8/7/14

Doormat No More: Behold, My New Balls!

Forgive me for such blatant Vague-Blogging, but I'm going to keep this one opaque.

I have been dealing with a difficult personality for the past 18 months. It's someone I see on a daily, Monday through Friday basis. When I first encountered this person and their personality, it was with lots of forewarning: "Watch out, you're in for it" and "Good luck with that!" and "Don't let it get to you."

I remember laughing and saying to myself, "How bad can it be? I can get along with anyone."

Oh dear. It was pretty bad. In the interest of being vague, we'll just leave it at that.

However, I am not one to give up without a fight. Some of my favorite students at school are those who present me with the biggest challenges. The tougher the nut is to crack, the more I enjoy what's inside (or something like that...sounds kind of icky, now that I see it all typed out).

So I persevered with this person. Asked a lot of questions, joked around with them. Got to know them. I found bits and pieces that I liked, and ran with it.

"It's not so bad!" I exclaimed to the previous naysayers. "There's good in there!" I crowed. "I WILL LIKE YOU, DAMMIT" I said in my head while spending time with the difficult one.

And for a while, it worked. I think the person in question was surprised by my friendliness, by my willingness to chat and laugh and hang out. For a while, I really did like this person.

I think it started changing when the stress in my life flared up. When I found out that I was losing my job, to be precise. At first the stress was a long ways out, and I could barely hear it. "Yo, Jenny!" it called out. It was faint. As the days flew by on the calendar, it became louder. I heard it when I tried to sleep, it interrupted conversations, it talked over the songs on the radio as I drove hither and yon. About three weeks ago, it became the loudest it had ever been, and I found myself feeling low. The job interviews were not panning out, and the panic over what my next move would be worsened.

That's when the difficult person really began to irk me. Little things, things that had been happening for months prior, suddenly became big things. Control issues that had been quirky were now glaringly bizarre. It was like going from having a roommate who kind of bugged you to living with Julia Robert's husband in "Sleeping With The Enemy" (remember when she opened the cupboards and all of the cans of food were arranged just so? Yeah. Like that.)

Run, Julia!RUN!!!

And it was more. It was being treated like shit, in a very passive-aggressive, Nellie Oleson, "oh I'm sorry, did that bother you?" kind of way.

Here's the deal with me: I have always been a doormat. A Libra through and through, conflict terrifies me. Take it, suck it up, go with the flow...that's always been my way of living. Even when I was going through my divorce, after proof of my ex-husband's affair had been shoved in my face, I kept up my Doormat facade and tried to not rock the proverbial boat any more than I had to. "No need to be a total bitch," I'd tell myself. And always, always: "Take the high road, Jenny."

I am very familiar with the High Road. If the High Road had a Frequent Flyer program, I'd be flush with points. My kids hear it from me all the time, and it's a virtue I extol ad nauseam here on my blog and when discussing divorce and co-parenting elsewhere.

But does taking the high road sometimes equal allowing yourself to be shat upon? I think so. I think we, as women especially, are taught to turn the other cheek, take the high road, be the better person. And that's GOOD, believe me, in most situations. In some situations, however, I think it allows the Nellie Olesons and the Regina Georges of the world to keep on being mean girls and bullies. And also allows difficult personalities, like the one I've grappled with over the past year and a half, to carry on with their cuckoo behavior without getting called on it.*

Sometimes you need to take a detour. And that's what I did. The difficult personality person did one of the things that has caused me many headaches and stomachaches over the past 18 months. And as I felt that old familiar stress ball start forming in my gut, I decided to fling the doormat from my forehead. I approached the difficult one, and I said exactly what was on my mind. Gesticulating like a mofo, I made my voice heard.

I closed with, "And THIS is exactly why I find it so frustrating to be around you." (cue the applause)

You would not believe how good it felt. The stress ball in my gut was gone, my heart was racing in a good way and I felt like a half ton of bricks had just been lifted off my shoulders.

You know that feeling after you've held your bladder for far too long, and you finally make it to the toilet without having tinkled even just a little in your pants? That release, that relief??

That. It felt that awesome.

Me: Oooh! What's that tingling sensation in my nethers?
Also Me: Oh honey. It's your balls. They're growing. (Also Me sounds just like Karen Walker, btw)
Me: They're so cute! And shiny!

See? I'm crazy, too. Only my crazy is kept inside most of the time. Hopefully, it doesn't cause anyone stress. If it did? I hope they'd stand up for themselves and let me know.

So watch out, world. I have lost my stand-up-for-yourself virginity. And I'm dying to do it again.


* HUGE CAVEAT HERE: I wouldn't be a real Libra if I didn't stress that sometimes people are difficult to be around because of underlying issues: true mental illness, going through a sucky situation, health problems, etc. And if that's the case, the High Road, with lots of compassion and empathy, is your best bet. BUT. To quote Gordon Gano and the rest of the Violent Femmes, "De-derange, we've all been through some shit". A lot of us deal with mental illness, with sucky situations, health problems and other life "stuff" that can make us less-than-pleasant to be around. I've been cut miles of slack by my friends, family and coworkers during low points in my life, and I'm eternally grateful. It doesn't, however, give us an excuse to act like turds.






7/31/14

Picture Them Doing Nothing: The Search For Super Henry

Today is my son Henry's birthday. He's 17. A strapping 17, almost 6'3" with a voice so rumbly and deep that sometimes I'll hear him from another room and think "Oh my god there's a man in the house! Who let him in?" We've come to the point in our mother/son relationship where his friends are riding shotgun, and I'm in the backseat. And that's okay, since he's my third child to reach this almost-grown stage it's getting easier to not only accept it, but to kind of enjoy it. Emphasis on the words "kind" and "of".

He's spending his birthday night with his friends. We'll celebrate this weekend, as a family, most likely at the hibachi restaurant down the road, where we'll get steak and shrimp and fried rice and leave reeking of oil and with a slick sheen on our faces. We'll laugh together, all of us, as we always do. We will talk about funny things from our conjoined pasts and gloss over the less funny parts, as we always do. Going out with my four kids now feels almost like having dinner with a group of friends. Except nobody fights me for the check at the end of the evening.

It's become a tradition of sorts for me to write something pithy on facebook as an acknowledgement of each child's birthday. I'll search for the perfect picture to post along with the words, and both of us (me and whichever kid it is) enjoy all the likes and HAPPY BIRTHDAY comments. I'll get a little misty-eyed as I reminisce, for a few whiles, about their day of birth and all the anniversaries of that day that have passed.

Which I was all set to do this morning. I thought about which picture I'd use for Henry's birthday ode. That's when I thought about Super Henry. When he was about 3-ish, I bought him a little Superman costume. One of those cheap, thin one-piece deals, that tied at the back and came with a separate,but identically thin and cheap, cape.

Henry became obsessed with that costume. He wanted to wear it all the time. And because he was my third child, I let him. One of the first things I learned as a mom was to choose your battles. Wanting to wear a Superman costume day after day after day? Totally not a battle. 

I'm an old mom. How old? So old that I have actual shoeboxes full of actual photographs taken with an actual point-and-shoot camera. I'm sure at one point in my dewy young mothering career I envisioned all of those photographs either gracing the pages of sweet, memory filled baby books or adorning a wall in a tastefully kitschy collection of mismatched frames.

Ha. The shoeboxes (there are about 5 of them) are shoved in a small cabinet that sits in my bedroom. You'd think there would be some modicum of organization, right? Like, all pics of Kid #1 in the Cole Haan loafer box, or all pics from 1995-97 in the Converse box. Ha, again. Have we met? My ADD has ADHD, folks. That's what I'm dealing with.

