choosingmyownwellbeing

A woman letting go of a thirty-year marriage

Where I am

you are hereTwo and a half years ago, having just stepped into my life as a single woman, I remember feeling somewhat lost.  Not lost as in… OMG…I can’t cope…what will I do now?  I felt lost as in… What is this new place?  Surely in this day and age I should not be expected to navigate it without a map or an app or at the very least some key landmarks!

I felt almost euphoric about having made it through the long tunnel that lead to this new life.  The sheer relief made me giddy, cocky even, when friends and colleagues inquired as to how it was all going.  And yet I still felt an intense longing for the man I had shared most of my life with.  I didn’t want the marriage we had walked away from.  I just wanted him…the man I’d felt a deep soul-connection to since the day we met.  More than anything, I wanted to know when those feelings would become manageable and when they would be gone entirely.  I wanted to peer at a diagram or map with an arrow on it, indicating “you are here” at the gate.  I wanted to follow the map and know with some level of certainty what I would feel in sixth months, 12 months, two, three, five years.  I didn’t need to know what specific events would unfold.  I just wanted some assurance that I was making my way through the fog, moving at a reasonable pace away from emotional chaos.

There was no map.  But if there was a map, it would show me today, standing in a calm place where I don’t even need a map!  And it would show me how I got here. To get here, I had to walk out of that euphoria and fall straight down into intense grief.  I had to sit there and live with it.  I’ve experienced some losses in my life but had never before felt grief that caused my chest to hurt.  I still remember waking up with that pain.  It was 5 am on December 31st, 2012.  I had to eventually stand up and peer out of it and then take a single step up and out of it.  I remember that day, too.  It was March 10th, 2013.  I went to visit Roger, my ex, and have a 45 minute conversation during which I heard the voice of our collective wisdom, that had brought us to where we were.  My chest stopped hurting that day. I still grieved, but the pain wasn’t radiating out from my core anymore.  I stopped blanking out on stuff I was normally on top of, and making stupid mistakes at work.  I looked better and felt better.

Our family arrived at and seamlessly moved through the first anniversary of our break up.  We did the things as a family that we had always done before.  Roger and I remained guarded around each other, but worked as a team to parent our children and engage with our extended families.  We traveled together to an out of town family wedding.  We drove back and forth to our middle son Derek’s university each fall and spring.  We attended meetings together at our youngest son Graeme’s school, and with his speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist and his doctor.  We copied each other in emails with all those parties.  We co-operated with each other around Graeme’s schedule, so each of us could work and still care for him.  We fell into step with each other when my father died and gave each other what we needed to participate in the funeral of a man we both loved.  We worked together to manage a medication trial for Graeme, taking, recording and sharing data.  We approached his school as a team, formally requested one-to-one support for him, and shared the job of making a case for that support.  We slept overnight on chairs, side by side, at Graeme’s hospital bedside when he began having seizures last fall.

From time to time, I do see glimpses of the moody jerk I was married to.  I still feel an impulse to chase after him during those moments and ask what the problem is.  But that didn’t help during our marriage, and I know it won’t help now.  Our separation has given us so much.  When Roger is feeling irritated and moody, there is no one he has to explain it to, and lucky, lucky me…I get to open the door to my apartment, close it behind me and feel the peace awaiting me.  That peace, that safety is sweet.  But on many days since our separation, I still felt that old longing, and I still felt I wanted…I don’t know what.  Just… more.

This past summer, I definitely turned a corner.  Spring had been stormy on many fronts.  Graeme had been coming apart for awhile.  He was informed in March that a member of the support staff at his school, a man Graeme feels very, very connected to, would be leaving at the end of the school year.  Graeme began immediately grieving.  He may have become depressed, I’m not really sure.  His chronic constipation became acute, resulting in daily abdominal pain.  He was missing school.  I was missing work.  We were both a mess.  I began to obsess about the future and how I will earn a living when he ages out of the school system.

On top of all that, there was a major crisis at work, an unprecedented situation, in my 20+ years with this organization.  It was barely believable.  The non-profit agency I manage had three new board members.  One of them turned out to be a very combative woman, who in all likelihood has a personality disorder.  She was engaging in all kinds of alarming behavior, sending lengthy email messages that made little sense, with links to government websites which she intended to serve as proof that we were doing everything wrong. At her first board meeting, she declared war on me personally and then called our primary funder, who thankfully picked up on her apparent lack of stability. Our Chairperson and other executives managed the problem, and convinced a majority of the board members to request this woman’s resignation, but not before it got very, very ugly.  I was grateful that my board supported me and acted to protect the organization from this woman’s very toxic presence.

The morning after the crisis was resolved, I woke up feeling strangely numb. I went through all the usual motions…drinking coffee, showering, washing the tub, filling it for Graeme’s bath, getting him up and helping him into the tub.  Walking around my apartment, I found myself with a piece of hardwood stuck in my foot.  It came loose from the floor and was lodged in the fleshy ball of my foot.  About 3/8 of an inch thick and 5 inches long, it went into the bottom of my foot and came out again part way and was just stuck there.  I gazed quietly at it and thought:  Huh. Really?

When you are a mother, you can’t just have a meltdown when you impale your foot on a piece of flooring.  I had to get Graeme to school and didn’t see any other alternative, so I used a steak knife to slice through the skin, released the piece of wood and bandaged my foot.  It didn’t even hurt.

It’s only in hindsight that I realize I just may have been at my breaking point. But what I did know was that I needed an experience that would inspire, challenge and change me.  I needed to let go of the relentless, exhausting, defeating, repetitiveness of getting up everyday, carrying out all the activities that maintain my son Graeme and myself, only to go to bed and get up in the morning and do it all again.

For about a year, I had been thinking of driving through the Canadian Rocky Mountains.  I needed it, Graeme needed it.  I knew that somehow it would press a reset button in me. I almost lost my nerve.  Graeme’s distress was a constant theme.  Every day, often two or three times a day, he was banging on the floor of our apartment, banging on the walls and furniture, loudly vocalizing…howling almost.  I felt afraid.  If I could barely cope with him at home in a familiar environment, why would I put us both in an unfamiliar environment on the other side of the country?  Wouldn’t that just be flat-out unwise?

Once again, it was just a matter of taking a single step and leaving that fearful place.  I booked our flight from Toronto to Calgary.  We needed accommodations with full kitchens as opposed to standard hotel rooms, because Graeme can’t take the pressure of being in a restaurant everyday, so researching and finding suitable, affordable places to stay required a lot of research.  That took about a week, and once all those arrangements were in place, I booked our return flight from Vancouver.

