Tuesday, December 18, 2012

An Unwedding Ceremony

My ex and I have started the formal proceedings to divorce. At this point we’ve been living apart for 20 months, so it’s just paperwork and separating our finances. The emotional stuff was all processed long ago, and after years of struggle together, we’re on better terms apart. He texted me yesterday to tell me how his dog is doing. I bought him a Christmas present last week. We are friendly, with boundaries.

I’ve explained to the kids what’s going on, because I don’t lie to my kids, and they wanted to know where I was going when I left them with a babysitter to head to our first mediation appointment. My 7-year-old confided that she was worried her living arrangement would change again once the divorce was final. I explained that she’d still spend the same amount of time between her dad and me, that her two homes would remain unchanged, that everything would look and feel the same to her. We’ve already worked out the custody schedule. We’re just making it legal now. After all of the explanations, her fears were put to rest. Now she wants to know if either her dad or I ever remarry, will she get to be a flower girl? She’s a romantic at heart. Who loves any excuse to wear a fancy new dress. My 6-year-old hasn’t had any questions, and seems bored by the lengthy discussions on the topic that her sister wants to have.

Tonight we were watching a TV show, and there was a wedding ceremony in it. The girls sat down in front of the TV to oooh and aaah over the pretty dresses and flowers and music as the wedding party marched down the aisle. When it came to the exchange of vows, they both looked at me and asked if all weddings were so boring.

“It’s just a lot of talking,” the 7-year-old said. I told her she was right. But that there is a big party afterward.

After the big ceremony-ending kiss, the 6-year-old perked up. “What happens when you get divorced again?” she asked.

“Paperwork!” her sister told her.

She thought about this for a minute, then said, “I think there should be an unwedding ceremony when you get divorced. Where the woman wears black instead of white, and instead of talking about how much you love each other, you talk about why you don’t want to be together anymore.” We all had a good laugh, expanding on the notion. You could ceremoniously give the rings back. Instead of getting wedding gifts, your friends could even help the two of you divvy up what you already have. And then, of course, you’d all have a big party. 

She’s a funny old soul child, my little 6-year-old cherub. She’s a dreamer, who seems to be off in her own world most of the time, until you find out she was listening the whole time, and understood everything, no matter what code you were speaking in. It's the same way I was as a child, which is probably why I love this little streak of hers, even if it means I never get to have any secrets let alone private conversations. I also feel like when she finally gets inspired to share her insights, she's usually right.

I personally like the idea of an unwedding ceremony. Divorce has such negative connotations, creates so much tension not just between the couple, but around the friends and family they share, everyone wondering what it all means, how it will all turn out, whether they have to choose sides. Maybe it’s a perfect idea: gathering all of our friends and family together, explaining ourselves to them en masse, then letting it all go and celebrating the new phase in our lives with a big party. And I bet my 7-year-old would even get to wear that fancy new dress she’s been dreaming of.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Wake Up Call

Here’s the thing: we’re all busy. It’s so easy to get into the groove of waking up in the cold and dark of early morning, hitting the ground running, and not stopping until you crash late in the night, way past the time when you said you’d put yourself to bed so that you’d be more rested tomorrow when you do it all over again. I was in that same grind. It wasn’t even a bad place to be, it was just life. And then life took a left turn I didn’t see coming.

It started out innocently enough. A week after my first unremarkable mammogram I got a letter saying they needed some extra scans. No big deal, right? I mean, the same thing happened to my sister, and after the additional scans, all was well. So I went in for my extra images of my right breast with my book in hand and chalked it up to an inconvenience that I was going to make the best of by catching up on some reading. As the tech crammed me into the mammogram machine we joked about our kids, the book I was reading, the coldness of the paddles in the machine. She took two quick pictures and had me dress and head back out to the waiting room. Minutes later I was called back in for another couple of images. The tech had me stay in the gown while the radiologist looked those scans over to make sure she had what she needed. When I was called back in for yet a third round of images, I knew something wasn’t right.

