Tag Archives: single parenting

holding tension

My ex died of alcohol-related causes. Maybe it was his hemoglobin, maybe his heart stopped, could have been too much blood lost from internal bleeding. Doesn’t really matter; it’s not a mystery how he got there.

So now comes the work of contextualizing this for my children, ensuring they know they’re not alone in this experience, giving them a narrative and providing the resources they need to move forward. And the context part of it may be hardest of all to do…

For my children’s sake, I assert that their father died of a disease. Indeed, he was very sick. And yet, it is difficult not to also see that he was on a path, a path that appeared deliberate and premeditated. While on this path, he was given many opportunities to accept help, to leverage the multitude of resources available to him. He chose not to. When alcoholism  / addiction takes hold, what appear to be choices are not real choices. Addiction lies — and it took his life.

Thus, I must ensure my children do not go through what I went through:  believing that I somehow wasn’t enough, that their father continued to choose a bottle over me.

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reeling

Just over a week ago, one of the former step kids called. I’d just shared our spring break itinerary via email, so I figured the call was about plans. Boy, was I wrong! My ex’s dead body had been found in his apartment.

Let me backtrack a bit… I’d known this moment was coming since around a year ago, when I’d had a bizarre exchange with my ex that left me questioning his sanity. I remember wondering if he had early-onset dementia. Since then, his health has declined steadily; my daughter once had to call 911 after a fall and the last time the children had spent a weekend with him, he was emaciated, weak and visibly unwell. He suffered ulcers, internal bleeding and dangerously low hemoglobin.

For as long as this moment was anticipated and for as long as we’d been apart, I was completely shattered. I had to gather, tell and comfort my children, and then start telling others. I think I thought the worst would be supporting my children through their grief. Wave after wave of staggering grief washed over me. I reached out to friends, allies and colleagues, and lashed out at Brad, who responded (like everyone else) with grace, compassion and concern.

Those first days of taking the children to school late, checking them in at the office, talking to the counselor, answering the door for flower and food deliveries, telling colleagues I was unavailable… are a blur. Breathing was a struggle. For mothers who’ve just given birth, it’s like those first days of feeling completely upside down — my body felt as though it had been hit by a train, I was extraordinarily exhausted but couldn’t get enough sleep, time stretched out and compressed like an accordion, and could be measured only in “before” and “after.” For surfers, it’s like being pearled — underwater, disoriented, finally figuring out which way is up but not being able to reach the surface or catch your breath.

After a day and a half of weeping, I woke up, vomited up the previous night’s dinner and discovered I’d gotten my period. At that point, I knew things could only get better.

I have never been so grateful for the outpouring of support and love from friends, family members, co-workers, colleagues, my boss, neighbors, ex-boyfriends and, yes, even new beaus. Mr. Meltsmyheart checked in every single day. Brad has been kind, too. In the past, when others I know have lost loved ones, I’ve always felt my words, hugs, cards were feeble expressions — they never seemed enough somehow. But now I understand how much those small expressions of sympathy can mean.

I am now really, truly a full-time single parent. Full stop. This is certain to further complicate my future relationship prospects.

What’s next? Well, there are school trips to plan for, shots and doctors appointments with which to carry on, orthodontia, sports… good heavens! When am I going to schedule counseling sessions for these little ones? And how do I ensure the story they tell about their father serves them?

All this and more are yet to come. But for now, I’m still reeling.


everything is better and worse all at once

I could hardly wait for spring break to come:  I was going to drop my children off at their father’s for the weekend, spend a morning with the friend in hospice I told you about (Tom), enjoy a pedicure, pack and get ready for our trip west…and then sunshine!

I didn’t hear from the children’s father on Friday. My daughter volunteered at the popcorn stand in the bingo hall at the local church fish fry. My son and I met some friends there for dinner.

Saturday morning, I was nearly sick with anxiety as I drove to hospice to see Tom…I had absolutely no idea what to expect. But he had been texting and asked for a latte, so I stopped to get us coffee and treats. I walked quietly into the room where he was sleeping and, as he woke, he recognized me immediately. We sipped our lattes and nibbled on muffins while he asked me about my children, life and work. He enthusiastically empathized with my parenting stories, saying “Oh, I know!” as though he’d raised a half-dozen himself (he is childless). Not long after he’d excused himself to clean up, a skiing buddy stopped by…and then a friend from high school…and then some family members. His room was like Grand Central. And I was both uplifted and comforted, knowing that he was surrounded by love and laughter — and that he was still very much able to enjoy reliving his many adventures.

