What You See Is What You Get

I'm old enough now, and my kids are old enough, that I've become a spectator versus an active participant in the Mommy Wars. *switching to my Crypt Keeper voice* Back when my kids were little, the internet was new and I was still having fun coming up with a catchy email address. There were no blogs and no parenting sites and the words selfie, blog, text, viral and followers either didn't exist or meant something completely different than they do now.

I fed my kids in the way that worked best for them and for me. I got them to sleep in the way that worked best for all of us. I disciplined (or not) in whichever way seemed to be working at the time. Oh, don't be mistaken: we had mom groups galore. There was ECFE, I was in a nursing mom group, we had Mom's Clubs and playgroups and of course, the audience of mommies at the parks. I was judged, and yes, I did some judging myself. Not proud of it, but I'll admit to doing so.

The thing is, we didn't have the entire world watching what we did back then. We didn't have Facebook friends silently clucking at our misadventures in parenting while they scrolled through their feed. We didn't have an Instagram where a simple picture of our baby could ignite a firestorm of indignation and revolt.

As trite and granny as it makes me sound, it was simpler. But with granny-age comes some wisdom, and I'd like to share a few nuggets of that wisdom with the next generation of mommies:

Ladies, I know it's hard. You got pressure, baby, from more sides than you knew existed. But let this grizzled, saggy mom tell you a secret, okay? In a few years, the eyes of the world will be off of you and focused on the next batch of noobs. You will have these smaller versions of adults hanging around your house and there will no longer be nosy intrusions into your kitchen and bedroom and bathroom (unless you have a dog, and then there will be a cold wet nosy intrusion into every-freaking-thing you do and own). You will be free, my friends. And that freedom is as delicious as a dinner you get to eat while it's still warm.

I spend a lot of time with young adults now. I live with three of them year-round, in fact. Three of my kids are of voting age. One of them can buy booze legally (see?? It's awesome!). All of them can wipe their own butts and in theory if not practice, are capable of making their own meals. They can do their own laundry and drive cars that don't have "Little Tikes" on the license plates.

Unlike those days of yore, when you look at my kids and me you don't see a young and inexperienced artist standing in front of blobs of clay. You see an older, wiser one with some pretty cool sculptures. My kids aren't perfect, thank God. They've stumbled and erred and there are moments I worry about their future roommates and significant others cursing me, but I'm proud of what they have become and proud of my role in their lives.

When I am immersed in big groups of kids now, what their parents have chosen to do or not do while raising them isn't as obvious as it used to be. There are no pacifiers, no tell-tale Pull Ups or diapers peeking out at the back of their pants. No bottles of formula on coffee tables, no empty jars of baby food in the recycling bags. Their moms aren't finding quiet corners to nurse them, and their dads aren't getting high-fives for wearing them in a Baby Bjorn.

Nope. Now, I see people. Almost fully-formed, full-grown people. I can't tell which ones were breastfed and which ones had formula. No idea who slept in their parent's beds and who was a crib sleeper from day one. Ask me which kid ate only organic and which one gobbled up Kraft mac and cheese in their highchair and I'll shrug. Was that kid in daycare from the time he was six weeks old, or did his mom stay at home with him? I DON'T KNOW.

Here's what I can see, though. I can tell you which kid was taught to say Please and Thank You and Excuse Me. I can point out the ones who were made to clean up their messes.

You can see which kid was taught how to lose with grace and win with even more of it.

It's obvious which ones were raised to respect their fellow human beings and which ones weren't.

The ones who had a strong work ethic instilled in them from an early age are easy to spot, too. As are the ones who were taught that they don't have to work for anything.

The girls who were told they could be or do anything they wanted to really stand out. The ones who were raised by former mean girls? They stand out just as much.

I can tell who was shown how to hold a door open for the person behind them. I think we have all met the people who weren't.

I have seen kids who grew up dirt poor and with a single, exhausted parent become academic all-stars with honors and scholarships galore. I've seen kids who were raised in picture-perfect homes struggle with demons in needles and bottles and tight jeans.