The chit-chat had stopped. The laughing had stopped. The tech took image after image and spoke to me in a calming voice that just made me more nervous. Calcification is normal, she assured me. It was my first mammogram. They were just getting an accurate baseline for my body, to compare to all future mammograms.

After the three rounds of scans I met with a very nice radiologist who explained that I had a cluster of calcifications she wanted to check again in six months, to make sure they weren’t anything to worry about. Both the friendly radiologist and my great regular doctor reassured me that all was well and I should put it out of my mind for the next six months. Which I mostly did.

I went in for my six-month follow-up certain that all was well and I’d be sent home after a few quick images. That didn’t happen. Instead, the same very kind radiologist sat me down in a stuffy overlit private waiting room and told me she still wasn’t sure what she was seeing, and that she’d like to do a biopsy. There really isn’t any way to hear that word without taking it to the worst-case-scenario of cancer, but I put on a brave face and told her I wanted the next available appointment. I wanted it over. I wanted a definitive answer as soon as possible. I made my appointment that day, and spent the next week waiting in a stress-hazed fog.

I told my immediate family and a couple of friends, but mostly just went through the motions of normal everyday life swinging between hope and fear for the next seven days. I slept fitfully at night and was exhausted all day. I meditated. I watched a lot of comedies. I cried and laughed and apologized to my kids for being spacy and cranky.

The day before my biopsy I had a powerful and emotional Reiki session with my amazing friend Heather. “This is a wake-up call,” Heather told me. “It’s time to stop putting everyone else first. Get in the driver’s seat of your own life. Be the powerhouse that you are.” This wasn’t new material. We’d covered the same issues in previous sessions. I’m a caretaker. I’ve had therapists, psychics, doctors, and healers all praise and criticize me for this natural tendency of mine. What I need is balance. What I need is permission from myself to just be myself, all the time. I need to learn how to put myself first even when the demands and needs of those around me are hammering down on me. Well, especially then. The difference with this particular Reiki session is that I got it. My body is not taking no for an answer. I love everyone around me and I want them all happy and whole and supported. But it’s not my job to keep them that way. My job is to take care of me, first and foremost.

I went to my biopsy with my boyfriend and my mother at my side, left them in the waiting room and made my way down the hall to meet my fate. During the long and uncomfortable procedure—lying face-down in an awkward position unable to move for a good forty minutes—I pulled out every positive visual I had in my mind. The Reiki session definitely helped: I was perfectly calm, even when they told me I was bleeding more than usual, and would need lots of compression and possibly a trip down to surgery for some stitches afterward. The biopsy itself was painless—I was numb and the team taking care of me was wonderful. The bleeding was an issue, and after the biopsy was over I spent another hour sitting with a nurse’s hand smashing my breast trying to get it to stop bleeding. Eventually my body responded and I was sent home, exhausted and sore but glad it was over. That was on a Friday afternoon. My results were expected on Monday afternoon.

I spent the weekend resting and visiting with family, trying to find a balance between being alone enough to rest, but not enough to let my imagination take off running down the dark alleys of my mind. Monday came, and with it the usual grind: waking sleepy kids, brushing their hair while they ate breakfast, rushing them out the door and into their classrooms in the pouring rain. I came home, changed out of my wet clothes, and spent four hours revising my latest novel. I want to start sending it out to agents by the end of the month, ahead of the holiday rush. It was a good distraction, immersing myself in a world of my own creation, with characters that have come to feel as real to me as anyone.

I called my doctor just before heading out to pick up my kids from school, but she didn’t have my results yet. Her office would be closing soon and I resigned myself to another restless night of waiting. I met my girls at their classrooms, chatted with some of the moms on the playground after school, and as I was leading the way to the parking lot with my kids in tow, my phone rang. It was the radiologist. I can’t recall our exact conversation, but the words “normal” and “no further treatment needed” were all I needed to hear. We were on our way to a dentist appointment for the kids, and they were excited and antsy to get there (Strange? Do your kids get so excited about trips to the dentist?) and I drove there in a lighter, brighter fog. I didn’t have time to sit and process until later that afternoon. It was over. I was fine. The biopsy was negative. I’ve never been so happy to fail a test in my entire life.

