Some Thoughts on Divorce

Divorce sucks. There are no two ways around it. The unraveling and separating of lives is painful and messy, no matter how mature or well-intentioned the parties. My own divorce is now three-plus years in the rearview mirror, but I have several friends who are at various stages in the process right now, and it’s got me ruminating on what I learned, and what I wish I could share with people in the midst.

My situation is well-documented in the Dandelion archives. While I never overtly spelled out things that should remain private, I cracked the window and let the pain seep out. One of my goals through the whole process, besides documenting something I never, ever anticipated experiencing (who does?), was to not allow myself to become bitter. Now, with the luxury of hindsight, I think I can claim that goal as miraculously met.

Last year, I wrote an essay about my ex-husband. You can read it here. Go on, go read it. It will give context and gravity to my experience. I know that of which I speak.

In my case, it would be so seductively easy to assign the blame- blame every single thing- at my ex-husband’s feet. The narrative is acceptable, and I could easily wrap the mantle of “Wronged One” around my shoulders.  Only it would be a cop out. It would be dishonest, and it would stunt any hope I had to grow from what was the single most painful experience of my life. I knew— knew— that I could not shortchange myself or my kids that way. And so I resolved to learn, and to do as I believed my faith demanded of me-  to show compassion and love.

I spent nearly 20 years with my ex-husband. We met when I was barely more than a girl, and divorced when I was on the dark side of my 30’s and holding three children afloat. He was my friend before he was my husband, and that friendship and genuine respect for his humanity is what I hold dear now. With that in mind, here is what I learned, and what I wish I could share with my friends and with anyone going through a divorce…

Grieve. Acknowledge the loss of something that once held great promise and hope. The temptation to burry feelings, to mask sorrow with anger and rage is strong- it’s easier to be mad than it is to hurt. Give yourself permission to feel sorrow, and allow it to roll over you. Like the waves of the ocean, it won’t be forever, and what feels like overwhelming crushing weight will crash around you, and then it will ebb. It will probably happen over and over, but the more you allow the process to take place, the more certain you will be of your ability to withstand the pain, and not shrink from it, and the more confident and sure you will be of the flux and flow being part of the healing.

Be Honest. Taking a long hard look at ourselves can be frightening. In a divorce, no matter how it may seem at one point or another, the truth is, it took two people. A relationship is built on thousands of days, and millions of moments, where each partner is present, and contributes. It’s a dangerous fallacy to wrap oneself as a victim and it disallows the opportunity to grow and learn. The lessons we need in life will repeat until we understand, and figuring out my own character flaws and acknowledging them and the part they played in my divorce was integral to any hope for a healthy future relationship. Pride, the need for control and the desire to be right in a marriage can be just as corrosive as any addiction.

Rise Above Pettiness and Cruelty. No one knows where to strike to inflict the most harm like a spouse. If you’re being honest with yourself, you will be able to see where you might be contributing to a poisonous environment- it’s possible to tell yourself that you are justified, because s/he did this or that, but the truth is, you’re the one you have to live with. There is more than enough hurt in the separating without either partner manufacturing more. This isn’t junior high, and gathering folks for “your side” is petty and cruel. If you need people to be unkind to your ex in order to feel good about yourself, about your social position or about your friends, that says more about your character than you’re probably aware. And it’s not flattering. Be a grown up.

Don’t be Afraid. Life changes. Yes, change can be really hard- especially if you didn’t want it. But if you’re open to learning about yourself, there are things that might be in store for you that you never imagined. The shape and matrix of your life is changing, but who you are still belongs to you. This is part of why not allowing bitterness and cruelty to define you is so important. When you are no longer part of a pair, you have the sudden ability to figure out again who you want to be, what matters to you. That’s a powerful choice, and one that can take you in directions you hadn’t previously imagined.  Not being afraid requires you to dust yourself off and find your place on the horizon.

Be Kind to Yourself. It takes time to heal- don’t walk faster than you are able. Some days, the best you can do is just make it through. Each step you take toward healing is a success. Have good friends who you can confide in, and who help you deal with your emotions in a healthy way- or who can occasionally just let you vent. Take time for yourself. Use the time your kids are with the other parent to do small things you may have neglected when you had less time alone.

