How does one look back on a year such as mine? Three years ago, I ventured out into one of the scariest places I think I’ve ever been. Post divorce, 40-something, straddled with debt that wasn’t all mine, looking forward to fewer years to earn back the losses than I had behind me. While many would say I look good for my age, the fact that they had to add the phrase “for my age” said it all. I was divorced, single with more children than most, struggling to avoid bankruptcy, and wondering how I was going to pay the bills and put food on the table. I was frightened. I was destitute. I was humiliated and ashamed. I was alone. To make things better, I blew an engine on one car, and dropped the rear differential out of another. I had no credit, no cash, no clue what an engine or a rear differential was, and nowhere to turn. I was terrified. I wondered, often, how and if I was going to survive. I was also 40-something and it was only a matter of time before the aging process we all must eventually succumb to, became no longer disguisable. Further, I still had children at home, lots of them, and would probably retire (if that was still even a possibility for me) with them at home. Not exactly the formula for finding someone to spend your golden years with before you actually get to your golden years. Continue reading
Note or disclaimer or preface or something: I wrote this article, several months ago, long before the class reunion occurred. I was going to post it, in advance of the reunion, but I hesitated, intending to go back and edit and re-work it. Call me chicken. Now that I’ve actually attended my class reunion, reacquainted myself with people I’d lost contact with, and heard some of their feelings about our 30-year reunion, I’m posting this, even though it is after the fact. I looked forward to this reunion with hopeful anticipation, but also with a great deal of dread and anxiety. I now know I wasn’t entirely alone in that experience.
I do know this for certain, after having attended the reunion: We are no longer in high school anymore. I also know my classmates and I have grown and matured into respectful, decent, thoughtful people. Because of that, I know that my thoughts here will be treated respectfully and sensitively. It is in celebration of all our successes over the last 30 years that I offer this series of posts as a humble treatise of gratitude for the part each of you have played in making me the person I am today. Thank you.
My 30-year-high school reunion takes place this summer in a small dusty town in eastern Oregon. Though there is likely more pavement there now than when I packed my bags and hustled out of there without looking back, the place is still rather small and somewhat dusty in comparison to the lush green venues of Western Oregon and other areas in the Pacific Northwest. This is not to criticize the place where I spent most of my childhood. The high desert definitely has a solitary rugged beauty all its own. It is just that I am a mountains, rivers, oceans and trees kind of girl. I’ll take forest over sagebrush, and beaches over buttes, any day of the week. Though, admittedly, wild antelope effortlessly bounding across the Oregon outback is certainly a breathtaking sight. Even so, unable to fully appreciate it at the time that I lived there, I did make haste to get out of that part of Oregon as soon as I could do so and, as I mentioned before, I never looked back. I subsequently lost all contact with friends and classmates from my high school years. Continue reading
What kind of person are you? Do you have a high need to be with other people all the time, with noise, conversation and sound bouncing off walls and filling your home? Or are you the kind of person who can turn it all off and exist happily with no other person around and absolutely no noise other than the sounds of the silence enveloping your abode? I love crowds, the hustle and bustle of the city, the cozy cramped feeling of a trendy little joint packed with bodies listening to the cool reggae tunes of a live band passing through the area. I am at home in a crowded realm. I am also just as content to be solitary and silent. I can move through both worlds with ease, but I have to admit, I like my solitude.
Solitude or Isolation?
I don’t mind my own company and there are times when because I’ve just done so much wish granting for other people that when the weekend rolls around I don’t mind being alone and simply being. I do have the tendency, at times, to retreat from the world in an escapist fashion. I can tend to isolate myself if I’m not careful.
I was planning on that last night. It was going to be a quiet evening of introspective contemplation as I worked out and reassessed my focus and direction in life. You guessed it, I didn’t have a date.
At the last minute, as these things tend to happen, a good friend of mind came into my office at the end of the day and asked if I was going to go to the get together after work.
I sighed. Memories of the last time I got together with my party friends swam before my eyes. There was a vision of something vaguely reminiscent of broken drinking glasses and a missed chair or was it the floor ended up being where the chair should have been? I couldn’t remember. Well, I could, but I didn’t want to.
“You know I think I’m probably just going to go home.” Another memory like the ones I already couldn’t remember, memories of crazy, pain laced celebrations in the days and months following my divorce’s finality was not something I wanted to add to my thought processes.
