What do Led Zeppelin and Butt-Dialing have in common?

They both mark the end of another Jenny and McCain chapter. 

Yes, it's over.  Are you surprised?  I'm not.  In fact, I was actually very worried about this very thing happening.

I worried about it, big time, before the trip to Amsterdam.  I worried about it during the trip, and after.  When he first asked me to go there with him, I balked.  I refused!  I told him, flat out, "No way."

You know why?  BECAUSE I KNEW THIS WOULD HAPPEN.  And now I have guilt.

While I was wrestling with the decision, the "should I go?" question, I kept thinking one thing over and over.  I even expressed it to my friends.  I did not want to accept this most generous gift, this once-in-a-lifetime experience for many reasons, but the biggest reason of all was this:

I didn't want to feel obligated to him.  I don't want to feel obligated to ANYONE.  Especially to someone with whom I share such a tumultuous track record.  That nagging little voice in my head kept saying, "Don't!!  You'll be sorry!!".  But for whatever reason, I decided to ignore that little voice.  I thought mayhap things would be different this time. Maybe I was ready to stop over-analyzing things and to just sit back and enjoy something special and amazing and wonderful. 

For a little while, that's exactly what I did.  When you find yourself "stuck" with one other person 4,000 miles away from home and with exactly $210.00 in your checking account, you'd be amazed at how quickly the doubts and worries take a back seat. While we were on our trip, I did have fun.  And I was grateful.  Grateful for the chance to step outside my stressful, hard-knock life for four days and see the world.  Grateful for yummy dinners and canal rides and the opportunity to suck down a dirty martini on another continent. It was magical and fun.  I wasn't Broke Ass Jenny, I was World Traveler Jenny.  And it rocked.

It rocked, and then it was over.  We came back home and reality rolled back in like a pea-soup fog.  I was Broke Ass Jenny again, working and parenting and fretting and doing all of those special things that make me who I am.  And McCain went from being Gentleman Travel Companion to...well, back to McCain.

We went out to dinner a few times, a movie, a couple parties and even a double date.  He hung out with me and a couple of my hens.  One gave her approval, the other one was on the fence.  And I started remembering all of the reasons we never "clicked" as a couple.

You know those gut feelings we get, as women?  Those hunches that cannot be ignored?  Well, my gut was full of hunches.  And they were the same ones that had been there the first time McCain and I dated.  And the second.  And the third.

One of the hunches was centered around my kids.  Despite the fact that he and I had dated, off and on, for almost five years, he and my kids had never met.  This was partly on me, because that's always been my modus operandi:  DON'T INVOLVE THE KIDS.  But, then again, he had never expressed an interest in them.  Granted, the thought of meeting four kids can be daunting to anyone, least of all a confirmed bachelor who never had children.  Still...it was something that was on my mind, and one night I decided to bring it up.  Long story short, the conversation ended with him telling me, in so many words, that he was in no hurry to mingle with my babies.  In hindsight?  A good thing.

Here's where Led Zeppelin came in: we were in his car one night, on our way to or from dinner, and for some reason I asked him, "What's your favorite Led Zeppelin song?".  He replied, "I'm not sure who that is.  I'd have to hear it."

Now, let me say this.  I'm not like some Zeppelin freak (although I have friends who are, and I love them).  I don't go see the cover bands, I don't have a kid named Jimmy and I don't have the lyrics of Stairway to Heaven tattooed on my back.

But it's Led Zeppelin, okay? Love 'em, hate 'em, ambivalent or superfan, most people born between the years of 1950 and 1975 know who they are. If you're lucky, you saw them perform.  Me?  I listened to my Led Zep cassette tapes on my little Sony boombox and wept over "Going to California" in my bedroom for pretty much my entire 15th year of life. I dreamed of meeting a skinny dude in patchwork bell bottoms with long curly hair. I sang along to Kashmir and Babe I'm Gonna Leave You and yes, of course, Stairway to Heaven.

Hear this: I am not saying that this was the moment I knew it was over.  What it really was, was a red flag, a flashing warning light.  You see, one of the things about me and McCain is this:  we don't have anything in common.  Other than the fact that we both love to eat, and to be honest, that's kind of a human being thing so it doesn't seem all that special.  We are exactly 10 years apart in age, but it feels more like 30.  I felt that way when we'd be out and he'd talk to me like one would speak to a child (walking behind me shouting out directions: LEFT! RIGHT! STRAIGHT AHEAD!), when he told me that the television I watch is "junk" and when he shared with me that he'd spent an entire Saturday (day and night) watching Christmas movies about single moms and widows on Lifetime (also known as The Vagina Network). I felt that way when he'd chastise me for looking at my phone.  Yes, just looking at it. 