So, I knew there had to be a few pictures of Henry wearing the Superman costume in one of those boxes. I mean, the kid wore it nonstop for a year...how could I have not snapped a shot or two of my feisty three year old clad his beloved superhero garb?

I began the search, keeping one eye on the clock. I had to get to work, but that wasn't as pressing as my need to get Henry's picture all Instagrammed up and posted on the Facebook. Priorities, you know. I gots 'em. 

The search became a little more intense with every minute that ticked away. I became angry at my unorganized self. Why the hell do I have pictures of me, drunk in Mexico in 1989, mixed in with pictures of me, holding my newborn babies in the hospital? And glossy 4x6 reminders of how much fun my ex and I had before our marriage went to shit mixed in with faded 70's prints of my brother and I sitting on my grandma's couch?

I could see him in my mind, dammit, see his white-blond hair, his chubby cheeks and his tiny limbs clad in pilly royal blue and red fabric. I could feel the weight of his small body, leaning against me as I knelt next to him and tied the cape back on for the hundredth time that day. I could hear him crying in the morning, as I rushed to get his big brother, his big sister, him and my pregnant self ready and out the door in the morning, crying because his "SUPAman" outfit was in the wash.

I had all of these things as clear as lead crystal in my head, but where were the mother effing pictures?

The sweat began flowing as I flipped through stacks of memories. WHERE THE HELL WAS SUPER HENRY? There was a slippery Henry being pulled from my belly, Henry elbows-deep in his first birthday cake, Henry sleeping on the floor with his eyes open (that was the creepiest phase, ever). Henry playing t-ball, Henry tubing on a lake, Henry wearing a Buzz Lightyear costume and a hippie costume and of course a ninja costume. COME ON, SHOEBOXES! Where was my kid wearing that godforsaken Superman costume?

Finally, finally. There in the Nike box. I found him. I found Super Henry. One picture:


I smiled. I laughed. I might have shed a tear or two. There he was, cape and all. Super Henry. Just as I had remembered him.

The picture, with the accompanying birthday tribute, was posted. The likes and HAPPY BIRTHDAYS rolled in. All was right in my cuckoo world.

Except, I was mad at myself. Still am, a dozen hours later. I was mad at my current self for not having anything in any sort of order. And I was mad at my younger self, Super Henry's mom, for not stepping back a few more times and getting just a couple more pictures of her toddler who was sure he could fly, sure he could leap tall buildings in a single bound. For not having the foresight to know that somewhere down the line, when that little boy was towering above her and spending more time with his friends than with her...she'd want to see him again. See Super Henry, with his white-blond hair, smiling and wearing a cheap little costume like it was the most natural, the most everyday thing in the world.

The lesson I learned today, aside from the one about how being unorganized can turn the most benign morning into a frenzied clusterfuck, was this:

My favorite memories of my kids are the seemingly mundane, no-big-deal moments in their childhoods: eating freeze pops in the shade of the apple tree that used to stand in front of our old house. My daughter, wearing nothing but a tiara and her underwear at the breakfast table. A determined preschooler pushing his Fisher-Price Bubble Mower behind daddy as he mowed the lawn on a summer evening.

And a little Henry, all cheeks and big eyes, just chilling in his Superman costume. Cape and all.

Mamas? Stop the action now and then, won't you? Take a minute out of those neverending days and catch your babies doing nothing. Nothing but being themselves. Trust me when I say... you'll be glad you did.









7/20/14

Momastery, Me and All The Divorced Ladies: What I Learned This Past Week

In case you didn't hear me screaming from the couch last week, my Messy, Beautiful post about surviving divorce was featured on Momastery. I was shocked, I tell you, seriously shocked. Not saying that I wasn't pleased with how my essay turned out, because I do love it. But, like I told my rockstar friend, Laura, who ordered gently nudged me to submit, I didn't think my style of writing was going to fit with Glennon's vibe. I'm kind of crude, a little racy and I swear. I also don't talk much (okay, at all) about my religious beliefs. I know, right? I keep the God stuff private but I will tell anyone with ears all about the sexy times. Contradiction, thy name might be Jenny.

As every neurotic writer does, I obsessively checked my email and Momastery for signs of acceptance. I heard crickets. What she is doing with selected Messy, Beautiful essays is featuring a couple every week, under certain themes. The first week's theme was Parenting. "Okay," I thought to myself. "You still have a chance. Your essay was totally not about parenting. Carry on, Freak."

Week number two was Authenticity. Hmm. Well, my post was authentic, I guess. But I wouldn't classify it as such. "There's still a chance," I thought to myself. "Why doesn't she like me?" I also thought to myself.

Week three? Augh. The topic was Marriage. "Hooo boy," said that inner voice of mine, the one I sometimes think might benefit from some padded walls and some fine pharmaceuticals. "This is what the essay was about. And guess what? You're not there." I consoled myself, mentally curling up like a cooked shrimp and telling myself "Hey! You tried! And your good ol' crew of regular readers loved it. YOU DONE GOOD, Shrimp Lady."

Imagine, then, how it felt when I received an email from Momastery (not from Glennon herself, because she's so big she has PEOPLE. She has people, people!). They loved my essay and it was going to be featured during Week Four, which was all about...wait for it....Beginning Again. I was at school when I read the email, from a lovely lady named Amy. There might have been a strange noise made by yours truly, followed by goosebumps and an immediate urge to cry.

Amy stayed in touch, letting me know when the post would be on. It changed a few times, and for good reason. That Monday, Glennon wrote a heartbreaking post about a woman who lost her daughter, and it kind of went crazy (you can read it here....and grab a tissue for me too, okay?). Amy told me that they wanted to let that one ride for a couple of days, and she'd let me know when "You Will Survive Being Left" would be live.

Oh, and she also instructed me to keep all of this under wraps. Do you know how hard that was? IT WAS HARD. But like the Monkees often say, "We Can Do Hard Things". And so I sat on it (okay, I might have told my friend Laura, the person who was totally responsible for this whole thing. And maybe my kids, who are so used to me blathering on about bloggy stuff I'm pretty sure all they heard was something about monasteries and monkeys and Glenn Campbell). But secretive I was, and on Wednesday the 16th of July, my cuckoo words were there on the site.

I was worried, at first. Would the Monkees be kind? Would they respond well to my tale of a marriage gone bad? Would they respond at all?

Still waiting to hear from these guys.


Turns out the answer to all three of those questions was: Yes. Oh dear, were they kind. MY FAVORITE COMMENT SECTION, EVER. So much love, so much support and unfortunately, so many stories just like mine. So, so many.

So, what did I learn? Here we go:

1. Don't be afraid to go for it. A direct quote from me, to my friend who urged me to submit: "I might not be her cup of tea." Turns out, Glennon appreciates all kinds of tea. I almost didn't do this. So glad I did.You never know whose cup of tea you are, and you won't, unless you put yourself out there.

2. There are still people out there who think it takes two to destroy a marriage. Sorry, but no. Nope. I agree that it takes two people to keep a marriage going, and that marriage isn't like a hosta that you can just plop into the ground and not tend to at all, and will get pretty leaves and delicate purple flowers year after year. I know now that marriage is hard work, and I'm the first to admit I didn't do enough work on mine. But I will never, ever think that I had a hand in my marriage dying. I tried. And most of the women who have gone through this slice of fun tried, too. We went down swinging and to suggest that we left our fingerprints on the murder weapon is kind of like spitting on us. It takes two to make a marriage work, but all it takes is one to pull the plug on it.