We flew out of Toronto on August 3rd.  We got our first look at the Rockies about an hour out of Calgary.  Graeme was snacking during the drive and completely forgot about the food in his hand when the first mountains appeared.  I still remember that moment – I was trying to keep my eyes on the road while taking in the mountains, and loving the expression on Graeme’s face all at the same time.  We were on the Trans-Canada Highway and almost immediately a massive black mountain was looming ahead of us.  As we got closer, I realized we were driving, in the bright sun, toward a major storm system.  Soon we were being pelted with hail stones, with zero visibility. All cars were pulled over on the shoulder to wait out the storm, so I did too.  When the storm cleared, we made it to the resort we would stay at for two days before continuing on through the Rockies.  Although that was the only major weather-related event we experienced, it seemed to set in motion a continuing cycle of storms we endured together while falling in love over and over again with these massive land forms that take your breath away, surrounded by rivers and lakes that are bluer and more beautiful than anything I’d seen in my entire life.

Enthralled with the mountains, Graeme asked immediately, typing on his iPad, to go up into the mountains.  The next day, we rode the gondola up Sulphur Mountain and we stood on a platform at the summit, gazing down on the town of Banff.  At one point, I missed a cue that indicated Graeme needed the washroom and all his distressed behaviours kicked in.  A group of Japanese tourists stood and watched intently – apparently witnessing an autistic meltdown for the first time?  There were no unisex washrooms.  I had to escort him into the ladies washroom to pee – what else could I do?  We enjoyed the rest of the afternoon on the mountain top and went back to the resort for dinner and a swim.

Next morning, we were on the road to Jasper.  Just when we thought we couldn’t love those Rockies more deeply, something new came into sight.  The highway took us higher up as we approached Jasper, and we were at eye level with glaciers.  Graeme and I had fries and iced tea on a huge spacey terrace at the Columbia Icefield Centre, gazing at the Athabaska Glacier, and Graeme was too full of the experience to even sit down.  By early evening, we were settled in Jasper, Alberta.  Next day, we hiked for hours through the Maligne Canyon…watching and listening to the rushing water, staring up at rock forms, breathing in the forest.  This is what we came for.

Icefields Parkway 1 Columbia Ice Fields ParkwayMaligne Canyon

Our itinerary included five days in Vancouver, BC which was a gorgeous 9 hour drive from Jasper. We drove through lush, tree covered mountains, along a highway that followed the Thompson River, with colourful freight trains running alongside.  Approaching Kamloops, the terrain was drier, with many of the mountains covered in black stubble – the remains of forest fires.  We stayed overnight in Kamloops, in a sweet boutique hotel, but the downtown area gave off a distressed vibe.  We had to go out for dinner and Graeme was very unhappy.  There was a local park I had scouted in advance of our arrival, but I couldn’t calm him enough to take him there.  He did settle for sleep and after a stressful breakfast in the hotel dining room, we got the heck out of Kamloops.

An hour out of Kamloops, Graeme was once again falling apart in the back seat of the car.  There was no where to stop.  No where at all.  I kept driving until we reached the little town of Merritt and we pulled into a gas station with a little restaurant.  I thought he needed the washroom, but once we got into the washroom, I saw that his hands were shaking and I realized he had not had enough to eat that morning.  We got some food into him and made the rest of the beautiful drive to Vancouver with no issues.  We easily located the little condo we had rented on Airbnb, returned our rental car, and took the Sky Train back to the condo, carrying a pizza.  Graeme spent the rest of the evening on the balcony overlooking a little courtyard.

In the morning, we swam in the onsite pool. But Vancouver didn’t really agree with Graeme.  In the Rocky Mountains, he was really in his element.  He had no need for another urban setting.  I let go of all the plans I had made to see Vancouver and we spent most of our time in Stanley Park.  We swam every night before bed.

While we were on this trip, my body struggled to adapt to the different time zones.  Our days were pretty exhausting, so once Graeme was in bed, I would crash.  After sleeping only a few hours, I would be wide awake.  In the early morning, I would finally fall asleep again, often to be awoken by text messages from Roger, one of our other sons or my sister, who were already up and at work.  Those early morning sleeps brought strange visits from both my father and Roger.  I remember being embraced by my father, who was once again whole, not the sick, frail man who left us.  I remember also waking up feeling the full-blown love I’d had for Roger.  That pure love that makes you see only the person’s goodness.  Where the hell was THAT coming from?  I can only guess that those Rocky Mountains had blown all the channels wide open.

Graeme was missing his father too.  By the last day in Vancouver, we were both more than ready to come home.  On August 13th, we headed to the Vancouver Airport for our return flight home.  We waited a long time to go through security.  He had some difficulty going through the scanner on his own.  He started quietly vocalizing while I was talking to a security staff about a  little folding knife in my purse, that had belonged to my dad, which I had forgotten about. So I had to let them take it from me at security.  Such is life.  But while I was talking to them, Graeme was saying “dad, dad, dad, dad, dad, dad, dad, dad..” on and on.  I wasn’t really paying attention to him and he became agitated.  We still had 35 minutes before our flight would board, so I took him to buy some water and nacho chips, but he didn’t calm down.

Waiting at the gate, he became even more agitated and was still saying “dad, dad, dad, dad…”.  I think he was asking to go to his dad that very night, which wasn’t in the plan.  He escalated into a meltdown.  There were 300 people in the immediate area, watching.  I worked with him to try to calm him, but he was slamming his fists onto everything he could reach and kicking at our carry-on bags.  I moved him into a corner so he had two walls to hit and wiped him down with an extra t-shirt as he was sweating profusely.  A Westjet staff approached and spoke calmly to me.  He told me they would do whatever was needed for Graeme – reschedule our flight, give us help at the Toronto airport, arrange a ride.  He assured me that he knew I was the best person to know if Graeme could fly right then.  I asked them to board us as soon as possible and they did just that.  They even asked me if they should wait to board the other passengers or not. Graeme settled into his seat and had a good flight.  Two fellow passengers who had witnessed the meltdown in the gate lounge approached us when we landed in Toronto, with words of encouragement and warm wishes.

The next day, Graeme settled in at his dad’s for a 17-day stay.  I had some much needed time to recover and recharge.  I took a three-day tour of Ottawa with my sister, so we could go back and remember places our family had lived, and remember our father.  I had frequent visits with Graeme at Roger’s and one evening he typed onto his iPad a message of appreciation for what we had experienced together on our trip out west.

September always rolls around, doesn’t it?  No matter how great or how lousy the summer has been, September comes.  I’d had the best summer in DECADES.  Truly.  I felt ready to do so many things I couldn’t find the energy for previously.  I felt a renewed commitment to my job, and to doing it well.  Graeme returned to school, used his iPad to ask to be placed in a specific teacher’s class, and was granted that placement.  The class is for the highest functioning students in the special education department, and has the lowest amount of support.  The one-to-one support we had asked for had not come through but Graeme was determined to make a go of it.  His classmates regard with kind curiosity this boy who doesn’t talk but otherwise can do most of what they do, and some things they can’t do.  Graeme and his teacher have formed a tight bond already.

So where the heck am I on this map today?  One day last week, as I was driving home from work, that deep love for Roger was bubbling up again.  And with it, a fully-bloomed realization came:  I was so, so wrong for him. BOOM.  It made me weep, thinking about the fact that this dear man, who is no more imperfect than most men, had spent 30 years of his life with someone who was just wrong for him.

