My Kind of Guy.

 


I have done my fair share of dating post-separation and divorce, and without a doubt, most of my experiences have been incredibly positive.  Weighing in on my own dating habits, I can clearly see that I’ve been drawn to the same kind of man.  Like attractive forces between reactive particles, I’ve had an affinity for men who have hobbies that they would more proudly describe as life passions.  They are men with strong personalities and they don’t care to fit the standard bell curve statistics of the modern world.  I’m inspired by guys who look inward for greater self-awareness and growth, and they dare to share more of themselves to me than what’s on their surface.  I’m drawn to men who are comfortable allowing emotions to be expressed, those who are open minded enough to recognize that we all have had some sort of uphill battle, and those that are up for the challenge in balancing their male strength, their determination and their confidence with equal parts of softness, vulnerability, and love.  For me, when these character traits all come together, it writes itself out for some off-the-chart chemistry and a most incredible human story.  


One man in my life so far, truly has the most fascinating human story.  It’s magnetizing, really.  I’ve seen him at his most vulnerable as he picked up the scattered pieces of his life after divorce, and even then he had enough strength to support me as I restructured the scattered pieces of mine.  I see him at his softest, when he shares with me the pride in his children, and many of my readers understand that that the joy in his children has come from a long journey that few other parents will ever know.  It is a raw, rare, and beautiful piece of humanity in the ways that he takes care of his three physically disabled kids, and I’m sometimes still in awe that he has enough space in his heart and time on his hands to love and cherish my two kids.  I imagine there must be a raging dualism that plays out in his mind between the ways that he can parent his kids and the ways that he can be present for mine, and the strength and courage that it must take for him to be such an important figure in ALL of their worlds is the most inspiring experience to be a part of, and I’m standing here on this side of gratitude.  

Here stands a man who proudly shows up for his three physically disabled children.  While others may bear witness to his life on their far-away orbits, looking compassionately from afar, I, on the other hand, am positioned much closer the core, and therefore have the great fortune to be inspired so very often by him and his kids.  There is caregiving that goes beyond parenting, there is responsibility that goes beyond being a Dad, and there are challenges and barriers that would put others, including myself sometimes, in a physical spin, never mind a mental one.  With a hard exterior and a backbone stronger than most, he can humbly dissolve that protective shell when he shows up for his kids and I can assure you that he will speak of them to you with only the greatest of pleasure.  Confidently, he father’s them his way, and I’ve watched this liberate him, as only a single parent could know, for there is a moment of realization when you’re parenting alone, when you discover that your method of caring for and loving your kids is just as successful as any other!  In ways that are absolutely incredible to be a part of, I have had the great privilege to watch this parenting confidence grow.  

All the while being present for his kids, he is equally and abundantly present for me and for mine.  He is the ray of light that fills the room when he opens my front door and my kids shout out his name in excitement.  They need no father other than their very own, but what child would not flourish with an extra adult’s attention and love?!  He builds outdoor clubhouses and zip lines.  He grabs a glove and a ball and randomly calls my son out to play.  He plans outings and adventures.  He’d do anything to hear my little girl giggle and squeal in delight, so much so that  they often laugh to the point of silliness.  Seeking not to take their father’s place, but just to be part of their journey, he’s an active, participating spectator in their young lives and they adore him for it.  

My kind of guy also allows me to challenge him with what some might speculate to be incredibly uncomfortable moments:  He celebrates occasions in my home or my backyard with my ex-husband present.  He will sit with me, my kids, and their dad at the seder table, all of us there to rejoice in family and children.  He could imagine going with me on a “family” trip that would include himself, my kids, my Ex and his girlfriend!  He knows that I’m not interested in him marking his territory or forming “sides”, as I’d far rather live in between the lines.  He has seen first-hand the value in nurturing a divorce relationship with a completely different mindset, and recognizes that it absolutely requires all parties to be on-board and amicable, all sides to work hard, and all sides to get uncomfortable.  And he sees that my children reap quite the reward by living without parental lines drawn, talking and sharing openly about their Dad and his girlfriend with as much respect and excitement as they do about their Mom and her boyfriend.  

Some days I feel as if I don’t quite fit the mold of today’s modern society.  I measure my Life’s success in units of happiness and not dollars.  Acquiring more money in my life’s timespan is not the compass that directs my choices, and I’ll be forever grateful to my parents for instilling in me this virtue.  What one owns, who one knows, what one is wearing, or where one lives doesn’t impress upon me.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite, as I consider myself more of a minimalist, carrying an inner sense of pride when I make less impact on the planet, rather than more.  True success for me comes from experiencing love and adventure along the road of Life, and sharing those moments with my kind of guy makes it even better.  

 

What a fascinating journey so far!

Advertisements

Losing Our Marbles.

In the young mind of a bright third-grader, nothing matches the pride of academic achievement quite like having one’s parents come into school to get a first-hand look inside their classroom.  Recently, my daughter had such an occasion.  It was a morning in which parents had a special chance to visit their child’s classroom, and my little eight-year old girl was bubbling with excitement to have the opportunity to show off her work. Her enthusiasm was so high that even a week beforehand she was oozing with details about the upcoming day, dropping hints about which assignments of hers I would find hanging proudly in the school hallway, and I could imagine her teachers taking special effort to charmingly tack them on the walls, marking each one with a special “superstar” sticker, and bordering them attractively in scalloped corrugated paper.  Every time she spoke of the upcoming day, she would share a little bit more about the planned rotating schedule that was set for the parents, and she was eagerly anticipating the last rotation of the day, which she claimed was going to be her favourite.  It was Science, a school subject that she knows is near and dear to my heart, and my daughter couldn’t wait to proudly show me her project.  It was a blueprint, a rough draft of plans for how to build a structure that would be stable enough to suspend and hold a cup of marbles, and it was our job on parent day, to build it together.

