“Self-pity is our worst enemy and if we yield to it, we can never do anything wise in this world.”
Helen Keller

As I embark on this path of celibacy and the journey inward, the journey home, I come face to face with blinding  spells of loneliness and self-pity. The old, familiar tale. The sense of being on the outside looking in. Everyone else is lit up with the warmth of a partner. I alone am alone; worse, I am alone because I drove my husband away, which brings up tsunamis of shame and self-hatred. But mainly self-pity, a blindness to my blessings, and a world perceived through the lens of lack.

These are among my demons; this story is my Mara. Mara was the “demon” in Buddhist cosmology that challenged the Buddha on the night of his enlightenment, tempting him with seductive maidens and attacking him with monsters. Through it all, the Buddha sat unmoved.

I am certainly nowhere near that realized, yet I aspire to sit through these stories when they come up, without them moving me quite so much. I will not jump so readily in the quicksand, nor will I let it suck me in. The emptiness is here; I know it well. The shame, the self-hatred, the self-pity. These tentacles seductively try to drag me into the pit.

Today I have practiced consciously turning my mind away from this track; I redirect my mind. I choose instead to focus on gratitude for the many blessings in my life. This is the truth; I am not alone. I never have been.

***

Sami’s 4th birthday was last week, and his father and I organized a joint birthday party at his school. We actually sat in the same room for 20 minutes as the party unfolded; we set up the table together. We put out plates and juice boxes and party hats. We were kind and cordial to one another and the energy was just fine. Sami was as happy as I had ever seen him to have both his parents in the same space; he was beaming as we sat on either side of him; he turned his head from side to side.

“Mommy and daddy!” he cried, in utter delight.

The two of us, together. This is not something that he consciously remembers, as it has not really occurred for the last few years, since he left me for wife #3. There is immense progress here from a year ago today when I bore a searing hatred for him; even four months ago we were fighting bitterly. This party never would have been possible, even then.

That night, I came home in a terrible depression. I realized that I still love my ex-husband, and every time I see him I am reminded anew. There is nothing I can do about this love, I lost my opportunity to love and be loved by him. So I remember to turn to the Beloved; here is a relationship I can cultivate. My connection to the Divine. What brings me down this crazy, devotional path, I do not know.

Sami went home with his dad; I figured after having missed the last two birthdays in his life, I should give him the opportunity to spend the rest of it with him. Yet as the evening wore on, the sadness, the self-pity, the loneliness crept up, a stealth attack.

I sat down that night, and instead of giving into the waves of self-pity, I did something. I created a video tribute to Sami and the last 4 years of mothering him. I cried the whole time I was making it and felt a release from the crushing loneliness, remembering the love I feel for my son; how the experience of mothering him has changed me so much.

Now that I have stopped doing the majority of the things I did to distract me from myself, I encounter raw emotions in ways I haven’t in recent memory. I can’t run away, nor can I allow myself to be completely swept up. I would not call it equanimity, but it is something approximating it.

There is some negative story, some lag time, an awareness, then a touching into peace, where I remember what really matters, where I see through the stories and the maras that would seek to derail me from this path. It is a dance, where I am dragged off course, then right myself, over and over again.

I recall that in many ways, this dance is the essence of the spiritual journey.

Happiness

7 Dec 2009 In: abundance, coming home, finding it

This blog reminds me more than anything of the principle of impermanence.

I went through the grief of the last few posts and came out the other side. Nothing lasts forever.

Tonight, I think about how much joy I feel. Connection with my son has never been sweeter. In the last five weeks, since getting clean, I have been more present for him. I sit down and play with him so much more, instead of being off in my emails or lost in my various addictive obsessions. My patience quota has increased significantly, and so much more I am able to hold back from yelling or nagging or snapping at him. I feel myself being the mother I want to be.

I feel like a Sufi mystics these days. I sit in meditation early mornings alternately calling on the Beloved, and sitting quietly in the presence of the Beloved. I am the Lover, and what transpires between us is Love. It is something much better described by Hafiz and Rumi.

Every day it comes clear that this is the connection I have been longing for. It is the clearest truth I know: in all the men I sought, in all the sex I chased after, I was only seeking that essential Oneness that is at the core of all spiritual traditions.

There is nothing wrong with earthly love, or sex or any of that, but for me they were unconscious substitutes for what I really craved. Because I never found anyone to love and love me over the past two years, because even the “love” connections evaporated as suddenly as they were made, because no amount of sex brought me the connection I sought, my addictions just kicked in harder. I tried to obliterate the self in destructive ways, because there was nothing sacred to lose myself in.