I want his happiness as much as I want my own.  This is good – I used to want his happiness more.  I know I can never go back to being a woman who would try, and try, and try to be right for anyone.  I want to be right for me now.

I wouldn’t have recognized, two and a half years ago, this place in which I now find myself as a destination on a map.

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Sharks teeth, a jigsaw puzzle and a stick poking me in the eye

palm beach sunset

In February, my ex-husband Roger and I took our son on vacation.  We did the same thing a year ago and I swore it would never happen again any time soon, not because it was in any way a major disaster.  More because it was grindingly painful in a thousand little ways.

Last fall, a generous woman connected to the non-profit organization I manage donated a week in her villa at Palm Island Resort in Florida.  At our annual fundraising gala, I was the top bidder on this item in a live auction.  As I was congratulated by our Chairperson, Stacy, I said “don’t let me invite Roger”. I guess I knew I would any way. The very next week, I invited both of our eldest children and Roger too.   Only Roger accepted.  Our youngest, Graeme, an 18-year-old on the autism spectrum, his dad and I flew from Toronto on the morning of February 23rd.

The week prior, Graeme was agitated, pretty much every day.  It was very trying for me.  I found myself wishing I would be spending a relaxing week alone on Palm Island.  Graeme is non-verbal, and communicates by typing on an iPad.  I mentioned to an assistant at his school, with whom Graeme is very connected, that he was displaying a lot of distressed behaviour and my own response to this was very lacking.  He asked Graeme what was going on at home.  Graeme typed into his iPad “I am angry with my mom because she is not friends with my dad.”  When the assistant challenged this statement by reminding him that his dad and I were taking him to Florida, Graeme typed “yes they are, but it is for appearance only”.  He added that he felt very stressed when in the presence of both his dad and me together.  I remember feeling the same way in the presence of my own parents after their split, even though at the surface they were quite civilized.  It reminded me that a child’s “spidey-senses” are very strong where their own parents are concerned.  As parents we can’t help being fully transparent to them.  They miss nothing.

Like most individuals of few words, Graeme speaks his truth.  Before our departure, I spent a few days considering his wise words, and the various angles at which to view them.

But the trip was booked, so off we went, the three of us, for a week away from bitterly cold temperatures and mountains of snow in Toronto.  A week on a gorgeous, natural beach, walking in warm pounding waves, breathing in the fragrance of seawater.  Once back at work, I was asked by colleagues how my vacation was, and I struggled to articulate how beautiful and yet exhausting it was.

Once we arrived on Palm Island, it took a couple of days for Graeme to settle in .  The first morning, he was out of sorts and it took until the afternoon to get him ready to go outdoors.  He was agitated as we ventured out to the beach.  Since he lives full-time with me and spends a couple of weekends a month at his dad’s, I am normally responsible for his day to day care:  getting him up, toileted, bathed, dressed, fed, out the door, back home, fed, shuttling him here and there, providing him with music & relaxation, getting him settled for sleep.

At the villa, he shared a room with his dad, who took on much of his physical care.  But it took more than twice as long for his dad to do what I do.  And that presented me with a challenge that brought to mind some of the problematic dynamics of our marriage.  I was an over-functioner.  I was, and I own it.  I jumped in and did everything that needed doing to keep the kids and the family as a whole, on track.  I could now go off on a rant about why I felt I had no other options, but I’m not going to.  Many other moms get the picture anyway.  The extent to which one-half of a couple over-functions miraculously ends up being the exact extent to which the other half under-functions.  So, there we were in the lovely Palm Island villa, and every single day, it took until between 1:30 pm and 3 pm to get outdoors.  What could I do?  Jump in and make things happen faster?  No.  I let things unfold as they did and far as I know, no one but me saw a problem.  So I gritted my teeth.

The day after we arrived, Roger found a 3,000 piece jigsaw puzzle, dumped it out on the glass dining table and began assembling it.  It was one of those images with a lot of sky, a huge mountain and some forest at the top, all reflected in water at the bottom.  I think Roger needed something to work on.  It occurred to me that it might be good for Graeme to see his dad and I united in something, with our energy calm.  We worked together the whole week on the puzzle, whenever we were indoors, not cooking or reading.

puzzle

Hmmm. Just another thing Roger and I ran out of time for.

 

On the beach, Roger and I did what most people do, who are not lucky enough to live near an ocean year-round:  we collected shells, and happened upon some ancient shark’s teeth, which we then began searching obsessively for.  Together, we collected about 60 small, black or brown, glossy teeth.  They fascinated us both.

shark teeth

10,000-year-old shark teeth. They remind me that we humans are tiny specs, for just a blink of time on this earth.

 

The original plan involved some restaurant meals, and maybe a day trip or two to Sarasota or another mainland destination.  But Graeme was never composed for more than a few hours at a time, so it made sense for his dad and I to keep his world as predictable as possible to make it a more relaxing week for us all.

I just said relaxing.  It was not.  It was stressful.  Shopping for food, planning meals, sharing kitchen and laundry duties with Roger, who by the way was co-operative and easy going.  But seated somewhere deep in my psyche is this wish to be seen and heard by him.  And the thing that is so wonderfully fabulous about not living with Roger is the sheer release from the suffocating, exhausting, effort to win his approval.  Twenty-one months after our separation, I can barely fathom that I spent 30 years in that trap.  Spending 8 days back in that place raises so many issues for me, not so much about Roger and me, and all the shit that’s gone down, but about my relationship with myself.  What is it I was supposed to learn from Roger and my marriage to him?  Am I learning it or resisting for some reason?  What would that reason be?

My ego is poking me with a stick, taunting me:  you carry the heaviest workload of any person you know; you live with and learn daily from your experiences parenting a son on the autism spectrum; you guide a team of talented people in the operation of one of the city’s most popular child & family programs; you are courageous and tenacious.  What the fuck’s your problem?  Why can’t you master this thing?

Years before Roger and I made our decision to separate, during one of many moments when I saw the inevitability that our marriage would end, I remember a thought I had:  if I had left Roger 10 years ago, I would be over him by now.  I knew then that it would take years, not months.  But I don’t want to wait years.  I don’t want to put in the time, I want my peace now!  It makes me want to sit on the floor and kick my feet, like a toddler!

It took me weeks to recover from the exhaustion of that vacation.  I want for our separation to be this classy thing, where the parents do what they should to ensure that the kids land well, and the kids actually do.  I know that’s what Roger wants, too.  We should be able to take our son on a vacation together.  I have a theory that if we keep doing it, practice will make perfect.  If practice does not kill us first, that is.

 

 

 

 

 

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I want an explanation

ImageOh how I do try to release what was painful in my marriage.  But here comes the “but” that you knew would follow that statement: there is something I have yet to release.  An explanation I feel I am owed.