The highly anticipated day arrived, and I suppose it wouldn’t surprise you to know that my daughter carried a delightful, well-earned smile throughout each rotation period.  As the day neared its end, we found ourselves in the Science classroom, my ex-husband and I sitting on either side of our daughter, with our legs bent awkwardly askew as we attempted to squeeze our lower torsos into tiny plastic blue seats.  With my daughter’s ponytail joyfully bouncing in time with her uplifted mood, we listened to the teacher explain to the class that we had twenty minutes to build the suspending marble structure and bring our child’s paper blueprint to life.  The clock began its countdown, which was all I really needed to get my competitive impulses firing, and I saw the same light ignite in every parent’s eyes.  There on the smooth laminate table in front of us was our daughter’s rendering – a crude pencil drawing of her vision.  It called for a plethora of straws and clear tape fused together to create four legs and a connecting beam.  From that connecting beam would dangle some thin yarn tied treacherously to a Dixie cup, which, if we were lucky, would hold twenty glass marbles. I immediately saw its similarity to a playground swing set structure, and I knew it might be doable with the proper support.  But, the time!  Oh, the time!  And as parents and children frantically began working away at their own structures, I felt my chest pounding with anxiety in rhythm to the dwindling time.  

With as much patience as we could muster, my ex-husband and I watched our daughter attempt to build.  In unison, it seemed, we enthusiastically helped out when needed and offered her words of support and encouragement, echoing the thirty other parents in the room who were doing the same.  Yet, even with our very best cheerleading, we could see that the fine motor dexterity in her eight-year old hands could not keep up with the rapid mental commands of her eight-year old brain.  Her fingers fumbled with the stickiness of the clear tape, and she couldn’t quickly manipulate the straws or tie the string in the way that she wanted to.  As the tape managed to wrap itself around her two little fingers, and as the time ate away in the classroom, we visibly watched the excitement escape our little girl’s eyes, leaving room for much disappointment and frustration.  And so, in the blink of an eye, we, my ex-husband and I, did as any other set of parents would do at that moment – We took over!  Sandwiched between two sets of fast-moving, adult hands, my little girl faded into the background and sat idly by as her parents attempted to save the day by building her marble structure without her before the clock buzzer hit zero.

There is no happy ending to this story.  My ex-husband and I managed to create the most horribly crooked, precarious, and unstable marble holder that one could possibly imagine, so much so that each and every one of the twenty glass marbles proceeded to roll right out of the cup, loudly announcing our failure to a room full of parents and children as they noisily scattered and bounced across the entire classroom floor.  Not to mention, unlike all other parents and children who proudly departed the classroom with their intact marble structures, our daughter was too embarrassed to carry hers home as a keepsake, and tossed it quietly in the garbage the moment she exited the door.  

The far worse story was that she then started to cry uncontrollably.  As parents and children cleared the hallways, hugging their successful marble structures like trophied prizes, my daughter sat crumpled in a corner, attempting to hide her tear-soaked face in her hands.  Through her tears, and as I bent down beside her, she looked at me with contempt and explained to me that she was angry that the adults took over the construction, she was angry that she didn’t get a chance to do “anything”, and she was devastated that her favourite activity of the day turned out to be her worst.

What had happened to us in those time-crunching twenty minutes?  Had my ex-husband and I lost our marbles?!  We try to remind our kids that winning should not be everything, that having fun along the way is what matters, and that it should be the effort that truly counts.  Yet, here rests my daughter, devastated by defeat, externalizing it as blame on others (albeit some of it entirely valid),  while no doubt internalizing much blame on herself.  How does a parent help her navigate through these emotions in a world where we try to protect our children from the demoralizing feeling of failure?   Perhaps by now, if you’ve read enough of my writing, you’ll know me well enough to predict my parenting style –  I let her sit and stay in the emotion of it.  She was entirely entitled to feel it!  With the wave of sadness and anger rising and then passing, we sat.  I let her talk and cry about it, I apologized to her for taking over the activity, explained to her the Catch-22 I felt stuck in if I had not, and we both felt heard and validated. With love and support I waited for the shift, and this one was timed perfectly with two of her close friends, who sweetly approached to see if she is okay.  A warm hug between eight-year old girlfriends seemed to do the trick, as they swept her up, took her back into the classroom, and I stood there smiling, grateful to be present to watch that tiny triumph in my daughter’s young life: The rise after a defeat.   I have no doubt that these experiences will continue to teach my daughter skills to cope with the disappointments that she will come across in her lifetime.

At carpool pickup later that afternoon, my daughter hopped into the car with as much energy and enthusiasm as any other day.  Once she was in the backseat, she spotted a little present for her, a pink and fuzzy stuffed animal, seat-belted cutely into her booster seat.  I explained to her that I knew she had a challenging time in Science class that day, and that the surprise was there for her just in case she needed an extra smile. With wide eyes, she hugged that plush animal ever-so tightly, thanked me profusely, and I dare say, with much pride, lovingly named it “Marbles”.

I’m Here.

I can remember only blurred patches and foggy moments of those chaotic and emotionally charged months before my separation.  I really have very little recollection of sitting down and arranging the separation papers with lawyers, I can now only vaguely recall sharing the news with my family and friends, and I have a dull awareness and memory of my ex-husband showing me a tour of his temporary place of residence.  Beyond these moments however, my memory of that time in my life is hazy to the point of vanishing.  I remember feeling completely numb and overwhelmed with each piece in the process toward divorce, every step toward our separation feeling more and more surreal and secretive, and as if the two of us were planning a big surprise party, piecing the event together behind closed doors, and concealing it from our children and from most of the outside world.

Things really only became decisively lucid the day that my ex-husband and I told our children that our family dynamic was about to change.  Telling our kids was the concrete blast that took our hidden, two-dimensional plan into instantaneous real-time motion. Guided by a child-divorce therapist that my ex-husband and I had seen in preparation for that day, we approached the moment very well informed, with a script in mind to follow, and with boundaries suggested to us about what we ought and ought not say.  We were wisely advised to avoid the word “divorce” when we told our children the news, and we agreed with the experts that while the full information would come to them in time, our kids did not need to bear the burden, the weight, of all that was about to change for them on that very first day.  In truth, my kids weren’t completely aware of the full consequences of that momentous conversation, but for me, it was the moment of impact, the kinetic energy and inertial force of motion that propelled my life in a different direction, and I felt the solid Earth move beneath my feet.  It spun me about 90 degrees from my original navigational coordinates, and while I was resolved to trust in the slow journey of the vector change, I knew that I was also determined to set my world back on its proper axis before my kids felt too much of the tilt.

