view of my ex, who was in his office with S. I told her how devastated I was by the divorce, that I still missed him, blah blah blah. She said that she was surprised.
I always thought of you as so strong, she said.
I don’t feel strong, I told her.
I asked her if he was happy.
Who? she asked.
It’s none of your business anymore whether she’s happy, she remarked, without a shred of meanness.
It’s true. We have a business relationship today - it is a joint venture, the raising of a very special little boy. My ex’s happiness or unhappiness should not matter to me, except as it affects S. But it does. I continue to wonder. Two years into his marriage, does he ever question leaving me? Or has he never looked back? These are not conversations we will ever have, I know. I must live with these and so many other unanswered questions.
She told me news of J, how tall he is, what a “man” he has become, at nearly fifteen. I told her how much I loved him, and she said he loved me too.
After about half an hour of standing there on the sidewalk in full view of my ex, we kissed, on both cheeks, as they do in her part of the world, and we parted. I am not sure if I will see her again this trip.
So many times I have written of my inability to accept reality around the end of my marriage. I am still not much closer. It feels like slogging through quicksand. I want to be done with grieving, now. It goes on and on. I’m sick of it. It bores me already. It has to stop. But it just does not, in spite of everything I’ve tried.
There was something about that statement of hers: his happiness or unhappiness is none of your business anymore. It hit me in a different way. The only thing *I* can control is my own happiness or unhappiness. And obsessing about my ex-husband, two years after our divorce, two years into his marriage to someone else, is guaranteed to bring nothing but misery. I know finding someone else will not fix it: I’ve already tried that. I think there is no way past this steadily unfurling grief but through it. I will keep soldiering on, and practice blind trust that one day, I will truly be over him. One day, this horrible longing for something that can never be will leave me, and I will be free.
I have this recurring dream. It’s variations on a theme - the theme of my ex and I getting back together.
In the dream, it’s just the two of us, and he is looking at me in that way, with great love in his eyes. We have sex.
“I missed you,” I say, crying.
“I missed you too,” he says, and all of the pain and suffering of the past four years is erased and we are back together again, our little family.
Except, my mind said in the dream, he has this new wife, and a baby. That is going to be weird.
And then I woke up, sad and aroused, still remembering what it felt like to kiss him.
I don’t know if my single mom friends understand where I am coming from. They were the ones who ended their marriages (with good reason). Or the end of the marriage was mutually-agreed upon. Not so with me. Just a few months before the divorce was final, I was on the phone begging him for another chance. I can still feel the humiliation of his rejection. He was already with his now-wife, the mother-to-be of his new baby daughter. And I had long since been erased from his heart.
Sometimes I wonder if he ever dreams of me, ever thinks of me, ever misses me like I miss him.
A few days ago, I met with a parenting coach from the Parent Encouragement Program. This is a wonderful program that provides classes for parents in positive discipline. I took the class when S was 2.5; since then I have to admit I had forgotten a lot, and realized that I badly needed a refresher. The dynamic between S and me had started to get combative and ugly. Here I was, facing off on a daily basis with a very angry four year-old. Who do you think won again and again in such battles? There are no winners in power struggles with a small child.
I know it doesn’t need to be like this, not all the time, anyways. I am the one who must change, who must try harder to be the person, and the parent, I aspire to be.
The parenting coach and I talked about many things; one of them is to try to help build up S’s confidence and self-esteem by encouraging him to do more on his own. As a single Jewish (s)mother, I do tend to over-do for him - mainly out of convenience, but also because I have control freak tendencies. Yes he is still little, but he can put his own waffle in the toaster, or help to prepare his lunch for the next day. He can wash himself and dry himself. He can brush his own teeth. The kid can do a lot of stuff on his own now. I have to let go just a little and let him take more responsibility for his life. The parenting coach suggested I tell him that he is “competent” and “responsible” and use big words so he feels powerful. And he is!
He has been so happy and delighted with himself since I started encouraging him to get more involved in the tasks of daily life. He was so proud when I let him slice the tops off the strawberries with a knife (with close supervision, of course) and feed veggies into the food processor. I have really seen a difference in the closeness of our connection just in the few days since I have been implementing these small changes.
The other thing we discussed was helping S to feel more comfortable with trying new things and with making mistakes. He can be a really fearful, easily discouraged little dude. I see that I have begun to pass my perfectionistic tendencies down to him a bit. I can be too critical sometimes, too quick to point out when he is doing something wrong. I need to replace every bit of that criticism with encouragement. It is what was done to me - I was raised by a walking stereotype, the hypercritical Jewish grandma - and I need not become her. The awareness is half the battle. I am working hard to catch myself when I am being discouraging and to apologize and turn it around immediately.