Then, having connected with my ex, I dropped the children off that afternoon for an overnight with him. Minutes later, my daughter called, upset:  there was dried blood splattered all over the kitchen. I drove back and went in. His place was messier than usual; he seemed a little more disheveled than usual…but he convincingly argued that everything was fine, that he had merely fallen down, that he would clean up. My daughter was overly tired after a sleepover. He urged her to take a nap and me to go about my day. I left again. My daughter called less than an hour later, hysterical: her father had fallen and hit his head, she had called 911 and the paramedics were there. I rushed back to collect and comfort my children, then called my ex’s eldest and met him at the ER.

Sunday we visited the hospital again, as my ex couldn’t maintain his balance, seemed disoriented and showed signs of a brain injury. Aside from visiting, there was nothing more I could do:  no one would share details of his injury or treatment with me, the non-family. I cornered a compassionate nurse and told her of his sudden, steep decline over the past few months and the symptoms I’d observed. It was a terrifying blur, and I felt helpless and heartbroken.

And the next day, I took my children on our best vacation yet! We stayed with my ex’s son, played with my children’s new niece, lay by the pool, ran on the beach, ate sushi with my ex’s daughter — and the children loved their time with their half-siblings. I am perhaps all too conscious that these former step children of mine don’t have to be so welcoming as to invite me into their lives and homes, yet they are — if not familial exactly — then warm and generous in ways that continue to surprise me. And they love my children, their younger siblings. The time we spent together as a sort of family was an unexpected blessing and I am comforted to know that this family culture, not my ex’s disease nor his slow, one-sip-at-a-time suicide, will be their family legacy.

I have begun settling into the notion that I am now a full-time single parent, with no likely reprieve nor partnership in parenting on the horizon. This may be the new normal. It is heartbreaking and wrenching to grasp that he is no longer the fun-loving father he once was, much less the man I once loved. I am at a loss for how to make sense of all this to my children. I don’t write this to elicit pity or sympathy; I state it as fact. Facing their father’s coming death, whether imminent or prolonged, is no easy feat. Imagine! This is the man I once loved.

Acceptance and peace for these new circumstances is slowly dawning. I have purpose; I know clearly my true north. I will raise these children to be compassionate, loving, functional adults. And I will not do it entirely alone, as I see how their older siblings rally around and love them. And my family and friends, too. Regardless what happens to their father, regardless of what he is doing to himself, they will be raised in a loving, stable home.


season of chaos

Christmas is a season for children and lovers. Thus, I confess, it’s been difficult for me to get in the holiday spirit these past few years. I go full in, kicking and screaming, only for the children’s sake (otherwise I’m sure my descent into Grinchy Scrooginess would be complete). Still, I find my small, cozy family is building new traditions that fit our unique sort of wackiness, and that warms my heart:

  • We bake cookies and the emerging trends are 1) to have help from one of my single girlfriends (who can get her kid jones on while making decorating more fun than my children would have with “just mom”) and 2) to cut out lots of little gingerbread people shapes and decorate them in ugly holiday sweaters.
  • Photo cards from friends are rolling in, and it’s so fun to see children growing up and the crazy couple who this year chose an eighties theme for their photo shoot.
  • We went out to a Chinese buffet this Christmas Eve, as has been our tradition since they were small and we vacationed in Florida and nothing else was open over the holidays.
  • I’ve just stuffed the children’s stockings and placed gifts under and around the tree. They’ll be waking me up first thing begging to open them all.

Finally, just for me, I’ve spent the last three nights watching “Love, Actually” with a glass of wine in hand after the children are off to sleep. All those interwoven tales of love never seem to get old. With another week or so of break, feel free to join me one of these nights.