Any solid memories of my journey through divorce began on that day, and my moods that accompanied those memories could be described as nothing less than mercurial.  Some of them were dark and bleak, heavy with fears about how I had failed my kids and how their future might suffer because of it.  I had nights upon nights of quiet tears, feeling alone in the dark, paralyzed by fear about how I would cope on my own, or how my kids could possibly cope without me.  Other days I felt electrified.  I found myself sizzling with courageous energy, empowered by an inner fuel for having just accomplished a task for the first time on my own, or that I had crushed a fear of mine that seemed just too overwhelming to overcome.  These polarizing experiences stretched on for years, at times with only momentum pushing me forward.  In retrospect, that momentum was likely mere hope. Hope that somewhere outside the chaos of uprooting our family, that my ex-husband and I would find peace…Peace that we were each worthy of a better love, peace in knowing that our children were worthy of being surrounded by said love, and peace in creating a more authentic life for us all, even if that meant that we would require two homes to find it.

As I write this blog today, I have been living four and half years on my own.  There is no partner at my disposal to share in the responsibilities of any house upkeep, chores, bills or financial directives.  I have no better half to trade off with when I’ve lost my patience with my kids during homework or bedtime.  I have no extra set of hands to help drive the kids to different places at the exact same time, or to help ease the load when I’m exhausted or unwell (insert huge nod of thanks to my family and friends here who do!) When I’m “on” with my kids, I am ON, and I now carry no shame or worry about turning that parenting button “off” when my kids are with their Dad.  Yes, for four and a half years I have learned to do it alone.  In fact, I’m confident now that I am doing “alone” quite well!  How is it then that I don’t feel lonely?!  Sometimes I’m just as surprised by this fact as you might be when you ask me if I would like to live with someone again, or get married again, or blend my family with others.  My answer is categorically NO.  I’m happy and comfortable exactly where I am at this very moment.  Which leaves me thinking… perhaps after all these years of working so very hard toward my ultimate goal of stability and peace for myself and for my kids, of creating a home with less anger and silence, of actively moving towards relationships with more love, openness and candor, of truly being present for my kids, and them truly showing love and respect for each other, of choosing to live a more minimalist and authentic life, and of surrounding myself with family and friends that I respect, adore and trust…that perhaps I’m no longer moving toward that ultimate goal of peace….Perhaps I’m already here.  

Tic.

My son has gorgeous, dark chestnut brown eyes, and I’ve been watching them closely for twelve years.  I used to view them from a distance, trying to glance inconspicuously at my tender-cheeked two-year old boy as he blinked too often.  A frequency difference only a mother could perceive.  It seemed like an exaggerated blink in wonder, as if his excited young mind had seen something thrilling to behold and he couldn’t quite believe what was before him.  There were rapid movements of his eyelids and a batting of his lashes that came too quick. Sometimes light and playful, his eyes would dart swiftly, as peaceful as a butterfly’s wings.  At other times there was a heaviness to its motion, his lids shutting and squeezing with a load and weight that seemed paradoxical to his young age, closing shut as if they were dry and tired and needing to find some respite for a few nanoseconds longer. I was told it was age appropriate…but a mother knows.  

I watched as the hands of time turned a deliciously huggable little toddler into a cautious yet enormously lovable young boy, those short years of childhood already growing and changing him together with the change in his eyes.  The blink joined a wiggle in his nose and a flare of his nostrils, as if he had smelled something foul.  It then turned into a widening of his mouth like an exaggerated yawn, a jaw that opened swiftly, and a tongue that protruded out.  It morphed into a lifting of his eyebrows, as if in surprise, a scrunching of his cheek, a tilt of his head toward his shoulder; all these movements momentarily contorting the shape of his face and his body.  And I watched it repeat and repeat.  

Of course, a mother knows, and when my son was five or six, his Dad and I made sure that he knew it too.  When he was diagnosed, we explained to our young son that he has Tourette’s.  He sat and listened, completely unaffected by the news, blinked, shrugged his shoulders up towards his ears, and responded ‘okay’.  In that one short shoulder-shrugging moment, my son managed to teach me a life lesson that I’ve been trying to put into practice ever since that day: Worrying will never change the outcome.

Here is what I have learned through my son about Tourette’s:  It is exhausting.  He has jaw and eye tics that make his muscles ache in pain.  His facial tics give him frequent headaches and he has often come home from school exhausted from trying to suppress his tics all day.  His hand tics make him lose grip of items.  He can’t hold a hockey stick too tightly without feeling the need to release it, and we’ve had interesting moments at home where drinking glasses and ipods have hit the ground swiftly. There is a world hidden to all of us about the inner workings of the human mind, but one thing is certain: My son’s body is continually acting to move while his mind is continually fighting the movement.  

Tourette’s creates a hyper-sensitive quality for many of my son’s’ sensory experiences.  Thankfully, he has learned skills to cope with his body’s seemingly overwhelming stimuli, but as a young boy his brain had a hard time managing the incoming data:  He would have full blown tantrums at the feel of any sock seam on his foot.  He used to scream at bath time as if he were being badly burned, and cry at the touch of soft spring grass on his skin.  He couldn’t stand the feel of a temporary tattoo on his body or a hangnail on his finger. These days, bright light from a gloriously sunny day can hurt his eyes.  He can be disturbed by the sound of a crunching apple or the smell of nearby nail polish.  He needs to press evenly on both edges of the tip of a pencil to make it feel ‘right’, and has feelings that he describes as bad shivers that makes him have to walk evenly with his feet, or have a symmetrical and mirrored action on both sides of his body.  I’m fascinated by the neural pathways that might be directing his behaviour.  They are unpredictable, involuntary, and ever-changing, with his mind firing and re-firing all the time.

It has been an exercise in patience to parent my son through the emotions that has come with his Tourette’s, and I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t always done my best.  Indeed, the only one who has, has been my open-hearted and brave 12-year old son.  Every day of his life, my son wakes up to tics and falls asleep with tics, and rarely will you hear him complain about it.  He can easily laugh and joke about his condition, needling me in jest with a “don’t worry Mom, it’s not a tic” when he playfully barks like a dog at home or makes a strange movement with his body.  He has openly shared this part of himself with his friends and his teachers, and I proudly watch with awe and admiration as I see him owning his difference. I hope it will empower him as he enters his teenage years, a phase in time in which tics have been known to increase in severity.

