An Invitation

bench

My divorce was brutal. Not because my divorce in particular was so hard; but because divorce in general is a massive clusterfuck.

Divorce and its aftermath have made this space incredibly quiet. Writing has always been my way of gaining clarity and direction. So not writing about it has been stifling. I have an abundance of stories to tell about this experience. However, when you’re living through something rarely talked about and deeply personal, it feels like a huge risk to say the things in public.

I’m fortunate enough to have a wonderful group of women online who are single mothers by divorce; and have provided me with a heart-centered space to talk about this journey. They offer me sisterhood. They are part of the story I tell myself about this experience. These women, and a handful of IRL friends, have been my sounding board.

What I’ve lacked, though, is the space to listen to me. I need to spend more time on the story I tell myself about divorce and single motherhood. In the beginning, with legal proceedings on the horizon, I wasn’t sure what was fair game to share and what wasn’t. Then when all was said and done, I didn’t know how to start writing without pointing fingers. I had to get over some emotional hurdles to get to a place where the story would be entirely my own. And so, here I am.

I’m taking back this space. Too few heart-centered words are written about divorce and single motherhood. Yes, divorce is brutal but what comes after can be as beautiful as I make it. The story I tell myself, the story I write heals the wounds and helps me face the light.

I don’t want to do it alone. Sisterhood and storytelling are powerful medicine. So this is an invitation to join me once a week to be inspired by writing prompts on divorce and single motherhood.

Every Tuesday I’ll share my own post and include a writing prompt for the following week. At the bottom of each post you can link up to your blog post.
Topics will range from the serious to the silly because it’s a roller coaster ride, right?

For November, because of #NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month), I’m listing all four writing prompts today in case there are folks out there who are planning out their posts for the month.

11/8 – How do you spend your time while your kids are away? Some moms struggle with being away from their kids, while others relish in the time off. How do you deal with those feelings? How has it changed over time? Go into as much or as little detail as you want.

11/15 – Write an honest dating profile. You don’t ever have to use it but write down what you’re really looking for in a partner. Mine may just include a spooning partner for the winter months.

11/22 – In the spirit of the season, what are the lessons you’re most grateful for from your divorce?

11/29 – It takes a village, right? Have you found your people, online or IRL? How have you built a community of support for yourself? Or are you trying to figure that out?

Get writing!

NaBloPoMo November 2016

Co-Parenting Through The Holidays

I’m grateful beyond measure for getting divorced but that doesn’t mean life is a breeze now. Despite the gifts divorce has given me, it’s also a challenging, emotionally draining, and isolating experience. My anecdote for this trinity of struggle is to comfort myself with stories. I look for books, movies, blogs, anything to remind me I’m not the first and certainly won’t be the last to get through whatever the current very sucky chapter of divorce is. A lovely side effect of turning to stories is I usually catch an idea which serves my current situation or at least inspires me on how to approach the issue at hand.

This time of year, knee deep into the holiday season, is  a prime example of a time where been-there-done-that and going-through-it-now stories come in handy.

This is our third holiday season as divorced parents. The first was an awkward attempt at reassuring my daughters they’d still be connected to their family and the second was less than ideal. This year looks to be our best effort so far. There is no right way to do things when you’re divorced. What works one year may not work the following year. Priorities and schedules change, relationships shift, and life happens.

The folks over at VProud.TV put together a video about co-parenting during the holidays. It’s the kind of thing I wish I had when we first separated. I’m already taking mental notes for next year.

When I come across content like this I get a little click happy. A voice inside squeals, “My people!” and I start hopping around the internet to see what these single moms have to say. If you’re as hungry for single mom voices as I am, you can find the women in this video here, here, here, and here.

Dating After Divorce

Last year, when my ex-husband told me he was done with our marriage, a tiny voice in my head whispered, “Might as well join a convent until the girls are in college.”

In the months leading up to the end of my marriage, I thought a lot about old relationships. I dissected what is was about them which made me feel alive and loved – first loves, one night stands, old lovers, flirtations, and even the blossoming of my relationship with my ex-husband. I dreamed of what it would be like to be a woman in love and lust again. Despite repeated attempts, I wasn’t getting there with my husband. Bound by my values to vows of loyalty, the only thing left to do was stick it out.

I  was married, emotionally exhausted, and profoundly lonely.

Here he was, breaking it off and setting us both free. You’d imagine some small part of me would have been excited at the prospect of finding romance again. A convent, however, is neither exciting nor romantic.

It does provide tremendous comedic relief, though. I told friends about my holy thoughts and we had ourselves some good laughs imagining my life as a dating single mother. Humor was good medicine during those first days of raw emotions and trying to keep it together. Once the laughter died down, my separation and divorce became a fact of life not this grand tragic moment, and the reality set in – I’m single.