Wake up calls are terrifying things. We are never prepared for them. We don’t see them coming, and can’t see our way through them when they come. In the midst of them we lose all sense of control, and that is an awful feeling. But sometimes, they are exactly what we need.

I have a long to-do list in this life. I’ve known who I was and what I’m meant to do here from a very young age. I have a strong work ethic and can be very focused. But I also have a tendency to get pulled away from my various missions by trying to keep everyone around me happy and healthy and calm and focused. I stuff my own emotions to avoid making additional waves. I want to be everyone’s rock. I have a habit of ignoring my own wants and needs as I struggle to maintain a calm environment for everyone else’s benefit. No one gave me this job, I just took it on as a child and have been doing it ever since. And this wake up call has let me know that it no longer suits me.

While I can’t say that I’ll stop caring about the people who matter to me, I can say that I won’t be putting them first anymore, not at my own expense. I have books to write and kids to raise and exotic locations to see and many more amazing people to meet. And I need to take care of myself in order to make all of that happen. We never know what tomorrow will bring, what challenges will arise. So it’s better to get to that to-do list today. Not the one that other people put on you, but the one you made up for yourself long ago. Dust it off and get to work.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


Today should have been my nephew's second birthday. A happy day of balloons and cake and friends and family celebrating. But sadly my dear little nephew Otis, who looked exactly like his father: dark-haired and cherub-cheeked, isn't here with us to celebrate. Otis lived for one tragic and glorious day, then left us far far too soon, changing the lives of everyone he touched in that brief timespan.

As a mother, I can't imagine a greater pain than the loss of a child. My step-sister and her husband are some of the strongest people I know, to have pulled through such a tragedy with grace and fortitude and a love for each other that has not only withstood this horrible blow, but grown stronger in the face of it.

There are no adequate words for a day like today. No amount of sympathy or affection seems like enough. But we try. There is a tightly woven network of love and support surrounding my step-sister and her husband, a vast array of friends and family who have sent them love throughout the day. It has brought me to tears a few times, the kind posts and comments people have shared with them, the reminders of all that they have lost as well as the evidence of all that they have gained in the last two years.

It is an immeasurable loss, but equally impossible to gauge is the impact Otis has had on so many of us. He has created a community around his parents, an unwavering support group to offer up kindness and compassion and warmth and hope on a day like today. His legacy carries on. Otis evokes love, first and foremost, which we so need in this time of fear and hate and political diatribe. He isn't here to see the lasting impression his brief presence has had on the world around him, but I hope it offers some comfort to his parents to see not only that he has not been forgotten, but that the power of his brief time here with us continues to grow.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Summer Vacation Countdown

And just like that, there are only 4 more weeks of summer vacation left. After the first two very busy weeks of summer break, full of antsy bored kids demanding more of everything, my girls have now settled into an appropriate summer mindset. They have ongoing games that carry over from day to day, have read through their stacks of library books, and have binged on their favorite TV shows. We've taken family trips, had tons of play dates, have visited the zoo and several parks. They've perfected their swimming skills, we've made homemade ice cream and blender snow cones, and I've put on more bedtime puppet shows than I can count. Both girls are tan, lean, toned from their endless activities, and totally off their usual sleep schedule.

We're noticing the back-to-school stuff in stores now, and the girls are thinking of what kind of school supplies they'd like this year. We still have a lot left on our to-do list, various outing possibilities I'd come up with before summer break started that we haven't gotten around to doing yet. We'll squeeze in what we can before the end of August rolls around, but I'm glad we're not keeping the same frenzied nonstop pace we were at the beginning of summer. Of course, the relaxed days of later bedtime and slow-paced mornings mean the school transition will be a shock to the system for all of us. Maybe a week before school starts I'll try to get us all back to early bedtime and early waking. Maybe.