My friend, sensing I wasn’t exactly on my game somewhere, came in sat down on a nearby stool and we chatted for a few. We shared. We caught up. It’s been months since we got together and pondered the deep questions of life and single parenting and dating. In fact, the last time we did that, I distinctly remember dropping my cell phone in the hot tub. Yet another interesting memory and one we laugh about now.
A Single Mom’s Loneliness
She’s feeling much of what I’m feeling these days it turns out. Her single mommy life is taxing her in many of the same ways mine is. We both love our freedom and our independence and all the many conveniences that come with being in the driver’s seat of our lives. Yet we both are missing the connection that comes when you have another very special person in your life to plan with, to dream with, to consult with, to disagree with, to make up with, to make out with, and to wake up to in the morning.
While I am often alone, I am not usually lonely, but I was in one of those very rare places where I was actually feeling alone and lonely. My friend sensed this and as she tends to do, she was right there for me. We ended up deciding to hang out together last night. It was a decision I’m glad we made.
I think it is easy for women to become disconnected sometimes, especially if we are single moms. We spend so much of our time making sure that the needs of those we love and who depend upon us are met that we forget about our own needs. Maybe it isn’t so much that we forget, as it is that, by the time we get around to being able to think about ourselves, we are simply exhausted and ready to collapse. We end up putting ourselves on the bottom of the priority pile. We end up too exhausted to want to make the effort to connect with the other women in our lives. For me, that includes the other single moms I know in my face-to-face world who have walked with me down the single parent road these last few years.
There is also something about being with another woman instead of a man on occasion. Now, don’t hear me say that I prefer this over company with men all the time. Both types of company are valuable, but they sometimes meet very different needs. At times, the company of a good same sex friend (because I’m sure men feel this way too on some levels) just can’t be beat. I don’t have to do the work of getting to know someone, because all that history and relationship has already been established. It’s comfortable. We know and accept each other. It is enough just to be together. It is also very nice sometimes to have another female perspective confirming for me in so many ways, that I’m not crazy, that I am just a busy single mom and that we are all feeling this way, which is most of the time stressed or tired. Especially of laundry.
It doesn’t happen often that we can all get babysitters or be child-free on the same evening and also have money to pay for our cover charges and drinks but last night the stars aligned and we were able to make it happen. It started out with just my friend and I, and we added one of our new colleagues to the mix. The laughter, the conversations, the self-revelations and the discussions that ran from the serious and intellectual (okay, sort of serious and intellectual) to quite tawdry, decisions to have Sex on the Beach but no Slow Comfortable Screw, while wondering who in the bar was there with who else, these things made up our night like a montage in a movie. From the comments about the cute guy in the hat dancing by himself in the middle of the crowded dance floor, to whether the guy in the suit was single or not, to refusing to pick up two guys who tried to convince us to let them in the car with us, to the older retired teacher guy who regaled me with stories while I waited for the others to complete their powder room break, it was simply something we all, for our own reasons, needed to do. We just needed to put our concerns and stress away for a few hours, to forget we were single moms, to forget that we cared about that. We needed a Ladies Night Out. We needed to just have fun.
We most certainly did that!
Not a glass was broken.
Not a chair was missed.
Not a cell phone fell into anything liquid.
And not one of us thought once about the laundry.
…but I am wondering where I left my shirt.
I wrote this last year at about this time of year over on my other blog. It is rather lengthy so I’ve broken it down into a series of several posts. Those of you who have been through the divorce process and are trying to heal up after it, might have some very significant and quite possibly different perspectives to share. If so, I hope you’ll leave a comment. I certainly don’t profess to have the only valid experience. I only share mine and what was helpful for me. I love hearing what others found helpful. I know my readers do too!
I spent most of my childhood growing up in rural eastern Oregon. My family lived in the same home from the time I was in third grade till after I graduated from college. We drove the same ’68 Chevy Camaro and never had another car. My mother had the same job in the same office building across from the county library until she retired many years after I was grown and beginning my own family. My grandparents lived across the river in Idaho, a mere six miles away. They owned a department store in town where I spent my pre-school years hiding in the racks peeking out at customers from behind the clothes. It was a stable, predictable, secure childhood. Very little ever changed. It was not the kind of beginning that exactly prepares one to deal with the transitions that come after a marriage ends. But, if we are fortunate, and I was, we should not be preparing for such sad events. There just weren’t that many dragons to slay back then…and…I guess that’s a good thing.