The last time I was single was over a decade ago when I was living on a college campus in the middle of Boston. I didn’t know tragedy or pain, just possibility. My heart was ripe for the taking, my breasts were perky, and my options for love or a lover were limitless. Whatever my desire, all I had to do was look in any direction and strike up a conversation. People, familiar and new, swarmed all around me, every minute of every day.

Now I’m a mother of two daughters living in the suburbs of Rhode Island. I know pain intimately; and I’m mending a wounded spirit and heart. New people rarely enter my life and I spend more than 50% of my time at places and events geared at the under 10 crowd. Options for love and lust are few and far between.

I tell friends this and they all point me to online dating.

“Everyone’s doing it.”
“People get married after meeting through online dating sites.”
“It’s just how it’s done now. I mean, what else are you going to do? Go clubbing?”
“At the very least you could get laid.”

I gave in. I set up a blank account on Match to lurk around and see if there was hope out there. I made two major discoveries. First, men take horrible pictures of themselves (my advice: step away from the mirror, lose the wife beater, make absolutely no face which you imagine looks sexy or handsome – you will look like Zoolander, hand the camera to someone else). Second, every man within a 50 mile radius of my zip code is incredibly creepy. I searched maybe a dozen times over the course of a few months, and while I saw a handful who seemed not creepy and interesting, I walked away from Match.com with my assumptions confirmed – there’s no way in hell I want anyone on that site knowing who I am or how to contact me. The convent looks more attractive everyday. Even a blind date looks more appealing.

I report back to my friends, those hopeful fools I love so much, they say I can’t give up. I can’t be single for the rest of my life, they tell me. Only until they’re eighteen, I correct them. That’s not so long, right? Aren’t humans living much longer lives these days?

“Use it or lose it” and “You have to get under someone to get over someone”, my newly divorced friends who are dating remind me. Did I mention my divorced friends? Like attracts like and once I got separated, I found myself in this wonderful community of other newly single mothers. These women are supportive, encouraging, and inspiring. They are also very clearly divided down the middle – the dating and the not dating.

The dating crowd tells me you’ve just got to jump back in and have fun (wink-wink-Tinder-Tinder). The not dating ladies remind me to take my time, wait until I’m good and ready, what’s the rush (wink-wink-failed-marriage)? I believe them both.

Have I gone on any dates since my separation? Nope. Do I want to? Yesnomaybe. Do I want to be in a relationship? Yikes, slow down. Do I want to get married again? I don’t know.

I do know –

I want to love again. I want to kiss and hold hands and be caressed. I want to sit and talk about everything and nothing until forever. I want tenderness and a hand on the small of my back. I want to put my head on someone’s lap when I need to cry, when I need to close my eyes, when my favorite show is on. I want someone to hold, to stand by. I want someone willing to put in the work. I want someone to go through the best and worst of it with me and be willing to come out on the other side. I want to trust again, myself included.

So I haven’t dated since my separation. Instead of meeting new guys, I’ve spent the last year making new friends and nurturing old friendships. They’re reminding me of the kind of friend I want to be and the kind of friend I’m looking for in whoever comes next. Slow and steady, this is the road I’m taking towards love.

If you’ve dated after divorce, found love after divorce, and maybe even, yikes, gotten married after divorce, I’d love to hear your story. Every story encourages the romantic in me.

Eat, Pray, Sleep

EatPrayLove JuliaMy inspiration, equal parts Julia and Eat, Pray, Love

This past weekend I took the stage for the second time as not just the producer and director of Listen To Your Mother Providence but also as a cast member. Below you’ll find the piece I read. I debated for a long time whether or not to be in the show. I knew I wanted to talk about my life right now, separated and getting divorced and single. I just wasn’t sure if I was ready to be so publicly honest. I began writing and felt so uncomfortable as the words spilled out – there was an unpleasant tingle just under my skin, I felt restless and wanted to step away from the computer and when I read parts back to myself, my voice cracked. That’s how I knew I had to keep writing. Listen To Your Mother is a reminder that however unique your story is, there is someone out there who needs it as much as you do because they’re going through something incredibly similar. It’s about an audience of strangers bearing witness to my story but also about my story being a beacon for someone else to recognize their story is important and that they’re not alone. For you and for me – 

Eat, Pray, Sleep

“I can’t do this anymore.”

Those are the words that launched me into single motherhood.

Standing in our kitchen, no more unhappy than we’d been the last couple of years, doing the mundane tasks of marriage and parenthood,

“I can’t do this anymore.”

5 words is all it took to start the hardest year of my life.

Moments like these, the ones that drastically altar your life from one second to the next, they never happen like in the movies. There’s no change in music to foreshadow impending heartbreak or gut wrenching sobbing begging someone to go or stay or change their minds. Nope. It just kind of happens.

