Father’s Day Lessons

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For Father’s Day, I helped my son pick out a card (he wanted the one with a cut-out airplane gliding across the front). I also took him to the store to pick out a little gift for his Dad. I explained that we had a budget he had to stay within, and that we could only buy one thing, but otherwise, it was completely up to him to select what he wanted for his Dad.

When we got home, I cut the wrapping paper that he picked and handed him each piece of tape so he could wrap the gift himself. I spelled out the words for him that he wanted to write on the card. He was so stinking’ proud of his work, he just knew his Dad was going to love it.

A few weeks before Father’s Day, I started talking with my son about what the day means and why we celebrate our fathers. I asked him to think about 5 nice things he could say that would make his Dad smile, then we recited them together.

The day before Father’s Day, I asked him to add one thing to the list that he could do for his Dad. He picked “give him the strongest hug in the world.” He also asked to buy his Dad’s favorite cookies at the grocery store, and a special one that had “Awesome Dad” scrawled across the front in blue icing. So we did.

I helped him pack the goodies into his “Going to Daddy’s house” bag. He beamed with pride, he was soooooo excited to show his Daddy.

As I sent him out the door that day, I reminded him of the nice things he thought of to say and how much Daddy loves his hugs, and I sent him on his way, bag in hand.

I stood back and watched from the window as he had his Dad unpack the bag in my driveway. He just couldn’t wait another second!

His father and I don’t talk, we don’t really even look at each other anymore. Honestly, I hate him. But I love our son, and watching him really understand the meaning behind this special day and feeling proud of himself for coming up with such thoughtful ways to show his appreciation for his Dad, well, it’s worth it.

 

 

942 Days Later, I’m Divorced

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942 days ago it felt like my world came crashing down on me. From that day on, the life I had built over the previous 8 years of marriage would no longer be the life I would be living.

Well, my life would be the same. But my “world” wouldn’t be.

Life is what we experience each time we take a breath, when we feel alive just from looking into our children’s eyes or feeling their breath on our skin.

Life is literally every breath — the beginning and the end.

The world we live in, it’s what surrounds us, what we choose to do with our life (and some of what is chosen for us).

We don’t control life. We do control the world around us — the immediate environment we live in, who inhabits it, who we interact with, where we go, what we do for work, how we spend our time.

942 days ago, when my husband decided that the world we had built together was no longer what he wanted, it crushed me. But my life went on.

I was grateful to be alive and capable of creating an improved world for myself and my son. Just the year before, I was scared that I would die of cancer and leave my son motherless.

Maybe shedding a partner who was never capable of being there for me would be a blessing in the end.

Turns out, it was.

I found it was easier to breathe without him, after the initial sadness and anger passed. I realized how difficult it had been to be married to him, how hard I worked to keep my marriage intact. I just kept going because I didn’t realize I had a choice. I embraced the suck.

You don’t really learn who a person is until you divorce them. Shit got scary around here.

I would have preferred a more graceful period of battle, and a more reasonable, amicable 365-day wait on that whole divorce and custody battle aspect.

But now that we will finally be officially and legally and actually divorced?

It feels good, the finality of it.

I hope nothing happens to the judge before I get to the court house today.

If one more delay or snowstorm, or legal technicality pushes this out any more days… well I’ll suck it up and keep counting I guess.

Life goes on 😉

 

Tin Man & Heartache

tim-gouw-133424While catching the commuter train this morning, Miranda Lambert’s melodic voice filled my ear buds and unexpectedly brought me to tears.

I quickly swatted the tears away, but it got me thinking —

Lately, my life has resembled a country song.

My ex split when our son was three. He was barely there for our son those first few months, as he tried to figure himself out, hold on to his job, his affair partner, and grapple with his addictions.

In hindsight, he wasn’t around much before either, you know, because he was busy “working late.”

There I was, with a full-time job, health crisis of my own, and a little boy who wanted to know when Daddy was coming home, why Daddy left, why Daddy didn’t pick him up from school anymore, why, why, why.

Family flew into town to help me those first few weeks and it was still hard. I was in shock, stopped eating, and operated on auto-pilot at work and with friends.

My son did not adjust well, often clinging to my legs while I tried to make dinner, he was wetting the bed again, having nightmares, trying to nurse, he didn’t want to let me out of his grasp.

In a nutshell, it was regression and he also started showing signs of anxiety.

I gave our family dog to my best friend. That broke my heart too. 

For so long, I separated the heartache I experienced during the aftermath of my ex leaving from everything else I had to contend with in my life. I pressed “pause” on the heartache and trudged ahead.

I had no idea how long it would take to get through my divorce and custody battle. More than two years went by, and we still weren’t divorced, nor did we have a court-approved visitation schedule. 

I had my son full-time and we had a makeshift schedule where his Dad would come over to take him to school, and pick him up from school on other days for dinner visits, which eventually morphed into every other weekend sleepovers, always requiring 50+ emails back-and-forth to coordinate. Exhausting to say the least, but at least he was involved in his son’s life again. 

During that time, I refinanced the house so we didn’t have to move and spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours preparing for our  custody trial. 

I took and failed a credentialing test I really needed for work (fail!), I spent a lot of time and stress trying to get into a different career field, thinking I would need the extra income, but it was not meant to be (fail!).

I underwent radiosurgery at a hospital out-of-state, a week before my son started elementary school and it was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. I couldn’t have made it through that without the love and support of my family and loving boyfriend.

As you can see, life just never stopped hurling challenges our way. Not for a second.