Almost a year into our couples’ counseling, my husband Roger began seeing another therapist one on one.  Throughout our marriage, this was one of my greatest wishes – that he would share some of his struggles with a skilled listener and get some helpful feedback.  In particular, I was hoping that some of the accusations he made repeatedly toward me, and some of what seemed to me like obsessive thoughts bordering on paranoia, could be aired, examined and maybe reframed.  Owned, by Roger.

I myself have received individual therapy twice, to resolve some old trauma that I knew was interfering with my functioning.  The first time was when my children were very little and I was experiencing gut-wrenching fear that someone would sexually abuse them.  I held an unfounded belief that because I had experienced ongoing sexual abuse as a child, I lacked tools to protect myself and my children would therefore have no self-protection tools.  And so I would have to protect them, every single moment of their lives, to interrupt the cycle.  I hovered constantly.

The second time was when I felt I was broken and needed to be fixed because I feel no love for my mother.  I look around me and see the beautiful love and devotion others including my own children, feel for their mothers and it really does feel like something is wrong with me.  My mother was a decent enough parent toward me, but I’ve witnessed her awful cruelty toward others, including two people I love deeply.  My mother was physically and emotionally abusive toward my sister all through her childhood and continues to find ways to wound her.  My mother cheated on my father.  She was in a big hurry to marry her affair partner and there were only a few legal grounds for a “quickie” divorce, one being cruelty.  Ever the gentleman, my father signed off on the divorce papers stating he’d been cruel to her.  It’s not so much that I can not forgive my mother.  It’s that she always blames the people she hurts, and successfully manipulated me for years so that she would continue to have a “loyal” daughter while she walked all over everyone else.  I had three years of therapy, which did not change my feelings for my mother, but helped me understand my own response to her toxic presence.

I’m a big believer in therapy.  I thought it might save my marriage, although I did suspect it was too late.  I had renewed faith when Roger started seeing his own therapist.  We were making significant progress in our couples counseling, but there were some issues that remained unresolved.  One had to do with a friendship I’d had with a co-worker almost thirty years ago, just two years into my marriage.

At the time, I was working as a darkroom technician, at a small company that produced photo and transparency murals for malls, restaurants and such.  It was very much a male-dominated work environment so I was rarely fortunate enough to have female co-workers. This was the 80s, when sexual harassment of young women in the workplace was just part of the environment, like the water cooler or the photocopier.  I remained professional but kept my distance from most of the men.

There was one guy, Dale, who came to work for the company very briefly, only about 6 months.  I kept him at a distance too in the beginning, which he thought was very funny.  Eventually, I began feeling safe around him and we would talk about the Toronto Blue Jays and music.  Roger and I had just bought our first home together and I shared my excitement about that with Dale.  I talked about my nieces and nephews and shared my dreams of being a mother soon.

When Dale left the company only a few months later, we would get together once every two or three months and have dinner.  We talked on the phone, with about the same frequency.  The last time we had dinner together, I was five months pregnant with my first child.  I saw him again when my child was 1 1/2, at a party at Dale’s parents’ house.  That was almost 24 years ago.  I have not seen him since.  Upon reflection, I do think he harbored some hopes that something more would develop between us and my kid was a reality check.  He pulled away.  I missed his friendship.  But I made so many new friends, mostly other mothers.  I no longer had very much in common with Dale.

Roger never mentioned any concerns about Dale while the friendship still existed.  He mentioned him once about a year after the last time I saw him and expressed insecurities.  I blew him off.  He mentioned him again about 15 years later, out of the blue, while we were having an argument.  Then he mentioned him every single time there was a conflict of any kind.  I offered a fuller discussion about Dale, during which I shared my hindsight that perhaps Dale hoped our platonic connection would become romantic.  I really hoped that level of honesty with Roger would help him see I had nothing to hide, and also hoped it would appeal to his ego, making him feel he had “won”.  What a mistake.

From that point on, Roger was obsessed with Dale.  I began walking away from him every time he mentioned Dale’s name.  I said I would discuss Dale in the presence of a trained professional only.

Of course Dale’s name came up in couples counseling and I welcomed the opportunity to state my truth.  Roger, it seemed, was anticipating hearing some kind of confession and when it didn’t come, he seemed to feel he was being made a fool in front of our counselor, for being so obsessed.  He spoke about a party the two of us had been to at Dale’s, while Dale and I were still working together.  He has memories of that party that have no basis in reality – at least in my reality.  Neither of us was drunk.  But Roger and I remember many of the events of our lives differently.  It’s a real conundrum for me, and I know it was for our counselor too.

For some reason, I had complete confidence that when Roger shared these stories in his individual therapy sessions, his counselor would ask some reasonable questions, like why the woman who had remained at his side for thirty years, bore his children and basically orbited around him, could not be trusted to speak the truth.  I was certain she would ask him to explore his own thought processes, and question why old history even needed a place in the here and now.

Roger reported that she’d said that I’d probably had good reasons for falling for Dale.  Something to the effect that these things happen and it’s not anyone’s fault.  From there, our couples’ sessions became increasingly painful.  Our marriage was in a worse place than when we’d started therapy.  Our decision to separate came soon after, in an honest conversation we had without our counselor, both realizing we were in too much pain to try to heal the marriage.  Our counselor then helped us separate.

I recounted this tale to my friend Trish, telling her I felt I was owed an explanation.  That either this therapist, or someone in the field should explain to me how the lies an obsessed man tells himself got validated by his therapist.  Trish says therapy can be misinterpreted.  She told me that one day her phone rang and it was the husband of her good friend, calling from a pay phone a block away.  He said his therapist told him he can have what he wants in his life, that he should go after what he wants.  And he wanted Trish.  Yikes.

OK.  She’s got a point.  Maybe I had too much faith in therapy.  There were so, so many reasons unrelated to this one issue, that Roger and I needed to end the marriage.  My primary tendency is to trust that we found our way to where we needed to be.  From that place, I can sort of see that it’s my ego that is outraged because it didn’t get what it wanted.  But every so often, I just feel that I’m entitled to that explanation.

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The bad old days are gone

sunny day

I had lunch with my ex, Roger, earlier this week.  And we were relaxed.  It was good.

We’d spent the morning in a service planning meeting for our teen son Graeme, who is on the autism spectrum.  We ate in a downtown restaurant we’d been to many times.  I think the last time we were there together was a couple of years ago while we were planning our separation.  We’d meet weekly with our counselor, then go have sushi or dim sum or whatever.  We’d talk about where we might each live, how we might split our existing possessions, what would need to be bought new, what our children might need from us, what we each hoped for ourselves and each other.  And I would always cry.  It was a bit embarrassing, maybe more for Roger than for me.  He’s skittish about what other people think – of him.  He can’t help it.

This time was different.  This day, as we chowed down on rice noodles and baby bok choy with chicken, Roger told me about the new store he’s managing and all the challenges with it.  He imitated the big grin of one young lad working there, who until now has been pleased as punch to have gotten away with not wearing a uniform shirt nor name tag, and the kid’s complete optimism that his new boss would let it slide.  Gradually, the humour that underlied our connection for so many years, is making a come-back.  A couple of years have passed since those teary lunches.  Much water has flowed under our respective bridges.  Some of what was planned did go down as expected but like many events in our lives, we could not have known what would transpire and how we would respond.