Here I am, today, clear and clean. I am an unpolluted channel. I’m happy and astounded to report that I am beyond just “OK” with being single, I am completely, utterly, at peace with it. For the first time in years, I actually desire what is good for me. I don’t think that I have ever been able to say that, and certainly not for the last three years since my ex-husband moved out of the house.

(Do I still have pangs for him? Yes. To deny that would be lying to myself.)

I am to see him twice this week, far more often than I usually do, and for sustained periods of time, not just the pick up and drop off scenario. He is coming to a parent-teacher meeting at school tomorrow, and on Sami’s birthday we are throwing a party together at his school later in the week. There is progress here - from the ugly, uneasy hostility we had for the first six months in the year following his re-emergence into Sami’s life. It has now been an entire year since his return. Now our interactions are cordial. We don’t talk on the phone, but we email and send each other pictures of Sami. We text each other with “LOL’s” and sideways smiley faces. It feels almost human. If we couldn’t make our marriage work, this is what I have most hoped for. A friendly co-parenting relationship, the two of us working together to make our son’s childhood the best that it can be.

These days, fortified by my practice, I feel better able to face the vagaries of life. I feel them acutely, these joys, these moments of grief and sorrow. I don’t run away. I have devised so many ways of running away over the course of my life, and now I have chucked my running shoes aside and I am learning to stand still, to stay, to face it all. The gift in this is a deeper appreciation for life, the crazy fragility of it, and it fills my heart so full it feels as if it might burst.

Every morning, I wake up and cannot wait to spend time with the Beloved, feeling the power of stillness, practicing my skills in loving without holding back. It is the sweetest connection. It feels as if I am being forged in some new fire, the old burning away, making way for a me living a life I haven’t yet begun to imagine.

Talking to kids about death.

1 Dec 2009 In: Memory, grief, letting go

The day that I have dreaded for the last four years came and went.

Sami was in the bath, playing, splashing, the smell of berry-scented shampoo wafting through the air. I run a froggy washcloth over his squirmy little body.

“Do you have a mommy?”

Totally taken off guard. I spouted something about “my mommy being an angel and in heaven,” and though part of me believes that…the other part of me said, you are sugar coating death.

The truth is, that I don’t know how the hell to talk to my four year-old about death.

Hope Edelman has written a wonderful book called Motherless Mothers which does have some good information about age-appropriate ways to discuss death with kids. Allison Gilbert is currently writing a book called Parentless Parents, which I am desperately looking forward to reading.

The problem is that different kids handle things in different ways and no book is going to give me a magical answer as to how to explain to my child that he doesn’t have maternal grandparents.

The next time he asked about my mother, I tried a different approach. I said that “my mommy got very, very, very sick and she died, and she is now an angel in heaven.”

“Where is heaven?” he asked.

“It’s way up in the sky,” I started to say, then I added, “and all around us.”

It creeps in. That sense of isolation, freakishness, aloneness. Not only are my parents dead, Sami’s grandparents, dead, but I never even really had them. Never really knew them. They did not raise me, and my moments with them were few and far between. I will have a few stories, and I will dig for the happy ones. I will not have a long collection of heartwarming stories to share. He will truly never know them, though there are a handful of pictures of my dad holding him when he was about four months old.

In some ways it would just be so much easier to just write my damn book already and turn it over to Sami when he is old enough to deal with it all. “You got questions? Here you go, kid. Read it. I hope it doesn’t make you weep, but it might.”

I regret using the “D” word with Sami as it has caused him some apparent anxiety. I think he equates death with disappearance, which is chillingly accurate. As the child of divorced parents, Mommy and Daddy alternately “disappear” several times a month. Does it feel like death to him?

Sami’s dad emailed me this information today: “On Friday after we left the office in the car, he said out of the blue “daddy, my mommy is dead.” I looked at him in the mirror and “I said no, she went back to your house in DC and you will see her tomorrow.” He insisted on saying “no, she is dead.” I was really shocked and did not understand where this was coming from. I still said “no Sami, she went back home, I promise you.” Then he said, “my mom’s mommy is dead.” I then said, “your mom’s mommy is in heaven and he insisted on saying no she is dead.”

Oops.