As it happened to me, 3 distinct thoughts ran through my mind.

First, I thought about how much relief I felt. I was relieved I wasn’t the one making the decision to separate, and eventually divorce. An immature part of me wanted to be free of blame for the emotional hurricane waiting for us around the bend. My relief made me realize I was willing to endure many more years of misery in the name of family. My relief put me face to face with how lonely , sad, and unhappy I truly was and how little I was willing to stand up for myself. My lack of action, though, was in itself a decision that holds as much weight as any of the other factors that contributed to the end of my marriage. With all my talk about authenticity and living out loud, my relief put a spotlight on the one area of my life where I couldn’t dare greatly.

As quickly as thoughts of relief came to mind, my thoughts went in the opposite direction of deep and introspective to the frivolous and silly thought of Disney World. I thought, “I’ve got to be the first one to take them to Disney.” Mature and logical, right? Despite my separation being as amicable as amicable can be when lives are torn apart and hearts are broken, fear still rears its ugly head. All the promises and dreams of “family” get shaky. What dreams seemed once owned by “us” feel left in limbo. And I know no one truly “owns” these dreams. We both harbor them with the same affection as before but shaky ground is ideal terrain for fear. And Disney, well, it’s a big, silly dream and that quick passing thought is a reminder that separation and divorce make rational human beings think of the most foolish things.

Case in point, my next thought was of Julia Roberts. I thought, “This is my Eat, Pray, Love moment. I get to start over, find myself a James Franco to distract myself, travel to Italy and India and Bali and, best of all, I get to find my own Javier Bardem. I envision Julia, with her iconic toothy grin, globetrotting, learning languages, meditating, finding herself. Quickly, I come back to reality – I’m a mom with two kids. This is not Eat, Pray, Love.

It’s more like Eat, Pray, Sleep. Or Eat, Pray, Torture Myself With Every Romantic Movie Under The Sun, then Sleep. Despite a desire to shed my old life and start anew, the mother in me could never drag her daughters along a soul searching journey around the world.  Someday we’ll travel the world together but certainly not to run away from our lives.

Since that fateful afternoon, I’ve learned a lot about single motherhood. It’s everything and nothing how I imagined.

Single motherhood is cradling my first born in my arms as her body heaves while she’s weeping over the news of the separation. She’s 6 and barely fits in my lap.

Single motherhood is getting flooded with messages from friends offering their support and love and their own stories of love and loss. They are friends I see everyday and friends I haven’t seen in over a decade.

Single motherhood is crying at a stop light when Pink comes on the radio crooning, “we’re not broken just bent, and we can learn to love again.” I held onto those lyrics for a long time before things “officially” fell apart.

Single motherhood is crying when John Legend comes on the radio serenading me with, “Cause all of me, loves all of you, love your curves and all your edges, all your perfect imperfections.” And I cry because I realize despite all the heartbreak, I’m still a woman who believes in and hopes for love.

Single motherhood is talking on my cell phone…again, that’s talking not texting…more than I have in the last 3 years. Laughing and crying on the phone with friends in some of the hardest and best conversations of my life.

Single motherhood is almost peeing my pants listening to my best friend trying to make me feel better about my chances for finding a man with heavy warnings about the perils of online dating. She insists I stay far, far away from the wackos online unless I’m looking for a serial killer.

Single motherhood is coming face to face with how I drown my sorrow. For some it might be a glass or two or a bottle of wine, for me it’s daily stops at the drive thru for an apple pie and a coke followed by an evening on the couch watching Sex and the City.

Single motherhood is kicking myself in the pants to get off the couch and get shit done. Because even though I want to disappear sometimes, I’ve got two pairs of wonder filled eyes watching my every move. So I put on a smile and go through the motions and one day they are no longer just motions but living.

Single motherhood is awkwardly talking to moms on the playground not knowing what to call my ex. Technically he’s still my husband but just calling him my ex sounds like I’m talking about a boyfriend. I’m trying to be honest, for everyone’s sake but mainly my own. So the easy answer is “their father.”

Single motherhood is learning to recognize tantrums that are tantrums and tantrums that are pieces of their broken hearts. Maybe she’s pissed about sharing, maybe she’s working through the weight of her whole world changing in less than a month.

Single motherhood is falling in love with my friends again – for listening when I need to let it all out and for telling me the hard truth when I need it.

Single motherhood is knowing sometimes I won’t be able to talk to my family and certain friends. They love me deeply but my natural inclination to gently chart this new path is too much a stranger to the anger they’re feeling.

Single motherhood is seeing that single motherhood is just as much about my own womanhood as it about being a mother.