In just a few short days, my patience has increased exponentially and he is responding so well to my calmer vibe! I know it will not always be like this, and we will be at loggerheads about something or other at some point. Yet, I can sense that as long as I help him to feel his own power and strength on a daily basis, he will not feel the need to challenge me as much on the little things.
Nothing is more important to me than my relationship with my son, and I have hope that it is not too late to turn around some of the funky dynamics that have been occurring between us.
“Point out every time you make a mistake,” said the parenting coach, “and explain to him that ‘mistakes are just opportunities to learn.’ Say this to him every day, and soon it will be ingrained in his head that it’s OK to be imperfect.”
I need to ingrain this in my own head as much as his. I have never been very comfortable with making mistakes. Usually, I tend to beat myself up over it, and to feel ashamed and guilty as hell. I am still filled with regret at the mistakes I made in my marriage, some of which my ex could never find it in his heart to forgive me for. Though I would have done anything to earn his forgiveness, to hang on to his love, it was not meant to be.
So I say, “oops, mommy made a mistake,” and “mistakes are just opportunities to learn,” and I slowly practice being OK with my deep, deep imperfection. My flawed and wounded self. And like I encourage S, I must encourage myself, validate my strengths and note what a good job I am doing every day. Life is not easy, and yet I get out of bed and I do it daily. I challenge and push myself and go outside of my comfort zone all the damn time.
Somehow, I need to learn to forgive myself for my mistakes, and to remember that all of them, every single one, was just an opportunity to learn. I must find a way to let go of toxic shame, to awaken from dreams that can never be, and to stare life in the face, unafraid, ready to dream the dreams that have an actual chance of coming true. I need to raise myself as I would like to raise my son - to be happy, confident, self-assured, and independent. Today I have some faith that this is possible.
S comes home from school the other day with a card, on which he proudly proclaims that he has drawn “Grandma and Grandpa.” Then I open his backpack and see the dreaded newsletter: “Grandparents’ Day! We are encouraging students to invite their Grandparents (or Grandparent-like person) to school with them…”
My son doesn’t have grandparents, or a grandparent-like person in his life.
My parents are both dead. He never met my mother, but he did meet my dad, who died when S was almost eight months old.
My ex’s parents live in another country. S has not seen them since he was seven months old when we traveled to visit them.
As someone who was raised by my grandparents, it is strange to be raising a son without any grandparents around. I feel that we live very devoid of family. My father’s sister lives nearby, and she is very sweet and loving, but we see her only a handful of times a year. She is pretty busy with my cousin and her three young kids, who live down the block. They go on family vacations and they do not invite us.
My grandma is still alive at 88, and S has met her a few times, but she lives in California and they are not tremendously close. I do look forward to bringing him to visit her next month, and I’m grateful for her, but still…there is a gnawing sadness and an emptiness. Washington, DC is an area full of transplants, and I know I am not alone in not having family nearby. It doesn’t tear me apart every day, but at times like these, it just does.
The next morning, S was crying, “Why don’t I have any grandparents?”
Not having the inner resources to answer that question honestly, I took the avoidance route. “You can take a picture of your grandma with you to school,” I offered weakly. Talking to S about death is a really frightening thing for me, perhaps a reflection of the fact that I myself tend to bury Death. Though it has touched my life so profoundly, I lock Death away in a quiet part of me and I carry on with my days. I busily distract myself from it.
Grief has been rolling over me in waves for the past few days. It is also the Jewish High Holidays and we had nowhere to go. I keep thinking about how much my dad loved kids. He used to always talk to them in public places, sometimes scaring them a bit with his friendliness, and I would be embarrassed. Now I would be delighted for that enthusiasm to be directed towards S. My dad would have been absolutely over the moon to go to S’s school for Grandparents’ Day.
There is a nascent movement of Parentless Parents started by author Allison Gilbert. I think it is tremendous that she started this movement, and I do draw some dim comfort from the fact that I am not alone. But I still do not feel like I totally fit into this group.
Unlike many people who have lost their parents, I do not have a treasure trove of stories and memories about mine to pass on to S. I was not raised by them. Truth be told, I did not know them all that well. They were both people who wrestled with their demons, were diagnosed with severe mental illness, suffered greatly in their lives, and I do not have a lot of happy or fun stories about them to share. I loved them, and I appreciate them for bringing me into the world…but I don’t know how to pass on their legacy to Sami. It is a painful, tragic legacy. Someday when he is old enough, I will tell him all about it. That time most certainly is not now. So I avoid this issue as often as I can.
I texted my ex about S’s sad statement about not having grandparents.