Since then there have been other comments - Sami said “everybody’s dying” the other night, and that his daddy is dying. He begged me not to disappear. I told him, “Mommy never disappears. I’m always here, even if you can’t see me, and I always love you, and you can call me on the phone whenever you want.”

You have to understand that these kinds of conversations bring up tsunamis of unhealed grief in me…pre-verbal, primal kinds of shit. It gets to be too much sometimes. I want to retreat into denial, a time when Sami was too little to understand, to ask questions that force me to wade in these cesspools of grief…still not healed, the stunningly piercing grief, the churning emptiness.

But there is no going back. He will only get smarter, more aware, of things like loss and separation and death. Stuff I don’t want to know from…all the things I work so hard to avoid in life, yet they keep finding me. Interesting, that. All the things I would give limbs to protect him from.

So I will research and think, and try to come up with thoughtful ways to approach death with him. The next time he brings it up, I will be ready. Ready as I can ever be for such conversation. I take each tear as it comes, knowing it needs to be shed.

Not partying, not smoking, not drinking, not dating, not indulging in my addictions, I am feeling raw emotions bubbling up to the surface with ferocity. Mostly guilt, sadness, shame, confusion…grief. Boatloads of grief. Trying to love myself through it all - my so human, so flawed self.

I have made so many mistakes in my life, out of my desperation for love. Always, almost always, that motivation was at the core of my missteps. I have hurt others terribly with my wounded craving but there is no one I’ve hurt more than myself…with this unquenchable longing to be loved without limit.

Today I was looking through digital photos of Sami’s life…and came across a picture of Sami’s father and I, posing behind Sami who is on a swing. He is about one years old. It is the last picture that exists of the three of us, I think.

Sami saw it today and cried. “I want Daddy to live with Mommy,” he whimpered.

“I know, honey, I know,” I said, giving my standard answer about how lucky Sami is to have two houses, Daddy’s and Mommy’s.

In that picture, I feel like we exist in a parallel universe, the three of us, looking so happy, smiling on that winter day in 2007, as our marriage was collapsing and there was no hope of saving it, something I had not yet admitted to myself. We were playing at being a family as the marriage burned away, until there was nothing left. And he left.

I didn’t think there was still more divorce grief, but there is. I suppose I postponed the grieving in travel, in the search for a new man to love me, in the next cigarette, in another drink. I ran away, went to sleep, and abandoned myself in the process. It’s been a long two years of pain I’ve put myself through.

Now I am up against a new layer, and it’s OK. I will let myself go into it fully.

I will give myself the gift of this grief, 18 months after my divorce. It has not been that long, if you think about it. And our 11th anniversary would have been on November 25.

It’s not that I want him back; I don’t. I grieve, perhaps, what could have been. I grieve the loss of a family where Sami would know many pictures of his parents together, not just a handful. This is Sami’s fate, as is mine, as is his father’s. It’s like this, says the Buddhist teacher Ajahn Sumedho. Right now, it’s like this. I seek to practice acceptance, I seek to let go, I seek to live and love more fully for doing so.

In the mornings I have been sitting in meditation and I am quite out of practice. Sometimes I get lost in thought for long stretches of time. This morning I was thinking of Rumi, of Hafiz, the devotional poets who called upon the Friend, the Beloved. I am in this place, now, seeking refuge in something beyond, something that can hold the enormity of this new layer of grief. Tara Brach calls it “Taking Refuge in Loving Presence,” or “True Refuge” as opposed to the false refuges I have turned to for most of my life…people who can’t save me, substances that can’t fix me.

These lines from Hafiz are what I will take to sleep with me, me and this broken heart that keeps on beating, so strong even in its brokenness:

Ask the Friend for love.
Ask Him again.

For I have learned that every heart will get
What it prays for
Most.

It has been a very interesting few weeks.

Interesting is putting it mildly. It started when I got some completely unexpected and very upsetting health news - basically it was yet another cancer scare, and the good news is that it is benign and things are more or less back on track. But something has happened to me this time that didn’t happen in connection with the Breast Cancer Scare of 2008.

It has caused me to look at my life. Deeply. Sincerely. How I have been living. The relationships I have been having. In short, it has caused me to do a thorough examination of where I have been putting my energy. And for the most part, I see that while on one level everything has been and is perfect, and we are all right where we are supposed to be - I need to head in a vastly different direction in many ways.

Some things are wonderful, and I need to continue to nurture those things: the burgeoning positive co-parenting relationship with H, for which I am extremely grateful; and the fun I have had creating and performing from Take Refuge. Two beautiful unfoldings in 2009.