It was the Led Zeppelin incident that made me realize we don't have enough in common.  I'm not looking for a clone of myself (dear sweet baby Jesus, never in a million years) but there has to be some common ground, some shared cultural "stuff" to make things work.  I'm not stupid enough to think that I'm going to find some sweetly aging John Cusack type out there, who loves every single movie and show and song and book that I do, but I do know that there is someone out there who, to sort-of quote my BFF Danielle, "Is going to rock my world."

Throughout the past month or so, while the walls around the McCain/Jenny romance were beginning to crumble, I kept hearing the words of another friend.  A guy friend, a man who is married to an eBay hen of mine and is an amazing husband and dad.  He sent me a message on facebook just prior to the Amsterdam trip and he closed with these words:

Aren't you ready for some security and stability in your life, Jenny? You deserve it.

I am ready for that.  Security and stability?  Yes, please!  Supersized, if you can.

But I'm not ready to give up being ME in order to have those things.  I'm going to continue to watch questionable t.v. shows, I'm going to keep doing trivia with my nerds, I'm going to keep checking in at places on my phone when I'm out and about.  Because that's who I am.

The Butt-Dial?  That was the clincher.  I had already decided to cool it with McCain when I made a stupid, foolishly middle-aged lady mistake with my phone.  Driving around one day, I had my phone jammed between my squishy thighs.  You know, so I could find it fast if it rang.  I also happened to have someone in the car with me, and we happened to be discussing the concerns I was having with the whole McCain relationship.  I was telling this person my worries about all of the things I babbled about already, and also about another aspect of the man that troubled me.  An aspect which I will keep to myself for now, but one that sent those red flags and warning lights into a waving, blinking frenzy.

You can guess what happened.  I got a text from him a few minutes later, expressing anger and shock about what I'd said.  At first I was all, "What are you talking about?" but then I saw that not only had I called him (I guess this could be called "thigh-dialing"?) but he had listened to me for 3 1/2 minutes.  I felt truly awful.  Truly.  My cheeks were burning, my heart raced.  I told the person I was with and together we pieced together what he had overheard. 

And it was bad.  Granted, he probably heard the gist of it out of context, but it was bad.  I felt like a huge bitch.  You can call me that, I'm owning this one.  It was a crass, insensitive and bitchy thing I did.  But it happened.

What else could I do, but apologize.  Which I did.  He was understandably pissed, hurt, offended...you name it.  I goofed. Big time.

But here's the weird part:  along with feeling all of those ashamed and awkward things, I also felt a tinge of relief.  Because the concerns I had been discussing were bothering me, bothering me something fierce, and I can't think of another way I could have ever brought those things up with him without the same end result.

We exchanged a few terse texts, I apologized again.  And that was it.

I feel shitty about the thigh-dial. If you know me at all, you know the last thing I want to do is intentionally hurt someone (yes, the two of you who are rolling your eyes, it's true...).  However, I am the kind of gal who tries to find silver linings in otherwise dark clouds.  I came away from this experience with one:

Silver Lining:  I could have gone for security and stability with McCain.  I could have sucked it up, ignored the red flags and the warning signs and hopped onto his coattails for a life of comfort.  I could have been one of those women who followed the dollar signs instead of their hearts.  When I first started seeing McCain again, one of my friends said to me, "Shit, Jenny, if he has money and he's into you, grab on and don't let go.  The first time you marry for love, the second time it's for money!".  Now, I love this friend and don't think I didn't consider what she said.  But if and when I marry for a second time?

It's gonna be for love.

And if this were a cheesy Lifetime movie, I'd end it with this:

We'll always have Amsterdam.


My New Year Resolution: To Stop Being Divorced!

No, I'm not getting married.  (hoo boy, I have some stuff to discuss on the relationship front, but more about that later..in a blog post tentatively titled "The Blogger and the Bad Butt-dial").

And yes, I am the same woman who has eschewed New Year resolutions in the past.  But here's the deal:  I'm tired of being divorced.  I'm tired of talking about it, writing about it, blaming everything on it. 

It happened, that can't be denied.  Did it hurt?  Hell yes.  Was it fair?  Hell no. 