And it goes beyond what I see in my kids and their friends. When you are out and about, say...walking through Costco. People who were raised to be polite and kind and gracious stand out among a sea of crassness. I have coworkers who will spend hours of their own time cleaning up the staff lounge, and others who leave dirty dishes in the sink and a tipped bottle of soy sauce in the fridge. If you spend any amount of time in a school parking lot, especially at drop off or pick up, the sins of parents past and of parents present are woefully apparent.

I guess what I'm trying to say, in my usual long-winded way is this: parenting is hard. And despite our best intentions we are all going to make mistakes. The reality is, what we do when they're little will matter and it won't. Oh, that makes no sense, you say?

Welcome to parenthood. The best you can do is simply that: your best. Eff the haters, screw the judgy assholes, smother that awful self-doubt and focus on what's important. And remember this: in five, ten or fifteen years, your kid will be out there in the world, rubbing elbows with the people who sit behind screens and piously preen and pop out vitriol like giant Pez dispensers. Your job now is to make sure your baby doesn't become one of them.




It means "Thanks" in German and although I have nary a speck of Deutsch in me, since my blog personae is Hausfrau it fits.

Last week, I sat down in a cloud of woe and wrote about having to go back down a road I thought was closed. Life has taught me many valuable lessons over the past few years but this one seems to be taking a while to sink in: never say never. Right? When we say something like "Never again!" it's almost as if the universe hears it and says, rubbing her universal hands together, "we shall see about that, Jenny!"

So I did what I find the most therapeutic, and wrote about it. Not seeking attention, not looking for sympathy. Just writing because that's what I do. I've found that when I expose the sometimes-grungy underbelly that is being a divorced woman, it reaches people. Other women who are going through the same shit come out, wanting to talk about it. Wanting to feel less alone. Women who have gone through it, and came out alive, come out. They want to offer support to those of us still there. Women who have never gone through this ordeal come out, just wanting to offer hugs and shoulders to cry on and love.

For a very long time, I kept quiet about the day to day struggle because it was shameful to me. I walked among the "normal" people in my world and kept up appearances for as long as I could. But it wasn't until I began telling the truth that I realized appearances aren't worth keeping up and the "normal" people had stories they were hiding, too.

When I wrote that post, I wasn't looking for handouts. I wasn't asking for help. Promise. I was sad and defeated. You know why? Because I had slipped back into the habit of keeping up appearances. Life was, and is, good. Just like the t-shirts tell us. But life can and will always surprise us and damn if life doesn't throw a few wrenches into the cogs now and then.

Life can also throw a few bouquets in there, too. My kids and I saw that this week. Again.

The night after the post was published, we were all home. Dinner had been made, dishes were done and we were all settling into that weeknight groove. Homework, laundry, maybe mom starting to snore on the couch. My daughter, Molly, still home from college on winter break heard it.

A noise at the front door. Walter the wonder watch dog, did squat. Molly went to the door and came back into the living room holding an envelope. She handed it to me and said, "Someone just dropped this off, Mom." I opened it up and saw this:

That's $300 to a local grocery store, people.

At first I thought I'd read the amount wrong. But no. It really said "$300.00". You know what I did for the next hour? Walked around the house, holding that card out in front of me like a license plate and saying "OH MY GOD. OH MY GOD." I pressed Molly for details. "Did you see the car? What did it look like?" to which she answered, "It's dark outside, Mom."

Henry looked at it and said, "Who would do that? That's so much money!" William just smiled and then pushed me out of his room. Charlie hugged me.

This grocery gifting ninja warmed up my cold sad heart and it felt ahhhhmazing. It's also going to keep our fridge stocked for pretty much a whole month. Thank you, ninja. Thank you so much.

That's not all, folks. Several of you commented on that post, urging me to set up a GoFundMe page or donation site. I can't, won't do that. Those are for people who are truly in need. Like families with sick kids or a house fire or something else way beyond my little bubble of sad. Certainly not for a putzy single mom who likes to talk a lot about how great life can be after divorce and yet, always seems to be a day late and a dollar short.