One of those events was my dad’s death almost five weeks ago.

If you are of an age that you’ve seen the old TV show, My Three Sons, imagine Fred McMurray’s character and that was my dad.  There was something about him that made others in his presence feel good.  He was a station wagon driving, backyard ice rink building, dog patting, neighbour helping, sports coaching, value-of-a dollar teaching, example-setting dad.

Like many people, Roger did not have a dad like mine.  My dad was a rare and truly great man.  Roger’s dad was a gambling, woman hating addict.  A source of shame in Roger’s younger years, an object of pity later.  So Roger adapted, by adopting my father.  My father was used to this – he’d been adopted by all my mother’s siblings and many of the kids in our neighbourhood.  There was a lot of him to go around!

When I first began dating Roger, my dad and I had a heart-to-heart talk.  My dad was concerned about his Caucasian daughter dating a Chinese guy and said so.  “I know I’m probably wrong,” he said, “but when you’ve been taught that two plus two equals four, and your kid tells you it’s really five, it’s confusing.” He wasn’t really trying to talk me out of it, but he wanted me to understand.  Then he said, in a resigned voice, “wellllll….it’s not as though you’re going to marry him.”  They had yet to meet at this point, and I wasn’t worried because everyone who met Roger liked him and I knew my dad would too.

The night they did meet, Roger and I had come back to my family’s house after a very late party.  My parents were upstairs, asleep.  Roger and I sat on the living room floor and played Monopoly.  Eventually, I fell asleep there on the floor.  My dad came downstairs for a drink of water around 4 am and Roger stood, extended his hand and introduced himself to my bathrobed father while I slept.  They grew fond of each other in the coming months and years.  There was never another word said about Roger’s suitability as a husband.

Roger and I were married two years later.  In 1982, interracial marriages were still not that common.  At my wedding, my dad broached the subject in his speech.  He said “When Cath brought Roger home…well, some of you have seen Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, right?” That got a lot of laughs.  “But then I started to think, this could be good.  I do like Chinese food after all.  But every time Roger comes to our house, he wants Kentucky Fried Chicken.  And he brings his laundry to US!!!”  He just put all the stereotypes out there and got everyone laughing at them. Then he said “in all seriousness…it’s been one of my deepest pleasures getting to know Roger.  I know we all wish we were more like him.”  I can only imagine what that meant to Roger, who had grown up with critical and disapproving parents.

Many life events followed in the years to come.  My parents’ 26-year marriage ended.  Roger and I stuck close to my dad, moving in with him temporarily until he found his feet again, having him as a frequent dinner guest, accompanying him to his cottage on summer weekends.  It was only a few years later that he partnered up with the then-single and ever so lovely mother of my childhood friends from Ottawa, and she eventually became my stepmom.  Roger and I had three sons and my dad was an excellent grandfather, always advocating that we let kids be kids, and allow them to go through the stages and experiences, including challenging ones, that allow them to learn and become their own people.

My dad was the first person I delivered the news to, that Roger and I had decided to break up.  I’m not sure what I expected him to say; he said “I’m sorry it didn’t work out”.  I said, “Of course it worked out.  We were together over 30 years.”  I tried to explain, without blaming Roger, but found my words created more confusion than clarity.  I didn’t want my dad to worry about me.  I didn’t want to fall apart, so I kept the conversation brief and told him I would keep him informed as the situation evolved.  I realize now that my news had been understandably unsettling for him.  He called me a few days later, embarrassed that he had not offered immediately, asking if I needed money.  I didn’t.  Actually, an extra $5000 would have gotten me out of there a lot quicker, but I knew my dad and stepmom needed any money they had more than I did.

My dad’s health began to fail soon after Roger and I broke up.  At the time, it appeared to be some kind of digestion issue, but I knew then that it could kill him.  He was rapidly losing weight and strength.  He visited me at my new apartment just once.  He brought me flowers.

Over the next year, his organs began failing.  He lost more weight and was frightenly frail.  Roger did not have many opportunities to visit my dad but saw him in March for my birthday, in June at a family wedding and then in early December when my dad turned 80.  By this time, my dad was losing his mobility but came to the table, with support, for dinner and birthday cake.  Roger came with me and our sons for a visit a couple of days after Christmas and by this time my dad was bedridden.  We thought he had a few more weeks, but he slipped away in the early morning hours on December 31st.  When I called Roger shortly after 5 am, to tell him my dad had passed, I heard a muffled sob.

Roger was scheduled to work that day, and there had never been much over the years that kept Roger from work, but on that day he arranged coverage and came to my apartment in the morning.  I had already left to go to my dad’s and stepmom’s home, where his body still lay in his bed, and spent the day there with him, my brother and sister, and our stepmom.  We remembered the stories that made up our childhood, our lives with our dad and with each other.  We laughed a lot and shed many tears.  We said goodbye to our dad in the afternoon and called the funeral home to come for him.  We spent the evening planning our father’s funeral.  I will never forget that day, spent in the warmth and love of my siblings and our shared love for our dad.

Roger spent the day with two of our sons at my place.  He went into my freezer and cupboards, cooked several meals and put them in my fridge.  He went to the store and replaced everything he’d used.  To be honest, I worried a bit about him snooping.  I still don’t know if he did.  It was around 10:30 that evening when I arrived home to find him curled up in my comfy chair watching Season One of Breaking Bad, and my fridge full of meals prepared by Roger.

The next few days were busy as we prepared to greet friends and family at the funeral home.  Our son Graeme had been deeply impacted by his grandfather’s illness and death.  I wanted to be with him and comfort him.  But there were too many other demands.  I had my own grief and needed my siblings close.  Graeme went to stay with Roger so my sister and I could put together several poster boards of family photos (while drinking wine), and also write a eulogy.  Roger dressed Graeme in his suit on the days of the visitation and funeral.  It was a challenging experience for Graeme, who doesn’t like crowds even on happy occasions.  Roger really came through for him, making sure he got away for breaks in the funeral home lounge, re-charging with snacks and movies on his iPad.

When the funeral service began, I felt a little anxious, because Roger stood at the back of the chapel with Graeme, and I really wanted them both up at the front with the rest of the family.  But it was the right thing for Graeme and I realized that Roger was more tuned into Graeme’s needs than before.  It felt to me that in supporting Graeme so well, Roger had also supported me.  My father would have been very pleased that I had that support that day.  When the service ended and the chapel was almost empty, Roger and Graeme approached my dad’s casket and our family had some time together.  Graeme stood at the closed casket, rocking, examining the his grandfather’s portrait, looking beautiful in his suit, and rocking, rocking, rocking.  I loved that Roger, our other two sons John and Derek, and I were all there to share those moments with Graeme.  I love that together we are a unique and strong family.