What compels me to share all of this?  Really it is driven by a passion and vision that I have for all of us, myself included, to see the beauty in sharing those lesser-known stories within our lives.  The pieces we don’t easily share with friends or family.  The pieces we certainly would never imagine sharing on Facebook or Instagram.  For it is these unknown pieces that make us unique and human, raw and fragile.  I dare say, if you looked at my loving son, you perhaps might not even notice the constant movement of his eyes, and you would be none the wiser about his Tourette’s and his over-stimulated brain.  This is exactly the point…everyone has a story.  Every person you meet and know has their very own, lesser-known story.  My son, and his Tourette’s is but one of them.  So perhaps, as we all turn the page in our journeys throughout life, we too will find the beauty and the gifts that are hidden in opening up and sharing our lesser-known stories.

Blurring the Lines of Divorce

My ex-husband and I have created something beautiful.  We know it.  We’ve been told by others that the meaningful and unique connection that we maintain with each other and with our families extends beyond the definition of an “amicable” divorce.  Perhaps it would be akin to a stable and warm friendship.  It involves working toward an equal investment in each other’s best future interests, both monetarily and emotionally.  It includes relying on each other, when necessary, to help with the kids, without counting score and without carrying grudges.  We are allies in our parenting strategies, and we make a conscious effort to continue to celebrate our children together as a unit of four as well as with our extended families.  Most importantly, and this is really the key to an amicable divorce, we have profound respect for one another, despite the pain we may have endured in our marriage and its ending, and we have gifted each other with the chance to find happiness again.  

Yet despite our good intentions, my ex-husband and I have just managed to make it through one of our worst months of divorce together.  About ten months ago, a woman entered his life.  Slowly at first, the pendulum swung.  There were less phone calls between us and less interactions.  As time and space stretched on, as their relationship blossomed, she met my children and his extended family.  I was excited for my kids, happy for my ex-husband, and open to all of it.  But I wasn’t ready for how it would shift the landscape of our divorce.  As time went on and their relationship solidified, I was excluded from some family events and a major parenting decision that I know for certain I would have been a part of just a few months before.  

Now, I’m betting that at this point you’ll be assuming that there is some underlying jealousy on my part.  But, you’ll have to trust me on this when I tell that that my only clear agenda throughout four and a half years of divorce is to reinvent what divorce can look like for my children and for everyone involved.  It means actively creating something unique.  Starting with two parents who show each other much love and respect.  Yes, we’ll build separate pathways in our lives, but we won’t forget that these pathways should intersect often, meeting naturally to celebrate our children and families together, and never making our kids feel as if they have to choose or protect a side.  Remembering that our paths are forever bonded by the love of our children, there should be no lines drawn. Jealous I was not. I was angry that a gateway that was once wide open was now being closed.

But the pendulum swung.  And somehow despite my greatest efforts, I saw my ex-husband creating lines and the unique beauty of our divorce began to dissolve.  I watched it happen quietly at first, secretly hoping the momentum would change.  But months later, a few conversations with my ex-husband made it quite clear to me that we may no longer be on the same page in terms of our expectations for our divorce “together”.  I had lost my chance at my vision and I was angry.  For a solid month we fought, we ignored, we hated, we grew resentful and bitter.  We yelled out in pain and opposition and neither of us listened.  I think for the first time in our divorce, we both could see the real possibility of us entering a “typical” nasty divorce relationship, and the end of something special.

The easier thing for us would have been to let it spiral downward.  To continue to ignore each other and broaden the separation of our lives.  But I just can’t do easy anymore.  It’s not who I am.  Not anymore.  Before divorce, easy kept me comfortable, but not happy.  Easy avoided the hard conversations and kept me safe from confrontation.  Easy was my excuse for not using my voice.  Easy was living a life that didn’t feel like it was a genuine life lived.  Living authentically is NOT easy, but these days I’m choosing to live.  It means leaning into the discomfort of new things, feeling the fear of it all, and staying in it.   So one month after not being able to look each other directly in the eye, my ex-husband and I finally understood that we either had to talk it out together or carry on in anger.  We chose to talk, and we sat face to face, the two of us, and we got real uncomfortable.  We exposed our pain and our weaknesses.  We shared and we listened.  We heard and we cried.  And the beauty that took flight from the conversation was palpable. It was freeing, releasing, and raw.  It gave us the openness to trust in each other once again and to see the value in connecting around our children and our extended family.  

It is not easy to erase the blueprint in our mind of a “typical” divorce.  It is work on both of our parts to create a new template that shifts the paradigm, and it is far more difficult to invite others to participate in it with us.  I want the chance for my kids to explore new possibilities that could be created when a grounded ex-wife and a lovely girlfriend are together in the same space.  What risk is there in discovering whether we can unite to watch MY children, HER boyfriend and our families grow in celebrating cherished times?  Is it pain we are afraid of?  Exposure? Discomfort? Let’s take the risk!  It’s possible for us!  We’ve come so far in our achievements and so close to attaining it. Why wouldn’t we try for it?  Yes, it will be work.  It will be challenging, and awkward and possibly even unusual at first to ourselves and to others.  It won’t be easy, but it will surely feel alive!

That night, I was graciously invited back into the fold of my ex-husband’s family for a 50th anniversary dinner and we were all there: My kids, my ex-husband, his family and his girlfriend.  It was comfortable.  It was uncomfortable.  But that’s living in the blurred line of divorce, and it opens the gate to creating something beautiful.  

Divorcing Well.

I’m sitting pretty in the sweet spot of divorce. After almost four years of hammering out the mechanics, it seems as if I’m now tending a well oiled machine.  There are schedules and systems in place that work exceptionally well for our children, communication is always open and honest between my ex-husband and I, and any emotions and disappointments between us run low.  As co-parents, my ex-husband and I are connected in all the right ways for our children and I’m incredibly proud of the path that we have followed to not only divorce with kindness but to also continue to share, love and celebrate our children together as a family.  