A friend from high school, a guy who is the bee's knees and who reads my blog, called me up and said, "What are you doing? Get your computer and log onto Paypal. We're setting up a tip jar for your blog. Now."

I have some uncomfortableness with this, and not just because uncomfortableness isn't a word. (psst Jenny it's discomfort). Asking for help isn't easy. It's not something I do well or often. Hardly ever and only under great duress. I told my friend this and he said "Shut up. Here's what you do" and walked me, step-by-step, through the Blog Tip Jar process. It took about five minutes and then took another 2 hours for me to actually work up the guts to put it here on the blog. Even now, four days later, it looks kind of weak and lame to me.

But, that night, Paypal sent me several emails. A donation. Then another, and another. Over the next few days, they came in. Each one hit me in the gut. The ones with notes made me cry. Okay, fine, they ALL made me cry because in my mind, in my heart, I'm not worthy of this. You beautiful perfect strangers who wouldn't know me or my kids if we jumped in your lap and said "HOWDY", reached into your own pockets and gave to my family.

You are now investors in this business and so I want you to know where your money is going. A little bit went to fill up my gas tank. For the first time in weeks I filled that sucker to the top instead of standing there, tapping the trigger until it hit exactly $5.00. Thank you.

A little bit is going to buy my 15 year old a couple of sweatshirts. He's had a growth spurt and has been wearing the same three or four for the past month and I'll be getting him some new ones. Thank you.

A smidgen of it will be used for a bikini wax. LOL. Kidding. Just checking to see if you're awake. And now you're nauseous, too. Sorry.

The rest of it is going to stay right there. It's not going to be touched until we need to touch it. I hope that's okay. What you've given me is a cushion and it's the prettiest, cushiest cushion I've ever laid my old tired eyes on. Thank you doesn't seem like enough but it's all I've got. So thank you.

There were other random acts of kindness too. One of you sent me a Target e-gift card. Oh girl. Target? Be still my broke ass heart. I'll be Cartwheeling that mofo, guaranteed. Thank you.

One of you reached out and paid to renew our Costco membership. You know that brings tears to my eyes. Brings them and then pours them down my cheeks. Thank you.

Someone who will from here on out be known simply as the Meat Angel dropped off a bag of, you guessed it- MEAT. High quality goodness from a local butcher shop. On taco night, we clinked our tortillas in your name, Meat Angel. Thank you.

One of you took advantage of the always-open driver's side window of my car and plopped two super cute bottles of wine on the front seat. At least, I hope it was one of you. If not, thank you confused stranger. It's going to be a while before my poverty-stricken body darkens the door of a liquor store, so again, thank you.

And then, today at work. Wednesdays and Thursdays are my late days. I work as a para from around 11:15 until 2:00, and then do the office stuff until 6:15. When I walked into the office at 2:00, my coworker handed me another envelope. "Someone dropped this off for you, Jenny" she said, and I knew it was from one of you before I even touched it. It just glowed.

Now, for the record, I've been under the weather this week. I had a fever and the achy chills stuff Sunday and Monday, and a weird sore throat accompanied by an almost narcoleptic falling asleep on the couch thing ever since. I'm holding off on going into the Minute Clinic for a strep test. Not so much because of the $70 bill but mostly because I dread the moment the nurse comes in, sizes up my meaty arms with her eyes and reaches for the X-LONG blood pressure cuff.

So I'm feeling understandably vulnerable right now.

I took the envelope and opened it. I read the enclosed card and then I started bawling. Like, straight up ugly face sobbing. My poor befuddled coworker grabbed a box of tissues and handed them to me. I took a moment to compose myself, and then read the card, out loud, to my office mates:

These words. And a Costco gift card. The Costco thing of course made me verklempt, but these words! OOooh. Just looking at them again is making my chin do that quiver thing and the little letters on the screen turn all wavy. I would never, in a million years, use any of these words to describe myself. Dream-chaser? Goal reacher? MAGNIFICENT? Nah. But to know someone else thought they were apropos? Well. Color me humbled.