3. The month of August seems to be the favorite month for husbands to leave. WTF. Is it the humidity? Also, some men leave on Christmas, which makes me want to hunt them down and kick them in sensitive places. Christmas? Really, asshole? Way to not only dismember a marriage but also ensure that your kids will get a sick feeling every time December 25th rolls around.

4. Monkees write good. Several of the comments are basically mini-essays, many of which made me cry. Damn, girls. There are some good books that need to be written.

5. Speaking of books: when a publishing house follows you on Twitter, you might scream.

6. This one is kind of off-topic: does anyone else find Lifetime movies addicting? The Canadian accents, the vaguely familiar actors, the soap-opera like commercial breaks at just the right moment...sadly, I have passed this sickness on to my children. William and I found ourselves alone one night this past week, and we decided to turn on the t.v. "How about a Lifetime movie?" I suggested, half-joking. Okay, maybe 1/3 joking. "Ooh..sure" he said, without a trace of sarcasm. I'm sorry, future wife of William. Or maybe...YOU'RE WELCOME.

7. Here's another off-topic one: check my Google search history and you'll find three things:

protection for vulnerable adults in MN
how to care for orphaned bunnies
why does my cleavage sweat smell like vinegar?

The first one was for my mom. And what I've found out is, I can't help her. You know why? You can't help someone who doesn't want to be helped. I am finding this to be one of the most difficult situations, ever, and am mourning so much. More on this later.

The second one was because Walter (my dog) is a murderer. We shall discuss this one further, too.

The third one? Self explanatory. And, ewww. Thankfully it's not life threatening. Romance threatening? Yeah, maybe. If anyone got close enough to catch a whiff of the sourdough factory that seems to have sprung up between my breasts, that is. Summer heat, I loathe thee. 

And on that lovely, appetizing note, I shall close. Thank you so much, all of you. Those of you who have been here from the beginning, and those who have just hopped on board this runaway train of whackadoo. I am so glad you're all here.









7/6/14

Ribs and Birthdays and Neverending Hurts

The smell of the ribs filled our house. It was late, almost 8:00, and they still needed another 20 minutes in the oven. It had been one of those insanely busy nights and somehow I'd put off making dinner until the screeches of my nestlings became too insistent to ignore. But now...mmmm....good things come to those who wait, and we were proving that worn-out old saying true.

Charlie's girlfriend was there, as she often is. I like her. A lot. She feels like one of my own now, almost. Charlie has blossomed since she's been around. Maybe he would have, even if she hadn't been a part of his life, but I think she's been a good thing for him. And therefore, good for our family. She and I were standing in the little area between the living room and the sliding glass doors that open to the deck. It's a weird spot of real estate, that area...not quite big enough for a usable table, not quite small enough to brighten up with a few tchotchkes and call it a day.

"Oooh they smell so good!" she said, her pretty brown eyes so open and kind.

"Thanks" I replied, "Wait til you taste them!" Modesty is my middle name, yo.

"So it looks like Charlie and I will be having ribs a few nights in a row" she said. "Tomorrow we're meeting his dad and his grandpa at Market Barbecue."

Me, being diplomatic: "Oh, nice! Have you met Charlie's dad before?"

She didn't miss a beat, and nodded as she said, "Yep. Charlie and I were at Spawn's birthday party yesterday. Wow, it was the most lavish party I'd ever seen for a three year old."

Cut back to me, frantically gathering up any and all remaining bits of diplomacy I could find. Dammit it's harder than you'd think.

"Oh. A birthday party? Fun. I guess that means you met the stepmom, huh?" I'm sure at this point I had a decent case of the Crazy Eyes setting in.

She nodded again, and added, "Yes! She was really warm and welcoming. And she's so young!" Bless her heart, I thought. And I also thought, don't. Don't say anything bad, Jenny. Don't. DON'T.

"Yes, I'm sure she was really warm." Warm from the hellfire that surrounds the skank, right, Jenny? STOP IT! Seriously! Just go into the kitchen. Walk away from this conversation! 

Charlie's girlfriend is a child of divorce, just like he is. Her situation is similar to ours, complete with a dad remarried to someone much younger, and a half brother just a couple years older than Spawn. Her parents, however, have somehow managed to keep things civil, amicable. I'm guessing it's because although the situations are similar, they aren't exactly alike. Meaning, the new, younger wife isn't the one who helped dismantle the marriage. I think that makes the concept of civility somewhat more palatable.

I felt that old, familiar warmth spreading. No, I wasn't peeing my pants. I was feeling that hot anger spill out of nowhere. Where does it come from, I wonder? Where does it hide? Nothing else on this planet can draw it out like one of these seemingly innocent conversations. And then, BOOM. There it is. All the old hurts. The pissy anger. The shitstorm of emotions that flies right out of left field and lands, with a sick thud, on my heart.

She continued on, oblivious to the tsunami of feels that were welling up behind my eyes..."There was a bouncy house and so much food and we went swimming in the pool..."

At this point I did waddle back into the kitchen, to check on the ribs. They were done, perfectly done, so I pulled them out of the oven and began cutting them apart and placing them on a big serving platter. "They're done!" I yelled out to everyone, and stepped aside as the stampede came forth and dished up plates of saucy goodness.

Henry was there first. I asked him, "Did you go to your dad's house on Sunday?" He turned around, sauce already smeared on his face, licked a finger and looked at me quizzically.

"No. Why would I have gone there?"

Almost immediately I regretted asking him. The naysaying Jenny in my head was already shrieking at me to SHUT UP! But I had to. I had to find out.

"Apparently they had a big party for Spawn. Didn't your dad call and invite you?"

His eyes answered me before his mouth. "Nah. Wow." He shook his head, and then backed it up by saying out loud, "Shake my head." Which, by the way, is kind of a little joke between the two of us. I try to be hip and stay up to date with all of the acronyms the kids use. SMH is one of my favorites to use with Henry. So of course he does me one better by saying the phrase in its entirety, when appropriate.

It was appropriate that night, I guess. Shake my head.

I asked William, and then Molly. Neither one knew about it, neither had been invited. I felt myself beginning to seethe, the thought of sitting down and enjoying a good ol' summertime dinner completely clouded by thoughts of mother effing bouncy houses and young, welcoming homewreckers and splashes in a pool.

Molly smiled at me. And then she laughed a little. "Mom. I can tell you're pissed. Don't be!"

I looked at her, my sweet girl who is mere weeks away from embarking on her college career. My sweet girl who has taught me so much about rolling with punches. "Doesn't it bother you?" I asked her, "Doesn't it make you sad that your dad wouldn't ask you to be there?" Her answer broke my heart.

"It doesn't matter to us anymore. We don't care." She spoke on behalf of herself, and her younger brothers. William, who was listening, just nodded.

Charlie chimed in then, his anger stepping up to spar with mine. "Mom...knock it off." It was too late, though. I had already opened this can of worms and they were everywhere. "Charlie, I'm sorry, but this kills me. Why weren't the other kids invited? Why just you? Didn't anyone ask where the other kids were?"

Charlie put down the rib he was devouring. His eyes were dark. I'd seen this look on his face before, and it made me feel shameful and defensive.

"He might have told me to ask them. I don't know. You need to stop it, Mom. Stop making this into something it isn't." The tone of his voice, coupled with that shadow in his eyes...I retreated. I backed off. But I had to say one last thing, had to get it out there so my kids know that it's not jealousy or bitterness that causes these small outbursts.