The visitation and funeral had, as funerals have a way of doing, brought together many friends and family who had not made time in recent years to nurture connections.  It was lovely.  There was laughter and teasing.  There were a lot of tears and many embraces.  There was love and intimacy.

Roger and I were each embraced by many people on those days.  And even as he supported me and even as I felt grateful and grounded by that, he and I did not embrace nor touch each other at all.  We can’t.  We’re still inlove, so we can’t.  We’ve come too far as individuals and as a family.  We can not risk losing the ground we’ve gained.  There is love, but there is nothing else for us, back in the bad old days we began leaving behind two years ago.  Love wasn’t enough, in that place.

In this new place there is love, but we have to be cautious about what we feed it, lest it consume us.

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In the headlights.

deer

Roger, my ex, has bought me a Christmas present.  It is the most expensive thing he has ever given me, I think.  And I feel kind of anxious about it.  I wish I’d found a way to stop him, but I’ve never been very good at saying NO to people I love, and certainly not  to Roger.

Last spring I read Gary Chapman’s 20-year-old book, The Five Love Languages.  A friend whose marriage ended 15 years ago also read it at the same time and we talked about perceived applications to our former marriages and to our relationships with our children and parents.  I did find the central concept useful, which is that there are ways (or languages) in which each of us express love and also recognize expressions of love.  According to Chapman, these are Acts of Service, Words of Affirmation, Gifts, Physical Touch and Quality Time.  If the book’s premise is true, it could help many people in relationships answer the age old question:  What the hell does he/she want from me????!!

Based on some compelling arguments made in this book, I decided that my primary love languages are Physical Touch followed closely by Acts of Service and Roger’s love languages are Gifts and Words of Affirmation.

During our 30-plus years as a couple, Roger gave me many unique and wonderful gifts.  One of the gifts he gave me on our first Christmas morning together, was a Toronto Star newspaper.  He had sweetly and painstakingly used a sharp blade and some glue to rework the main headline so it read:  Roger wishes Cathmae a Merry Christmas!  I still have it.

I’ve also received a few special books from Roger that made me feel… well…understood.  Faces of Feminism by Pamela Harrison was a brand new book in 1993 when I was a part-time Women’s Studies student.  Its pages are filled with the portraits and words of visual artists, writers, shelter workers, members of women’s collectives, the original Raging Grannies, a philanthropist and a sex trade worker.  All are, or were during their lives, Canadian activists.  Roger found this book on his own –  I didn’t even know it existed, and when he gave it to me, it was as though he said to me “I know what matters to you.”  A few years later, Roger gave me a small book simply titled Art of Motherhood, which was actually a datebook, but way too beautiful and sacred to me, to write in.  Each page has an image depicting a mother and her baby, many of them famous paintings, sculptures, or statues, etchings, even quilts and Eastern works.  Receiving this very personal gift from Roger was a rare acknowledgment of me as a mother.

The Raging Grannies!  This is what I aspired to when I was a thirty-something! 🙂  Aren’t they fabulous?

I am a bit less mystified now, than I was 20 years ago, that the many 100 year-old Mary Cassatt images in this book could so accurately and beautifully portray my own mothering experiences and emotions.

There is nothing, NOTHING, I say, as exquisite as skin-to-skin contact with one’s babe.  This Paula Monderson Becker (1900) oil painting reflected back at me the powerful sensuality of motherhood.

Roger has also given me the best articles of clothing and handbags I’ve ever owned. Without exception, these are items I would never have chosen for myself.  Most were too expensive, for one thing, and I have always had a very different sense of style… or more accurately, I have no real sense of style.  Jackets and bags Roger chose for me consistently elicited many compliments.  A few years ago, when I was coming home wet and muddy from the dog park, Roger would say “I need to find you some good boots”.  I no longer have a dog, but the “good boots” arrived last Christmas, courtesy of Roger.  They’re BOGS and even though they’re too warm for many days during Toronto’s mild winters, I do love them and look forward to days cold enough to wear them.  They have thumb-loops at the tops to help me pull them on and besides, they’re very pretty.  Last year, Roger also gave me one of his signature funny gifts:  a belt organizer, except he re-labeled the packaging to indicate it’s a bra organizer!

BO

Haha!  This is SO Roger!  I miss his humour.

boots

I do love these boots.

During some of the difficult years we were together, I quietly resented Roger’s gifts.  For most of the summer and then again for a few weeks in late fall, Roger would stop speaking to me.  Most of the time, he wouldn’t tell me why, and when he did, I was always to blame for whatever it was.  By December, Roger usually emerged from his funk, just in time for Christmas shopping!  And man, does Roger love to shop!  Christmas shopping was hard for me for a few reasons.  One reason was that I was the person responsible for paying our bills and I knew that January would bring an increased debt load.  The other reason was that prior to online shopping, I went to the mall to shop for Roger, our children and their teachers, Roger’s parents, my parents, Roger’s sisters and their children.  And I did this in the company of our son Graeme, a major leaguer on the autism spectrum who took no comfort and no joy in the malls any time of year, much less during the crowded and chaotic month of December.  Roger would frequently promise to come home early from work, so I could get out and do some shopping on my own, but inevitably, he would show up around 7:30 pm and most stores closed at 9 pm.

But it wasn’t just that.  It really hurt me to receive thoughtful, well planned, beautiful, expensive gifts from a man who was angry and without a shred of goodwill toward me for months at a time.  I felt ill at ease, and at a complete loss, unwrapping these gifts.  What they said to me was that simply loving me every day was an unnecessary effort, when he could shop for me instead.  If there’s truth to the “love languages” theory, these wonderful gifts were heartfelt expressions of deep love, but they insulted me, even more than Roger’s bad behavior did.  And to top it all off, Roger was frequently disappointed in the gifts I managed, with a lot of difficulty, to get for him.  Gifts were his currency; my many hundreds of “acts of service” were not on his radar.

So here we are.  Approaching the two-year anniversary of our decision to end our marriage, and almost a year and a half since our actual separation.  We’re doing reasonably well, individually and as a family.  We work together to parent our “kids” – 2 young adults still in our respective nests, and also co-parent our teenager on the autism spectrum.  We took a vacation together with our youngest last winter and are planning to do the same thing this winter.  It is not easy, not by any stretch of the imagination. Let me re-phrase that:  it is so damn hard some days, but the only thing we can do is pretend it’s not.  And I’m beginning to suspect that after 30 years, we probably don’t even know the half of what lies ahead in terms of adjustment, grief and healing.

But here we are.  And there we were, in the Sony Store, when Roger said he was getting me a tablet for Christmas.  And  thinking of the more modest $300 – 400 tablets, I was mentally protesting, but not saying:  Yikes!!  No! Too expensive!!!  I didn’t know he had in mind a state-of-the-art touch screen that converts from a tablet to a laptop, which cost 3 times that amount.  The next thing I knew, an upgraded memory was being added, the hard-drive replaced with a solid state something-or-other, and an extended warranty added.  I was in my familiar quiet place, wishing I’d found a way to say no.