Change is the only constant. This is never more true than when going through a divorce, when emotions run high and everyone is running scared at some level. Everyone, except the attorneys and the dragon. They are running to the bank. (Sometimes I think I am definitely in the wrong career. Hmmmm, is it too late for a law degree?) Even so, I am grateful for a good attorney who helped me see the issues clearly and without emotion. The dragon is bigger and has the fire-breathing capabilities. You can easily determine where the dragon fits in your own analogy. For me, it was a volatile and completely unstable partner who was an incredible con artist and who had everyone believing (including myself) that I was the crazy psychotic problem child.
This is the first transition and probably the most difficult in divorce: accepting that the marriage is over. Accepting that one partner wants out badly enough to formalize the dissolution legally can be a difficult and heartbreaking reality to grasp. Whether you are the one initiating the divorce or the one having to accept that your partner is saying, "I’m out!", the very first step is to accept that no matter what happens, when the dust settles you will in fact be divorced. Nothing else but this will be certain as you head into the process of negotiating like you’ve probably never in your marriage or maybe your life negotiated before. It is not unlike dodging the fiery blasts of the dragon’s anger as you attempt to defend your kingdom. The finances, the assets, the kids, the child support, the alimony and the acrimony will all be undetermined until the judge raps his gavel or until the two of you sign out of court. Until then, you just don’t know how the dragon will move, twist, or turn.
When I walked in to see my attorney…a good two years before I actually retained her…she told me these words, "Look, I can’t assure you of anything except that by the end of this you will be divorced." She was right, and despite what is oft said about attorneys, she was honest, direct, a great strategist and she advocated on my behalf. She helped me negotiate the frightening web of legalities to ensure the best possible outcome for my children and I. She was there to negotiate some of those transitions for me.
Plan on the transitions. Expect them, anticipate them, negotiate them and then live them. My attorney helped me plan and prepare for the first phase of transitions but I had to first face the reality that nothing I could do was going to change the eventual outcome. Armed with this knowledge I was able to take a more active role in determining and shaping my own post-divorce world.
If you are at this place in your life and the inevitable is going down, I encourage you to begin doing your own research. Find out what the laws are in your state or county. Find out how property is usually divided and how the courts generally treat custody and parenting issues arrangements. Your attorney can be a valuable resource in this area. You can also do your own homework. There are many great resources on the internet.
It helped me to think of life in three categories: the things that were non-negotiable for me, the things that I could easily give up, and the things that fell in between these two extremes. It became a matter of prioritizing. When it came to negotiating with the ex, I knew clearly what I had to barter with and what wasn’t up for negotiation from my perspective. This ended up being irrelevant for me as my ex didn’t even show up for the hearing and the judge ruled everything as proposed by my attorney with some added stipulations making it more difficult for the ex should he seek to drag me back to court in the future. This, however, is extremely rare. Expect a battle and arm yourself intelligently and thoughtfully for it.
Around Halloween, I announced to my kids that the 2 Christmases (one in each of their two homes) that they’ve known the last three years wasn’t going to happen this year. I can’t afford it and they don’t need a massive haul or even a minor one at both houses. I told them I am rethinking how I do Christmas in the “off years”; those years where they are at their other parent’s house for the holiday and I get them for New Year’s. In the same breath I also mentioned I wasn’t even going to decorate this year for the holidays. “After all, I explained, you will all be at your dad’s and it is just going to be me.”
Number 2 piped up sarcastically with, “Yeah, because Christmas can’t happen if there are no presents!”
Out of the mouths of babes, I guess. Her comment stopped me cold. She wasn’t saying she was unhappy about the no presents deal at our house this year. That surprised me. She was basically expressing distaste at my perspective that if we can’t do “presents” then let’s just scrap Christmas altogether. She nailed me, and rightly so.
I could have hugged her on the spot. Even now, the thought that a sixteen-year-old young lady (who really loves getting presents as much as the next person) can have the insight to see that the holidays are about so much more than the stuff brings tears to my eyes. The fact that she was also more disappointed about not decorating than not getting presents also impressed me.