We've had plenty of fighting in the house the last few days. The girls, now five-and-a-half and seven-and-a-half (those halves are so coveted at this age), have gone from whining, fussing, and bickering to wrestling, slapping, and kicking each other. Whether it's a product of doing too much or not enough, I have no idea. Maybe it's just from being around each other 24/7 since June. Come fall, they'll be separated almost seven hours a day and will have plenty to fill each other in on when they're reunited each weekday afternoon. I've tried separating them a few times a day, and although they each have their own room/books/toys, they simply refuse to be separated. Yesterday, at the peak of frustration, after the tenth physical fight of the day, I made the ridiculous declaration that for the rest of the summer they were not allowed to play together. They both cried: "But we love each other!" followed by lots of hugging and kissing that soon turned into another wrestling match. So there it is. So now I'm letting them fight it out with a little safety supervision. That's the point of having a sibling, right? All of those conflict management skills you rack up at an early age? So add that to the summer accomplishment list: perfecting the art of the surprise attack, self-defense, and learning when the best solution is to give up and walk away (or run to Mom, if it's the feisty five-year-old who is after you, because she won't stop until she has made her point--often with her teeth).

And despite the busyness of monitoring my kids' social schedules, I have found time to write. Thanks to my tireless Dad and step-mom, who watch the girls 2-3 times per week for a few hours, I've managed to finish a short story and start a new novel. I'm watching the calendar, waiting for the days when I'll have bigger blocks of time to myself for my writing, but in the mean time, I'm very happy with the progress I've made. And if I can just keep the girls from seriously harming one another, I'll consider this to be a great summer.

Sunday, July 01, 2012


We're 2 weeks into summer break, and to be honest, I'm tired already. We've had daily play dates, swim lessons, and lots of kid requests for more activities. I've run through my usual toolbox of entertainment ideas, and it's time to get some new ideas. When your 7-year-old, who spent the first month of the school year crying about having to go to school, tells you she misses school, it's a clue that you aren't keeping her busy enough, even though we haven't stopped moving since school got out.

Last summer the girls were in summer school for six weeks, and it's a luxury I'm missing this time around. This summer we're living on a tight budget, which means free activities and no childcare for me. Having kids with me all day every day means they get to help me squeeze in all of those boring and practical errands around the park trips and visits to friends' houses, and I can tell you they aren't a fan of watching me clean the house or try to fix the broken clothes dryer or trim the dog's nails. I'm not sure what kind of parties they thought I was throwing when they were at school, but they seem disappointed by the lackluster quality of my days.

"Is this what you do all day?" my 5-year-old asked. The answer is yes and no. I had a lot more free time when they were in school all day. And only half as much housework. It's amazing how much harder it is to keep a house clean when there are two kids in it all day. You never catch up!

"Well, this and writing," I told her. They also promised me writing time. Then interrupted me every three minutes with questions and demands and fights I had to break up. So, the writing is mostly in my head these days, stored up until my precious few hours when their grandpa and step-grandma have them and I can rush to get it all down on paper before it evaporates.

Next week we have our first summer trip planned. Well, our only summer trip. Just a three-day getaway with my mom, sister, and niece, to a big hotel/casino with a bunch of pools. The girls can't wait. Three days of swimming! An arcade! An ice cream stand in the lobby of the hotel! My sister and I are looking forward to some sisterly bonding time while grandma watches the girls. And I'm looking forward to three days of not hearing the words "I'm bored" or "what else are we going to do today?"

After that, who knows? I have 9 more weeks to fill. That's a lot of play dates to schedule. A lot of messes to clean up. A lot more errands to drag kids around on. It's also a lot more afternoons of chatting with friends while our kids play together. More hot afternoons sitting in the shade attempting to write while my girls splash in their kiddie pools out back. More experimenting with making snow cones in the blender. More family hikes where the girls search for unicorn hoof prints while the dog runs his endless energy out. More puppet shows to put on with them. More memories to make so that when they are back in school I can miss them and their silly jokes and crazy antics and impatient morning wake-up kisses like crazy. Because that's how it is being a mom. When the school grind is 8 months old you can't wait for summer to get a break from it. And when summer is dragging on you start to wonder how you'll survive until school rolls around again.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What Now?