Yet in many ways, I’ve been in a fog, a trance. I’ve indulged in way too many unhealthy connections with men. This isn’t “happy-go-lucky single mom out in the field dating.” This is establishing and putting a lot of energy into maintaining relationships with no-good men. I have been drinking and smoking…and a little more than “socially.” I’ve put on 30 lbs from nervous and unconscious eating. As of a few weeks ago, I hadn’t meditated in months. I purposely drove myself on far too little sleep…in a sort of ongoing hypomanic frenzy.

Now, I have put it all down. The men, the drinking, the smoking, the junky food. I’m an all-or-nothing kind of girl. Moderation, for me, at this stage of my life, hasn’t worked out so well. Perhaps I am now far more boring, but I’m happier. I have been going to bed at a decent hour and waking at 5:45 am to meditate and start my day off with quiet time to connect with myself and a sense of something larger than myself.

I realize now, not just intellectually but on a much deeper level, that in all the relationships I’ve sought with men, I was really just seeking a spiritual connection. But I convinced myself of my loneliness, my deficiency, my defectiveness as a single mother. I’ve written about it many times, that sense of “something’s wrong.” On a visceral level, I was sure that something was wrong.

Nothing is wrong.

With this little “spiritual awakening” or whatever it is I’ve had, I see that I need to spend a good chunk of time alone, to finally face the demons I’ve been fleeing. And equally as important, to befriend myself.

I am on a mission: to be the best lover I’ve ever had.

In every way. I am going to cherish myself and pleasure myself and treasure myself. I am going to tell myself all the romantic and silly things I would want a man to tell me. I am going to pick myself flowers and tell myself how gorgeous and sexy I look in that outfit, and hell no, my ass doesn’t look big, as I like a little junk in the trunk. When I’m sad, I’m going to hold myself and wipe my tears and remind myself that I am loved. I am going to constantly remind myself of that fact. I am loved, and beautiful, and enough, just as I am.

I’m going to love myself and love my son with all my might. All the energy that used to go into chasing men, dating, trolling the dating websites, scanning the crowd for potential eligible bachelors, is going to go into loving us fiercely. I’m going to thoroughly enjoy our little family of two, nothing missing in that little family. We are a dynamic and adorable duo.

And when Sami is with his dad, I am going to spend some of the time with good and nurturing people and friends, none of the time with people I don’t like or who don’t support me, and a lot of the time by myself. Writing, contemplating, being. Finding my authentic self, my authentic voice, living a more authentic life. I don’t do this just selfishly. I do this for Sami. I want him to see me relatively happy and sane…I want him to see what real self-care is all about. I want him to see that life is too short to be mired in self-pity and endless grasping after that certain perceived “something” or “someone” to make it all better.

I have written about spiritual topics many times without really coming close to living a spiritual life. No shame in that, just an observation of how easy it is to pick up a role and pretend at something.

I am thankful for the latest diagnosis I received. For me, so often, physical illness seems to be the gateway to spiritual opening. It was my back pain, for example, that got me started down the path of alternative medicine and meditation. An enormous opening, to be sure, over five years ago now. Yet like the layers of the onion, there is so much to peel. I feel that I am being stripped down to my essentials, reminded of what’s really important. I’ve always been told, and intellectually understood that “if you don’t love yourself, no one else can really love you.” But I was never willing to put the work into my relationship with myself. I was afraid.

All I can say is that by some miracle, now I’m not afraid. In fact, I really understand on a deep level the words of the Buddha (paraphrased): “Who is more worthy of your love and attention than you?” I don’t even see loving myself as a means to an end (meeting someone else who will love me).

It is a worthy end in itself.

So…I commit to the rest of this year, and declare 2010: the year of loving myself…passionately.

Coming up for air from NaNoWriMo

8 Nov 2009 In: Writing life, writing

I love this blog of mine, though my posts are not as prolific as they once were.

The writing life is still for me. I am doing National Novel Writing Month, and so this will take up much of the rest of my free time. But I will try to come in here and give some snippets of this Mama’s Dharma.

The novel in progress is semi-autobiographical. The main character is a mother who has just gone though a divorce and decides to travel with her child to another country to do some soul searching and come to terms with some things from her past. Kind of hits close to home. I have never been that creative as to totally make things up. Yet I know, of course, that there is reality in all fiction and fiction in all “reality.” We cannot separate the two. I have decided to write it as a novel and not a memoir because I don’t want the pressure of having to be true to every facet of reality. I want the freedom to roam and meander and explore things in a different way than memoir would allow.