No wonder I pushed down the heartache. But this morning, listening to that song, it came back to me and I remembered just how raw and devastating it all was — the heartache of being left.

It reminded me that it’s ok to reflect on how hard a period of your life was, and how much you went through, because you did it. You made it to the other side. I did that.

Here’s to reflection and the growth that comes from it. Thanks, Miranda.

Co-Parenting Communication with a High Conflict Ex

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One aspect of co-parenting with a high-conflict personality that’s challenging is that the advice you find online, and often in therapy, suggests the best way to deal with such a person is to leave and have no contact with them ever again.

It’s referred to as “no contact.” But with a co-parent, you can’t exactly do that.

You have kids to raise, together (in some shape or form, as is most often the case).

So you have to adapt the “no contact” rule to “low contact.”

You have to ignore everything that is not directly related to co-parenting your children.

It’s hard, I know. I live it.

I try to only respond to communications that are directly related to our child or aspects of parenting that are covered under our custody guidelines.

That’s usually stuff like health updates, any important behavioral problems, coordinating school forms, or basic questions about who has the rain boots, what time karate ends, etc. Any other messages, especially ones that attack my parenting style and are blatantly untrue, I completely ignore.

When I receive messages from my ex that are unpleasant, I try telling myself, “nothing I respond with will make a difference. My words will only be used against me in ways that rational people like myself couldn’t even begin to predict.”

That’s because I’m not crazy and I can’t think like a narcissist all the time (it’s a good thing, really).

And it’s true, it doesn’t matter what you say to defend yourself. You know the truth and even when you present legit evidence, it still won’t convince your ex that his truth is wrong. Keep the evidence and file it away for when you go back to court, but don’t engage in banter with him about it.

It can make you feel out of control to receive communications from your ex because you feel like you just want to set things straight, or you don’t want to have conflict, or you are so enraged by the lies. But the only control you have is in deciding how to respond, and more often than not, the power lies in not responding at all.

Narcissists hate to be ignored. Like really hate it.

Back in undergrad, we learned about behavior modification. I try to go back to the examples we observed while training lab rats. Basic reinforcement stuff, like the quickest way to get rid of an undesired behavior is to give absolutely no reaction (positive, or negative).

You’ve probably learned this from raising kids too. Apply the same theory to managing your reactions and responses to your ex’s behavior and/or communications. Don’t be baited.

I do still get messages from my ex that seem relevant, so I’ll answer, but then it later becomes clear that it’s just my ex being difficult, or lies. Once it hits me, I then switch the flip to “ignore,” and try not to beat myself up too badly about it.

I also read a lot about co-parenting with a high-conflict individual. And I keep reading about it as a reminder, because I find the busier I get and the more time that passes, I  can easily fall back into my old pattern of approaching communications with my ex, and you absolutely cannot do this. It’s low contact for good.

Check out author Shadida Arabi if you need a good place to start on reading material.

 

Appetite

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The divorce stress diet typically consists of coffee, wine, bourbon {oh wait, is that last one just me?}, and some crackers every couple of days.

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The custody trial appetite? It’s like being pregnant and preparing for your 8th month, devouring every chip and brownie and doughnut and slice of pizza in sight.

Gearin’ up.

There Is No “All Clear” in Cancer

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I got the results of my 6-month scan today. Everything is stable.

Stable. Meaning that my tumor is still there, looking the same as it did 182 days ago, and the other lesions that are not (yet) tumors still show up as, well, just lesions to be scanned again in another 6 months.

It’s a waiting game. Full of stress and the discomfort of living with the unknown.

“That’s amazing news, your tumor is stable,” friends and family say when I give them the update. “Yes, it’s the best news possible, given the circumstances,” I quip.

It is good. It could be so much worse. The report could read “metastasis” or “additional tumor.” That’s what happens in my nightmares. That’s what gives me anxiety, because it could happen, and at a rate much higher than people who aren’t predisposed.

You can’t really understand how it feels when the report comes back as “stable.” No one can understand, unless they have been through it. There is no “all clear” when it comes to tumors. It’s more like “You’re cleared for another 6 months!”

It sucks to live life in increments based on when your next scan is, so I try not to do that anymore. It took practice though. Just like lying in the scanner took practice to manage without popping a magic pill.

It is good news, but it doesn’t eradicate the worry. It is good news. But better would be if there were no other enhancing lesions, malformations, or spots that lit up the MRI at all. Because those represent my unknown. And people can say, “oh don’t worry.” But they don’t read the research like I have, they don’t hear from other patients in the similar situations, but farther down the path of this disease.

And so they say “don’t worry” because they don’t know what else to say. And I nod and let them.

A Heart’s Divide

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Looking into his eyes

I see beyond the bounds of me

Trust was implicit from the start

in the comfort of his hand

upon the small of my back

 

Now I find myself vulnerable

in a place I yearn not to be

Insecurities for all to see

I gave my trust

Without question

No reservation

He held back the truth

For fear I would run?

Or perhaps he was afraid

I’d ask something of him

He wasn’t ready to do

 

No longer absolute

About what to believe

A single lie by omission

or intuition’s built-in protection?

 

Not wanting this to bring us to an end

Yet I can’t risk losing myself in another

Again

So I’m left navigating my heart’s divide

 

{Update} Learning to trust again was so hard, and so worth it. I think I will always be timid because of my life experiences, but I am determined not to make the same mistakes. I know that I have found the right person to entrust my heart to, and I have faith that no matter what happens, we are capable of loving each other the way we all deserve to be loved.