Sometimes happiness comes under the most unexpected of circumstances.

Our Day in Court

Posted: September 3rd, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: challenges | Tags: , | 59 Comments »

Oh God he´s drinking again!

You know if I leave you now,

It doesn’t mean that I love you any less.

Sarah McLachlan (and Warren Zevon)

My ex and I split up 6 years ago and have handled all of our arrangements on our own, yet we hadn’t dealt with the legal formalities. Today, we went to court to finalize the dissolution of our marriage, and frankly, I was quite shaken by how combative and painful it was. There were motions to have the children assigned their own legal representation, quarrels over unpaid medical expenses, and questions about the fairness of the separation agreement. I had no idea that it would come to this.

Thankfully, those unpleasant moments had nothing to do with our divorce. Instead, we were forced to sit in on two other proceedings that happened before ours. It was like being dumped into someone’s private soap operas, and unfortunately, we learned their names, addresses, and much more unsavory personal information about them. We sat there together in shock, as I put my hand on his leg and he grabbed it and held it. Not only were we horrified by the nasty disagreements between a couple that had been divorced for years, but we were also instantly grateful for the cooperation that exists between us.

The next couple was much sweeter. The wife teared up in the beginning and was concerned that her hard of hearing husband couldn’t understand the judge’s questions. Nevertheless, the judge started asking them tough questions about their legal agreement, and we started to worry about the details of our own. Personally, I hadn’t expected to be grilled about our decisions. They were personal ones that made sense to us.

When she finally called us up there, we were the only couple left in the courtroom. She said, “Well, you’ve had a chance to see how this works.” We both laughed nervously. Luckily for us, she smiled kindly and sailed smoothly through our agreement. She seemed to be convinced that we had made sensible arrangements, partly due to the way that we had interacted in the courtroom, plus our long term separation and our use of a legal mediator to write up the agreement. We were quite relieved.

When she came to our agreement to share the children’s medical expenses, I told her that we didn’t plan to come back to court to fight over that. My ex chimed in and said that we could make decisions about braces without the help of a judge (unlike the first couple). She laughed and said, “It all comes down to communication.” When she approved our agreement, my ex asked me for a hug. She smiled widely and said “Keep up that attitude.”

What we saw in that courtroom had quite an impact on us. I was really sad, but not because I was divorcing, but because I had seen such animosity between divorced parents. Yet, of course, there was also a sense of lament at the formal end of our marriage. We looked at each other tearfully, hugged again, and I said, “We just officially saw that we did a good job.” He replied, “We’re still doing a good job.”  I couldn’t agree with him more.


Our House is a Very, Very, Very Fine House

Posted: July 26th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: challenges | Tags: , | 1 Comment »

My mosaic tile backsplash made a nice backdrop to their baths.

 

Last night I was with a divorced friend who discovered that her marital home was up for sale again. Within seconds, we were able to virtually visit the house. Frankly, the Internet allows us way too much information on our past lives: our exes, who they are dating, what establishments they are frequenting, and so on. So I guess we should have been prepared for the uncomfortable intimacy of seeing photos of someone else living in the dwelling that she and her family called home for over a decade. Of course, we dished about how the cheap Ikea furniture was totally out of place in such a stately home. But the catty fun ended when she saw what the current owners had done to her garden, the garden that she literally built from the ground up (there was no yard when they first purchased the place).

 

She recounted the hours she spent in her garden, mulching, weeding, watering, a labor of love that she thought would continue to bring joy to the new owners. Yet they chopped everything back, pulled out plants, and (gasp!) installed an unsightly swing set. It was clearly a slap in her face.

 

Soon, I was sharing details from my former home: the flowering pear tree that had split in half during a storm, the way the new owners pulled out the beautiful climbing hydrangea that we waited three years to see bloom, and other tragic changes. I am glad that I have moved to a different city because I never want to drive by my old home, and I certainly don’t want to know if they have tiled over the mosaic backsplash that I personally made and installed while 8 months pregnant with my daughter.