Humbled and thankful. Every time something like this, like a greeting card full of kind words or a donation from a stranger or a bag of meat shows up, it's like a big hug from some unseen, comforting entity. It's all of you telling me to hang in there. It's my kids learning once again how absolutely good the world is. It's people being kind even though they don't have to be.

All I have to offer in return is my gratitude and my promise that I am going to keep trying, every day, to pay it all forward. To be that hug for someone else, to be good, to be kind even though I don't have to be. I am drenched in gratitude tonight, and always, for what you all have given to my kids and to me.



OMG Not Those People Again

Is going to a food shelf anything like riding a bike?

Well, if riding a bike makes you feel like a colossal, shameful failure, then yes. Yes, going to a food shelf is EXACTLY like riding a bike. If you stand next to your bike and have a hard time getting on, if you have to picture the faces of your kids and close your eyes and take a deep breath before flopping one leg over the seat and grabbing those handlebars...YES. Totally the same thing.

If I've learned anything over the 8-year long roller coaster ride my kids and I have been on, it's this: never get cocky. Never look around and think, "Yeah. Thank God I never have to do that again." Never assume that you got the all clear from the universe. Because guess what, friends? Shit happens.

Things are so different this time around, and yet it's as if nothing has changed. Yes! I do have a good full-time job. With sick days and full benefits and great hours. Yes! I am getting some child support for the two remaining high school kids. Yes! I do have a little bit in savings this time around. Enough for a car repair or to cover rent for a month if I get tuberculosis or break a leg, not anything crazy like college money or retirement.

On the surface, it all looks manageable. But strap on that snorkel and dive mask and look under the water...you'll see me frantically paddling just to keep my head, and the heads of the people who have looked to me to be their safe zone, above water. It's a reality for me, and for millions of other people. I've written about it in a lighthearted tone before, but here's a secret: it's a scary way to live.

The job? Love it. It is where I am supposed to be, where I am needed and where I fit. I love my boss. I love my coworkers. I love every single one of the kids at my school. I am that person who cheerily greets people at 6 mother effing a.m. with genuine happiness.

However, I am not earning a living wage. Maybe if I was still married and had a spouse making good money it would be enough. Or if I had a roommate or if I lived by myself in a little apartment. But it's not enough to support my family of five. It's not the fault of the school district I work for, they only have so many dollars to pay so many people. This is on me, for not having the education I should have and for not investing the time/energy/money to get it. No, the onus for not having what it takes to earn a proper living is on me. I own this one. I keep thinking "ooh next year will be easier. It will just be me and William and the other three will all be in school and out on their own." 

And then a kid or two moves back home. Christmas happens. Winter break comes and stays a while. The only other car in the family takes a $1000 dump and is rendered useless because who in the world has $1000 extra to fix a car? The driver's side door handle on my car has been broken for two years and almost every day someone at work jokes with me about it. "LOL Jenny your window is still down and it's snowing! Get that fixed!" and I LOL right back at them and say "Ha! Trying to figure out which month we don't need electricity and food hahahahaha" only I'm not kidding.

The child support? Honey. I'm not going to lie. If it wasn't for those two bank transfers from Secretary every month, I'd be sunk (yes, she pays it). My kids would be sunk. We'd all be sunk like the Titanic and I'd be Rose, all shivery and trying my darnedest to blow that whistle. That said, he still isn't paying what he should be paying. Somehow he's managed to get away with paying an amount that reflects him having the two remaining supportable kids every other weekend and eight weeknights per month.

So he's paying child support based on a 60/40 custody situation when it's actually 100/0. Yes, I have brought this up with him and you know what I hear in response? Not "Augh, you're right! Here, let me make it up to them (and you) and be a man and a father and really help support my children. I'm going to do the right thing because it's the right thing to do and not because my ass is being held over a flame." Nah. I hear crickets. Pretty, pretty crickets. On a related note, if you know of a family law attorney in Minneapolis who loves poor single moms and wants to help, call me!

This would also be the part in my post where I wax philosophic about the ridiculousness of child support ending abruptly at 18. Because I don't know many kids (and yes, they're kids) who wake up on their 18th birthday, turn to their parents and say, "Aw you guys! Thanks for everything. I'm off on my own now. I won't need anything else from you from this day forward." But that's a rant for another time.