"I'm sad for you guys, that's all." I said quietly. "I think it's sad that you weren't invited, and Charlie, I think it's sad that your dad put it on you to invite your siblings. That's not your job."

Charlie looked at me, the other kids in the room looked at me. Charlie's girlfriend, who had been silent through this brief but intense interaction, looked at me.

"I'm sorry." I said. I gathered up plates, crumpled up napkins, began stuffing the anger and the hurt back down from whence it came. I wanted to put a fan on, blow away the residue of this mini-explosion, turn back the clock just far enough so I could shut my big mouth and not say anything.

"I'm sorry" I said again. And I was sorry. I meant it. I am always sorry, it seems, sorry for the divorce and sorry for picking their dad to be their dad. Sorry for not being a better wife, sorry for gaining weight and not being attentive and sorry for finding it hard to accept the fact that sometimes shitty things happen. Sorry for wanting everything to be fair and even and nice for them, sorry for their dad for not knowing exactly how much he has hurt them, sorry even for the shiny stepmom who might or might not realize what she's done to these kids. And sorry for myself, truth be told. Sorry that I don't have the maturity or the balls or the grace to suck it up and let things like this just roll off my back and onto the floor and out the door. Sorry that I feel so much, and then on top of that, feel it 4x more for each of my children.

Here's the thing: these are the vapor trails of divorce. Like those white fluffy lines left behind jets, arcing in the sky long after the plane is out of sight, these insults and injuries follow you even after the divorce is buried in days, months and years. They go away and then they ambush you, rain all over something as sweet and simple and normal as a late night summer dinner of ribs.

I wonder if they'll ever disappear completely? Will they ever just go the hell away and never come back? Or will they slip in under closed windows and locked doors even when we are past the time of birthdays and bouncy houses and teens who are so used to being treated like afterthoughts that they don't care anymore?

The good news is, although they haven't disappeared completely, they don't stick around as long as they used to. That night, Rib Night, continued on in relative peace. The kids finished two slabs, and even left me a few morsels. I apologized to Charlie, and to his girlfriend. The dishes were done, the mess in the kitchen cleaned up and by the time I went to bed that night my sleepy time thoughts were focused on the upcoming weekend and not on exclusive birthday parties for three year old half-siblings. I thought about spending the 4th of July with my kids, at my friend's cabin, and how grateful I am that I have a friend with a cabin and kids to bring there.

And you know what? I slept really good that night. Take that, vapor trails.










6/24/14

Amway's Olive Branch: How One Amway Lady Made My Day

I despise open letters. I have made fun of the "open letter" style blog post, mostly in reference to Matt Walsh who bugs the everlovin' crap out of me. I think they are lame, kinda lazy, and rife with potential to be several shades of passive aggressive and self-serving.

And yet, I wrote one. I wrote an open letter to an Amway saleswoman who made a rude comment to my son while he was working. It was lame, kinda lazy, and yes, there was some passive aggressiveness in there along with a healthy dose of self-service. The only excuse I have is that I wanted to complain about what had happened, and that seemed like the most effective way to do it. There were also emails exchanged, which I'll get to momentarily, but truth be told, I was pissed and wanted Amway to hear about it. 

Oh, they heard. 

The woman who insulted my son, now immortalized as "Amway Jennifer", received an email from me. I wrote it the day after the incident, shortly after I had published my post. The email was civil, probably a little too wordy since it came from me, and laid it all out to Jennifer. I explained to her that what she'd said to my kid was wrong, approaching someone to sell products while they are at work is wrong. I also told her I was proud of my son for being polite in the face of such crassness. I may have also mentioned something about how if I'd been the one who received her "advice" and her business card, she'd be picking pieces of said card out of her hair for several days. 

Now, if Amway Jennifer had responded to me with anything even remotely resembling an apology, or admitted even just a little bit that what she did was out of line, the "Dear Amway Lady" post might have been deleted. I might have fumed about it a little, but my level of pissed-offness would have been down in the safe zone.

She didn't do either of those things. Her reply to me started off with "Hi Jenny, I'm sorry you feel offended" and ended with "Be blessed". In between those two statements were a bunch of sentences about how she teaches people to deal with acne and how dermatologists don't get to the root of the problem. She stated that she has "a heart that wants to help" and "I only wanted to help if he needed it or wanted it". 

I let the post stay, and there you have it.

It first gained attention on Twitter, and several people retweeted a link to the story directly to Amway. Amway, the company, responded to me in a public tweet and also in a private message. THEY APOLOGIZED. I thanked them, on behalf of my son, for the apology. They also asked me to give them Amway Jennifer's contact information. I declined to do so, saying that I'd been in touch with her and the matter was settled. I had said my peace, she (hopefully) would think twice before approaching a kid at work, my son was 100% over it. All was right in the world of teens and mama bears and Amway.

The post, however, kept right on going. It was published on a few different sites, and received lots of feedback. 

Almost all of the feedback was positive. Heartbreaking comments from people who had been approached the same way when they were younger. One woman, who said she was in her 60's, recalled how a man had made her feel over 40 years ago when he said something about her skin while she waited on him at a restaurant. So many men replied, telling me that "that could have been me" and "tell your son it gets better!". Countless remedies and suggestions of medications and diet advice (some of which we've implemented...). 

A wonderful woman contacted me via Twitter and sent my son a box full of skin care from the line she represents. (it is fabulous, by the way)

My inbox was full of sweet emails. The cutest one was from a woman who wrote to tell me she was pretty sure my son had waited on her at the grocery store that evening. "He was so polite, and so handsome" she wrote, "I wanted to tell him that no matter what, he's a good kid". My heart fluttered and then she mentioned she was in Texas. We're in Minnesota, but you know what? Some Texan kid with zits was treated nicely while he was at work. And that's a win.

The biggest surprise came via facebook. A woman named Stephanie messaged me. She apologized on behalf of Amway Jennifer, and Amway in general. She was kind and positive and obviously passionate about her company and her product. We wrote back and forth a few times, and when she asked me if she could send me something from Amway, I said yes. Why? Three reasons:

#1: Because I'm a broke ass, hard working single mom and I've learned to never turn down an offer like that.
#2: I had a less-than-stellar opinion of Amway based solely on what had happened to my kid. Stephanie (and several other Amway people who contacted me) seemed like a really decent person, so I wanted to give her products a try. 
#3: I thought this would be a great way to show my son the good side of big companies and the human beings who work for them. We didn't get that with Amway Jennifer.

Stephanie asked what I'd be interested in. I mentioned to her that we had a graduation party coming up and I'd be in cuckoo cleaning mode until then. She got back to me and said that she, along with Jose from Amway Customer Service, had handpicked a bunch of products to send out. 

This was on my front steps just a few days later:



Now, if you know me, you know I loathe cleaning. I only do it under great duress, the threat of company or when I cut my hand on one of the hardened clumps of toothpaste on the bathroom counter. But this box? It enticed me. I opened the products, smelled them (because it's all about the smell), and slowly, deliberately...began cleaning. 

And it's good stuff. All of it. I especially like the kitchen cleaner, the bathroom cleaner and the laundry detergent. 

What I liked the most, though? The kindness shown to my family by Amway Stephanie. Now, am I going to be an Amway customer after this? I don't know for sure. I don't make a lot of money and I'm the kind of person who, when I need laundry detergent, I need it NOW because there is a pile of laundry in front of the washer and nobody has any clean underwear left so I run, commando, to the store. Amway products seem to cost more than the stuff I usually buy, and it's something you have to order (which means one needs to plan ahead...so obviously not my specialty). 