Blame is a Waste of Time. Period. If you’re devoting time and energy to blame-placing, you are not healing and you are not moving forward. Blame is toxic, and it turns one into a victim. It’s also quite a narcotic, and is very seductive— it’s a hard pit to avoid, but avoiding it is necessary. You are responsible for you, and the only actions that are under your control are yours. Blame is giving yourself away. Own up to what you can about your own role, and allow other people to do that in their own time and their own way. Avoiding blame allows you to respect yourself and allows other people the room to do the same.

That brings me to children. I have a powerful cadre of feelings about children.

Bite Your Tongue. This seems like a no-brainer, but so many people screw this one up. No matter how much you want to, no matter how justified you might feel, no matter how strong the urge- never. ever. speak ill of your children’s other parent. I mean it. NEVER. Whether you like it or not, the children are half of your ex. They know it. When you malign the other parent, you are maligning half of your children. If you have to literally chomp on your tongue, do it. If the best you can do is to say nothing, then do that. You needn’t offer praise if you feel none is deserved, but let your silence be your comment. No matter how you feel, the children will love their other parent, and honestly… they should. Fracturing them, placing blame, teaching them to harbor anger are damaging and unfitting a mature parent.

Let Your Children Be Children. If you need your children “on your side”, you need to sit down and have a long, hard look at yourself. Allowing children room to continue to have a loving relationship with both parents is one of the best things you can do during a divorce. If you need to vent about what s/he did, do so to a private confident, out of hearing of the children. Give the kids room to express themselves without having to be careful about hurting your feelings- children are not equipped to be the emotional support of their parents during a divorce, but they can and do feel this responsibility if parents are behaving immaturely. It’s the job of the parent to be the parent. Use your support structure, not your kids.

Divorce is Survivable. I’m in the camp of belief that divorce doesn’t have to be crippling to children. If we give our children the ability to write their own narrative, to express themselves, give them the freedom to continue to love both parents without emotional guilt or manipulation, and the support they need, they can grow up happy and healthy, even if the ideal family didn’t work.

Encourage Interaction. Make it easy for your children to interact with their other parent. Provide guilt-free ways for your kids to speak of, interact with, and include their other parent in their daily lives. Don’t mope or let the children see resentment in you when they enjoy time with their other parent. You are the parent, and your happiness  and emotional well-being is not (and should not be) contingent on your children.

Finally, I would add:

It will get better. This will not always be a gaping wound. Time will move forward, and if you keep the bitterness from your heart, you will heal, and you will be happy again.


My own parents are divorced. They divorced when my brothers and I were 17, 10 and 5.  I have to give huge credit to my parents- my step-father included. Neither I nor my brothers were ever made responsible for the feelings of the adults. Looking back, I am certain there were complicated emotions and difficulties, however, we were never, ever put in the middle. Both my mother, father and my step-father set aside whatever difference and hard feelings there might have been, and they put our needs first. I have never heard a bad word from any of them about the others. My dad and step-dad even coached my both my brother’s little league teams. Together. To this day, I sense no resentment, no anger. It made an environment where we were safe being kids, and we trusted our parents to be adults. I’m even more grateful for this example now, and it’s part of why I chose the path I did with my ex-husband. I know it can be done. It just requires we rise above, at a time when we are possibly feeling our most low. But it can be done. Thanks, Mom, Mike and Dad. 

I also have gratitude for David. Because of his willingness to take responsibility for his actions and his humility in the hard work of recovery, he has positively helped in the process of my healing, and that of our children. 

Seven Years Ago Today…

486828_10151461589415963_579204118_nSeven years ago, I wrote:

“Charlotte A. Cavatica died last night, and there are new tear splotches mingled with the original drops spilled by me, 26 years ago, in my childhood copy of the book.

Sweet Jeffrey fell apart last night when Charlotte died, all alone, at the empty fairgrounds. He curled up in my lap and sobbed, through torrents of tears, how he didn’t WANT Charlotte to die.

And my teardrops fell into his soft red hair as he wept in my lap.”

This morning, before the sun or her brothers were up, Abby crawled into bed and snuggled next to me, a paper copy of Charlotte’s Web in her hand, and began to read.

There is so much I love about this photograph… the relaxed hand with small dimples resting gently on her side, the lighting, the closeness of early morning with her next to me, her book propped open while her eyes are a million miles away, already transported into the story… And so it goes.