Oh, that is terrible! Let’s keep him home from school that day, he texted back.
That never occurred to me. OK, that is a good idea, I responded.
But that decision did not sit well with me. It felt too…overprotective. The reality is that he is not going to be the only grandparentless kid at the school. And if he has strong feelings about it, we can support him and love him as he works through the feelings. My desire to protect him is so strong. I want to shield him from all the unpleasantness of life - death, loss, grief - but that is not doing him any service, nor is it helping him to grow as a person. The Buddha himself was the son of a king who made a great effort to shelter him from everything unpleasant. But once he got a true glimpse of sickness, old age, and death, that shining bubble popped. He set off on his quest for enlightenment, not content with the luxuries of court life, and he learned how to free himself. That would have never happened had he not ventured outside of the safety of his sheltered life.
So, I had an email conversation with my ex about my discomfort with keeping Sami home from school and he agreed. We are sending our little Buddha to school tomorrow to celebrate Grandparents’ Day.
I want something very important for both S and me: the freedom to experience life fully, its joys and attendant sorrows, to be able to access our emotions, to move through them, and to cultivate what Alice Walker calls “absolute trust in the goodness of the earth.” My life has been very much about fleeing from my feelings, avoiding the unpleasant, hiding when things got rough, taking false refuge in addictions and other unsavory behaviors. In many ways, I feel the same emotional age as my son. I do not have kicking on-the-floor tantrums, but my tantrums are inside.
I don’t WANNA feel this way! I don’t WANNA!
But I do. I would like to find a way to abandon this idealized concept of family that I have in my head and accept that what I have is a family of two. It has never felt like enough. I don’t know how to make it enough. I am hopeful that I will get there someday.
And I keep working to create community in our lives. I see every day how much I need that, how much I crave confirmation that I am not alone in this life, even if it feels so often like I am trudging solo up a hill with a battle ax and full body armor, fighting off my own demons.
For the sake of my sweet S, I need to practice putting down the battle gear and embrace what is. That is always the answer. To look for the good, when I would see only what is missing and what’s wrong.
The way I can best honor my parents’ memory is to take care of us the way they would have liked to have taken care of me, but never could. On this, the Jewish New Year, I pray for the strength and the ability to do that each day.
Lately, I have been feeling really insecure about my huge half-sleeve tattoo. I guess that means I’m not as cool or cutting-edge as I’d like to think I am.
When I got it in spring 2009, yes I was a “mature” woman of 33, but I was also not in the best place. I was somewhat checked out and drinking a lot. I was in a very weird relationship with this guy I was completely in love with but who didn’t love me - he just wanted to do activist work together. It was all very torturous and strange and I’m glad that I’m in a more evolved place this year.
So I got this tattoo - and I do love it. It is of a Kwan Yin with a child, and is meant to symbolize compassion, wisdom, motherhood, the Divine Feminine. It’s beautiful - truly a work of art.
Yet…I can’t help but wonder - how many wonderful men will I scare off with this tattoo?
Not that I am looking to date some ultra-conservative guy…I am looking to meet someone who is a bit offbeat like me. But also someone stable, sane, responsible. Probably not a tattooed, pierced twenty-something (no offense to tattooed, pierced twenty-somethings).
Not that I am even dating right now (my year of no-dating/celibacy ends in 4 months)…but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about it at all.
I keep wondering how many guys would be ashamed to take me and my big-ass tattoo home to mama. Maybe they will write me off as a wild party girl, when they are looking for a good girl. Ironically, I am a VERY good girl these days - I don’t even drink! I’m the most responsible I’ve ever been in my life.
When I find myself overly obsessing about the tattoo, I have to remember to stop future-trippin’ and come back to the present. None of this is happening now. I am not dating right now, and I am OK just as I am. I don’t need to worry one iota about what some imaginary guy I haven’t even met yet - nor am even interested in meeting at this time - will think of my tattoo. I have to remember to embody the energy of the tattoo on my skin - Ms. Kwan Yin herself - and to love myself unconditionally.
Truth be told, I’m pretty scared of getting back into the dating game. Sure, I still have four months until my year of no-dating is over, but I am getting pretty comfortable with the certainty and predictability of it. There is no rejection here…no flaky guys standing me up or canceling at the last minute. No magical first dates followed up by an email a few days (or weeks later): I had a great time with you, but I’m not ready to date someone with kids. No wild, passionate romances that fizzle out in a few weeks, for no discernible reason. If I spend a Friday night alone, it’s not because I can’t get a date, it’s because I choose not to. It’s been calm, it’s been comforting…it’s been nurturing. And not nearly as boring as I thought it would be.