 

We lose a lot in a divorce, but the family home may be the worst of it. Clearly, we do all we can to take good care of our kids during a marital split to make sure that they suffer as little damage as possible, but the home is often a necessary victim. Once a source of pride, the scene of momentous occasions, perhaps the only home our children have ever known, the house gets reduced to a “marital asset” to be divided and fought over, and usually sold. And this special place where our children were conceived, born, and raised often ends up in the hands of strangers.

 

I had already experienced the loss of a home, my childhood home, albeit I was a grown up when it happened. My family had lived in the same 1960’s ranch in Malibu for over thirty years, when my parents had to sell it to move out of the area, and because it made financial sense to do so. We all recalled decades of good times there and mourned its loss. A year later my parents went back to see some friends in the neighborhood and were astonished to see that the house had been razed, completely demolished in order to build a McMansion in its stead. At first my mother was devastated, but then she wisely realized that the house was forever ours, that no one would ever live in it again.

 

If we think about it, this is always true. Once we move our things out of a house, it is just a shell. It is our presence that gives it meaning, and that importance will always live in our hearts and minds. I still dream about my childhood home.

 

In addition, I must admit, that I am still a sucker for the line that “Home is where the heart is.” Moving to an apartment in the Boston area taught me that. I have lived here two years now, and I have a lovely, light-filled apartment that I set up and decorated all on my own. The kids are in some of the best public schools in the country and have lots of friends. I myself have wonderful friends and a large community of single parents. This move taught me a lot of lessons, one of which is that I can make huge life changes successfully and find happiness wherever I am.

 

This is as good a time as any to share a nugget of wisdom gained from my monthly book group. Last month we read the book “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” by Shunryu Suzuki. In a chapter appropriately titled “Transiency,” Suzuki reminds us that everything changes, that this is a universal truth, one that isn’t so easy to accept. In fact, in the teachings of Zen, all of our suffering comes from “our non-acceptance of this truth.”

 

This line really hit home for me, no pun intended. Like everything about our lives—our bodies, our children, our jobs, our relationships—our homes will change. If we can learn to accept this truth and find composure amidst the change, we will find Nirvana. Or at least a little momentary inner peace. In the meanwhile, try to avoid Internet photos of your past lives. They just plain suck.

 


Is He Really Going out with Her?

Posted: June 3rd, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: challenges, dating stories | Tags: , | 5 Comments »

Joe Jackson - Is she really going out with him?

 

Why do we care who our exes date? Why does it burn us up that they decide to date someone that we just deem so inappropriate for them? To begin with, it’s clearly none of our business, but of course that won’t stop us from having an opinion. Joe Jackson wouldn’t have written his famous song “Is She Really Going out with Him?” if this weren’t a common phenomenon.

Ostensibly we have the excuse of the wellbeing of our kids, yet let’s be honest: that’s only part of the equation. I find myself judging the new girlfriends of ex lovers as well, and we have no offspring in common.

I think there is an element of pride involved here. I remember when I was in college, and an ex boyfriend told me that he was dating someone new. I was shocked at his choice. She was a heavy-drinking tomboy, whom I deemed crass and masculine. In my youthful arrogance and ignorance, I considered her beneath me. I felt distressed at the thought that he liked us both, fearing that revealed something negative about me. Instead, what it really revealed is how different he and I were. I was more of a black-wearing, feminist intellectual, and he liked to drink beers in the basement of his all-male eating club. While I was not only wrong to judge her, I also later realized that I was kidding myself that he and I had anything in common other than sexual attraction.

Nevertheless, often our exes’ new girlfriends bring out in us deep-seated fears of inadequacy. That’s why so many of us judge them for dating much younger women. It highlights our vulnerability over the marching of time. We’d all like to look how we did in our twenties. When my ex started dating his current girlfriend, she had the exact same pixie haircut that I did when we met. Even my ex admitted that there was an uncanny resemblance between us. We shared a laugh over how he was unconsciously dating a young Molly.