Does it define me? 

Not anymore.

For the past six years, I have been Divorced.  For a long time, it was pretty much the only thing that you needed to know about me. 

"This is Jenny.  She's divorced."

Everything else was secondary.  The fact that I have four kids, that I can make people laugh, that I'm messy, that I can draw a really good picture of a deer...none of that mattered for a long time. 

It's my fault, really.  No, not the divorce.  I still blame that on my ass of an ex and the troll he was banging.  But letting myself become Divorced Jenny, rather than Just Jenny...that was mostly my doing.  I let it become my personae, my identity.  I talked about it, over wine and at classroom parties and in the grocery store parking lot. If you knew me more than five minutes, you knew I was divorced.  And in some ways, that's okay.  It's to be expected, when one has their heart ripped out, for one to walk around and want to discuss the fact that their heart was ripped out.  Talking about stuff like that is good.  It helps you process things, it lets others know that you're hurting and might need some extra love and maybe some comfort food.  It allows you to work through the grief and the rage. 

I wouldn't have started this blog if I hadn't been Divorced Jenny.  I was getting to that point most of us Divorced People eventually get to, that point where you see eyes starting to glaze over at the mention of the "D" word, where you find yourself repeating scary stories of lawyers and your kids finding lube at daddy's house so much that even your bestest of friends can no longer feign interest.

So I started writing about it, instead.  And that helped.  It not only helped me, more than I could have ever imagined it would, but it helped a lot of other ladies out there. And it still is. Every single day, dozens of women find my stories by typing "what to do when your husband leaves" into Bing or Google.  They stay, sometimes for hours, and peruse my ramblings. Sometimes they leave comments, sometimes they send me an email.  Sometimes they just read.  And that's good.  That's one good thing that came out of me being Divorced Jenny. I've helped some others through their dark moments. 

And writing here has opened a few other doors for me, as well.  Doors of all shapes and sizes, doors I wouldn't have found had it not been for this crazy diary of mine.  So yeah, I can say that being Divorced Jenny hasn't been all bad.

But now it's time for me to start remembering who I really am. Who I was before. Who I am becoming, who I will be. 

Oh yes, I will always be divorced.  But it's my hope that in 2013, and the years that follow, my divorce will end up being something like a bad, tiny tattoo on some hidden slope of my body.  Something I vaguely remember doing, something I may regret...but something that I don't see every time I look in the mirror. 

Enjoy the rest of 2012, my friends.  This year has been a sad one, for many of my friends and for so many in the world.  I hope that the remaining five days in 2012 are peaceful ones, days that we use to remember loved ones who are no longer here and to cherish those who are. 

Divorced Jenny, over and out. 


When I Think of Being Six

I think of my childhood, and my children at that age.

I think of the hundreds of six year olds I've had the honor of working with, and knowing, and loving over the past seven years.

I think of endearing speech impediments and chubby cheeks and missing teeth.

I think of furrowed little brows as they learn to master the scissors.

I think of their little shoes...the light up sneakers, the patent Mary Janes with scuffed toes, the tiny cowboy boots.

I think of their conversations I've overheard, wherein they discuss the mysteries of the universe.

I think of the squeals of joy when they discover, once again, that it's Monday and that means they get chocolate milk.

I think of knock knock jokes.

I think of fat crayons and drawings of houses and suns and clouds and trucks.

I think of them walking down the hall towards the playground, the "clomp clomp" of their winter boots and the "swish swish" of their snow pants.  I think of them charging out into the fresh snow and their runny noses and bright pink cheeks.

I think of how the scariest thing in the world is the boogie man under the bed or the memory of being lost that time at Target and how mommy cried when she finally found you.

I think of pink and blue and green backpacks strapped onto impossibly small shoulders on the first day of school.

I think of warm little hands reaching for mine as we walk together, of hugs and bright shining eyes and most of all...I think of their innocence.

I don't want to think of a six year old being hurt.  I don't want to think of one of them being terrified, not even for a second.  I don't want to think of being the parent of a six year old and waiting outside of a fire station, watching other kids run into the arms of their parents and thinking, "Where is my baby?".  I don't want to think of what happens to a little six year old boy who has something so broken in his head that he grows into a delusional, angry and murderous twenty year old.

I don't want to think of those things.  None of us do.  But today, we're thinking all of these things.  We are thinking of them, and crying, and praying and looking at our own children with a new set of eyes.  We are thinking of parents who have abruptly lost what is most precious to them, and how they are coping.  We are thinking of teachers who became super heroes in the blink of an eye.  We are thinking about guns and mental illness and what should be done about both of them.