I don’t need it this tablet at all.  I have a hand-me-down Dell laptop from one of our kids, I’m typing on it right now, and it’s kind of crappy in some ways, but it works ok most of the time.  But that’s not the real problem.  The real problem is that I’m struggling, as I always have, to understand the meaning of this gift.  I’ve never understood what this man wants or what he expects of me. I’ve worked so hard in the past year not to even let my mind go there, and to instead consider what it is I expect of myself.  And this is scaring me a bit.  Maybe I’m reading too much into it.  Maybe he needs to give it to me.  Maybe that will make his Christmas, and if it’s that simple, maybe I can receive it with more grace than past gifts.

I wish I’d been prepared for this, but I wasn’t, so I guess the thing to do now is to let it be.  And to bear in mind that I can not learn, in a year and a half, how to manage old emotional habits that jump out, seemingly from nowhere (though I know that’s not true!) and leave me standing on the road like a deer in the headlights.

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The data is in

dataOn a recent Friday night, I took my son Graeme to spend the weekend with his dad, Roger.  As a retail manager, Roger does not get every weekend off, but when he does, we have what has become a Friday night ritual that our son has come to expect:  Roger closes his store at 9 pm and the three of us sit down at 10 pm to a late take out dinner of salad, pasta and pizza.

Sixteen months after separating, time spent with Roger is still painful.  That will change, right?  I’ve heard that it will, so it must be true.  It is easiest for us to be together when our children are there with us, or extended family members, distracting us from what seems like an electrical current that binds us, burning us both.

We have so little to talk about.  We talk about our kids – that’s fairly safe as well as comforting.  We avoid talking about anything related to our 30 year history as a couple, happy or sad, it’s all off limits.  Sometimes I tell him about my job or the people there.  But mostly we talk about his job because it’s the only thing that really keeps him engaged.  Roger is well liked by his staff, generally speaking, because he’s kind, generous and light-hearted with people he likes.  But anyone who gets on his bad side stays there and becomes a constant target for punishment.  So it is always THAT person, usually whoever is unlucky enough to be an assistant manager in his store, that fills the long and meaningless conversations we have.  He can go on for hours about the incompetence and shoddy work ethics of these poor sods.

That night, we sat across his dining table from each other, eating our salad and pasta.  Roger was giving me the update on the current “dog’s-butt” working for him.  I noticed we were making sustained eye contact for the first time in, I don’t even know how long.  I love Roger’s eyes, especially when he takes off his glasses and I get to see the beautiful structure of his brow and high cheek bones, and his skin, smooth as the day I met him at age 18.

I let his voice fade out and just watched his eyes.  I’ve listened to these diatribes for years, an engaged listener, always ready for Roger’s words.  His silences were so long and torturing, so I would drink up every word he said to me, even though I didn’t like his judgments about the people he was so critical of and shared their likely exasperation about how to please this often impossible man. I sometimes gave feedback that I hoped would help him be a better manager, but he really wanted me on his side, so I tried to see his conflicts from his point of few, blind spots and all.  Mostly though, I listened.

But I realized on this recent night, that I was so very bored by what has long been a predictable narrative.  And I took it as a sign.  Of something.  A change in me.  Am I healing? Can we see healing as it’s happening or does it only appear in our hindsight?

In the months immediately following our break-up, I experienced a euphoria that I now know came from the sheer relief of having survived the break-up itself, and not just the emotional trauma, but the work… oh, the work, of breaking up is monstrous and backbreaking.  I mistook that euphoria for healing and was not even remotely prepared for the deep grief still ahead.  It was kind of embarrassing, recalling my earlier cockiness as I told colleagues how done I was with Roger.  But grieve I finally did.  There was no way around it.  I still grieve, but with less intensity.

On the way home from Roger’s that night, I began to really understand, maybe for the first time, that I am better off on my own.  It’s not that I ever doubted it exactly, but now the math was telling me it was true.  I’m more self-directed, less stressed, more rested, less anxious, more hopeful, less frustrated, more connected to people around me, less lonely.  Even as I experience the pain and loss, quantifiably and quantitatively, I’m happier.

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Get some counseling.

Things My Ex Said is kind of like Chicken Soup for the Soul for ex-partners still experiencing the awfulness of a break-up. You can submit a quote and a few months later, see it come to life in comic-form!!! I did this, right after Roger and I had one of our text-message wars back in May. Really and truly, Roger is a nice man… but every so often some WTFery comes out of his mouth! Happens to the best of us, I guess! Any way, here’s the depiction of our “moment” – I love it! The guy even looks a bit like Roger 🙂

thingsmyexsaid

Because when somebody else seeks counseling, it’s all about you.

You should get some counseling

Anyone else thinking of the shrink Don Draper hires for Sally in Mad Men? My advice would be not to take any recommendations from this guy.

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You may already be a winner!

It’s so easy for pain to become our whole reality sometimes.  A little bit of pain, anger or fear can go such a long, long way in robbing us of the positive.

Since we share custody of our youngest son, Roger and I see a fair bit of each other and for me that is still very painful.  I never know when an interaction will subtly shift from peaceful to conflicting.  When that happens, he turns away and I re-experience every moment of fear and rejection I lived as his wife.  But that is my issue now.  I can not look to him to change who he is and resolve it for me, otherwise that would have happened during our marriage.

But… As ended marriages go, Roger and I are really a success story.  We stayed in love throughout our 30 year marriage.  We raised three sons into fine young men.  We worked with a counselor for a year before mutually deciding that we were in too much pain to continue.  We continued our work with our counselor while we prepared to separate.  We made plans together for creating two households that would accommodate all five of us.  We told our children, together, that we would be separating and what the plan was.  We continue to model mutual good will for our children.  We divided the proceeds from the sale of our home and did not involve lawyers.  We divided our possessions based on what each of us needed, and shared costs on everything that needed to be purchased new.  We helped each other move into our respective new digs.  We manage to do things together that are hard, but necessary, like attending events together or travelling as a family, moving our son back and forth from his university each spring and fall.  We still share some expenses as appropriate.   We share some mutual items like luggage and will sometimes text each other to say “do you have the large black suitcase?”.  I still prepare his tax return.  I eat dinner at his place about once a week, as that is where we usually hand off our son to each other.

Every marriage and every break-up is unique.  Until I experienced my own, it was hard for me to understand how kind, balanced, and reasonable individuals became cruel, irrational and crazy during their divorces.  I can think of many people who have told me with a straight face that they were acting in their children’s best interests, when it was plain to me they were using their child to punish their ex.  I know of people who remain engaged in open conflict for years after their marriages end, or deliberately make each other jealous.  I know of women who fearfully comply with court orders for child access, never sure if their child’s father will be inebriated during “his” weekend, or if there will be random lovers sharing their time with him.  I know of women whose children never see their father and struggle with heart-breaking questions from them about whether or not he cares at all.  Then, of course, there is the Restraining Order Hell that follows some break ups, as well as women who go underground for their own safety.