Yet frequently we seek out people who are the exact opposite of our exes, hoping to have a brand-new experience and outcome. My ex is a 5’3” Puerto Rican with the passion and drama that are often associated with the Latino culture. The first person I dated when we split was a very tall, white guy who never got ruffled about anything and had little affect. I learned a lot from him, including that what I thought was an inherent part of my own personality was really part of a dynamic that I had built for 13 years with my ex.

However, sometimes we even go back to people who have the same issues as our exes, hopefully to get them right the second time around. My ex was appalled about some of the characteristics that a new boyfriend had at the time because they had been qualities that had bothered me about him. Yet in this new guy, they were more palatable, because he also had an outgoing, magnetic, social personality that my ex never did. And in the process of dating him, I learned how to deal with some of those issues better. It was a kind of opportunity to learn from the mistakes that I made with my ex husband.

When I look at my own choices, I realize then that the people that I date are not a reflection on my ex.  While there are things that I want that are polar opposite from him, I also have come to admit that he had a lot of the qualities that I needed and still need in a partner.

So now when I am tempted to shake my head in disbelief over my exes’ choices of new mates and start changing the pronouns of Joe Jackson’s song, I ask myself to try to be objective and see what how they might benefit from the partnership. For example, my ex husband’s girlfriend is much more temperamentally suited to him because she has a similar emotional nature. That doesn’t mean that there is something lacking in me.  It simply means that he has someone that understands and relates to him better.

As my yoga teacher often says, “Stay on your own mat.” There is no need to get our panties in a bind and compare ourselves to the new girlfriends (or boyfriends) of our exes. Like I said in my last post (this must be my current theme), self-acceptance is the key to finding happiness…and the right partner.


Aging Gracefully

Posted: May 11th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: challenges, joys | Tags: , | 5 Comments »

 

A beauty to aspire to.

Yesterday a dear friend called and pointedly asked me, “So…how are you feeling about your upcoming birthday?” I got a chuckle out of that, not only because she knows me so well, but also because that is a question one would never be asked before a certain age.

The answer is that I feel great, but I must admit that I did go through some aging angst earlier this year (and I will most likely go through it again). As women my age know, our bodies start to change, and not always for the better. In addition, I was spending time with some particularly beautiful (and somewhat enhanced) women, and that started to make me feel a bit like the frumpy old stepsister.

When I was living in Northampton, I was in a community of very natural, some might even say crunchy, women. The beauty regimes of these ladies tend more towards juicing and yoga than Botox and boob jobs. As I routinely saw in my hot yoga classes, shaving one’s legs and armpits was often considered optional.

However, here in the Boston area, women seem to have a different approach. They are more glamorous. I was once chided for wearing jeans to a holiday party by a woman wearing a black lace dress. (Luckily, the hostess reminded her that she was also wearing them.) They seem to have perkier breasts, smoother faces, and tighter bods. I will confess that it started to make me feel insecure and inferior. I began to wonder why a guy would want to date me when he could have a hottie like one of my friends. After one date with a guy that I particularly liked, I decided that I needed to be thinner (even though I am medically at a perfectly normal weight). So I went on my first diet since I gave them up at 22, which turned me from a healthy and good-natured person to a self-obsessed grouch.

During that brief stint of self-deprivation, my 8 year-old daughter told me that her dad had suggested that she wax her eyebrows when she gets older. I told her that no man (or person, really) should tell her how to be beautiful, which she was very grateful to hear because she said she is fine with her eyebrows. When I posted about this on Facebook, my friends congratulated me for teaching her good values and said that she was lucky to have me as a mom. This praise made me feel a little like a fraud because here I was dieting because I had this insecure notion that a man wouldn’t like me if I weren’t stick thin.

As I told this to a Northampton friend of mine today over brunch, she reminded me that she had written a blog piece about the importance of reference groups. In Northampton she was thrilled to find a truly original rubber chicken purse, whereas when she lived in New York, a Prada purse was what she thought would give her happiness. Her larger point was that our values and desires tend to be influenced by our communities.