I'm going to think about the good things now.  I can't think of the bad ones anymore.  I think, in order to honor those sweet babies, we need to carry on and face the world with a new kindness.  An awareness, too.  This is the time to love those six year olds, and the seven year olds and the little babies and the awkward tweens.  It's time to love, and watch, and be aware of the older kids, the ones who are no longer so adorable and innocent and who now wear giant basketball shoes and Ugg boots and more often than not, a scowl or a disinterested face.  It's time to walk down the halls of our schools and say Thank You to the teachers who love our kids for seven hours a day, who will be walking into their classrooms tomorrow morning and imagining what they'd do in the face of a horrifying lockdown.  It's time to reach out to the moms and the dads who seem to be struggling with their kid, who may need some help or maybe just a shoulder to cry on. 

I'm going to go to my school this week, and at the risk of being creepy I'm going to love each kid I see, whether it's with a hug, a pat on the back, a high five or just an exchange of smiles.  It's something I do on a daily basis...I truly love the kids I work with and can't imagine doing anything else but love them.  But this week, and the weeks after that...I'm going to love them even more.  I want them to feel safe.  I want them to feel secure.

I want them to feel like kids.


Sesame Street: D is for Divorce?

Have you heard?  Sesame Street is tackling the issue of divorce.  It's not the first time, apparently they wrote and shot a segment on divorce in the 90's (ironically featuring the most endearing depressed character ever, Snuffelupagus) but amazingly during screenings it made people sad so they scrapped it.

They've decided to give it a go again.  You can see some of the video segments on the Sesame Street website.  Yes, my kids are way beyond the Sesame Street phase of life, but I found out about this via a blog post on the HuffPost Divorce site.  I read that post, watched the videos and came to this conclusion:

D is for Divorce, and that's not good enough for me (sorry, Cookie Monster).

Don't get me wrong:  I'm not saying that I think the fact that this iconic television show/media entity is addressing divorce is bad or wrong; had this "kit" (as they call it on the website) been available when my marriage first started unraveling and the kids were younger I may have given it a shot.  What I have an issue with is the ideas about it that they appear to be expressing.  It's kind of like they're glossing over it, like covering marks and flaws on a wall with primer before putting down the final coat of paint.

Yes, I understand that this is a show for preschoolers.  I get that they aren't going to have Oscar the Grouch sitting on a therapist's couch talking about abandonment issues and troubles with his self-worth that stem from his parent's divorce.

But...from what I read in the HuffPost blogger's article, and from what I saw in the videos on the website, I think that they are making it seem like divorce is just another easy-breezy solution to one of life's pesky problems.  It reminded me of a segment that could have aired, titled "Jimmy Gets His Tonsils Removed".  Only this one is about a Muppet Fairy who has two houses now.

My biggest problem with this whole thing is a two-parter.  First part is, they are showing divorce from the perspective of a character whose parents divorced very amicably, and what seems to be at least a couple of years in the past.  She explains to her curious friends, with the help of Gordon, that nothing has changed, that "Mommy is still my mommy and Daddy is still my daddy".  Which is GREAT.  What I wish they would address, though, is the inevitable sadness, the worry and yes, the grief that happens when divorce hits a family.  This seems a little too light and sparkly (and yes again I have to remind myself it's for wee little ones) but having been a parent to little ones and also as someone who works with preschoolers, I can attest to the fact that they do indeed hurt during this process.  They hurt big, no matter how easy Mom and Dad may make it look .

I think the group that will benefit the most from this are the friends and classmates of the kids who are going through divorce.  It may make it easier for them to understand what is meant by "divorce" and why some days Sophia gets dropped off at her mommy's house and sometimes at Daddy's. 

My marital status very, very rarely comes up when I'm working around kids, but when it does, sometimes you'd think I just told them that I eat puppies for dinner.  "What do you mean, Miss Jenny...there is no DADDY at your house?".  In cases like this, maybe it will make things less uncomfortable for the kids who are going through a divorce.  And that's not a bad thing.

The second part that rubs me the wrong way about giving divorce the Sesame Street treatment is this:  I think it's planting a little seed in the very open, very absorbent minds of young, developing kids:  divorce is okay.  Divorce is what happens when mommy and daddy decide they don't want to/cannot live with each other anymore. Hey, you get two houses!  Your dad will still get down on all fours and give you horsey rides!  Mom will carve pumpkins with you!