Random Crap: The May Queen

The May Queen (Margaret Macdonald)

To find a queen without a king,
They say she plays guitar and cries and sings…
Ride a white mare in the footsteps of dawn
Tryin’ to find a woman who’s never, never, never been born.
Standing on a hill in my mountain of dreams,
Telling myself it’s not as hard, hard, hard as it seems.
~Jimmy Page

You’d think I’d understand, at this point, that life just doesn’t really give a damn about my plans. I see other people with orderly lives, with nice, crisp edges that actually materialize in the physical world. I see these people through a fisheye lens, and I am perplexed. How does one one do that? How does one fill one’s life with orderly family, friends and loved ones who defy the laws of physics and the universe and actually wrest order from the chaos? It’s beyond me, clearly.

I’m back in school. Not really in the way I planned, but in school nonetheless. The program I was admitted to has experienced another glitch, and while I still have a spot, I decided while I was waiting to take a class in an area I suck at and to take the GRE again and see if I can up my scores. Yes, folks, advanced college Algebra and I are bedfellows. For my undergrad, I only had to take basic algebra, and now I’m pulling out chunks of hair as I wrestle with this logical beast; I am determined to prop up this area  where I utterly have sucked, academically. Also, if I end up shopping a new grad program, having better scores will only help.

The kids are funny; they seem to have quickly forgotten how much homework I used to do, and have actually complained about this one class and my grinding of teeth while I pull my hair out to learn how to form polynomials with integer coefficients of multiplicity and third degrees. Let me give you and example— consider this is horrifying to me, as I stand back and marvel, in slight disgust:

(x – 3)(x – 4)^2 =
(x – 3)(x – 4)(x – 4) =
(x – 3)(x(x – 4) – 4(x – 4)) =
(x – 3)(x^2 – 4x – 4x+16) =
(x – 3)(x^2 – 8x + 16) =
x(x^2-8x + 16) – 3(x^2 – 8x + 16) =
x^3 – 8^2 +16x – 3x^2 + 24x – 48 =
x^3 – 11x^2 + 40x – 48

That’s one problem. And I got it wrong the first three times I did it. It’s hard. My brain hurts. I cry a lot. For the record, I could paint a museum-quality replica of the painting at the top of this post… but I absolutely weep at the prospect of logically ordering more pairs of problems into things like above. Different talents to magnify? Meh, maybe. But the GRE only measures one of them.

I dodged a bullet with that last chest cold- it only lasted a few days, instead of turning into pneumonia, per normal. So yay for that!

There is more and more chatter around here about the coming Cicada Apocalypse. The most recent (gross) article I read said they’re going “boil up from the ground by the millions” as soon as the topsoil reaches 64 degree 8″ below the surface. Just think about that for a moment…. yeah. *shudder* Apparently, this particular brood (II) is expected to generate hundreds of millions of bugs per square mile. I’m trying to figure out how to get to California for a month. Dear, safe, sweet, bug free beautiful California…

Speaking of California, my parents retired and sold their home, all in a very short, very rapid clip, and have hightailed it out of my childhood town. It’s very odd and slightly disconcerting to know I will never open that particular front door again, peer around the corner in the kitchen, or open Christmas presents in that family room. Grand scheme of things, it’s not really that big a deal- houses change, and our family is about us being together. But still… there was a moment there where I felt genuinely sad.

The good news is, they now live full-time in the Sierras and we’ll be able to go swimming in glacier-fed lakes and traipsing through Yosemite valley when we visit them now- which certainly doesn’t suck. I’m happy for them- genuinely. The next trip to visit Gramma and Grampa should be tons of fun. Ma, how’s next week sound, when the $#@ cicadas start to “boil up” like little zombies from the ground?

The humidity is back. My good-hair days are numbered, and I’m back to the wild and unruly mess of curls, alas. Another example of not having any control in my life. Not even over my hair. Think the universe is trying to tell me something?

I’m having a few friends over for a Mother’s Day brunch. Yeah, I know- I should be at church, but honestly, I just can’t muster the strength it takes to get all three kids to 9 a.m. church, to sit there hearing things that frequently hurt rather than comfort, while trying to keep Bean calm, on a day that’s supposed to be about honoring motherhood. Instead, in honor of this particular mother, we are going to sleep in a bit, have a relaxing morning with no yelling or hurrying or shushing, fix some yummy food, and enjoy eating, chatting and perhaps even playing a game of “In a Pickle” with our friends.