So how did I happen to end up back in the parking lot of the food shelf, bracing myself for a good 20 minutes before I had the courage to walk in? Kind of a funny story.

Just kidding. It's not funny at all. It's a stack of obligations- some expected, some not- up against my resources. It was me wanting to give the kids an okay Christmas. It was a huge utilities bill. It was my 100% covered annual physical ending up to be not so covered and Park Nicollet sending me to collections over a disputed $500 bill (hey, by the way, thanks Park Nicollet! Happy New Year to you as well!). 

It was life, as it always is. I made sure the rent was paid, and the car insurance and when all was said and done I had $18.00 left in my checking account. I steeled myself, gave myself that old pep talk and damn if I wasn't all Rocky Balboa running around in a gray sweatsuit singing about how I was gonna fly now.

I transferred $50 from my meager savings to checking and wrote out a menu and headed to Aldi's, which, no offense to anyone, reminds me of shopping at a food pantry except you pay at the end. Aldi's is like going to a grocery store in Bizarro World, everything looks familiar yet different. Fiber One bars are Fiber Now in Bizarro Aldi world. My kids call it "bootleg food" but I have yet to see one of them perish after eating it.

It wasn't enough. It just wasn't enough to put dinner on the table every night. I tried. But things can only stretch so far. The kids know when I'm worried and they know when it's money that's worrying me. They are remarkable humans and sometimes I wonder how I got so lucky. Molly watched a neighbor's cat while they were away and when she got paid she stood in front of me, holding out the money and said, "Here. Take it." But I couldn't. This is the girl who is paying for her own college education (with help from some scholarship and grant money, of course). Nope. Not going to take that from her.

A long time ago in a galaxy not so far away, I sat in a bank and signed over a stack of my children's savings bonds in order to pay the mortgage on a house we eventually had to leave. We'd had a family meeting and the kids, who were kind and wise beyond their years, agreed to let me do so. That moment is burned into my brain and my heart and I will never forget how embarrassed and how ashamed I felt. And now here they were again, offering whatever help they could. Molly bought dog food. Henry bought lunch. William, who doesn't have a job yet, offered to put gas in the car with some of his Christmas money. Charlie, not working at the moment because of a transfer to a new school and a huge course load, has been on kitchen duty and keeps hugging me and telling me everything will work out.

I haven't told anyone about my situation, except for my homie Danielle. She offered to loan me some moolah but my next paycheck hasn't even been born yet and it's already screaming for mercy. No, I put on my happy face mask and do what I always do: carry on. I am Mr. Freaking Rourke on my own little fantasy island, standing there in my dapper suit with little Tattoo next to me, waving and saying, "SMILES, EVERYONE! SMILES!"

Yet, there I was. Sitting in that parking lot, a swirly blowy snowstorm whipping around outside while I wrestled with my pride. Took a few minutes but I pinned that bitch and then I stepped out of my car and into the building where I could get some help.

Because I'm Jenny and the universe likes to eff with me, the woman who took my paperwork this time around has a son who graduated with Charlie. Bless her heart, we didn't discuss that at all and when she said, "So it's been a while since you were here last! We're happy to see you again!" I replied, "I wish I could say I was happy to be here." I told her this was a one-time deal, that I just had a week to get through. Her eyes were kind but I wondered if she was thinking to herself heard that one before.

Not much had changed at the old food shelf. The carts were the same, the rows of groceries were the same. I hummed a Frank Sinatra tune (New York, New York) as I made my way down the aisles. No eye contact was made and I'm pretty sure I did that thing where you leave your body for a while. Astral projection. I kept thinking, "One week. One week. One week." I grabbed a bunch of soup. Some mac and cheese. A loaf of garlic bread. And thank the good sweet Lord, milk. There was orange juice, something I never buy but took a carton anyway because the kids would be thrilled. Ramen because even though I think it's not really food, William considers it a delicacy. Frozen chicken breasts. Eggs! They had eggs! Potatoes and onions and carrots. I kept thinking "One week. One week. One week."