For some kids, that is how it all goes down.  Mom and Dad decide, as a couple, that things just aren't repairable.  They both approach the divorce with preparedness, and an acceptance, knowing that this was a decision made by both parties.  These are the kids, in my humble opinion, that this video kit was made for.  I'm not denying that these kids are sad, and I'm not saying that their sadness is any less valid than any other children's sadness. 

But...and there's always a but...for many kids, and many parents, this is not how divorce happens.  Some kids wake up one day and Daddy has moved out, the hangers in his side of the closet now empty and his car gone from the garage.  Some kids don't see Mommy for a few weeks or even months at a time, and when they do, it's in the parking lot of some stupid restaurant approximately halfway between her house and daddy's house.

For some kids, time at Daddy's house means meeting a string of girlfriends.  Sometimes Mommy ends up living with someone who isn't exactly father-of-the-year material.

For some kids, Mommy and Daddy aren't going to sit on the couch side by side and tell them how sad they are that their marriage is ending.  Some Mommies and Daddies don't talk to each other, sometimes they can't even look at each other.  Some kids, sadly, end up being the messengers..."Dad said he can't take us on Thursday because he has a party to go to" or "Mom wants us to be home a little earlier tonight".

Unfortunately, from what I've read and heard and experienced, that's how a lot of divorces pan out.

The blogger on the HuffPost site closed her post (which I really did enjoy, and I'm not dissing her point of view at all here) by saying:

Divorce isn't necessarily bad. Divorce doesn't have to be a huge change. Divorce can be good. Divorce is not different. Divorce is change.

This is where I have to respectfully disagree.  And this is where I find myself not liking the "divorce is okay" state of mind.

Divorce is a huge change.  It's massive.  Aside from a parent dying, I can't think of anything else that will impact a child more than divorce.  Denying that is not only dismissive, it's kind of insulting to the child (and the adults) who do feel the change, feel it down to their core. 

Divorce is different.  If a child has been living with mommy and daddy, as a family, from day one?  Divorce is very different.  It is something that, like my ex said as he left, "happens every day", and yes, people do move on from it, but don't fool yourself:  it's different.  Even under the most ideal circumstances, anyone involved in the divorce is going to feel that difference.  Mom, dad, kids, grandparents, friends...nothing is ever quite the same.  Is it bad?  No, not necessarily.  Sometimes it IS good.  But it's always different.

And I guess that is what really makes this whole thing stick in my craw a bit:  I don't want my kids to grow up thinking that divorce is a great alternative to marriage.  I don't want them going into a marriage thinking, "Meh...if this doesn't work out, we can always get divorced."  I want my kids to recognize not only the importance of marriage (or a partnership, I can be progressive, ya know), but the meaning of commitment.  I want them to go into their adult lives knowing how to make well thought-out choices and be the kind of people who will go that extra mile to make things work.  Not only in their relationships, but in every aspect of life. 

I want my kids to be the kind of spouses for whom divorce is the very, very last, the very rock-bottom option.

I'm not stupid.  I'm not living in a fantasy world.  Life doesn't always work out how we think it will.  People change, life changes.  Nothing is guaranteed, and nothing is a certainty.  But I'd like to think that maybe, just maybe, if divorce wasn't so readily available, such a viable option, things would be a lot different for so many people.  I'd like to hear more stories of people who have worked through their differences, people who thought about quitting but decided that the time and blood and sweat and tears that they've invested in their families is worth giving it everything they've got. Call me naive, if you will.  But that's how I feel.

Yes, this is my reaction to a simple little video on Sesame Street.  You should have seen me when Cookie Monster started rapping about healthy foods.

Please let me know what you think about all of this...I'm curious to find out if my own "big feelings" have muddled my views, or if others have similar opinions.

Happy 12/12/12, everyone! 


The Truth about Consequences. And Ripples.

It's one of the first life lessons we learn:  for every action, there is a consequence.

We cry.  We're fed.
We try to walk. We stumble.
We touch a hot stove.  We get burned.

It's something that is so inherent, so deeply imprinted into our brains that we don't even think about how many hundreds, thousands, of times a day we go through the action/consequence do-si-do.

Truth is, everything we do causes a ripple effect.  Some are tiny, one-ringed little plops on the surface of the universe.  Others are like earthquakes, causing shockwaves that reverberate across our emotional, and physical landscapes for what seems like eternity.