I’ve come to a place of real peace in my life, with my feet grounded firmly on the floor and my footprints marking a solid impression on the soil.  My eyes neither look backward with regret nor do they dart forward with anxious worry about my future.  I’m not hesitant at all to say that I am exactly where I should be, and it feels entirely right.  With the utmost respect for one another, my ex-husband and I have created two thriving homes for our children, and in doing so, we have gifted each other with a new lease on life and love.

Of course there are two other hearts at play.  Our children.  Four years ago we adults made a profound decision that directed their life path along an entirely different route, and they have had no choice but to trust that their parents would be guiding them well.  So shame on us if we can’t navigate through it and pilot their ship to shore.  Yes, leaving love always hurts.  But in the thick of anger, in the midst of blame, in the fiery circle of spite, and in the acidic venom of jealousy, we as parents still have an obligation to show our children that even when a lifelong promise of love unhinges, that one can leave love well and create anew.  And by doing so we give our children strategies for them to manage the pain and struggles that they too will encounter in their own lifetimes.   It is this mindset that has always set my direction of intention and it is the driving force behind my idea of a paradigm shift in divorce.  Yes, my children have seen two parents leave love well.  Not without pain.  Not without sadness.  But well.  And letting my kids express themselves and their needs throughout the years has been key. 

Last night my typically chatty eight year old daughter sat unusually quiet as she tucked herself into the corner of our family room couch.  With legs crossed comfortably over a pillow,  she rested a large brown leathered photo album on her lap.  Filled with pictures of her early years,  her little fingers flipped ever-so-carefully through years of memories, photo after photo, and page upon page a strong reminder of a rosy-cheeked little girl and her family of four.  Sitting on the other side of our L-shaped couch, I watched from the corner of my eye, and gasped quietly as the weight of the album bore down not only onto her lap but also into her heart.  Not moving a muscle, I was completely torn inside, as only a divorced Mother could know, and I watched as my daughter’s eyes slowly and silently filled with tears.  

I grew up in a home, like so many of us did, where a generation of parents did not allow for kids to express their emotions outwardly.  It was a completely different era and often times our emotions felt dismissed, diminished, or otherwise ignored.  There’s not a piece of that parenting style that resonates with me today and I’m intent on doing it all differently.  And so as much as I may have wanted to protect my daughter from her tears by standing up, distracting her and perhaps grabbing that album out her hands, I didn’t move. Instead, I chose to watch quietly as the pain and beauty of her real life and raw emotion unfolded.  

Little drops of tears fell from my daughter’s eyes, landing softly on the pillow below.
Small sniffles escaped her lips which immediately prompted my twelve year old son, previously lost in the mesmerizing light of his laptop screen, to lift his eyes toward his sister, and start slowly shifting toward her corner of the couch.  Hip to hip they sat, as the weight of the album was shared between them, in oh so many ways.  My daughter sighed deeply, heavy with emotion and rested her head on my son’s shoulder.  He immediately wrapped a tender arm of love around her neck.  Then the silence was shattered and a watershed of tears came falling, loud and heavy with longing, for what they had in their hands but no longer have in their lives.  As she choked back tears of sadness, my eight-year old daughter trusted me enough with her feelings to open up and share her experience with me: “I miss these days”.  I took this as my cue, not to play down her emotion or distract her from it, but to stay in it with her, right beside her while she explored it.


There I was, present watching my child express a pain to me that I could not take away.  I gently plopped my daughter onto my lap and wrapped my arms around my loving son.  We flipped through a few more album pages and then together we cried.  For the fading memories of our family of four.  For the pain that I have caused my children by no longer loving their father enough, and for the blessing that I have remarkably been given by them not hating me because of it.  For loving myself enough to know that I couldn’t stay with him for their sake, and for the quiet prayer that one day they will be old enough to understand that I did it for our sake. For having found the strength for all three of us even though some days I was desperate for someone to be strong for me alone.  For the grace in being okay with having my children watch me cry right then and there, offering no solid answers that they could understand at their age about why divorce happens, no certainties for what the future may hold, and no quick fixes for what they’ve lost.  We cried.  And I held my dear children with their tear-stain cheeks and their reddened eyes.

My only parenting technique conscious to me at the time was to wait. To ride the wave of their emotion and wait, because eventually a child’s emotional intensity will change.  It always does.  I’ve learned to stay in long enough to make my children feel heard and loved and their emotions honoured,  and then it will change.  Something as small as my daughter’s blubbery snort made all three of us giggle.  Then we laughed at each other’s messy faces and started joking about why in the world we were all squished together into a tiny section of our huge couch.  Only when the emotional release valve balanced back toward equilibrium did I “parent”.  I told them how incredibly proud I was of my two beautiful kids for being able to handle the challenges of living in two different homes, that it indeed is not easy for them, and that being able to cry and share their sadness was a clear sign of their strength, and not their weakness. I reminded my children that the album was filled with incredible memories to cherish forever, and that the mystery, the adventure, the faith, and the beauty in life comes in being unable to see what photos will be filling the pages yet to come.

The Children We Once Were.

As a young girl around my house I may have claimed that I was bored.  Sitting in that boredom, undistracted by the screens of iphones, computers, tablets and TV, bloomed a child’s true imagination and invention.  Cardboard boxes became rocket ships and time machines.  Cops and Robbers were chased on neighbourhood streets.  Cat’s Cradle was played with four hands and knotted yarn on my back deck, and Truth or Dare was quietly played in my basement.  There were mud pies constructed in my father’s garden, secret forts made out of couch pillows and bed sheets on the family room floor, and private morse code messages were passed between neighbourhood bedroom windows with flashlights.