Yet I know that life is nothing without taking risks…and in about four months I’ll jump back into the dating fray once again. I try to hold my head up high and have faith that someday my path will cross with the right man at the right time who will love me, love my child, and love my tattoo.
Over two years after my divorce, I am still moving through grief. It feels like quicksand sometimes…I make some headway, and then a little (or big) thing will just set me back into the mire. Then I slowly go about the business of climbing out again.
Recently, a somewhat big thing happened that set me back quite far, yet in retrospect it has helped me to see just how much I have grown. I am getting tougher. At the same time, I am learning to be humble and ask for help when I need it, even when it feels embarrassing. I am learning about the importance of community.
Last month, one Thursday morning, there was a particularly intense and heavy downpour. The thunder actually woke up my usually hard-to-rouse four year-old, who snuggled in my lap, frightened. It was all over relatively quickly. Then a few minutes later, I got a text message from my housemate, who lives in the basement: “Some water got under the door and soaked into the carpet.” I went downstairs to inspect and actually found that an approximately 10 x 15 foot area of the carpeting was completely soaked. The reason: a clogged, neglected drain outside the basement door. Totally my fault, and not covered by my homeowner’s insurance.
It is situations like these that trigger me to no end; they trigger my “YOU ARE ALONE” alarm. I am still learning the basics of homeownership, and feel so insecure when it comes to all things in this area. My ex-husband had taken care of all that stuff when he lived in the house. He magically seemed to know when drains had to be cleaned and gutters cleared; he patched holes and attached bookcases to walls. He re-caulked things. He hung pictures and hooks. He mowed lawns and shoveled snow and knew who to call when things went wrong and were beyond his ability to fix.
Down in the basement that morning, I tried, quite ineffectually, to sop up the waterlogged carpet with every towel I owned. As the severity of the problem slowly sunk in, I collapsed onto my knees on those sopping wet towels, I emitted howling sobs of fear and self-pity. It was a very sad scene.
By now, I have come to recognize my triggers, and realize that I cannot allow myself to be paralyzed by these feelings. I must move through the tears into the solution. There was a whole mess o’ water in the basement, and I had a tenant down there paying me rent in exchange for a dry, decent place to live. The situation simply had to be taken care of, and taken care of quickly, before it turned into a mold-festering free-for-all in my home.
I knew that I was in way over my head here, and I was going to have to ask for help.
So I dried my tears, put on my big girl panties, and leaped into action. I posted to my single mom’s listserv and my neighborhood listservs asking for advice on what the hell to do. I called up all the homeowners I knew. Neighbors and friends gave me recommendations, and I cobbled together a game plan. First the flood restoration guys came in, ripped up the carpet, and trained these ginormous fans all over the place. Then the carpet needed to be replaced. When one carpet company quoted me an exorbitant sum to do so, I simply called another company and got a quote that was $2000 less! I moved, and I shook, and the whole thing was taken care of in a span of two weeks.
It turned out that the fiasco cost me my entire (meager) savings. Yes, I am grateful that I had the savings to cover it, mostly — some had to go on a credit card, but I am hopeful about paying it off soon. I am also grateful to a whole host of individuals: the numerous, kind neighbors and friends who told me what the hell to do and recommended the guys to do it. Also, my most awesome tenant in the world (may she never move out!) She actually refused to accept the discount in rent I had offered in exchange for two weeks of serious inconvenience, and insisted on paying the full month’s rent.
I am also very grateful for Pierre, the kind, cute, patient Home Depot employee who spent an inordinate amount of time with me ordering new carpet and arranging to get it installed as quickly as possible; and the carpet cleaning guy, who purely out of the goodness of his heart provided a second opinion, free of charge, as to whether my basement was truly dry before I replaced the carpet (it was!!). He even let S play with his super cool night vision heat-detecting apparatus-thingie. I think of all of the people who helped to make a tough situation easier.
Believe me, I am very aware that in the scheme of things, this was not such a big deal. At the same time I was dealing with my little crisis, millions of Pakistanis were being displaced by floods. It seems that it is not the snags in life themselves that throw me, but facing them without a partner totally sets me off. I miss the steady reassurance that my ex-husband provided me. Now I have had to replace him with a whole community of people - friends and strangers alike. It has been scary to do so…and a lot of work. But this experience taught me that I am not as alone as I thought. Truly, I am never alone. My mind just likes to tell me I am. I can recognize this as a trick, and not the truth. That realization is very liberating and empowering.
Welcome to this blog - my chronicle of the illuminating, character-building path of single parenthood. I'm making this up as I go along. My life is my practice, and my five year-old son is my greatest teacher.