Last night, I got a message from a friend on facebook.  I was out on a date, and checked my phone as we left the theater after seeing "Skyfall" (kick ass movie, my friends...kick.ass.).  The friend is someone I've known for several years, we met when my now 18 year old was in elementary school with her son.  Not close, by any definition, but according to the facebook, we're friends.

It was one of those things that shocks you out of the lull you're in.  Pulls you out of the comfort zone and back into the cold reality of life.  One second you're babbling on about Daniel Craig's amazing shoulders, the next second you're reliving your divorce.

The message said:

"Are you related to XXXX?"  Insert the name of my ex-husband's newish wife in place of XXXX.  Insert fist into my gut, too, while you're at it.  Because that's what it feels like, even after 6 years have passed, to have that name intrude into my day.

I hesitated a second, wondering what the protocol was for answering messages such as this.  I wondered why she was asking...are they friends?  Did XXXX mention me to someone?  Do I take the high road, and just respond with a simple "No."?

Of course this is how I answered:

"She's the skank my husband left me for.  So I guess in a way we're related.  Ha."  Because I am usually a high-roader, but last night I decided to test the driving conditions on the low road.  Conditions were, as they usually are, slippery.  I felt badly about that answer almost as soon as I sent it, hoped I hadn't crossed a line or started something nasty.

She quickly typed back:

"Is she in the xxxx business?  Young?".   Again with the fist to the gut.  Young?  I remember when people would use that word to describe me.  Will the insult of being left for someone younger ever lose its sting, its strength?

I confirmed both things in my next message:

"Oh yes.  And yes.  Why??  Did you cross paths?"  I was still wondering how this all came about.

I won't divulge any more of my friend's responses, since it is, after all, personal.  But the gist of it is this:

My friend works in a certain industry.  So does the woman who is now married to my ex. This certain industry has boards and associations and things of that ilk.  My friend belongs to them.  So does the woman who is now married to my ex.

One of the boards that they both belong to had a Christmas party this past week.  At the party, someone started chatting up my friend.  The name of my ex-husband's newish wife was brought up.  Conversation was had.

Now, here's where I get to the relevance of actions and consequences:

Remember what I said about how everything we do causes a ripple effect?  I mean, everything.  From the route we take to the grocery store, to deciding to buy a coffee instead of having a cup at home...from the people we decide to be friends with to making the choice to get involved with a married man.  All of these things can, and will, make a ripple.

How big of a ripple, you ask?

Big enough that someone you work with, someone who has seniority, loads of experience and yes...some power in your industry may just happen to notice that you have the same last name as one of her acquaintances.  She may ask this acquaintance about it, and she may find out things about you that perhaps aren't positive things.  The kind of things you most likely don't want someone in your professional life to hear.

And if you really want to know all about the ripple and how it spreads out and over and onto pretty much everyone and everything in your life, I'll tell you this:

Woe unto you when that person with whom you rub shoulders with, professionally, has also been the victim of "another woman". 

Because that particular ripple, my friends...that ripple never really goes away.

Every day we find ourselves having to make choices.  Big choices, little choices.  Choices that will affect you, those around you, and even people you haven't met yet.  The consequences each one of these choices creates vary.  You may choose to take a wrong turn and end up being late for an appointment.  You may choose to eat that iffy sushi and end up spending the rest of the day in the bathroom.  Or, you may choose to screw a married person and a few years down the road your dirty little secret becomes not so secret. 

When my kids and I part ways for any length of time, I bid them adieu with these two phrases:

"I love you!" and

"Make good choices."

Because the choices we make are so very important.  Don't you agree?


I'm a Divorced Mom. And I'm going to survive Christmas, dammit.

Christmas 2012 will be the seventh Christmas I've spent as a divorced mom.  Normally, this time of year sends me into a psychotic, neurotic, eating-drinking downward spiral.  My usual reaction to hearing Christmas tunes on the radio and seeing all of the commercials on t.v. with twinkly white lights and perfect families opening perfect presents while sitting in their perfect living rooms clad in perfect pajamas is to mentally curl up in the fetal position and rock back and forth until December 26th.

But no more.  Not this year, not ever again.

I'm taking Christmas back, mother effers.

As I look back on the past six Christmases, I am filled with a sloppy mixture of grief, joy, regret and a weepy nostalgia.  They were all so different, and yet...so alike.