Back then I had no planned playdates and very few programs to attend on weekends. I was a little girl playing indoors or outdoors and my parents had no idea where I was at any given time.  It suited them just fine. Looking back, my childhood was marked not by time spent alone on any computer screen, phone, or buttoned console.  Not by the splitting and sectioning of weekends into hours of planned programming or playdates.  I had no parent texts to check in on me, nor any phone calls to tell me to come home.  I had an unrestrained and spontaneous youth, with the free rein to explore my surroundings and the entire neighbourhood as my playground, limited only by the buzz of the fluorescent street lights that called me home.  It would be a great gift to my own children to be able to give them a small piece of what I remember:

Mid-June and the scent of the soil’s fresh earth lingers in the afternoon air.  The temperature is rising, and I’m walking arm in arm with friends as the heat of the afternoon’s Sun warms our youthful skin.  Backpacks in tow, we leisurely make our way home from school, walking without parents of course, hearts buoyant and fluttering with excitement as we finish yet another week of fourth grade, one step closer to tasting the sweetness of Summer.  Stealing through long, soft grass, we swiftly make our way home, with very little barriers or wooden fencing between backyards, which once they become erected, will eventually quadrant the community feel of our neighbourhood into individual units of space.  My front door ajar, its rusty-hinged screen squeaks open and slams shut, announcing my arrival, and my Mother welcomes me home.  I drop my gear, stop long enough to grab a peach from the fridge and exit out the kitchen back sliding door, jumping over my Father’s gooseberry bush in a hasty effort to sooner arrive at my best friend’s house nearby.

It is the weekend and there’s not much to do.  Weekends are slow.  Beautifully slow.  No juggling of kids programs or schedules.  No dividing and conquering of parents as it is now, with Moms and Dads rarely seeing each other, each of them in separate cars shuttling children to their respective activities.  Instead, at nine-years of age, my Mom and Dad are grabbing a book to read on the front porch, and they’ll sit and stretch out the evening light in aluminum lawn chairs with colourful webbed backs that have faded in the Sun from years of exposure.

It’s just me and my best friend.  She has an above ground pool in her backyard where hours could be spent with us playing “Marco Polo”.  I have an empty double garage, clean and ready to be used as theatre space.  Inside we will line up chairs for parents and paying neighbours to watch the latest live children’s performance of  “Jack and the Beanstalk”, or we will use it as a safe shelter to watch summer lightning storms streak wildly across the sky.  Mature birch trees beckon us to use them as substitutes for a third friend in a game of double dutch.  Oscillating sprinklers on front lawns invite us to bravely run through them with bare feet and unleashed dogs.  We will join the gathering crowd of children on our street, collecting coiled loops of green yard hose in anticipation of a friendly water fight, or set up water balloons across enemy lines. Then we’ll mark our front walks with dusty chalk pictures and hopscotch boards, gaps between sidewalk slabs showing signs of where younger children poked and prodded at small ant tunnels below.  We will play Tag with the boys, undeniably knowing that we have the strength and speed in our legs to catch them, but secretly wishing that they catch us instead.  Then afterward, we will sit lazily on the blue and white metal swing set in the backyard, pumping our legs high on the broken plastic seat, our hands marked by rust as we hold tight against the metal chain-linked handles.  

As the afternoon fades into early evening, we will count cartwheels in the freshly cut backyard, with our active legs bruised and slightly grass-stained underneath our knee-length argyle socks.  Then we’ll arrange a street-wide game of Hide n’ Seek, gathering friends to meet at the local playground, and the two of us will huddle up together, quietly giggling with our staticky hair and bent knees inside the big orange tube slide.  When the game is done, we will take a trip to the local convenience store, spare change jingling in our back pockets for a candy treat, our faces flushed as we run sprints through alleyways en route to our destination.  When the buzz of the street lights announces the anticipated arrival of dusk, we know it’s time to make our way home, but not before taking our Big Wheels down a daringly steep pathway, our feet releasing from the pedals as we joyfully let the gravity, the beauty, and the freedom of our childhood take hold.  

Thinking Smaller.

A bright and windy Saturday afternoon in the early season of Fall. I’m sharing the last of the day’s Sun together with my eight-year old daughter, as we drive to our destination. Outside the car she notices the wind as it stirs the leaves into small vortexes near the ground, and the torn fabric of a flag, showing signs of its age as it whips wildly atop its unsteady pole.  Ideas flow from my daughter’s lips like honey, with a fluid viscosity and a laughter that bubbles of youth and energy.  I’m slightly subdued and seriously considering a coffee at this late hour, as the yellowed orb of the sun slowly melts into the horizon.  As we approach the toy store, my little girl’s voice sings in excitement while my auditory cortex shifts into automatic, mindlessly hearing but not entirely processing the endless sound of her kid-like chatter.  I’m distracted.  By the cogs turning in my frontal lobe.  Systems shifting my thoughts elsewhere:  Distance to the next Coffee shop.  Monday’s business workload.  Parent-teacher Meetings.  Quantity of laundry in the hamper at home.  Schedule of tomorrow’s programs…The never ending “to-do” list of life.

A sharp thought jumps to the forefront of my mind, washing my distractions clean, at least for a short while, and I remind myself to consciously stay in the moment, practice my mindfulness and direct my thoughts to the here and now.  To uncover the hidden joys in the short seconds, the minutes, the hours that make up my days.  The beauty hidden in small units of time.  To think smaller, as I breathe in the minutes and elongate them like taffy candy in the hands of a young child, a practice in stretching the sinew of joyous moments out over time and space.  And there is no better moment than now, for small hints of change are making me painfully aware, as of late, that the passage of time, from my daughter’s childhood to her youth, is approaching. Her hands are losing the sweet puckered dimples at their knuckles.  Her wispy and wild hair, still luminous with a youthful sheen, is rarely if ever found in braided pigtails anymore, once held tightly by mismatched elastics at their ends.  Her shoelaces are tied on her own accord, zippers no longer need my guiding hands, and she sleeps, although just as pure and peacefully as she did as a baby, with far fewer stuffed animals tucked lovingly into her folded arms.

Entering the toy store, the wind picks up and blows my daughter’s mass of straw-coloured hair in front of her eyes.  She stops to giggle, claw the hair away from her eyes and mouth, and then turns directly to face the wind.  Hands outstretched and fingers splayed to catch the thrill of the wind’s fury and power, my eight-year old daughter closes her eyes to enjoy the experience.  I close my eyes too.  Not to feel the gust of wind, but to inhale and attempt to quieten the loud noise in my head that wants to tell my daughter to hurry up – That I have laundry to get to, paperwork to complete, emails to get through, and dinner to prepare.  Instead, I exhale slowly and repeat my mantra “Think Smaller”.  The shrill of laughter and the wide smile on my daughter’s lips confirms my choice as I cement my feet firmly into the ground, open my eyes, and watch with pleasure as my daughter drinks life in.