The thing is, I might buy Amway products in the future. And that wouldn't have happened if Stephanie hadn't reached out. She let me try the product, and she also presented stellar customer service. If I do decide to purchase the products in the future, guess who I'll buy them from? Yep. Stephanie.

The moral of the story is, if you sell for a living, sell the right way. Don't prey on people's "flaws" and for the love of all things holy and decent, don't approach ANYONE, especially teens, if they're on the clock. Look, I get it. I think everyone gets it...this economy is scary, and we are all doing what we can to keep roofs over our heads and food in our kid's bellies (and martinis in our shakers, or is that just me?). You gotta do what you gotta do. But there are lines that shouldn't be crossed.

Side note: someone asked me this question: "So, what if Amway Jennifer had been a dermatologist, and your son had a suspicious mole. Would you have freaked out if she'd mentioned something to him then?"

Short answer: no. Medium-length answer? No, because a dermatologist is a doctor who has gone through years of schooling to get where they are today. And because a dermatologist who is knowledgeable about skin cancer is working, every day, to save lives. There's a huge difference between a skin-care saleswoman telling a kid "Wow, you have a lot of acne" and a doctor telling someone, "I have a medical license and have treated skin cancer before. I would strongly advise you to have that mole checked out." My guess is, the dermatologist wouldn't be out trolling for business while grabbing milk and bread at the grocery store. The situations might be similar, but the motives are as different as night and day. (that was the long answer, I guess)

I can't end this without a shout out to my new friend, Stephanie. I'd write an open letter to her but I feel like that's kind of been done to death. Instead, here's a link to her site. She's good people. 

Oh! I almost forgot. I also wanted to pass on my favorite mean comment from the whole Amway thing. It is on the About Me page here on my blog, and of course, it's anonymous (because, aren't they all?). It's like a big rancid onion of a comment, layer upon layer of ignorance. For your reading pleasure:

Jenny, Im heartbroken that you've taught your son to be such an emotional kid. He would never last in the real world. I can see that your divorce has made a negative impact on your sons life because he is clearly a mamas boy. That's NOT a good thing. He is 16 not 6. He needs to grow a pair and frankly so do you. I'm so sad that the draft no longer exists in out country. Your son will be nothing but a pussy if you continue to raise him alone. He needs the military or another form of discipline to step in and undermine your soft liberal attitude. People say things they shouldn't all the time. We're only human. But the reaction your son had, and the way you coddled him... Pathetic. My husband and I read this to our 15 year old son. He was dumbfounded that your child is so sensitive. If your son has acne perhaps you should be helping him. Washing his face, taking him it the dermatologist etc... Sounds like you were just upset that Jennifer called out your poor parenting skills. You already also divorced... Not a very good example for your children. I'm sure you have a solid reason to why you are no longer married, yadda yadda yadda. You should have chosen a better husband to have children with so your children could grow up in a two parent home. P.S. Calling your son Cartman? Now that's hurtful. Why is it your children even know about South Park? Just because it's animated doesn't mean it's for children. But I'm sure as a single parent you just park your kids in front of the tv.

I know, I know. Don't feed the trolls and all that. But I thought maybe my fellow divorced/single moms might get a kick out of this one. You know, yadda yadda yadda and all that.

So now, the Amway saga is over. Unless, of course, Amway Jennifer makes another sales pitch to one of my children.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go park my pussy kids in front of the tv while I try to grow a pair. Because that's what we single parents do. 






6/22/14

MomBrags: Things I'm So Glad I Did As A Parent

I've raised my kids the best I could. Made some mistakes along the way, but overall I think so far, so good. Two of my kids have made it through high school, and this fall I'll be the one convulsing with ugly cry face as I pack up my daughter and plop her on a college campus a few hours away from here (my eldest goes to college here in town so he was spared the theatrics). The other two will be 11th and 9th graders. As we sat at my daughter's commencement ceremony a few weeks ago, my son Henry whispered in my ear: "Just think, Mom. In four years you'll be sitting at our last high school graduation!". Thanks, Henry. I didn't need that mascara anyway.

At many grad parties, it's common for people to put together collages or videos of pictures featuring their child throughout the years. As I sat on the living room floor one night, getting the collages ready for my daughter's party, I found myself reminiscing about those chaotic, crazy times when the kids were younger, the days were never-ending, and my knees didn't make those gross crunchy sounds when I walked up stairs.

There is a never-ending barrage of experts telling us what we, as parents, are doing wrong. Lists of all the ways we're ruining their psyches, their immune systems, their futures. All of these so-called "experts" are so quick, and eager, to point out our shortcomings as parents. I call bullshit on this current trend of parent-shaming.

We need to brag a little bit. No, not the annoying hipster parent humblebrag crap: "This. Barnee taught himself Mandarin over the weekend! Potty training should be a breeze!" (complete with an Instagram shot of the diaper-clad linguist conversing with a panda. Valencia filter.) Sometimes the best things we do as parents are the things we do without intent, the things we say and do and model for them on a daily basis. We need to look for these things, and pat ourselves on the back for doing them.

As I looked over 18 year's worth of pictures, I decided to do a little MomBragging of my own.

THINGS I'M SO GLAD I DID:

1. On countless spring and summer days, I picked my kids up by the arms (and sometimes by an arm and a leg) and swung their impossibly light, tiny bodies around and around out on the front lawn. We'd twirl around until we were too dizzy to continue, and we'd fall together, into a heap on the soft, cool grass. I remember looking down at their wee faces as we spun around, and the sweet symphony of their voices crying out "One more time, mommy!". Oh man. If only I could pick up one of these 6 footers now...

2.  Took them to see a midnight premiere of a loud, action-filled movie of questionable appropriateness. More than once. I will never forget how excited they were to break all the rules and stay up way too late and eat popcorn in a theater in the middle of the night. And neither will they.

3.  Let them fail. Let them lose. Let them experience the natural consequences that their actions and choices cause. Now, I'm not saying I kept a bonfire burning in the living room or stored silverware next to the outlets. But they have learned some valuable life lessons: if you don't do your homework, your grades suffer. If you decide to skip a practice, your coach might not let you play in the next game. If you lie, the truth will probably come out at some point down the road. You want to spend that whole paycheck? Okay. But don't come to me when your friends want to go see a movie and all you have is some pocket lint and that awesome Playstation game that you just had to have.

Not all consequences are bad, though. They know that working their butts off for a good grade results in...you guessed it! A good grade. That lending a hand to someone in need not only feels good, but chances are that person will be the first in line to help you when you need it. Choosing to say no to that beer or that joint at the party means your parents get the good kind of call from a cop in the middle of the night.

4.  Lost my shit in front of them. And I mean, really lost my shit. They've seen me crying, seen me mad, seen me grieve. More importantly, they've seen me get over the crying, the anger and the grief. I've let them know when I'm feeling blue, and that sometimes it's just a blue kind of day. I've also shared my joys with them, and let them see me squeee with excitement when something good happens to one of us. I want my kids to know that emotions are like a roller coaster: they go up and down, they can be exciting and terrifying. And we all experience them.

