this is a post about balls

I’m not in an awesome head space.

I told my therapist that this entire experience (divorce grief?) feels like a marathon, and I guess I’ve settled into a quiet, down part of it. She told me I seemed sadder than I’ve been and for the first time since I started seeing her, I almost broke down completely. I couldn’t quite choke out the words, “I’m just so tired.” (Thank you for noticing, I meant, thank you, you’re right. I’m sad, and I feel like I’m not supposed to admit that, or that if I do it’ll just open the floodgates and I’ll lose my tenuous ability to keep carrying on.)

Yesterday I had my second appointment with the ABA therapist to try to get to a place where I can manage my bigger kid’s ultra-defiant, violent behavior. It is unbelievably hard (and a little humiliating) to step back and look at the way you parent. I know there have been outside circumstances affecting my availability and our routine, but I see all these corners I’ve cut and ways I haven’t been there for him, and I really feel like I’ve failed him when it comes to providing the structure and discipline he needs. She asked if we have a chore chart or reward chart and I said no, but I’ve been meaning to do that. For ten months.

She talks about getting to a place where we’re anticipating his problem behavior and preventing it, instead of constantly reacting. I get that, but I also want to scream, because it’s one more ball to juggle. It’s also the kind of not-warm-and-fuzzy parenting you don’t think about when you’re folding onesies and reading breastfeeding tips.

I have my kids all but four days/nights a month. I’m the sole provider. I work from home doing a job that I frequently have to defend to people who think I’m a professional mommy blogger (um, no) or that I just screw around on the Internet for funsies (I do, but I don’t get paid for that part). Even my four-year-old told me last weekend that I don’t actually have a real job.

I’m the sole housekeeper and the vast majority of the time I’m the sole parent.

The fact is, I’m always dropping a ball. Work through the early evening to hit a deadline? Neglecting the kids. Spend the morning trying to straighten up the house? Moving a deadline. Stop everything else and play with the kids? Neglecting work and house.

I know it’s not that black and white, and that I can always be better about managing my time, but I’m stretched so thin and no matter what I accomplish I feel like it’s at the expense of something else. So it doesn’t matter how “good” I am at one thing. I can never do enough, never do it well enough.

“And I’m not even a ball,” I told my therapist yesterday. My ball’s over in the corner gathering metaphors and impulsive makeup purchases for some nebulous upside to being single I thought there’d be when I was still in shock and looking for a brighter side than getting the whole bed to myself.

D is for drums

My home office is supposed to be a master bedroom, so it has the best closet in the house. When [we] were moving in, I threw all the miscellaneous stuff in there. When he moved out, it ended up mostly empty. A printer. Some boxes. My scarves. The filing cabinet.

Moving him out was —

I filled boxes and put them in the garage, working like an automaton, doing surgery on my life but I had to do it, had to use my own hands and sore, skinny arms and bruised heart and gasping lungs. I had to do that myself, I had to —

I have so much space now. Space to breathe, unfettered, and plant rainbows in my front yard.

Every so often I need something in the office closet, so I poke around, sifting through photos or thumbing through the files I cleaned out last summer, in a fit of trying to make something right when so much was wrong. They’re organized now, no longer brimming with the clutter of two lives braided together. [A lover’s knot that became a frayed friendship bracelet and then a bow for remembrance and then nothing at all.] When I’m looking for a photo or a birth certificate or some insurance paperwork, my fingers stumble onto old Polaroids.

The one he took in his top bunk the day I lost my virginity. The one on the corner in the floor in his dorm room. I’m laughing, a blush hidden behind my hair. I know I’m supposed to feel something, that I do feel something, but it’s a nameless feeling, hollow and numb and sharp and tired.

I can’t bring myself to part with the box full of wedding favors and photos and my veil, so it gathers dust on the top shelf in the walk-in closet.

Looking for something, an activity I find myself doing often, I began cleaning, an activity I also find myself doing often. I found the workbooks from the Catholic pre-marriage retreat the church required for a big wedding on a big altar. I opened them, read a few lines, and decided to indulge in some old-fashioned, vindictive, jilted-lady behavior.

[I’ve been so good, you see.]

I burned the notebooks on my barbecue in the back yard, proud of my ability to light a small fire, and a little annoyed that the barbecue hasn’t been used in [six months, measured first in days I survived and then days when I could eat and then days I made it through without crying and then, little by little, just days, normal and beautiful and stressful and happy and mine, tears and all].

The edges of the paper curled inward, became a flower, glowed. It was lovely. Then I coughed and watched the embers swirl and thought oh my fuck, I’m going to burn the neighbor’s house down in the process of pettily setting fire to the earnest vows two 24-year-olds made eight years ago, and I got a pitcher of water and poured it over the remains.

The novelty had worn off.

The next day, I took some pictures of the mess, and tossed the rest of the papers in the trash. Sentimentality is overrated. It drags me down like mud around my ankles and if I’m not careful, I’ll trip, and it’ll grab me by the wrists and smother me.

lifetime

And the thing is, I don’t have time for that. Not when I’m alive.

head of the class

Part of the divorce (yeah, that’s happening) proceedings in Florida involve this mandated parenting class called Parenting Through Divorce and Separation (or something). “Parenting class” is kind of a misnomer though, and it led me to snarkily complain about having to do it to basically anyone who would listen to me. I know how to parent! I’m a single mom now! I write parenting articles! I got this shit, man!

Except the class was really more of a support group with a side of therapy and it started out by just acknowledging how much divorce sucks for everyone ever and I was like oh, yep. Yes, it does. Chinhands. Tell me more.

The class was four hours long and I was never bored. Some of the information didn’t pertain to me (we’re being non-fighty, peaceful adults mediating our way through a parenting plan and settlement so there are no concerns of screaming or fighting in front of the kids or being unable to agree or talk), but for the most part it was all new, interesting, helpful information.