There was the Big Money Christmas of 2006.  Our divorce was finalized on December 6th, my ex bought his new house on the 10th and around that same time he introduced our four kids to the woman who had helped take down our marriage.  I was devastated, and most likely a tad bit insane.  That was the year my movie star alimony and child support had just kicked in and I spared no expense for the kids.  We  not only had a lovely Frasier Fir in the living room, we had one in the family room as well.  Just because.  I had my neighbor/photographer take pictures of the kids and I for a Christmas card and composed a "Hear Me Roar" Christmas letter announcing the new lightness and happiness we were experiencing in our home.  The boys had a new Wii and a new XBOX, and my daughter had pretty much every single thing available on the American Girl website.  I thought that having a mountain of gifts under the tree would help ease their pain, at least for a little while.

There was the Pauper Christmas of 2010.  The year I finally lost my house after the movie star child support and alimony abruptly stopped when my ex quit his big money job.  Our first Christmas in the rental house.  The only way we had a tree and some presents under it was due to the absolute kindness and generosity of some lovely "strangers".  A man I had never met, and have never seen since, dropped off a big bag of gifts on Christmas eve, all wrapped and labelled with my kid's names.  I cried as I placed them under the tree we got from a charity Christmas shop set up by the local food shelf.

Our Christmases have been varied, that's for sure, but all of them have had one thing in common:  I faced each one with a sick knot in my stomach.  I was haunted not only by the ghosts of Christmases past, but also by the ghouls called "What Could Have Been" and "What Should Have Been". I lived in the past and dreaded the present. 

I'm a slow learner, folks.  It's taken me this long to realize that it's not Christmas I hate.  I hate how I react to it.  Whether I want to admit it or not, my piss-poor attitude towards the holiday and all it encompasses has done some damage to my kids, and has definitely damaged me.

I have let my bad feelings leach the goodness out of the season, and in turn infect it with moroseness and gloom.  I've allowed my circumstances to dictate the feel of Christmas, to orchestrate every moment of it.  I started feeling it again, a few weeks ago, when I turned the corner at Target and saw their Christmas section, all cluttered and festive and red and green.  That old familiar knot started forming, just below my heart.  I think I may have actually uttered, "I hate Christmas" to myself.

But then, something happened.  I can't pinpoint exactly what, or when it hit me, but it did.  And hard.

My kids are getting older, older by the second.  In a few years, they'll be grown.  And gone.  Off on their own adventures, living their own lives.  Do I want their memories of Christmas to be of a sad faced mom, crying into her coffee as they open their gifts? Or do I want them to remember their mom embracing the season, grabbing it up in a big bear hug and telling melancholy and remorse to step off?

I think they want the latter.  And so do I.

So I'm taking it back.  I'm not only going to survive this Christmas, I'm going to love it.  Love it hard, like I used to back "before the divorce", like I did when the kids were little and life was seemingly perfect.  Because you know what?  It's still perfect.  It's changed, that's for damn sure.  But it's perfect in its own way.

I'm still broke, there still won't be a ton of gifts, there won't be laptops or cars with bows on them or iPhones or trips.  I have to wait until the 15th to start shopping, because this paycheck is already gone to my landlord and my gas tank and school lunches.  But I'm going to get out the decorations, I'm going to play Christmas music and we're going to make cookies in the shapes of snowmen and trees and candy canes.  I'm going to get my free tree from that same little charity Christmas shop and I'm going to drag out my vintage Shiny Brite ornaments and fill that sucker up. 

The biggest, and bestest gift I'm giving my kids this year is the gift of a happy mom.  A mom who will no longer cringe when someone wishes her a Merry Christmas.  A mom who may not be able to get them the coolest things but can definitely give them something priceless:  love.  Love, and a lesson.

Life can be hard.  It can be awful and mean and it can hurt like a bitch.  But you can't let it scar you so badly that things which are beautiful and simple and meant to be enjoyed become dark and scary and painful.  I want to show my kids that life is good.  Even when it feels like it's not.

You know what's funny?  I started out writing a very different post today.  It was going to be a divorced mom's guide to surviving the holidays.  Here's the kicker:  I couldn't write it.  I couldn't write it because, to be honest with you, I don't know how to survive the holidays.  I only know how to endure them. 

Maybe next year I'll be able to write a post about the holidays...but not only about surviving them.

About enjoying them.

Happy Holidays to you, my sweet readers.  I wish you all the best of the season. 

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