Now, I’m not going to start hating my new cosmopolitan friends just because they are beautiful, but I have found myself gravitating a bit more to those who are less focused on exterior beauty and more on inner beauty. Ironically, one of the most beautiful women I know told me that she envied me because she said that I have such an attractive personality, which would never change, whereas her physical beauty would eventually fade.

I certainly don’t want to advocate a polarization between appearance and character, but I did remind myself of the lesson that I learned way back in my twenties (which apparently I needed to learn again): self-acceptance is extremely sexy. I had a weight problem in high school and college that often kept me from dating. When I was 22, I decided that I was never going to feel bad about my weight again. I moved from self-loathing to self-love and was amazed at how many men began to be attracted to me even though I hadn’t lost a pound. Eventually I dropped 50 pounds over five years and never really worried about my weight again. Until now, when I started putting myself under a critical microscope instead of appreciating my strong, flexible, yoga-toned body that yes, does indeed have some softness to it too.

As I reminded myself of my youthful wisdom, I started focusing on being grateful for my appearance. I began to look for signs of my beauty rather than evidence of aging. I noticed my deep-set brown eyes that have lovely specks of green in them, how my face lights up when I smile, my strong yet delicate feet that have pretty high arches, and my soft skin. I could go on, but you get the idea. Within a month, I was feeling so much better about myself. Instead of looking in the mirror with dread, I was delighted to see my own reflection. And I swear to you all, that I look prettier because of it. Or at least, I think that I look prettier, which was the whole point of the exercise because, as many of my friends told me, they already thought that I was attractive.

Here I am in all my glory.


Doing Nothing is the Hardest Thing to Do

Posted: January 26th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: challenges, parenting | Tags: , | 8 Comments »

things that can go wrong...

Just tell yourself that you want to start blogging more again, and life will certainly give you something to blog about.  My ex and I now live in different cities, about 100 miles apart. The kids are with me during the school week, and every Friday afternoon I take them to an Applebee’s right off the Massachusetts turnpike to meet their dad, who then takes them the rest of the way to his house for the weekend. Except for the occasional traffic delays, this system has turned out to be fairly easy.

Yesterday, however, my ex had some car trouble and announced when he arrived that his transmission had died. He was understandably frustrated, it was a bitter cold afternoon, and I felt strange leaving the kids with someone who didn’t have a working mode of transportation. I asked him if we should change the plan or if I should take them back with me, and he told me no and to go on with my normal routine. He said that Triple A would take them to Northampton.

I acquiesced, but my maternal instincts were screaming inside. I felt like I should do something to help them. I doubled back and asked again if I could help. Again he said no.  I felt so powerless, as I saw my kids standing by the car while their dad was on his cell phone arranging a solution. I had to remind myself that it was their allotted time with him, and that he would take good care of them and make sure that they all got home safe. Yet I so wanted to do something, anything to make the situation better. So I rolled down my window and told them to get into their dad’s car to keep from freezing (a pathetic gesture but better than nothing).

A couple of hours later I texted them saying that I hoped that they had gotten home. My ex informed me that they were still at Applebee’s waiting for the auto club to come. I texted them again later and found out that they had gotten home at 9 pm about 5 hours after I left.

The situation made me realize how hard it is sometimes to really separate from your former spouse when you share children. I have always thought of myself as doing a good job at this since I lave learned not to fret over the different rules at the different houses and have tended to trust that my ex loves and cares for them well. But seeing them in distress right in front of my eyes was challenging.

Old patterns kicked in. My instinct was to get involved and somehow make things better. But I couldn’t make things better. And moreover, my ex didn’t want me to get involved. He made that clear. So despite the doubts that were gnawing at my insides, I left the scene. I did learn, though, that sometimes honoring someone else’s wishes and doing nothing is the hardest thing of all to do.