I made my crazy deadline of finishing the revisions on my new novel before the girls finished school for the year. I actually beat my deadline by 2 days. Hurray! The only trouble is waking up the next day, after all of those weeks/months of putting pressure on myself, and having no novel-in-progress sitting on my shoulders, waiting. I won't work on it at all while it's out with my beta readers, which is a good thing. By the time their comments come in I will have had a much-needed break from it and I'll (hopefully) have a new perspective on it and will be able to revise anew with a fresh viewpoint. But in the mean time, what do I do with myself?

It reminds me of when I finished grad school. It was a ridiculously busy two years of my life. I was working full time, attending grad school full time, and doing my own divorce, because it just killed me to think of hiring a lawyer to do a bunch of negotiating and paperwork that I knew I could do myself. It also meant that for those two years I had a grand total of maybe ten free minutes each and every day. I worked from 8am-3pm, raced across town to school, was in class until 7pm, headed home to log onto my work account for two more hours of work, then tackled my studies until 1am or so. The same routine every day, for two years. And then one day it was all over. The divorce and school part anyway, and a simple full-time job just didn't seem like enough to keep me busy to my new standard for normal. So I joined two writing groups, took a writing workshop to develop my master's thesis into a book, organized daily outings with friends I hadn't seen in two years, took a tarot class, chased a promotion at work, and started following about 10 local bands from bar to club so that I was never, for a second, sitting still. After I finished the workshop and tarot class, after half the bands had either broken up or moved to LA for their big break, after I'd had ample time to catch up with every friend I had, I did eventually slow down into a more relaxed routine.

This time around I have the benefit of having two small children, so sitting still just isn't an option. But the feeling of being in a race against time, of needing to get a lot of words down on the page every day, is still going strong. But after tomorrow summer vacation is here, and my girls don't let me write all day while they play nicely together. They need an activities coordinator, and most importantly, a referee. I'm sure they'll keep me busy enough that before I know it my beta readers will be done and I'll have a novel to revise. In the mean time I'll do my best to maintain momentum on smaller projects. I have three short story ideas to develop. Two parenting essays in mind. A novel I've never been happy with that I'm tempted to overhaul. I'm sure eventually I'll settle down and just enjoy the sunny weather and park visits with my girls. But until then I'm going to sneak in as much writing as I can.

Monday, June 11, 2012


While I am looking forward to the end of the school morning grind come Friday, there are also a few things I'll miss about the hectic morning rush through breakfast, hair brushing, lunch-making, and shoe-finding followed by the inevitable herding of scattering children toward the car. Well, I probably won't miss any of that stuff. But once I finally get the girls to school, something fun and good for my soul happens each morning that I won't get enough of during summer break: hugs. Little 6 and 7 year old girl hugs, long skinny arms wrapped tightly around my waist for a good long squeeze to start the day.

It started with one little girl who gets dropped off every day and waits in line without a parent around. She always adored cute little Peanut, and soon she was hugging her each morning before heading into class. Then she started hugging Peanut and String Bean both. Then one day, after I gave String Bean her goodbye hug at the door, the little girl ducked back out of class for a hug from me. The next day she met us at the school gate for her three hugs and held my hand all the way back to the line. A week later there were two little girls waiting for us at the gate. It's grown from there.

The first graders in String Bean's class line up in two lines: boys and girls. Most of the girls wait in line until we get there, chatting with friends and complimenting each other's sparkly outfits. Once the bell rings and the teacher opens the classroom door, the kids take turns hanging up their backpacks on the hooks outside the room before heading into class. And a portion of the girls in line snake back around to where Peanut and I are standing for a hug before heading in.

At this point there are between five or ten girls who stop by for a hug on their way into class. Most of the girls I know, either from play dates or from volunteering in class, but there is one newcomer that I've never worked with before who doesn't speak much English, but calls me "pretend mommy" and gets in the hugging line a couple of times before heading into class. She changed schools about a month ago and had a hard time adjusting. She cried every morning in line, much as String Bean did in the beginning of school, until she joined the hugging line. It's the best way to start the day, sending her off with a little love, brightening her morning and mine. I haven't seen her cry a single time since she joined our little morning love fest.