It’s been a very healing process, on many levels. I feel like I am shedding some unwanted baggage.

I’m writing about some things I haven’t been able to write about, even in this blog.

And the discipline is wonderful. I’ve not been very disciplined or consistent here, and the “pressure” of NaNoWriMo is just what I need to get going. I have said for years that I was going to do it, and I really want to make it happen this year.

To those of you who are still reading, thanks. I wish I was a better blogger these days, but you do the best you can.

For the past few weeks, I have been working on improving the co-parenting relationship with Sami’s dad, and I think my efforts might be bearing fruit. Sami is our joint venture, and we might as well approach his care and upbringing from a spirit of cooperation and relative friendliness. It’s been easier said than done. I’ve written about the rage I’ve felt towards my ex in recent posts, and I’m not unaware that there are still a lot of unhealed hurts around our relationship that filter into the present.

It took some humility on my part to apologize for some less-than-stellar communications that I initiated while PMSing. Not the best time to be communicating my frustrations. Note to self: refrain from sending any emotional emails or texts during that window of time. If something must be sent, I should vet it through a friend first before shooting anything off to my ex.

As a result of me backing off, he has come around to seeing that he needs to be more involved on a day-to-day basis, and for the first time ever, has started to call Sami every day. Sami’s perception of what phone calls entail is quite hilarious. He assumes that his dad can see what is going on in his world as they talk (and they are not Skyping or using a webcam). He will say things like “close your eyes, Daddy. Now open them” and try to “show” him things over the phone. He also ends conversations on very abrupt and funny notes, like tonight: “Mama has to take me to the bathroom. I need to go poop. I love you! Goodbye!”

His father and I have also decided to have more regular check-ins about what is going on in Sami’s life. It hasn’t been easy to open up and tell the truth to one another. For example, I had no idea that Sami cries and has tantrums every time it is time to come back to my house after visits with his dad. (He usually drops him off asleep, and when he wakes up he seems perfectly happy to be with mama, so I had no clue.) It makes sense, since transitions are tough for him in general, and having to say goodbye to his dad whom he adores has got to be tough. It was painful for me to learn this fact, but in the spirit of better communication, it is a positive thing.

My ex also confided in me that the reason he does not see Sami more often (or consistently) is because he is now working two jobs to make ends meet. He assured me that he was not bringing this up to gripe about child support, and the fact is that he has never missed a child support payment. While it is his responsibility, I’m well aware of how many dads shirk that responsibility, and so I appreciate that very much. While I do wish that Sami could have more time with his dad, it definitely made me feel better to know that work is the reason, rather than disinterest or apathy or being more interested in his new family, as I imagined. I was touched that he would confide this part of his life to me, and I have been able to feel more compassion towards him.

The other amazing development is that about a month ago I had asked him to take Sami for a one day conference I am to go to next month for work. He initially said no, but just wrote me the other day that his business trip was cancelled and he could take Sami while I attended the conference. I asked him if he wished to have Sami for that entire Friday evening - Tuesday morning stretch and he emailed back that he would, citing that I could have “some time for myself.” I was beyond bowled over at that, as he has not once acknowledged my needs since the divorce. These are all good signs.

As a gesture of further goodwill, I’ve MMSed him a few cute pictures of Sami doing Sami things, and he was very thankful for that. We’ve had some friendly banter by text over the last few days and it is honestly the first exchanges anywhere near friendly that we have had since he came back into Sami’s life 10 months ago.

While I don’t have illusions that our co-parenting relationship will be tension-free for the next 14 years, I do want to do whatever I can to nurture this good energy that is between us. While a few weeks ago I couldn’t think of him without rage churning through my every cell, now I feel some goodwill flowing. It’s amazing, and I do think a lot of it has to do with the actions I have taken to change things on my end. It takes two people to be tense and sarcastic and angry and hostile towards another, and I have altered my side of the equation. Perhaps he could have chosen not to accept the olive branch I extended, and he could have continued his hostilities and lack of communication regardless. He could have solidified his stance. But he is not a bad person, and I know that, no matter how much I have tried to demonize him out of my own hurt and pain. And while I personally am feeling so much better, Sami is the one who truly benefits from this cessation of hostilities.