5.  Learned how to manage money, and as I did...they did as well. I went through a divorce that was financially devastating. After being a stay-at-home mom for a dozen years, I found myself without an income and without many opportunities to earn one. Going through bankruptcy and foreclosure meant I had to start from scratch. It's been a struggle but also one hell of an education; when you're broke you figure out pretty quickly the difference between Wants and Needs. As soon as my kids started earning money, whether it was from babysitting, helping grandpa with his rental properties or their first jobs, we marched into the bank and opened accounts. My two oldest are paying for a big chunk of their college educations with their own money...and the other two are on track to do the same. Proud mom here.

6.  Hugged trees, saved baby squirrels, helped turtles cross roads and recycled like a mofo. My friends give me all sorts of crap for being the bleeding-heart nature freak I am, and I guess it's kind of deserved. But my kids have known right from the get-go that we share this planet with all sorts of other living creatures and it's our duty to treat them with respect. You may think our catch-and-release policy for bugs in the house is cuckoo, but like I say to my doubters...if we get to heaven and find out spiders are in charge I won't look so crazy, will I?

Rocky and Bullwinkle on their way to the Squirrel Rehab lady.


7. Pushed, and I mean REALLY pushed saying "Please" and "Thank You". You can say what you want about my children, but they are unfailingly polite. Ever been out with someone who is an a-hole to servers or cashiers? It's embarrassing, and it's rude. I'm happy that my kids won't be that a-hole.

8. Taught them the value of a heartfelt apology. And also, that an apology isn't a guarantee of absolution. Some hurts are so big that it may take days, months, even years to recover. Some hurts are irreversible. But by saying "I'm sorry", and really meaning it, you let the other person know where you stand.

9.  Laughed with them. Often. One morning my daughter missed the bus because she couldn't find her glasses. I ended up having to drive her, which meant I had to skip my shower or be late for work. I was seething a little as we set out for school, and she was still bitchy after her "can't find my glasses" meltdown. The car ride could have been an icy one, but I decided to warm it up. I told her about the time I was on a date with the guy we now call Mullet Man. Mullet Man and I were in his car, on our way to a restaurant. The windows were down, and we were chatting away when, out of nowhere, a plastic bag blew into the car and wrapped itself around his face. Luckily, he removed it quickly and we weren't in danger, but OMG. The laughs. As I told my crabby girl this story, her face softened and as she got out of the car we were both giggling. Laughs win.

10. Tell them how much I love them. As often as possible. When things are going good, it's nice to hear. When things are going bad, it's essential. Phone calls are usually closed with an "I love you." When someone leaves the house they are accompanied by an "I love you!" and much to their chagrin, usually a "Make good choices!" too. Always say I love you.

How about you? I bet you can rattle off plenty MomBrags of your own. Go ahead, take a few moments and think about the good things you've done as a parent. The things you don't need an expert to tell you whether it was wrong or right.

You deserve a pat on the back, my friend. We all do.








6/20/14

Hello From Under My Rock

Is anyone still here?

I have started, and not finished, about 20 posts in the past few weeks. None of them have seen the light of day. A couple of them might. I've written one about how someone from Amway totally made my day, one about how MomBragging needs to become a thing, one about secrets, one about how long it's been since I've done anything that even remotely resembles sex (dreams involving Louis CK and/or Googling "Jon Hamm commando" don't count) and one about how being laid off and then looking for a job is WAY too much like getting divorced and having to start dating again. Any of these sound interesting?

Our little family had one of our craziest, busiest weeks evah. In the span of 7 days, the following happened:

My school-year preschoolers graduated (and I cried like a mofo).
The eldest of my brood, Charlie, finished off another semester of college with near-perfect grades and began working for Whole Foods (yay for grassfed beef 20% off, amirite??) along with starting an internship with my ex-father in law's business.
William and Henry finished 8th and 10th grade, respectively. And as far as I know, both are being allowed back in the next grade up come September.
I got my first haircut since last May. I call it the annual "Shearing of the Duggar" and I'm pretty sure my kickass friend Kathryn, who cut my hair, found a few small animals nesting on my head but had the class to not say anything about it. I heart you, Kathryn!
Family Circle magazine sent a professional photographer out to my house for a photo shoot. They are publishing one of my essays in an upcoming issue and needed pics of me and all dem babies of mine. I was sweating profusely because I was encased in Spanx from my armpits to my knees but the photographer (and his assistant/wife) were kind and let me sip an ice cold martini between shots. Since martinis make me super sexy and funny I'm sure the last few pictures were the best (winky face here). I loathe having my picture taken, so this was a really tough thing. I'm fat; I have a rogue front tooth that's moving forward, giving me a hillbilly smile and there was sweat beading on my face faster than I could mop it up. Please join me in praying that David Bowman is kind with the photoshopping. (David, if you happen to be reading, I'd do just about anything for shoulders and smaller upper arms. Thanks!)


That's my sweat on the driveway. Just kidding. 


Molly, my girl, graduated from high school. She is, as my kids used to say when they were wee, "all dunny". Done. Finito. The end. The school does a remarkable job of getting 600+ kids all graduated in 2 hours. I have to complain about one thing, though: people who take off after their kid's name has been called. Now, I can hear the "BUTS" already: "But we had to get out of there! But our last name is Aardvaark, bitch!" "But we had to go secure the best spot for after-grad pictures!" I don't care. Two of you decided to leave and walked right in front of me at the exact same moment my daughter grabbed hold of her diploma. You know those once-in-a-lifetime things you can't ever recreate? That was one of them. Hope you avoided the traffic successfully, assholes.
Less than 24 hours after she graduated, we had her party. Psycho doesn't begin to explain my state of mind that day. My apologies to my children. And to my BFF's kids, who tried to come over early and nosh on the grub. I might have screamed at them with a horrifying, guttural, demonic voice to "GET OUT!! PARTY STARTS AT 6!!!". I hope that wasn't pee I saw streaming down the leg of the younger one as they booked it far away from the sweaty screaming banshee. The party was a success, despite a lower-than-hoped turnout by people and a higher-than-hoped turnout by raindrops and mosquitoes. I have this amazing circle of hens who have been there for me through pretty much everything, and I was really glad to close the party down with most of them. Molly decided to buy herself a Macbook for college and as I type this I'm giving her dirty looks to finish writing thank you notes. Two grad parties, down- two to go.

Phew.

I guess I could say that being busy has kept me from writing. But that would be a lie. The truth is, I'm feeling frozen. Paralyzed. The job search is not going so great. Thinking about Molly leaving for school is filling me with dread...not so much because she's leaving, but because I'm terrified about money and all the things it pays for and not having enough of it for everything.

A friend of mine made a comment on a facebook post the other day. We were discussing heroin, of all things, and how it's making a huge comeback (more on this later, but OMG it's bad). I was clueless about this latest "thing" and my friend said: "I think you've been under a rock..". At first I was kind of like, "Say what??" and then I realized that she was right.

I have been living under a rock. Not just about heroin, but about everything. It's safe and cool under here, and I can't see things that are looming: kids leaving the nest, my job ending in two months, the fact that my joy has kind of left the building. I wouldn't call my rock depression, but I would say that it's a close relative. Maybe a second cousin.

I'm glad my friend made that comment, because in turn, it made me think. As cozy as it is under this rock, I need to get out from under it and face things. Life doesn't stop happening just because some of us find it too scary or too unpredictable to handle. And for those of us who hide from it, who do a great job of pretending that everything is JUST FINE when inside we are reeling with anxiety and doubt and worry...that's not good. Because we are missing out.

Thank you to everyone who has commented or emailed or nudged me over the past few weeks. It feels really nice to be missed, even if the reason I've been missing isn't super fun.