String Bean struggled with the hugging line at first, not wanting to share me with her classmates. She went through a phase of elbowing the girls aside, guarding me. But then she accepted it as a mark of pride that her friends like to hug me. She's gone from being wallflower to confident seven-year-old this school year, and managing the hugging line each morning is a job she's come to embrace. It gives her a feeling of popularity by association, and I can see how that makes her smile. But she still makes sure that she gets the first, last, and most hugs of them all.

I don't know what will happen next year. Do second graders hug moms before heading into class? Will any of these girls even be in String Bean's class next year? I'm not sure. So I'm going to enjoy my last few days of morning hugs, and hang onto that warm fuzzy feeling as hard as I can.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012


So, my girls have exactly 7 days of school left this year. That means 7 days of writing left for me. Not that  I won't write at all this summer, but it won't be the same daily affair that it's been lately. I've been on a mission to get my latest novel done and revised so that I can send my second (or third, or fourth) draft out to my trusted beta readers for feedback. While they have the novel, I'll be hitting up local parks with my kids and trying to read a few of the dozen books sitting on my nightstand waiting for me. I might also try writing a few new short stories. And a screenplay or two.

The truth is, I'm terrified of losing the momentum that I've built up this school year. I'm ready for summer: for play dates and homemade snow cones and sleeping in and no more late-night lunch prep when I just want to go to bed, and no more standing over my kids forcing them to do tedious homework assignments. But I'm also sad to give up my daily block of a few hours to myself, and my guaranteed daily writing time.

My dad and step-mom have graciously offered to watch my girls a couple times a week, for a few hours each time, so that I can have some dedicated writing time. I intend to use that time well. Discipline hasn't really been an issue for me. I work well under pressure. Often, the less time I have, the more effectively I use that time. That's been one of my most important lessons to learn as a writer: carve out the time, and guard it. No phone calls, no internet, no email, no texts. Just write, for however long I can. I'm frequently at the tail-end of my three-hour writing block, watching the clock, counting how many minutes it'll take me to get home to relieve my babysitters, typing those last few words as fast as I can. And that's my happy place, racing the clock with my words.

Two writing breaks a week is a lot less than I've had this school year, but that's exactly what I started with when I got back to writing a few years ago. And at that pace I wrote a novel in four months. Two and a half years later I have five novels plus twenty-something short stories done. They aren't all good, and they won't all make the cut of revision rounds and beta-readers and agent/literary journal submissions. But they all mattered. Every single word, every second of time I gave to myself. I've had nine stories published or accepted for publication, and nine agents are currently looking at one of my novels. It isn't just a dream anymore, this writer thing. It's actually happening. And I don't want to let it go.

I'm almost ready for summer. But first I have 7 more days of writing. And I'm going to make the most of each of them, watching the clock as it gets closer to pick-up time at school, scrambling to get those last few words down before I have to go.

Thursday, May 24, 2012


One of the hardest things for me to master as a single mom has been vacationing. Not just the epic packing battles with two little girls who only want to bring 3 swim suits and 5 sundresses even when it's a snow trip, but the logistics of traveling alone with two small kids, and frequently a dog as well: all of those contingency plans and nerve-wracking crowded airports or hopes that the car doesn't break down en route to some hours-away destination.

Last summer was my first time driving to our family's cabin, 4.5 hours away, through hot valley towns and up into the Sierras, finishing with a 45 minute trek along a rutted dirt logging road, with two girls and a dog. There were bathroom breaks, dog water breaks, snack breaks, general runaround breaks for two girls who could only be happily confined to their hot pink car seats for so long. I stressed about the the possibility of having car issues, about the dog overheating in the car as I ran the girls into the next rest stop, about getting too tired and fed up with the back seat fighting and having no one to help me out.