Inside the toy store, my little girl dances through the aisles, each one brighter, more colourful and more intriguing than the next.  Her heart skipping in time with her feet.  I’m adrift in my head, trying to tease apart the ongoing, intersecting, and often complicated weave of divorce schedules, work obligations, family events and kids playdates.  Then a little hand, tenderly pulls my sleeve and I’m right back where I ought to be, watching through the sparkling eyes of my child, our small space in time in a toy store aisle.  Here in this aisle an eight-year old girl has an opportunity to choose.  Which toy? Which special treat? Which box to take home and call her own?  Her lips are loose with excitement and her questions are endless.  While her thoughts are loud like thunder, I actively work to keep my voice silent, for I know that if I speak my mind, I could easily convince this child of which toy would be the “best” choice, we could be at the cash register in a heartbeat, and back out in the blistery wind, homeward bound to tackle my adult “to-do” list in no time.  Instead, I think smaller.  Exhaling slowly, I consciously take my agenda out of the equation.  Bending down to match my daughter’s height, together we ponder, we process, we consider.  Which toy?  How much fun would it be? Would her brother like it?  Why?  Why not?  We delight in conversation as if there were no rush at all.  We think smaller.  I see the puffing of her chest in pride when she finally makes her decision, and we leave the toy aisle with a sense of grand accomplishment.

Driving home, I peer into the rear-view mirror and glimpse my growing child, still in her booster seat, although not for too long, and holding the large toy box on top of her lap, choosing to carry the weight of it for the ride rather than bear the thought of it being out of sight in the trunk.  She’s examining every corner of the cardboard box, peeking through the plastic window and chatting with excitement about what she can see.  Thinking smaller, I keep my mind in place as we imagine together the fun we will have building this brand new wooden bunk bed for her dollies.

No sooner have we arrived in the front door and my little girl is puncturing the box to reach at the treasures within.  Laying the labelled pieces across the living room floor, we build.  Spending the better part of the evening with an instruction manual, a screwdriver, a hammer, a boxed pizza, and our four hands together, we piece away, bit-by-bit toward the final product.  Thinking smaller, I leave the piled laundry in the basement, the busyness of work a thought far off in my mind, and I ponder and plan with my daughter where each sticker should go on her new toy bed.  When it is built we are both beaming with pride, and my daughter, my beautiful soulful daughter, hugs me tight and says “Mommy, the best part of this toy was the fun of choosing it and building it WITH YOU.”   I hug her back even tighter, cup her head in my hands and kiss her forehead hard and long, grab my phone and take a picture of us together with her dolls’ newly built toy bed, making sure I capture the moment in pixelated bits so that we can remember…and yet somehow knowing that in thinking smaller, I have managed to create a moment that neither of us will soon forget.

The Quiet Hum of Worry.

To string together her early memories would weave a typically quilted childhood story, rich in family and love and linked colourfully, like paper clips on a chain, by the passage of time as it gracefully meandered along the willowy pathways of youth.  Yet interspersed within those joyous carefree days of her childhood were moments marked by “Worry”. Quiet at first, Worry masked itself in commonplace occurrences: A young girl clutching at her mother’s knees, bright green eyes hiding behind chubby fingers with a sheepish concern that an adult might talk to her.  As a child, those short-crested waves of Worry would be dissolved by a protective Mom, always ready to speak up for that young girl or do just about anything to see her daughter’s eyes smile and to watch her fingers unclench from beneath her knee-length skirt.

As she grew so did her Worry.  During grade school Worry grew louder and became more palpable.  More than a thought in her mind, Worry became something she could suddenly feel in her body:  A spoiled stomach at the thought of a class presentation.  A creative idea well deserved to be heard by a teacher would become muzzled by a mouth that couldn’t form the words.  A raised hand of certainty in a crowded third grade classroom became overshadowed by Worry that her answer might be wrong, and her lifted little hand would slowly melt down her torso in time with her melted conviction.  It was a beating heart that drummed too swiftly inside the wall of her chest, burning with the heat of concern that she might be called upon or that she might be noticed, and an appetite that got lost in the silent apprehension of hiding her tangled mess of emotions from the outside world.

As those school age years rolled along, Worry morphed and transformed itself into a more vaporous state and Anxiety became to take form.  Anxiety had the presence and stature of Worry’s more shrewd and manipulative twin, and it moved and breathed at an ever quickening pace.  Anxiety created thoughts in her head that she just couldn’t quieten.  It spawned suspicion that people were judging her or were talking about her.  It whispered “people hate you” in her ear.  It reminded her that she was different.  It told her that she couldn’t function or cope like others and that she couldn’t handle the workload. It made her feel that she might go crazy, that she wouldn’t be able to control it and that her brain was not firing with the same synapses as other people.  It warned her loudly that she will lose her mind.  

Anxiety’s brilliant mental game plan ultimately bred Panic. Living with Panic was a horrible human experiment in agony and perseverance, because unlike Anxiety, Panic would not be ignored.  Panic locked her into a visceral feedback system that told her something was going wrong inside her body when everything was just fine.  Panic was contained within trillions of neurons in her brain. It was the grinding of machinery, the rapid processing of thoughts, the noise in her head so loud it was deafening.   Panic had a delicious habit of spinning every worry, every concern, and every incident into a quagmire of problems, all of them intersecting each other in such a way that she couldn’t isolate one from the next.  Panic had her lost in a buzz of “what if’s” and “I cant’s” and “how will I” and beliefs that nothing would calm down long enough for her to sort it all out.  

Panic’s presence begot Fear, and Fear whispered in her ear with a maniacal mockery.  It reminded her that she ought to run far from the Panic, for it would surely come again, and it triggered a primordial flight response coded deep within the double helix of her DNA. Fear had her locking elbows in kinship with Avoidance, her closest ally and best method of defence.  Enmeshed with Avoidance, she defaulted to saying “no” to new experiences in her life, thus evading situations that may initiate Panic once more.  