Merry Christmas!


road trip

This spring, my daughter’s class at school began studying the states. She regularly came home with various new ideas about places she’d like to visit, including Mt. Rushmore. I’ve been to see this presidential monument several times, always while driving through to destinations further west. And, while I knew people vacationed in the Black Hills, I’d thought of it as a “mini” or poor man’s vacation for those who couldn’t afford to fly to warmer destinations over the holidays or spring break or for those who didn’t have the time to go as far as the more obvious destination, Yellowstone. In my mind, it was — like Devil’s Tower — one of the stops along the way when one is going somewhere, just another dot along the “Rubber Tomahawk Circuit.”

So I was wrong folks; I admit it.

School ended on a Tuesday and childcare for the next three days was going to cost me an average of $75 per day…so, I thought, we can’t afford not to go. After all, my children want to. And this is one of the few ways in which I actually believe spoiling them is entirely okay — with experiences, especially those that can be educational.

With only a notion, we packed the car and drove to the Black Hills of South Dakota. The children were spectacular during the long hours in the car, playing games together, reading and (of course) watching movies or playing electronic games. They were patient, cooperative and even the younger one asked for little.

We drove through the old gold mining towns of Deadwood and Lead, then down through Custer National Park and, of course, to the main event — Mt. Rushmore. It was the kind of vacation where I felt as though we spent most of our time driving / in the car. But it was spectacularly memorable. Here are just a few of the highlights:

  • Needles highway in Custer State Park, where there is beautiful scenery around every switchback and through every one of the tunnels carved through stone.
  • Having an old-time photo taken…with guns, at a child’s insistence.
  • Panning for gold.
  • The pervasive and relaxing scent of pine needles.
  • The lighting ceremony at Mt. Rushmore — my first time seeing it at night.
  • Our family’s first alpine slide experience in Keystone — after a grilled cheeseburger at the summit.
  • Seeing buffalo up close and feeding asses out of the palms of our hands.
  • A walk along the shore of beautiful Lake Sylvan.
  • Driving back home, at night, hearing the children talk about how many stars they can see — and then turning on the StarWalk app to learn the names of new constellations.
  • The children also insisted on seeing Reptile Gardens, on which I could have easily taken a pass, but the alligator show was at least a little amusing.

Things we missed:  the hiking, kayaking, rock climbing and other experiences one might enjoy if staying at the park for a longer period of time, the mammoth site / dig further south of Custer  (which I’ve heard is fantastic!), caves and horseback rides. In other words, we definitely plan to go back!

The spectacular experience didn’t end with scenery alone:  part of the joy of the experience was in realizing that the children have become competent road trippers, and that we can just hop in the car with no reservations and wing it (my favorite way to travel!), and they’ll be fine. Another was realizing that those feelings that came up last trip — about it being “half a vacation” because my children only have half the parents — were no longer a part of the experience. The three of us had a wonderful adventure all our own.

Now, where to go next?!


special kind of sadness

No, I’m not in LA….

Actually, I’ve brought the children on what, to some, might be the vacation of a lifetime. But it’s not our first time in Orlando…

Traveling with them, I want them to feel joyous and excited. I want to feel relaxed. I think they are content and happy here. We exist mostly according to their whim and schedule. One resort employee even remarked that, together, their conversations and negotiations resemble as much an old married couple as two grammar school-aged children.

But for me, there’s a sadness…a grieving for the vacations we used to have: two-bedroom suites on the beach, so many firsts, grandma or other extended family members on hand to share child-care, travel arrangements and stress that I now manage by myself. Mostly I miss giving them the experience of all this as an in-tact family unit. Somehow I feel as though I’m giving them a lesser vacation by asking them to wait until I finish reading a chapter before joining them in an icy pool.

I know my ex is grieving our vacations, too, by the wistful replies he sends to my emailed photos of the children and his voice on the phone when he calls to talk to them.

Someday, I will get beyond the belief that two parents equals twice the vacation. I’m working on that.

Two days in, I’ve started to relax and enjoy just being in my children’s sustained presence. By tomorrow, I’ll be rocking’ this. And, with any luck, we’ll all arrive at home feeling refreshed, relaxed and full of new, happy vacation memories with our little family.


there you have it

I think those of you who follow here can tell that I’m fairly real and genuine. One moment I think I’ve forgiven and moved on; the next I’m behaving badly out of lingering blame and resentment.

These are realities for the divorced, and these are the things I choose to share here. I don’t dwell in them. It’s not my whole life. But it’s the sliver of me you get to see for visiting here.