I caravanned with some family friends that first time up, just in case anything went awry, and during the long drive I realized something invaluable: I had it down. This single-motherhood thing had already become second-nature to me. The girls had a bin of books and games wedged between their car seats that kept them busy for much of the time. We blasted music and sang together when we needed to perk up. I had a mini-cooler of food and drinks on the passenger seat, full of pre-cut, single-serve portions I'd readied the night before. I had a clear view of the dog sleeping on top of our pile of suitcases in the back, and could see when he was getting restless. When we had to stop in hot towns I blasted the A/C to cool off the car, then found a shady parking spot and made a game out of rushing the girls off to the bathroom and back to the car as quickly as possible. I lounged on random lawns outside fast food restaurants while the dog trotted around and the girls picked dandelions. I let go of my usual travel timetable, any expectations, and relaxed. And it was fine.

That's not to say I haven't had any travel or vacation hiccups in my year of doing it solo. We've been stranded with a dead car battery. We've had throwing up children traveling with borrowed bowls on their laps in the car. We've had the dog get into some sort of insect nest and end up with a face swollen with three baseball-size lumps and had to rush him to the nearest emergency vet. We've had a cross-country flight just days after Peanut fell and knocked out her front tooth and loosened up a handful of others, juggling her all-liquid diet on an airline in this no-liquids-through-security era. And we've made it through it all. And got some good stories to boot.

So today I'm packing up for our first big trip of the season. I have lists of all of the clothes, food, meds, toys, and dog supplies I will need. And I have the confidence, that even if some disaster befalls us mid-route, we'll get through it, we'll make the best of it, and we'll still have a good time.

And if it's really bad, I'll end up with a great story out of it.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Post-Divorce Phone Tree

It’s a familiar sight at the elementary school: a mom saying goodbye to her kid in line before the bell rings, reminding him that his father, or his father’s girlfriend, or his father’s girlfriend’s mother, will be picking that kid up after school, saying farewell for the next few days. The look of anxiety in the mother’s eyes as the child heads into class, her hope that it all works out. It’s hard to share your child with someone you rarely see, even harder to trust that the fringe family members of that person, often people you’ve never met, will remember to show up, on time and in the right spot, to get your young child after school. And so began the post-divorce phone tree.

I’m one of the moms that lives at school. I didn’t intend for it to be that way, but between volunteering in Peanut’s class twice a week, String Bean’s class twice a week, chaperoning field trips, helping out with in-class projects and parties, having two separate drop-off and pick-up times each day for my two kids, and lingering around campus for after-school play, the parents, step-parents, even teachers have come to know me as one of the moms who can be counted on to be standing there when the bell rings.

As a result, I now have several phone numbers of moms/dads/grandmas who sometimes have to rely on virtual strangers to pick up their beloved children from school. That way, whether or not the ex-husband’s new girlfriend’s younger sister, or whomever, shows up on time and in the right place, the child is covered. My job, when it’s one of those days, is to hang around the kid until they are safely picked up, then discreetly text the mom/dad/grandma to let them know the child is safe, and who the child is with. It’s a whole new game, this modern, fractured family, but I’m learning fast. And I’m happy to do it.

I had a week where my mother and mother-in-law took turns picking up my children from school, and I had a back-up list of about five contacts just in case anything went wrong. That was easy, because I have a good relationship with them and they weren’t annoyed when I texted them every day to make sure all had gone well. But when it’s the new love of an estranged ex, or some even more distant relative from the new family tree, someone you do not have an amicable relationship with, it’s nice to have a little reassurance that your child is covered.

My closest group of mom-friends at school are all similar phone tree monitors, with their own lists of kids they keep track of for the peace of mind of divorced moms and dads, and the safety of children who sometimes fall through the cracks of divorced parents who no longer communicate well. Like minds have drawn us together. We’re easy to spot. We’re the ones on the playground after school, cell phones in hand, obliviously happy kids gathered around us, watching the gate for your arrival.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

The Non-Mommy Parts of Me

Here’s the thing: I hate dating. I’m not a dating kind of person. All of that posturing and fake smiling and hair-tossing. It just isn’t me. I’m a jeans and t-shirt mom with princess band-aids, hair ties, and hand sanitizer at the ready at all times. Need a tissue? I’ve got a whole pack for you right here. Splinter? I can fix that. Monkey-bar blister? No problem. But get dressed up and head out to sit across from some guy and impress him? Not my strong suit. That, and I haven’t been on a date in over a decade. So you might say I’m rusty. Except even back then I wasn’t a good dater. So can you really be rusty at something you never learned to do in the first place? Probably not.