It all feels like good karma, a new leaf. Fitting as the fall colors explode all around, reminding me of the fleeting brilliance of this life.

The Dancing Queen

6 Oct 2009 In: longing, lust

In the midst of all this rage, last Friday I decided to go out and dance. Sami’s dad finally found it convenient to take him for the night, the Disco Biscuits were playing, and who could resist such a thing?

It was time for my inner Party Girl to come out. Yet I couldn’t find anyone to accompany me for raucous and unwholesome behavior. For various reasons, friends were unavailable or uninterested in attending a Biscuits show with me. In an act of quiet desperation, I reached out to Mr. Booty Call (MBC) but by the time I thought of doing so, the rest of the tickets had sold out.

So, sure enough, I was going to the show by myself.

Why did I feel so scared as I drove to the show? Stupid. Everyone standing outside was so…young. I thought about scalping the tickets outside, and then leaving and just going home. But I was propelled by the spectacular electro-funk jam emanating from inside the club. I ignored the creeping sense of feeling old and alone and uncool. I worked my way into the crowd, and soon had lost myself in the music. I was feeling no pain whatsoever.

Towards the end of the night, a total - and I mean total - hottie in a jean jacket and dark rimmed glasses (I’m a sucker for guys in hipster glasses) started dancing with me. He was vaguely Mediterranean looking, just gorgeous, and I don’t think it was that last kamikaze shot telling me so. We were dancing very close, and it was tremendously sexy in a non-skeezy way. Together we moved up to the front of the crowd, right up to the stages, and it was wonderful to be so close to the band. I probably wouldn’t have been so bold as to push my way up to the front by myself.

“It’s all your fault,” he said in my ear. I could detect the accent and knew he was Arab. I have always had a weakness for his type, and I was completely transported dancing with him. Our hands clasped together several times as we were moved against one another, in a very intimate way, and I ached with it. It has been so long since I’ve had any kind of human contact other than a girlfriend’s hug or, of course, the Samster. I don’t even realize how much I miss it, until I do. I forget about my sexual self for weeks on end.

We danced together in this very hot, very subtly erotic way for quite a while, and then the band had the audacity to stop playing at 2 am. What the hell was that all about? By then I had been dancing for nearly 4 hours straight, with the hottie for the last hour. We parted ways as the crowd surged towards the exit for cigarettes and drunken conversation, and I never saw him again. I now regret not attempting to stick closer to him as the mob poured out of the club, maybe talking to him after the show, learning his name, getting the digits perhaps.

I guess I’ll never see him again. But that’s OK. It was one lovely dance with a stranger that I’ll remember for a while to come. It’s been so long since I’ve felt sexy, desirable, and that was a sweet validation that “I still got it.”

Impotent rage

30 Sep 2009 In: Single mamahood, anger

I know I cannot act it out, this rage. So it is impotent. Impotent, limp-dick rage. I don’t know what all this energy is for; so much of me is going into the anger right now. Is there a constructive direction to take it in? Or must it just rage through in its impotent way?

As much as I want to scream at Sami’s dad for being such an ass, as much as I want to say, “I hope you treat your new baby better than you treat your other two kids,” or “People like you should not be allowed to procreate” or “Get a vasectomy!” I hold it in. I send no more texts; I make no more accusations. I cannot find the root of this. It is bottomless. Perhaps it bubbles up from some pre-verbal experiences of parent loss, that both Sami and I have endured.

I want to write my way through this anger, but I don’t know where to begin or end. I am alone in my house; it is quiet and my son is asleep. He is at peace; I am far from it. I want to shield him, protect him; but I can’t. I can’t protect him from missing or longing for his father, and let’s face it, even regular phone calls from him are not going to take that away.

Yet somehow I can’t help but despise him for not being the father to Sami I want him to be. If I weren’t human, I’d detach some. But this is my son, my boy, the one I most love in the world. I am attached.

I admit to a guilty pleasure of occasionally reading Martha Beck’s column in O magazine. She wrote a piece on impotent rage that struck me, especially the stuff below.

“Mental exit is often more powerful than physical departure. And it may be a crucial escape when you want to physically exit but can’t. Try the Monte Cristo Exit, a strategy I named after the character in Dumas’ famous novel who stays sane in prison by trying to tunnel out. It takes him years, but because he’s working on his escape every day, he survives. The Monte Cristo approach requires you to work every day on your escape plan (finding other means of support, improving your health, saving money) while tolerating an unsavory situation just a bit longer.”