I’ve worked hard the last three years and I’ve plowed through a mountain of debt, that by all rights wasn’t mine, in order to avoid bankruptcy and have a more financially secure and debt-free life. The journey in many ways completely sucks, but the lessons, are valuable. I’ve come a long way. I’ve learned how much of my former existence was based on appearances and image instead of what really matters. While living my former existence, I knew this was true and I hated it at the time. What I didn’t realize was how deeply ingrained the obsession with image for image’s sake was in my life and how deeply stuck I was in it all. From my views on money to what’s important in parenting and in relationships, I’ve had to scrutinize my thinking and real beliefs about it all. I’ve experienced so many occasions where I’ve been knocked flat on my figurative seat in the last three years: emotionally, financially, relationally. I’ve found myself in places I NEVER thought I’d ever be. Places where in my former life I looked down my nose at people in the very situations I now found myself. It was more than humbling. At each of these times, I’ve had to do some serious soul searching and remind myself of what was really important. I’ve been shocked and horrified on many occasions to learn how really shallow my thinking has been. This recent episode with my daughter was another such moment of truth.
I am now once again rethinking The Holidays and my approach toward them.
For a number of years now, it has bothered me that my children can spend Christmas Day at one parent’s house and get a big haul of presents then go to the other parent’s house after Christmas for a second Christmas Day that year. I’ve hated the temptation to give in to that desire to “compete” with the other parent in the gift giving arena, even though I’ve been completely unable to. This inability, instead of creating angst for me, ended up providing freedom and relief. Because I don’t have it to spend and everyone knows it (meaning the kids), the expectation for my participation in these areas is lowered. That’s okay by me. I have debt to pay off and I am doing it. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and so far it hasn’t been an oncoming train. I need to maintain my resolve and stay focused. I just can’t continue doing what I’ve always done at The Holidays where gifts are concerned. If can’t pay cash, it can’t be purchased. Simple as that.
My daughter’s words struck a chord in me. In the end, she’s totally spot on. Christmas is about celebrating love and the people we invest our love in. It is about hope, joy, peace and all good things. It’s about being with the people you love not out giving the the people you no longer live with. Kids understand about what is real and what is genuine. None of this has anything to do with getting and there are gifts that can be given that don’t come done up in ribbons and bows with a bill attached. I needed to be reminded of this.
This weekend, two days after Thanksgiving and a good three weeks before I usually can muster the energy or the spirit, we decorated our entire house for Christmas. In fact, I was in the back room typing a blog post while Number 2, was out in the garage, climbing ladders and pulling down the infamous plastic red Rubbermaid boxes. She pulled out the Christmas tree with the help of her brother (Number 3) and together she and Number 3 and Number 4 began putting the tree together. I came in just in time to help shape the fake tree. I really didn’t do much except instruct and that, only occasionally. They got out the decorations and put them on the tree, set up the stocking hangers with stockings, and arranged all our other decorations. They had a blast doing it and by dinnertime we had a house that in spite of it’s diminutive size looked festive and cheerful. Number 1 even had a couple of her friends over and the lot of us listened to Christmas music, played board games and ate pizza by the fire. It was a cozy, warm and happy time and it cost me nothing but a few minutes of my time and a few dollars for pizza delivery (something I never ever do). It created a wonderful happy and positive memory for my children and I. I could be wrong, but I think it kind of says something when a college child chooses to bring her boyfriend to our little home instead of going out somewhere for the evening. I couldn’t have done that at her age. I’m pleased that this is the kind of home we’ve built. I’m pleased that my daughter got on my case and called me out this time. I’m glad the decorations are up and we have over a month to enjoy them.
So in an effort to reinvent a more sane lifestyle, where competition with the ex’s and buckling to human greed isn’t the driving force and resisting the feeling that I am what I can purchase, I am rethinking things. I want to work on creating more memories like this Thanksgiving weekend. I wonder if it wouldn’t be a better idea on the years that the kids are with me for Christmas to have the traditional (though modest) celebration with gifts and on the off years, get one gift for all the kids to share…like a computer or a Wii, or whatever we come up with together? During the off times, those times when the children aren’t residing with me, I’m playing with an idea, a dream really of hosting a party for single parents who are without their children for the holidays. Maybe we could meet together at my place, go caroling, donate money or canned goods to a local charity and then afterward come back to my place for eggnog, wassail and games. I don’t know. It’s a dream. But I’m wondering about it. This just might be the year to make that happen since I will, after all, be alone for The Holidays.