Anyway, all of these things led me to one conclusion in my year of being single: I probably had another few years of being single to come. I mean, when would I even meet someone? I have my kids most of the time. And I’ve noticed that nothing spooks a handsome young guy who has just smiled at you like the two little girls traipsing along behind you calling you “mommy.”

My girls’ dad keeps them for a couple hours on days he can knock off work early, and he has them overnight on Fridays when he’s in town, but he does travel a lot for work, and that means I’m a three-bodied, six-armed, six-legged person most of the time. Which is fine. I adore my kids--probably to a borderline-unhealthy degree. I fully accept and am honored to hold the role of being their mother, solo or not. And honestly, I think I’m pretty good at it, this single motherhood gig.

I didn’t mind being single. I needed that year of solitude. My year alone gave me time to grieve the end of my marriage, to let all the negative stuff go, to get back on my own feet, to push myself harder than I ever have as a writer, and to find a balance that doesn’t just feel like surviving, but like thriving, like moving in the direction I was always meant to go, like pure, unrestrained joy with two adorable little sidekicks cheering me on in the sidelines. But, still, there was a part of me that wondered: is this going to be it, forever?

It’s not that I need a man around to fix stuff. I can fix stuff. I work out. I can lift my own heavy things. I don’t miss cooking for someone else (I don’t even like cooking) or doing someone else’s laundry or tripping over big man shoes in the hallway. But sitting on the couch at night, girls tucked into beds they refused to stay in, watching TV before prepping school lunches, checking homework, folding the endless laundry of two girls who love outfit changes the way I love sleep, I found myself thinking: meeting someone would be nice, right? Someone who saw me as more than just a mom? It seemed unlikely, though. I travel between my house, the kids’ school, and my favorite table at Starbucks where I write and ignore all of the other patrons. My quiet cocoon of an existence doesn’t really invite others in. Especially not single men.

But lo and behold, the universe has a way of listening, even when you aren’t sure you’re really asking. A year after my husband and I set up separate residences, an old acquaintance from high school, a film producer looking for new material, asked to see some of my writing, and a conversation started. After a couple months of exchanging short stories and comments on them, we met for dinner—not a date, so I didn’t dress up or get nervous—to talk shop. And sometime between dinner, the bookstore we visited, the cafe we ended up in, the business meeting started to feel like a date. I didn’t have my kids for the night, and he didn’t have his, which meant hours of uninterrupted conversation about utterly grown-up topics. I had my princess band-aids and pink hair ties and hand sanitizer right there in my purse, but I didn’t feel like a mom for a few precious hours. We didn’t know much about each other, except that we’d passed one another in school hallways twenty years earlier, but he’d read a lot of my writing, so in a way he knew more about me than most people do. The inside of me, the vulnerable parts and sharp edges and restrained anger and hard truth-seeking part that doesn’t posture or hair-flip or tolerate any fakeness whatsoever. And even with all that, he liked me.

I guess you could say we’ve been dating for two months now, except that I hate dating, so I wish I could think of a better name for it. We’re taking it slow, getting to know each other and trying to maintain the balances of our own careers, our own relationships with our kids, our own fears of getting hurt. To call this new territory minimalizes the wonderful oddness of the whole thing. It’s new territory the way an entirely new solar system would be, when someone you barely knew in your past can come back around and help the present you feel, well, more like you. The non-mom part of me is now a bigger part of me, which is strange and scary and, ultimately, good. It makes the mommy moments more special, when they aren’t the only moments I’m having all day. So maybe dating isn’t so bad.