The man who checked me out looked at my slip of paper and said, "Oh wow. Five people? That means you can get a container of laundry soap, too." I smiled at him and said, "I'm okay there. Plenty of detergent. But thank you." Because that's how it is. Thank God this time around we had plenty of toilet paper and detergent and ahhh, paper towels. Looking back, I probably should have checked to see if they had any tampons. Earlier this month I was MacGyvering a very unlucky package of panty-liners into something else. Sorry, but when a broke-ass mom has $7.00 to spare she's going to buy spaghetti and sauce, not a box of Kotex. #reality

So I packed up the one week's worth of stuff into two cardboard boxes and loaded them into my car. I drove home and waited until the coast was clear and then tucked the new goodies in alongside the bootleg Aldi's products. I don't want the kids to know. Why? Why would I be okay writing about it here and not wanting them to know? Simple. I feel like I've failed them somehow. What kind of mom can't provide for her family? I know they wouldn't care, I know they wouldn't judge. But still. I quietly broke down the boxes and put them in the recycling bin and later on when one of the kids said, "Orange juice? No way! Thanks mom!" I didn't say anything.

Last night I was in my happy place. I was in the kitchen making our trademark family meal, homemade fettuccine noodles. I made pasta dough and music was playing (The Man Who Sold The World, rest in peace beautiful Bowie) and kids were drifting in and out of the room, talking to me while I ran the sheets of fresh pasta through the noodle cutter. Later on, when all of this has passed, I wonder if my kids will associate that meal with being poor.

I wonder if they'll think being poor tastes like fresh pasta? I guess as far as memories go, that one is okay.

I hope I will look back on these times, these awful and wonderful and scary times and not cry. I hope there comes a day when all of us can sit down together, over a meal I made while listening to good music, and talk about the good old days. The days when we were those people.


Oh Come, All Ye Faithful...

One of the kids and I were discussing religion. I was a soft Methodist growing up, and become a semi-soft Lutheran via marriage. What? You've never compared religion to cheese? I'm a Havarti, as opposed to an aged Parmesan. And now I'm hungry. As I was saying: the kids and I stopped attending the church we'd belonged to for well over a decade when they decided to be less than accommodating to folks of the gay ilk. I don't roll that way, thus our exodus. So we haven't been to church in a long while but I do still believe in God and Heaven and all that jazz. I try to live my life in a good way, not so much out of fear of going to Hell but more so out of fear of encountering pissed off relatives when I do cross over.

The kid and I were talking about church and religion and some of the ceremonies they'd gone through. Communion and confirmation, to be precise. The kid mentioned how they liked being part of that group, how it felt special to be included in these milestones with their peers.

I asked the kid if they missed being part of a church family. The kid said "Nah. I think you hammered it in for a good amount of time." (LOL).

Then the kid said, "You know, Dad told me he doesn't believe in God."

I didn't say much. Just an eyebrow raised ever-so-slightly and the response, "Really?" He'd been a very active participant in our early church-going days. Ushered, tithing, the whole nine yards. But as our marriage faded away, so did all of the things we did as a family. Church included. I should add, non-believing/atheism isn't a bad thing in my opinion. "Some of my best friends are atheists" Saying it in a jokey way but it's entirely true. A person's worth and likability, to me, has nothing to do with what or who they do or don't worship and everything to do with what kind of person they are. #truth

The kid mused on a bit more: "He says it's because Secretary doesn't believe in God. He says he decided she was right."

Oh dear sweet Jesus. You should see the bite-marks on my tongue, folks. I said nothing to the kid. But in my head I was thinking:

"She may not believe in God but damn straight she's got a whole lotta faith. She's made babies with a man who walked away from his wife and four kids. Girl believes in something!"

And isn't that the truth? Aren't these people, the ones who put on their hardhats and get to the dirty business of helping dismantle marriages, aren't they the most faithful among us? They truly believe in a higher power. They believe that they are immune to the plague which took down the relationship before them. Whether it's because they have a mink-lined vagina or dick for days, whether it's because they're younger or smarter or richer or just plain -er in every way...they believe they are exempt. They believe it's not going to happen to them. They believe in it, with such a fervent heat, that they start brand new, shiny lives with the ones who so casually disregarded their previous ones.