There she oscillated in the sinusoidal wave pattern of her life:  Worry was the pebble that set the ripple in motion and anxiety amplified the surge.  Panic announced itself in the wave and rose with a heart pounding crescendo to its apex before the drop, with a free fall that was often unbearable.  Fear was knowing that the wave of anxiety would no doubt begin again, and avoidance created a safe and superficial furrow in the trough of the storm.

As she continued to walk the path of avoidance, she ultimately led herself into a passage, a restrictive space so small, so stale and so dimly lit that she began to feel less alive.  And yet she lingered, staying in that dark place for too long, knowing that the beauty of the outside world was there for her, yet feeling far too safe in her own world to reach out.  But the longer she stayed, the smaller and more suffocating her world became, and she began to feel deeply hopeless and alone within the confines of her walls.  As her world continued to shrink, she knew that she either had to surrender to the inside or face her fears and get out.  And so began her journey toward the outside, with her trembling heart compass pointing bravely in the direction of Fear.  At first her pace was slow and deliberate, taking tender and trepidatious steps along the lesser known road. But on she went, with hills and valleys, steps forward and steps back, all the while keeping her eyes set on the fearful unknown, with hopes placed on the limitless boundary of the distant horizon.  Eventually, a time came along the path when she was far enough away from that dark passage, where she could take pause, close her green eyes, bright and vibrant once more, and look back with honour and with pride at the gentle footsteps that marked her journey into Fear.

It is human’s nature to hide pain, as if sharing one’s authenticity might reveal a weakness in flesh, thus she fell very much in line with the likes of all living souls, mastering the guise of composure and never letting anyone know about that inner hum of Worry, or about her journey out of the dark.  It was a dichotomous way for her to live and she struggled with its fraudulence.  Now a bright and competent woman in her forties, that young girl has finally found a courage within her to accept the quiet hum of Worry and to face her Anxiety of sharing it.  She has found strength in putting a voice not only to her triumphs but also to her tribulations, and has discovered that in sharing her weaknesses, she actually has become less worried and fearful about them, more confident in the real beauty of brevity of living raw, more connected to others, and most accepting of her true, authentic self.  

Saying “yes.”

To suggest that I had the propensity for saying “no” in my life would be a rather kind understatement.  “No” to new experiences and opportunities.  “No” to change.  “No” to offers of help from friends and family.  “No” to just about anything that might feel new or out of my comfort zone.  The habitual “no” that shut down all things unknown to me was as mechanical and as automatic as breathing.  In fact, to say “yes” was neither an option nor did it make any particular sense to me.  I felt safe on the shores of my very structured life, and to set sail and explore unchartered waters was both anxiety-provoking and unnecessary.  I was fine with things exactly as they were.  Yet, I was completely unfulfilled.  In fact we are all “fine,” aren’t we?  Each day we spit out standard rote answers, to close friends just as mindlessly as we do to strangers,  “I’m fine thank you, how are you?”  We frame answers and emotions around mediocre responses of  “I feel fine, it will all be fine, and it doesn’t matter, it’s fine.”   Fine.  A passionless word.  Indeed six years ago if I were to have filled out a one-question survey of my life as to whether 1 – I strongly agree or 5 – I strongly disagree that I was living it, I would have most certainly penciled in that middle bubble of indifference.  3 – I’m fine with it.

In truth for quite some time, years in fact, I functioned just “fine” but carried in me a deep-seeded feeling of discontent and sadness.  I was living a safe and well-framed life but berated myself with guilt for being the kind of woman that wanted more out of it, far too anxious and afraid to create the change myself, and too stuck in “fine”.  It wasn’t a light bulb moment that changed it for me, it was more of a slow shift, a rolling boil to the surface.  But it all started with saying “yes.”  

Say “yes.”  It can be as small as going out with your husband to that coworker dinner.  To see his genre of movie that you’re really not interested in seeing and to eat at that restaurant he loves.  Say “yes” to a coffee meet after work with an old friend even if at that very moment you might feel more inclined to take your shoes off and deflate onto the couch.  It is saying “yes” to a bike ride with your kids, “yes” to a family board game, and “yes” to picking up the phone to call your Mom.  From that one difficult step of saying “yes” after an exhausting day with your kids or after an over stimulating meeting at work, you have set the path in motion to connect meaningfully once again with your love, to gift someone with your time, or to rekindle that friendship.  That loneliness inside your heart from feeling as if you don’t have the same strong connections today as you did in your youth?  It may well disappear.  And YOU did that by marking the path of love and friendship with “yes.”

Say “yes.” It can be as large as leaving a secure job teaching high school Science with a leap of faith that you’ll be able to make something come out of that entrepreneurial spirit of yours.  Say “yes.”  To trying that new gym class that you’ve been too worried to show up to, to take that online course you’ve been wanting to try, to accept help from friends and family and to follow through on that hobby you’re interested in.   To join a baseball team.  To travel.  For a million different reasons I’ve said “no” to all of it.  We all do.  And we wait. For a less stressful time in life to add another thing to our hectic schedules.  For more financial stability.  For our kids to be more independent.  For approval from our parents.  For him to begin saying “yes” more often to your requests.  For the fighting to end.  For the anxiety to diminish.  Countless pathways closed with a “no”.  But say “yes” and the journey will begin…your negative tendencies falling behind you as your positive spirit gains strides.  And what you believed you disliked, what you believed would limit you, what you felt you were only capable of, and what you actually can do, will propel you toward confidently answering “strongly agree” to having lived fully at the end of life’s questionnaire.

Say “yes.”  The smallest sentence that has made the biggest change in my life pre- and post-divorce.  It is a change that is hard to describe unless you can penetrate the inner workings of my mind, but I have an incredibly strong belief that in training myself to say “yes” I have changed a deeply set neuron path structure inside my brain.  Saying “yes” has opened my life to new experiences and opportunities that I would have either completely ignored, dismissed or disconnected from.  It has given me the confidence to try just about anything, with a contentment in knowing that I’m living for today and that I no longer will be waiting for better days to come.  Saying “yes” has given me hope for what is possible, the freedom to taste all of what life has to offer, and the passion and drive to live it fully.

– Bex (with much love and gratitude to Kyla for teaching me to say “yes.”)