Single motherhood is nothing like what I imagined. As a naïve kid I welcomed single motherhood, even sent it an invitation. I said if I wasn’t married by 30 ( my definition of old at the time ), I’d simply have a baby with a friend and be the single mom version of Carrie Bradshaw. Yeah, like Eat, Pray, Love, I was way off.

These are different lessons than I anticipated. Some harder than others, some way funnier than others, all of them exactly what I need to close one chapter and begin another. I won’t be following in Elizabeth Gilbert’s footsteps but I’ll take a word of wisdom from her, “This is a good sign, having a broken heart. It means we have tried for something.”

eat pray love quote

Life is a grand story and every moment, good and bad, is a page that’s moving things along. This page is Eat, Pray, Sleep tomorrow, perhaps, Eat, Pray, Love. All that matters is that I keep on trying, broken heart after broken heart. It’s about always trying for something or else we’re not really living.

—–

A word on the topic of separation, divorce and single parenthood. This is my experience as someone who feels deeply. I’ve met many people since becoming a single parent who have gone through their own separation and divorce or are going through it right now. I’ve learned we have a whole lot in common but we also differ in many ways. Maybe you’re the one who left or the one who got left, maybe there’s an unpleasant reason or perhaps there’s nothing major that broke the camel’s back (from first hand experience, this in many ways is harder than having a Reason), maybe you’ve moved on quickly, maybe (like me) you’re ready to enter a convent until the kids are in college, maybe you’re going through the emotions now, maybe you’re going through the motions now, maybe, maybe, maybe. What I’m getting at is be gentle if you know someone, an adult or child, heck even yourself, going through a separation or divorce. It blows big time and all we need is friends willing to bear witness and not ignore the elephant in the room. 

A Divorce Is A Divorce Is A Divorce

Language is simultaneously liberating and limiting. When you finally put into words an experience or a feeling, it goes from being this intangible “thing” to something real, at least for me that’s true. After all, it’s the reason I write, to make sense of this thing called life. At the same time, words can limit you.

Take for example the word divorce. Up until a few weeks ago, it was the only term I’d ever known for the process I’m currently undergoing with my soon to be ex-husband. It’s a heavy word and with each utterance reminds me of how immensely it sucks. However, “divorce” fails to really capture the complexity of the situation –  there’s him, there’s me, then our two daughters, there’s custody, there’s a visitation schedule, there’s co-parenting, there’s single motherhood, there’s being single, then my feelings about everything, my daughters’ feelings about everything, and, of course, the constant desire to just be done with it, to be at the other side of this very hectic time in our lives. So “divorce” oversimplifies a very multi-faceted process.

Imagine my delight when Gwyneth Paltrow announced she was separating from her husband, Chris Martin, and called the process “conscious uncoupling.” It sounds like something that floats down from the clouds, a stray feather off cupid’s wing, come to gently rock your marriage into eternal slumber. It made my unexciting divorce seem like this sacred shared process of unhinging two lives into two very whole, separate and thriving entities. And don’t get me wrong, I will come out of this with my own whole, separate and thriving life, and wish the same for my ex, but realistically we’re each going to accomplish that on our own. 

I’ve come to realize perhaps being limited by our language isn’t always a bad idea. Maybe we need words that box us in and put us face to face with the unpleasantries of life. The same way we need words that set us free, we need words that give us a good slap across the face. I have to get real with myself. What I’m experiencing right now is much less kumbaya than holding hands with my ex into this next chapter in our lives.

While conscious uncoupling seems to capture my very crunchy, touchy feely, let’s-talk-about-our-feelings philosophy about life and love, what I’m going through right now is a fucking divorce.

I liken the divorce process to the crazy winter we’ve just had – cold days, warm days, sunny days, miserably freezing days, snow days, rain days, summer in January  days. I’ve had good days, bad days, amazing days, craptastic cry in my car days, brought to my knees in gratitude days, even ho-hum ordinary days. Most days are fine, good and great really, but the emotional process doesn’t stop just because I have a smile on my face.  The road is bound to be a little rough when things come to an end, especially when matters of the heart are concerned. The poetry of “conscious uncoupling” does the mourning process after a marriage ends a disservice. It coats everything in a layer of zen that’s uncalled for, at least for me. I want to feel the emotions that come along with divorce. I want the good and the bad because I know the only way to get to the other side isn’t around or over or under but through.

So conscious uncoupling is a lovely concept for Gwyneth. If it’s poetic language I’m looking for, there are always the years leading up to our separation, and eventually our divorce, which were a bit of unconscious uncoupling. Right now, I’ll take divorce with all its jagged edges. It’s a reminder that it only gets better from here. I’m going through a divorce, a chapter in my life, and I won’t be defined by it. It’s not pretty or flowery or graceful. It’s heartbreak and it’s ugly. Luckily, the heart, much like the phoenix, has a knack for rising from the ashes.