People talk about those of us left behind as being brave. Of being strong. Of having an almost preternatural mettle.

But really...it's those hopeful, determined souls who knowingly build a house upon a rotted, unstable foundation who are the brave ones, isn't it? Oh, the trust they have in their partners-in-crime. It would be admirable if they weren't such awful people. If they weren't the harbingers of so much breakage and ruin and mess.

I've done some shitty things in my life but I never cheated on my spouse. I have been involved with a man or two who did, though. On one hand, yay for honesty! Let's lay all of our dirty cards out on the table early on, I say. I'd rather they find out about the skeletons in my closet- about my dysfunctional family, about my bankruptcy and foreclosure and about the blog I have where I work out my mental issues- at the beginning and from me, rather than later on and from a Google search.

On the other hand, yikes. Yes, I want to know if they cheated on their wives. Although it's not a 100% guaranteed deal breaker (because I am not only soft physically but soft of heart as well and you will not be written off until you give me good reason) it does set off oh so many alarms. Getting married again isn't high on my to-do list but if it does happen, it's very doubtful it would be with someone who'd done to a spouse what was done to me. There would be a trust deficit. I know people change, I know there are as many sides to every story as there are freaking dried out pine needles on my living room floor right now but still...

to put that kind of faith in someone with an adulterous track record? I don't know if I have it in me.

Blind faith? No. I don't think I do. But good on you, if you do.

Good on you, and good luck.


Old Lame Sigh, My Dear: Goodbye 2015

This is it. The last post of 2015. Monumental? Nah. Not even to me and I'm one of those sappy milestone tracker types. This one is going to be pretty much only for me, because the last day of the year is always one of deep reflection, and tends to get pretty thick with the feelings. It's not comfortable for anyone, not even for me and I'm the one putting it all out there.

This has been a good year for some people, a shitty year for others. That's how it always goes, right? I doubt there has ever been a year that was great across the board. So some of us are spending this Thursday thanking their lucky stars or their God or whomever that it's almost over and they're still able to have a cohesive thought in their brains. Others wish it wouldn't end because life has been bountiful. Fortunes have been made, love happened, health and happiness overflowed in their cups and made beautiful messes on the floor. The dates are the same for all of us, though, regardless of happiness or sadness; fortunes good or poor. 2015 will end, forever, at the close of this day.

Every year I wonder how we'll make it, and so far, every year we have. Without fail.

I'm tired. So, so tired. Tired of the struggle to keep afloat, tired of being the only parent who truly parents my children, tired of putting out fires and tired of keeping fires lit. Tired of holding my hurt loved ones close when they're breaking, tired of wishing I had someone to do the same for me. Tired of being the only one who seems to understand how things like "dishwashers" and "light switches" work. So, so tired.

I'm so, so happy. Happy to have four healthy people who call me Mom. Happy to have a dog who greets me after a twenty-minute errand like it was twenty days. Happy to have friends who are always a phone call, text or message away. Happy that despite the inevitable agonizing on the first of the month, somehow the rent always gets paid and somehow, we have food to eat and clothes on our backs. Happy to be alive. So, so happy.

I have a job I love. I love it, but it doesn't pay me enough to support my family. And so I will enter 2016 with a tough choice to make. Do I suck it up and get a second job? Or do I try to find a better paying one? When I can't sleep at night, I play different scenarios in my head. In some of them I'm waitressing, snapping gum and channeling Flo from the old show Alice...telling people to kiss my grits and coming home with tired feet. In others I'm back on eBay, snapping pictures of thrift-store Eileen Fisher tunics in my living room and trying to come up with better descriptive terms than "artsy" and "flowing". And then there are the darker pictures, the ones where I'm packing up a house again, this time to a smaller space. A cheaper space. A different space.

To be honest with you, the only one of those I don't hate is the eBay one. And they kicked me off the site for filing bankruptcy so Houston, we have a problem.