I’m thinking, especially after this Thanksgiving Weekend, where my kids had their friends over for games and food and had a great time, that maybe that’s the kind of memory I should work on creating more and more rather than stressing about gifts. It will cost me in terms of energy and time, but not in terms of money. It’s something I want to do.
After all, The Holidays are what we make them not what our budget makes them or what the presents under the tree make them.
What great ideas do you have for celebrating on a shoestring and making the season less about the stuff and more about the people you love?
P.S. After reading this post to Number 2, she has asked me if she can have a Christmas party here. In her words, “I’m so excited to have a Christmas party!” Yeah! Stay tuned!
Music can take me places. I’m sure you know how that is. You’re minding your own business and suddenly a song comes on that you haven’t heard in ages and then suddenly you are transported. You’re completely removed from the present to a different time and place, a world ago, a lifetime ago. You can smell the smells, feel the feelings and suddenly you are awash in memories like you never left that time or place. Music transports you. It transport me. I was just transported.
I have music all over my house. I have a small house and don’t have a surround sound, piped in, fancy system like some have. I do like to “feel” my music. Even as I write this, I have my little 5 CD changer in the kitchen (I have one in nearly every room) turned up to some ghastly number on the volume dial. I can feel the reverberations. But, today, a particular song transported me, and it just came on again and it’s transporting me…again.
The time was not so long ago. About this time last year, if my memory serves me well. The song is K.T. Tunstall’s “Heal Over”. The events in my life at that time were best described by Charles Dickens in his famous book, “A Tale of Two Cities”. For me…that time of my life was truly, “the best of times, it was the worst of times”. I’d left my second husband for the final time. Divorce proceedings were in process. It was going to happen. As a person who walked into marriage the first time with the high fairy tale hopes of “till death do us part”, having to end a second marriage was a devastating blow. I was in the midst of dealing with that reality and moving back into a house that my ex and his 7 children had just vacated. And when I mean vacated, I mean vacated. They took with them things I will be paying for, for many years to come. Things that were purchased at Christmases and birthdays for my children, not his. And I was left with a house that was little more than a wreck. (No, I’m not bitter or anything. LOL!) I was embroiled in a battle that had every potential to get very ugly and I was very scared. It was very possible that I could end up homeless and in debt and, because I had no way to provide for my children, I was afraid I might lose them. It was the worst of times.
But…it was also the very best of times. While I was out of my house because I had to leave under police escort to protect myself against a volatile spouse and get what I could in the 20 minutes they allow, I was able to see and experience the goodness and love of friends that I might never have otherwise experienced or known. I had friends offer me their travel trailer so my youngest and I would have a place to stay for a month while we finished out the school year. I had other friends offer me a housesitting job while they went vacationing. That got me through the month, and to the court hearing where I was awarded the house and full custody of my youngest daughter. And in the background of all of this, K.T. Tunstall’s song, “Heal Over” was playing. Playing. Playing. Reminding me of what my mother always used to tell me, “This, too, shall pass.” And…it did.
I ended up being awarded my house, my ex disappeared rather than creating a crazy scene, I did get all the marital debt but I have my home and don’t have to move four kids out to a rental and worry when I will get 30 days notice so they can put the house up on the market. I’m safe. My children are safe and all the fears I had at this time last year have dissipated into nothingness. But that song, that particular song, takes me back. It takes me back to a time of uncertainty and transition. It takes me back to a painfully difficult time of learning to parent on my own, and of learning what it means to be a homeowner. It takes me back to hot, sweaty days of having to repaint, repair, clean out, fumigate, and scrub, scrub, scrub every surface and cabinet to make my home clean and liveable for my kids and I. I takes me back to spending a month trying to figure out how to clean out a pool, finally having to drain it completely and start over. It takes me back to days, when filled with fear and uncertainty myself, I had to be strong and hopeful and positive for my children. It takes me back to days, where we pulled together, attempted things we didn’t possibly think we could handle in a million years, and we did more than just handle them and we did them well!
That song takes me back. Heal over? You bet I’ll heal over. Make no mistake about it.
It was the best of times and the worst of times but, funny thing, all I have are good memories.