I learned that:

  • 56% of Florida marriages end in divorce
  • Half end in divorce within five years
  • 80% of divorced women remarry
  • It takes 2-3 years for divorced parents and their children to process and grieve after divorce
  • The kids aren’t as okay as they’re acting
  • It all just sucks a bag of dicks for a long while and there’s no way around that

I didn’t come out of the class with strategies as much as an awareness that this is a huge, long process and that I need to pay close attention to my kids and love the crap out of them. I feel like if there’s anything I’m pretty good at, it’s loving the crap out of these boys. But it doesn’t make me feel any less hollow and hurty that they’re in pain, that they’re victims of divorce. They’ll spend the rest of their lives being children of divorce. I am not a child of divorce, but many of my friends were, are, always will be.

This isn’t something I anticipated. It isn’t something that I wanted. But it is my life.

My thoughts are disjointed.

Today a friend told me, “You seem a lot happier.”

For a while I felt really guilty admitting that it’s true. Most of the time? I am happier. I’m hurting and grieving and unhappy about a lot of things but the core of me, my soul? It’s unburdened. I’m more emotionally available to my children, to my friends. I’m learning how to be a whole human being, a single adult. I haven’t been single as an adult. I entered a serious relationship at barely 18 and I’ve been in a serious relationship for 14 years since. I’m newborn grownup.

I’m okay, and then I’m not okay, and then I’m okay again, and then I’m not okay. And that’s okay.

One of the instructors drew a triangle and wrote acceptance inside of it. What keeps you from getting to acceptance? Blame, rejection, guilt. Whether you’re the “dumper or the dumpee,” they said, you’re going to get tripped up by this triangle of fail for a while. “Who is your anger hurting?,” they asked. “Is it getting back at the person who hurt you?”

Oh.

“No,” they said, “It destroys you.”

Oh.

It’s not a magic fix for all of my hurt, but man does it help to recognize that after a while, all the anger I wear like prickly armor is only hurting me. It’s keeping me from becoming whole again, for being a healthy newborn grownup. It isn’t hurting him, and in the end I don’t even want to hurt him. I don’t want to hurt anyone. I don’t want to hurt my kids. I want the hurt to stop.

I’m a wobbly circle that used to be attached to another wobbly circle. I’m slowly filling out, becoming round and solid, rolling with the punches. I’m a phoenix rising from the flames. I’m a new pair of jeans that make my butt look good. I’m sprawled out on the bed, taking up every inch. I’m crying at the grocery store. I’m watching House Hunters all the time. I’m scared. I’m confident. I’m dragging a stroller onto a tram at Busch Gardens by myself. I’m hanging up my Christmas lights and dragging the tree to the curb. I’m staying up late with my kids listening to their stories. I’m not alone at all. I’m a cliche with the music turned up loud and my voice learning not to waver. And the hurt will stop, not smoothly, but in a series of false starts and speed bumps and terrifying drops and murky echoes and then, and then.

keep moving

I know when I look back on these days, they’ll be foggy, like those first weeks after a baby’s birth, when the world is seen through milky glass.

The world continues moving around me, even if I feel like I’m moving in slow motion. Or stop motion, even, like those horrible jerky effects in Clash of the Titans. Everything has a cartoonish feel to it when your life is surreal and not at all what you ever expected it to be.

But it keeps moving.

This morning, I woke up cranky and snapped at the kids too much. I’m tired. I hurt all over, inside and out. I thought it would end up being a shit day, but Chipmunk was the one to drag me not kicking, but briefly screaming, out of my dark mood.

We went to Busch Gardens, since we have passes, and when he stopped being pissy, he turned into a talkative ball of delight. He grabbed a map and read the names of all the places and told us where we needed to go. He read every sign he could get his eyeballs on. He started talking to kids in lines, asking them where their parents were and where they went to school, telling them silly stories. He rode rides with me, and said, “I’m glad Jingle Bells is playing, it makes me brave!”

I asked him to take a picture with me, our first time together on a wooden coaster, and he said, “Let’s both make faces like we’re screaming!”

When we got off the wooden coaster, he told the people in line, “Listen, I don’t think you want to ride this! This seat is way too bumpy!”

On the carousel, he looked up, watching the gears the whole time, fascinated by the way they moved his horse up and down.

We “raced” on the gliders high above the park, and he looked over at me and gave me a thumbs up.

He wouldn’t let us leave one area of the park until I took his picture with each of four giant characters on stilts. “I can’t believe I finally get to take a picture with a stilt bug!” he shouted.

Later, he played with friends. Really played.

We went to a Christmas tree light show thing with Caroline and her boys, and when the lights and music began, Moose gave a silly grin and watched from his perch in my arms, and Chipmunk wiggled his skinny butt and did a dance for the entire set of Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

On the long drive home, in the dark, Moose fell asleep and Chipmunk stayed up until the very end.

“If The Flash had henchmen,” Chipmunk said, out of nowhere, “they’d be joggers.”

A huge airliner flew right over us, landing at the airport by the highway, and he said wondrously, sincerely, “Whoa, a spaceship.”

I’m sad, but I can’t be sad all the time, not with my buddies reminding me how cool life is.

mine

There’s a soul-deep satisfaction that comes with giving yourself to someone, saying I’m yours. These hands, these toes, this body, this heart; they’re yours.

When I was in second grade, I read a picture book about a girl who refused to take a bath. She got stinkier and dirtier and at one point her parents heaped her with gifts, hoping desperately they’d convince her to get in the bath. The book gave me a stomach ache. I hated it.

I couldn’t think of anything more upsetting than someone not wanting a gift.

 

***

 

These hands.

These toes.

This body.

This heart.

They’re mine.