For now, I cannot physically exit from Sami’s dad - as much as I want to. In some ways, the days when he had checked out altogether were so much easier. I did not need to deal with his nastiness, his pettiness, his viciousness on a constant basis.

But he is a presence in our lives. Even when he was absent for nearly a year, he was present. I cannot escape him. What will be my Monte Cristo Exit, as I tolerate this “unsavory situation” as long as I need to for Sami’s sake? I will need to sit with that question for a bit.

“When we embrace anger and take good care of our anger, we obtain relief. We can look deeply into
it and gain many insights. One of the first insights may be that the seed of anger in us has grown too
big, and is the main cause of our misery. As we begin to see this reality, we realize that the other
person, whom our anger is directed at, is only a secondary cause. The other person is not the real cause of our anger.”

–Thich Nhat Hahn

It’s been a long time since I’ve acted out of anger. Usually I am able to work with it, not to act from that place, but tonight I broke.

It started this morning. Sami was out of sorts. His father skipped his weekend visitation this week. I always get irritated that he doesn’t ever bother to call and check up on Sami when he’s not with him, especially in the weeks where he skips visiting him. He just sort of randomly appears and disappears, not at all a consistent presence in Sami’s life.

We went to the farmer’s market. My son was fussing mightily as I tried to talk to a friend. My instinct told me to stop talking to the friend and work with my child’s upset. But she subtly denigrated my desire to do so, sort of implying that he should be able to wait until our conversation was done. As she was talking to another friend, I took the opportunity to move on, hoping that a change of scene would do him some good.

He saw the husband of my friend, a man who has always been gentle and sweet and great with kids, and nearly bolted to him, crying that he missed his daddy. The man, God love him, knelt down to Sami’s level and, with the patience of a saint, kindly talked to Sami, helping him to work though the pain, talking to him and validating his feelings in a very Non-violent Communication kind of way. He spent about five minutes talking to Sami and Sami felt better.

I, on the other, hand, blinked back tears with ferocity. I thanked him for his kindness to my child. And tried so mightily not to just lose it.

That’s all we need, the single mom losing it at the farmer’s market amidst the high-priced produce.

I tried to distract myself from the pain with that task at hand: through purchases of milk and eggs and rainbow chard and garlic with the stems still on; green, red, and purple peppers; white peaches; honeycrisp apples; cucumbers. So many thoughts went through my mind. I‘m so embarrassed. So humiliated. So angry.

It burned in me. The weight of it. This predicament; the single mom predicament that I still have not made peace with. I seethe with rage when I think of how Sami longs for an absent parent; how I know that longing. Unresolved in me, for parents who were never there; and are now dead. I cannot tell where my sadness for him ends and my own grief begins.

I tried to tap into the gratitude for the kindness of my friend’s husband, and I am truly touched by the loving attention he showed, but all I could feel was the pain and sorrow - though Sami had long moved on from his emotions and was having a grand old time.

Guilt. Shame. Despair at where I am. This feeling of defective alone-ness. Hate for his father. Strong feelings blasting through like a cyclone, amidst the happy, well-fed chaos of the farmer’s market.

When I got home, I cried, but not as hard as I wanted to. Though I tried to hide it, Sami heard me and insisted I get a kleenex. He tore some paper towel off the roll for me. I have always felt weird about losing it in front of my son. I worry that it’s too intense for him to see me cry. He has only seen me do so a very small handful of times in his life.

I wiped away the tears, and held it in until the night, when I sent a self-righteous text to my ex:

“Your son misses you. You might want to consider calling him between visits sometimes.”

He texts back: “I will when I feel like it”

Then another: “And pls do not text me if it is not an emergency with your advice. Sami can call me anytime he wants.”

He’s 3, you stupid heartless asshole, I wanted to rail back. He might not even know that he wants to talk to you. He just knows that he misses you.

I knew I had done an unskillful thing when I sent that text. I knew it as soon as it had been sent. I was trying to relieve my anger by putting it onto him. I wanted to make him suffer like I was suffering. And I know that never works. I did apologize for the text, trying to sweep my side of the street clean, while I wanted to call him every name in the book.

As I write this, the anger still churns within me. I filled with loathing and hate for my ex. The quote I opened with feels far away. And that is OK. I do commit to no longer acting from the anger. I will not send another text out of anger. Nor an email or phone call. No good ever comes of it. Ever.

About this blog

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.


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