A year in, our wounds have not yet begun to heal and I have to trust that healing will happen in due course.  I think the shock of finally having done what needed doing is just beginning to lift.  But considering the range of “normal” experiences and ways to lose in this game, it does seem we’re already winners.

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The Ex-Wives Rage-Line

hotline

Last night I wished there was a hot-line I could call to quickly unload my anger!  A special number I could dial, where an automated switchboard would answer:  “Welcome to the ex-wives’ rage-line.  Your call is important to us.  Listen carefully to the following options to help us direct your call.  If your ex is selfish, press 1.  If he’s passive-aggressive, press 2.  If he’s thoughtless, press 3.  Manipulative, press 4.  Lazy, press 5.  Stupid, press 6. If more than one applies, press the star key and one of our specialists will be with you shortly.”  I would press 3 and meditation music would play while I hold.

That same evening, my youngest son, Graeme, was spending time with my middle son, Derek, at their dad’s place while I attended an evening meeting at work.  When I went to pick up Graeme, Roger (my ex) had arrived home and mentioned, kind of in passing, that he’s working this Sunday.  But last weekend, he told me he would be off work this weekend, and that Graeme would stay with him.  So I made plans with my sister, who’s coming from out of town.

Graeme’s care is a big responsibility.  He’s almost 18 and very impacted by autism.  He’s a bright kid, non-verbal, and is tentatively beginning to communicate using an iPad.  One of the major ways autism impacts Graeme is it interrupts or delays the communication between his brain and his body.  In the mornings, it takes a couple of hours for me to help him get ready to leave for school, or summer camp.  Sometimes we have stretches of days or weeks when I am having to move his body to help him bathe and dress.  Lifting his legs into his underwear and pants.  Pulling his arms through sleeves.  It’s hard for us both.

His dad willingly takes this on, usually a couple of weekends a month.  Roger’s work schedule can be a bit unpredictable, but he did tell me Graeme would be with him this weekend.  I was anticipating the break, and I made plans to be with my sister, Lee.  Through much of our adults years, Lee and I have had only sporadic contact, for reasons I won’t go into here.  I’m ecstatic that she’s back in my life.

When Roger said he was planning to work this Sunday, I thought my head would blow off!!  When I protested, he began a long, rambling, detailed explanation of the issues he’s facing at work, including the fact that an employee he relies quite heavily on has a sick toddler, and the fact that he is expected to pull off some kind of fundraising/bake sale/customer appreciation event that will improve his employer’s public image.  All valid, but you know what?  This is what he has always done – looked to me to pick up the slack when he is over-committed at work, without consulting me, and with little to no advance notice.  I resented the imposition, as well as the amount of time I stood inside his apartment, listening to his tale of woe.

I sucked up my rage, drove home with Graeme, and wanted so much to unload.  Our eldest son, John, was there and I resisted the temptation to use him as a dumping ground.  That would be selfish of me and hurtful to him.  I won’t do it.

Calling up a friend wasn’t really an option either, because I needed to give Graeme something to eat and help him get ready for bed.  I didn’t have the time or energy for conversation.  I just wanted to vent.

And that’s when it occurred to me that separated and divorced couples who do give in to the temptation to use their kids to sound off on, can really use some options, such as the aforementioned hotline.

I know my anger was justified.  I also know Roger is in over his head right now at work.  Before I went to bed, I sent Roger a good will offer by text message, which he accepted.  Thirty-six chocolate cupcakes for his event.  My rage gradually dissipated.  Still, I think the hot-line is one of my better ideas!

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Anniversary

cake

Today marks a year since my ex, Roger, moved out of our home.

Roger probably has no clue that today is an anniversary for us.  I am the one who remembers dates.  He marks events in his life with songs and told me the song for our break up is Queen’s Days of Our Lives.

Anniversaries can trigger feelings of happiness, bitter-sweetness (or sheer bitterness if you’re like that!), pride, reflective appreciation, profound sadness and loss.  For me, this is not our saddest anniversary.  The past year has been head-and-shoulders better than the gut-wrenching year that preceded it and that is cause to celebrate.

Roger picked up the keys for his apartment on July 3rd, 2012 but didn’t commit right away to a moving day.  That worried me a little, because even though we agreed on a plan to prepare our house for sale, get it sold and separate, Roger dragged his feet the entire time.  We missed the peak period for selling homes in Toronto and only got one offer on our house, $20,000 below asking.  We signed it back $10,000 below asking, but Roger was balking.  We stood there, in our new way of being together, not quite looking at each other.  I didn’t want to pressure him to accept the offer.  But I did feel a bit like strangling him.  I had worked so, so hard for months to get us both to that moment.  I was desperate.  I wanted out.  When he gets around to re-writing that day in our lives, he will probably say I did pressure him.

Much to my relief, eventually Roger did choose a timeline for his move and July 9th, the day he moved out, was a good day in many ways.  As part of our plan for showing our house, much of our stuff was already in storage, in crates labeled “CW” or “RW”.  The rest of Roger’s stuff, he didn’t start packing until the morning of his move, true to the “system” of adolescents who have had things done for them their whole lives.  Was he waiting for a prompt from me?  It never came, because I was done.  I was willing to help, but my role on that day, I had decided, was similar to any friend who helps with a move.  I was not going to be in charge.

The storage facility had a cube van, which we borrowed to unload our storage unit with the help of 2 of our adult sons.  I drove the van.  And that was sooo cool!  I’d never driven a truck before, and felt… I was going to say like a kid riding a bike for the first time.  But that doesn’t quite capture it.  The truth is I felt like a woman about to be released from a marriage turned bad… and driving her husband’s moving van!  🙂 🙂 🙂  I won’t lie – it was a definite wooohooo moment in my life!

Before emptying the storage unit, we loaded up our son Derek’s bedroom and the few pieces of furniture Roger was taking from our home.  Roger and the two boys did all the heavy lifting, and it didn’t take long to get him moved in.  I was sorry to return the truck. 😦  I headed  back to Roger’s new place with our youngest son, who had spent the day at sports camp and we had the standard dinner for a moving day – take out pizza.  Our son John’s girlfriend Tara joined us and the mood was upbeat.  Later, Roger’s sister came by with her family, to “support” Roger.  She declined to share our pizza and looked around at us all with a long face.  Way to support your brother, SIL!!!

I arrived back home at 11 pm and began getting ready for bed, reflecting on the positive events of the day and happy to finally have my own room. At 11:30 pm, Roger sent a short text message:  “Thanks for taking care of me today.”  I shed my first tears of the day.  Then I went to sleep, with a relatively full heart.  The next night, we were all back at the family home celebrating our son Derek’s 20th birthday and we’ll do the same thing tomorrow night, probably at Roger’s apartment.

It’s not the kind of anniversary that inspires the uncorking of champagne.  But I think I do deserve a sweet, pretty cupcake!

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