5/22/14

I Am Not A Chimpanzee. And You, Ma'am, Are No Jane Goodall

Imagine, for a moment, that your husband has just told you he's leaving. He's in love with another woman, and he's leaving you.

Now, imagine that he says, "But before I go, I'd like my girlfriend to come over here and observe you going about your day. So she knows what to do when she takes over."

This was one of the many scenarios that I imagined the other day. The day that the woman who is getting my job came to "observe" me, so she knows what to do when she takes over in September.

When my boss, the lead teacher, told me about this plan, I kind of giggled. I thought it was funny. "How odd!" I thought. I tried to remember which woman it was who observed chimpanzees. I get the chimp one and the gorilla one mixed up, okay? Jane. Jane Goodall was the chimps, Dian Fossey had the gorillas. So I started calling my replacement "Jane Goodall" in my head because I am more chimp-like than gorilla like. I have small shoulders.

So I imagined Jane Goodall coming to our classroom, and hunkering down behind one of the little shelves...furiously scribbling in a small notebook as she took note of my fascinating workday. In my imagination, she also wore a pith helmet.

"This morning, I observed the subject feeding breakfast to approximately 15 young. She displayed great patience while they cried out her name repeatedly and asked for more pears."

"At 9:00 a.m., the subject suddenly left the room. I was able to follow her trail and found her relieving herself. NOTE: after this mid-morning elimination, the subject was much more relaxed."

"After she had successfully gotten approximately 20 young to sleep for 'nap time', I noted the subject peering into the screen of a laptop. I approached the subject carefully, not wanting to disturb her. I noted that she was looking up 'FOOT PAIN' on a website called 'WebMd'. NOTE: Subject was wearing flip flops and a crude pedicure."

"The subject was wary around me. At times she showed her teeth and I was unsure if this was an attempt to be friendly or a warning."

A few things crossed my mind that day. One of them was, OMG. Could this be any more awkward or humiliating? I mean, it's bad enough to get laid off. But then, they expect me to be all shits and giggles while the person who is taking my job comes to watch me do it?

I know, I know. IT'S NOT HER FAULT. Her only crime is having more years under her belt than me. But dammit. It was really hard to be kind. Especially when she kept asking me the same question, over and over, in a very hard to understand, very heavy accent:

"What are you doing?"

She must have asked me this question a hundred times. The first forty times or so, I answered her. I had to explain to her, very slowly, what I was doing, why I was doing it. There was a slight communication issue. Aside from giving her a blow-by-blow account of my every move, I also had to do my actual job. The kids didn't turn it down a notch because Jane Goodall was in the room observing their Miss Jenny. They went about their day, being kids. Loud, active, brash and bold and did I mention loud?

My kindness waned.

Again, I reminded myself, IT'S NOT HER FAULT. But you know what? I'm human. And while she stood there, staring at me, writing things down, and asking me over and over,

"What are you doing?"

I felt an ugly wave of emotions rolling over me. I was mad. I was sad. I found it absolutely repugnant that someone thought this was a good idea. I started to think about how much I like my job and how much fun I have and how this past year has been so freaking good. So good for me, for my kids. I thought about the job search and how hard it is and what it's like to be middle-aged and scared and how sick and tired I am of being middle-aged and scared. And then I thought:

"Fuck this." (sorry) (actually, not sorry. This was a fucked up situation, folks. F-bomb entirely called for.)

I stopped answering her and I did my job. I decided if the powers-that-be wanted her to learn the ropes, they could give me a paid day off and have Jane MotherEffing Goodall come in and do it.

She wanted to observe me? Fine. I felt zero obligation to stop what I was doing and tell her "NOW I AM ORGANIZING THE CHILDREN'S JOURNALS" or "NOW I AM CUTTING THESE STRIPS TO MAKE LITTLE GRADUATION CAPS FOR THE CHILDREN" or "THAT CHILD WAS UPSET SO I WAS COMFORTING HER".

She asked me, one more time:

"What are you doing?"

I looked at her, looked at this Jane Goodall person, this person I was having trouble understanding. This person I was having trouble liking.

I looked into her eyes and I said,

"I'm doing my job."

Jane Goodall's visit happened earlier this week, and it affected me more than I thought. Today I lost it at work. No worries, the kids were napping. But I straight up lost it, crying and dabbing my eyes with paper towels in the lead teacher's tiny office. I told her how shitty this was, how freaking scared I was. How it felt like I was getting dumped by my husband all over again, and having Jane G. there to watch me was so wrong. I told her I'm scared that I won't find a good-enough job, and I won't be able to stay in this house and how I don't want my kids to ever have to move again, ever have to pack up their stuff and leave. How I'm terrified that we'll have to move somewhere small and cheap and give Walter away and how Molly will have to leave college and she'll hate me.

Oh, and the handle on my car broke. The one on the driver's side. So while I try and figure out how to get that mother effer fixed, I'm going to have to either leave the window down all the time or else swing into my car like freaking Bo and Luke Duke.

It's all going to be okay. I'm just going to keep telling myself that. Everything always works out okay.



"Subject has calmed down since her last episode. During my observations, I noted that she has big feelings and cannot hide them, no matter how hard she tries. Her obvious contempt for me was overshadowed only by the guilt she exhibited for having such contemptuous feelings. She approached me, at the end of my observation period, and reached out. I was afraid, at first, until the subject spoke: "I'm sorry if I was rude to you." she said, slowly. "This is hard for me. I'm not a mean person. I hope you like working here."  







5/20/14

My Side of the Bed




Ahhh...the advice you get when going through a divorce. It's plentiful. Some of it's useful.

"Start dating, NOW. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to find another husband!"
"Say goodbye to your in-laws. Even the ones you thought were friends. Blood is thicker than water."
"If you don't already have one, get a vibrator. NOW."
"Go through all of your pictures and get rid of every single one of him! No reminders!"

If you know me even a little bit, you can guess which pieces of the above advice I took to heart. I'll give you a clue: only one of them. A couple more clues? I love my in-laws, to this day. I have pictures of my ex...not on the walls, but in books and in boxes. Because he's the father of my children and they will want them. And we all know how it's going for me on the dating front, 7 1/2 years later.

But there was one nugget of wisdom that surprised me. It made me think, and to this day it still whizzes through my mind almost every time I reach over and smack the snooze button on my alarm clock at 4:45 a.m.

"Start sleeping in the middle of the bed." 

It was handed to me during a long phone conversation with another mom at my kid's school. We weren't particularly close then, or now, but for some reason she reached out and wanted to talk. We chatted about marriage and affairs and fractured families and our children. We giggled about dating and sex, and about being tired mothers. And then she asked:

"Which side of the bed was yours?"

I remember the irony of that moment, as I had been clutching my cordless phone while perched on the end of said bed. I had looked up, and over at the head of the bed, at the four pillows neatly arranged there. Two on the left, two on the right. The lone nightstand was as it had always been, before and during the marriage. On the right.

Back in the Time Before Lawyers, my husband had the right side. He was the one who had to be up and out of the house, before my day as a stay-at-home-mom began. Our tiny master bedroom, in the old house we used to live in, barely had room for the queen bed and the tipsy nightstand and a big dresser. There was a long closet, with sliding wooden doors that became swollen and nearly impossible to move in the summer humidity. The alarm would go off, he'd silence it and then I remember, he'd sit on the side of the bed for a few moments. The right side of the bed, nearest the closet.