Imagining Stuck

Writer’s block sure does suck.

(I’m sick with a miserable spring cold, and hepped-up on cold medicine)

Gravity is serious business, and while I know things are cyclical—- the rocket cannot exude infinite fuel and continually break earth’s atmosphere— I’m not so understanding with myself and the laws of physics on my will. Why can’t I keep moving at supersonic speed? Why do I have to run on fumes for a while? Why is recharging necessary, and can’t I just keep burning so brightly and fantastically ALL THE TIME?! Um… nope. No, I can’t. No one can.

Years ago, before I married my David, back when we were just best friends and hadn’t cut each other to shreds with the expectation and shattered dreams of our marriage, he said to me: “Life is pain. The sooner you get over it, the better it will be.” This is reflective of the form of Buddhism he was then practicing, and I knew it, but I wanted so badly to cling to my rose-colored glasses and my sunny optimism. Letting the world break me just wasn’t an option.

(*cough cough cough* no matter how many kegals you do, after birthing three nearly 9 pound babies, nothing can save you from a coughing fit)

I still feel that way. Oh, don’t get me wrong- I know what he was saying— life is hard, and it’s gonna hurt you, chew you up, and sunny optimism isn’t going to stop it. And in a way, he was right. Looked at from one vantage point, life has sucked and the pain and heartache have just overflowed and overflowed. But much like the rocket who cannot indefinitely defy gravity, neither can pain last forever.

If I just shift my perspective ever so slightly, the pain, the upheaval, the uncertainty, the grind, the hardness of life just melts away. Even writing that sentence, I had to stop myself from adding “beauty”… because it’s all around us. We just have to give up our need and desire to control everything. And damn, that’s a hard thing to do.

(Cloraseptic throat spray is one of the most vile taste in the world, but dang… the relief is sweet, even if brief)

I never thought of myself as an optimist- growing up, I was pegged as the too-thoughtful girl who was slightly morose and spent a lot of time thinking Big Thoughts. Even fairly young. I remember standing out by the street when I was about my daughter’s age, under a steel grey California sky, inhaling the scent of scattered raindrops on warm gravel, and staring off into the distance. I had on a lavender shirt. Then I went inside and wrote a poem about how I felt, and considered myself very deep. My mom probably rolled her eyes, and told me to go play. She was right- an introspective child sometimes needs to be kicked out of her own head. But I was okay, too, just the way I was.

What’s my point? I don’t know. Sometimes I need to kick myself out of my own head and enter the world of action. Back to gravity… because my default state is to reside within, it’s too easy to stay in my comfort zone. I can build castles and monuments to whatever I’m ruminating on inside, and then I can expect the folks who people my life to entertain to castles as though they are real. It’s not fair.

(*squirt squirt squirt* GAG… Ahhhhhhhh….)

I figure out who I am by writing. When I’m just in my head, it’s like the center of the cyclone in the Wizard of Oz. The only way to calm the storm is to open it up, and allow the whirlwind to coalesce into something tangible. It’s time again to come out of my head, and use what I’ve learned and get back to the business of defying gravity.

(Right after this nap)

The Natural History Museum

IMG_0569One of the best things about living in the DC area is the friends and family who find themselves coming through. It means we get to see way more friendly and loved faces than we did in the ten years in our smallish Pacific northwest home. I have a blow-up bed— one that doesn’t even deflate in the middle of the night!— and these fine accommodations draw friends from far and wide. This week it’s my brother (Bean’s namesake) in town on business. He took a day off to spend traipsing around the mall and hitting the various Smithsonians with us…IMG_0556The Natural History Museum is the kids’ favorite, and Bean spent about an hour in the live butterfly room. Jeffrey wasn’t happy about this butterfly on his head. There were hundreds of butterflies, tiny and giant, flitting about, and even after my brother and Jeffrey took off to the hall of gems, Bean refused to leave the butterflies. IMG_0558It’s hard to see amid the flowers, but there are scads of butterflies here.IMG_0562Here is a large one that hung out on Bean’s butt for quite a while.IMG_0564But this little cute one on Abby’s nose was the favorite, though I’m pretty sure she’d have freaked out if one of the big ones had chosen her face to rest.We ended the afternoon on the mall by walking down to Lincoln, where Abby and Jeffrey were too pooped to do anything but complain, but Bean was quite happy. He loves walking the entire mall.IMG_0555IMG_0573