In the dark, I'd sometimes reach out and touch his back, a wordless good morning. Sometimes there would be a child between us...sometimes more than one. As the end of our marriage neared, I stopped reaching out, and instead would pull the covers tighter over me and turn to face to cool wall on the left side of the bed. A different kind of wordless good morning.

When he first left, I had trouble sleeping. I was scared and certain that at any given moment during the night, bands of thieves, sexual predators and serial killers were convening outside, playing rock-paper-scissors to see who'd get first dibs on the single woman and her babies. I spent most nights on the couch, with an aluminum baseball bat.

On those nights when I did use the bed, I was rarely alone. Although my children will vehemently deny it, for a while we had a family bed. The five of us would become a human Tetris game, fitting seamlessly together as we dreamed the dreams of a family in flux. The left side was still my territory though, even if it meant traversing a small mountain of long, bony arms and legs and soft, sweet smelling heads to smack the snooze button.

I tried sleeping in the middle, tried taking my friend's advice. And every single morning I'd wake to find that during the night there was a migration to the left. I often say that I enjoy living on the edge; apparently I like to sleep there, too.

Time has passed, and the unfamiliar has become the norm. Oh, a kid will still sneak in now and then, sometimes just to talk, sometimes falling asleep like they did when they were little. Most nights I butt up against Walter, my dog. He snores, and when he dreams of chasing squirrels and bunnies, his paws twitch. I don't mind it at all.

On rare occasions, someone else will join me. Note the word "rare". Some of these bedfellows (I love when a word can be used super literally) you know by their monikers, some will never be written about. A girl has to play a few cards close to the vest, you know.

But for the most part, my bed is mine. The sheets are cool and clean and soft, and the four pillows are almost always arranged neatly at the head of the bed. Two on the left, two on the right. The master bedroom in this house is large, there is plenty of room for the queen bed, a nightstand and a big dresser.

Only now, the nightstand is on the left. My side of the bed.

5/18/14

Video: "Voice of the Child of Divorce" Now With 100% More Guilt!

Several people have shared this video with me over the past couple of days. I didn't watch it for a few reasons...mainly because I thought it would make me sad. One morning, however, I decided to give it a go. The friend who shared it with me (a wonderful and loving person, by the way, this post is not meant to disparage her) warned me to "grab a box of tissues" before watching it.

Turns out, I didn't need tissues. Go ahead, watch it now:


Am I the only one who thinks he looks a little like the youngest kid on Weeds? Shane Botwin? Amirite?

Okay. No way a child wrote that. Nope. Not unless there's a Doogie Howser of Divorced Kids out there. This was a script written by an adult with an agenda. Read by a kid in order to tweak emotions and to drive the point home. And that point?

Divorce is bad. If you get a divorce, your children are screwed. Children of divorce are doomed. Selfish people who get divorces are ruining their children's lives. And so on, and so forth. Got it?

A little bit of research led me to the maker of the video, Monica Epperson. Epperson is the co-founder of a non-profit called The Child of Divorce. The mission of this non-profit is "to give children of divorce a voice- and age is irrelevant". A little bit more research led me to discover that Epperson is, not surprisingly, a child of divorce herself. Her parents divorced before she was one, and her mother remarried, and divorced, 4 more times before she was 12.

She experienced 5 divorces. In an interview she spoke about the revolving door of men, of step-fathers in her life, and how she learned from a way, way too early age that eventually, everybody leaves. My heart goes out to her, however, I think I see where the agenda comes from.

Listen, I'm not going to argue with anyone about how bad divorce is for kids. Having gone through it as a kid, and watching my four children deal with it for the past several years, I know firsthand how crappy it is. No matter how great the ex-spouses get along, no matter how evenly divided the parenting times are, no matter how well-cared for the children are, it's going to suck.

And God help all of you if it's a messy divorce. Because "suck" doesn't even begin to describe that.

However, this video does nothing to help anyone. It's shaming those of us who have had to make the tough choice to divorce and it's giving fodder to those who think parents who divorce are selfish, awful people who don't give a shit about their kids.

Are there people like that? People who put themselves, their wants and needs before those of their children? Of course there are. Every divorce is different, but they all end the same: a once intact family is broken. Does that mean, as this video says, that parents who divorce are telling their children that "it is better to be right that to be loved?" Or that parents who divorce are "robbing their kids of their childhoods"? Or that when a parent decides there is no other option left but divorce, they are "not thinking of their children's futures"?

No, no, no. A thousand times no. Making the choice to pursue a divorce is not made lightly. You don't wake up one morning and say to yourself, "Gee...I have this extra $20,000 here and some spare afternoons. Say, why don't I get divorced!". There are always going to be those who do it and convince themselves that the children will bounce back, unscathed and absolutely tickled pink about having two houses and two Christmases and two Playstations. But the majority of parents who divorce do so with great trepidation and oh, oh...oh so much guilt.

In my case, I had no choice. My husband had moved out and into a home with his girlfriend. He refused to begin the proceedings, seemingly content to remain married on paper but apart in life. Calling a divorce attorney was one of the hardest things I've ever done.

But I had no other options.

Was I doing it to prove how right I was? Did I do it to rob my children of their childhoods? Did I sign the papers with nary a thought regarding my children's futures?

No. I did it in order to move on with my life. In order to keep life moving forward for myself, and more importantly, for my kids. I thought of my children's futures, and little else.

Most people in the throes of divorce are going to make some mistakes. Some big ones, some little ones. But mark my word, for people like me, people who fought for their marriages tooth and nail, who dragged their feet into that attorney's office...each mistake is like a tiny dagger in the heart. Things between the ex and I are quiet and civil now, but back when feelings were raw, self-doubt was rampant: "Did I just seal my daughter's fate as a spinster with daddy issues?" I'd ask myself if I slipped and said something derogatory about my ex. "Did one of my boys just become a misogynistic narcissist?" was the question du jour when it was revealed that their father had come up with a new, not-so-nice nickname for me at his house.

And what of those people who know, without a doubt, that their children would actually benefit from a divorce? What about the woman who is married to an abuser? Or the man struggling to keep his family together despite his wife's chronic substance abuse?

What about the couple who have tried, valiantly, to work on their marriage but both know it's not going to help? Are the children in these scenarios going to benefit from staying in a stressful, unhappy environment?

Or by making this choice, are these parents doing what Doogie says in the video: "At times you are risking my safety to fill a void in your heart."?

Thing is, those of us who worry about this kind of damage don't need anyone handing us more guilt. To quote Eddie Murphy in Trading Places, "There's plenty, you know."



And those parents who do go through the divorce process without considering their children's psyches and futures? They aren't watching videos like this. They aren't reading books about it, or consulting experts or even sitting at red lights, wondering, "Hey. My actions and choices may be harming my kids...should I check in with them and see if they're okay?"

This message is lost on them.

Like I said before, divorce isn't a fun thing. People don't torture themselves trying to decide if it's "divorce or DisneyWorld this year? Which one would the kids enjoy more?". But it is not the end of the world.

For some of us, it's the beginning of a new one. And pointing fingers isn't going to help us...or our kids.



INTERESTING TIDBIT: I was writing this on the porch, and my eldest child (20 years old) walked in. We were chatting a bit and I decided to bounce this post off him...you know, to get another "child of divorce" opinion.

He agreed with many points in the video, adding that as a child he would have preferred knowing nothing about the proceedings while the divorce was going down. He mentioned how awful it was having to go to school and listen while other kids talked about their moms and dads and families, while his world was being shaken up. Which gave me a lot to think about. And of course, some more guilt.

Sigh.










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