I can't even discuss the whole RELATIONSHIP and SEX things of 2015. Okay, I can, but once again I am ending the year without a lovah situated next to me for the night. And that's fine! It really is. I haven't had a beau on New Year's Eve since my divorce. Walter has been here for the past seven of them and he's the perfect date as far as I'm concerned. Fuzzy socks and no bra? Shake them noisemakers loose, my friends. RING IT IN WITH STYLE!

I've slipped up a few times this year, as far as men and promises and goals are concerned. Last year I promised myself to know my worth but apparently there's still some confusion as to what that actually is. Some of my actions reflect a pretty low number as far as worth goes, and that's disappointing. A few times, though, I've made choices that prove I really am worth more. Worth more than booty calls and being second choice. Worth more than late night texts and sloppy, vodka-fueled dalliances. Worth so much more than feeling anything less than loved. And yet, despite all of this Stuart Smalley crap, I still find myself wishing and hoping for that text, for that little nudge, for a morsel or a crumb from one of them, one last motorboat ride in the deep dark night. I'm conflicted it seems, between wanting to get my freak on and not wanting to hate myself when I do. I want the intimacy without the strings but that's when I have to ask myself, "How's that working out for you?" Looks like the old self-worth still needs some work in 2016.

I didn't talk to my mom in 2015. Not once. The guilt is killing me but I haven't had a nightmare about my stepdad this year. Not once.

Another person I haven't spoken to, face-to-face, is my ex-husband. We have become skilled in the art of Parallel Parenting. Or perhaps we should be truthful and call it what it really is: Uneven Bar Parenting. 2016 will be the year he becomes a father for the sixth time. Let that sink in for a moment, friends who know the whole story:

The sixth time.

I don't care what the courts say, what the world says. Your kids may grow up but the parenting never ends. When they turn 18 they no longer get child support but they sure as hell still need all kinds of support, child or otherwise: love and time and conversations. Show me a self-sufficient 18 year old and I'll say "hi Doogie!" and then show you my kids. When I made the decision to have four of them I didn't do so thinking I would be the only consistent parent in their lives. I mean, who in their right mind would? But look at us go...another year down, two in college, one about to be in college and a high schooler who will still hang out with mom. Not too shabby.

As this year nods off for good, I will have all four of my baby birds back in the nest. One of those birds has struggled mightily this year and it's been tough on this old mom's heart to watch it happen. I don't write about it out of deference to that person but it's been hard. So, so hard. I wish, more than anything, that there was more I could do. Like I wrote on the facebook page for this blog, I just wish I had more. I'd give these kids my last cent, my last breath, my last piece of gum. Someday I will have more. I know it. Someday I'll be able to be there for them like they deserve. Someday I will make it all up to them, fill the gaps and patch up the holes in our little family quilt. It didn't happen in 2015...and I don't know how it could happen in 2016. Miracles still show up, right?

But hey! It was a good year, in many ways. Let's not get all Debbie Downer up in here. So much good happened. I'm thinking, just a minute.

Oh! Yes! I reconnected with my old timey BFF from high school. My soul sister Anne and I hugged again after many years of separation. We cackled like not a second had passed and called each other "Polly" like we used to (it's an old Joe Piscopo reference and like, three of you would get it). Thanks to a super kind and generous friend, we even got the chance to see the sweet little Ginger Gnome Ed Sheeran together:

The Force was Awakened and I got to see it with a very enthusiastic 15 year old:

I was in a REAL LIVE BOOK. And got paid for it! AND did I mention it's a real book, available on Amazon?:

I spent so much time with my good friends and took many selfies:

This shit happened on Halloween and it was awesome:

Speaking of getting paid to write, this happened too. I am getting real good at signing contracts ;)

These sexy little beasts showed up at the painting party on my birthday (and came to the restaurant with us afterward):

I got to see this Oddball Crush live again, and although he doesn't get me as tingly as he used to, boy is funny:

My bestie made this DIY kickass Pinteresty gift for me, out of wine corks. It's for the Golden Girls Porch of Love and it's amazing:

And I was able to buy this stuff at Costco, more than once:

My apologies for the self-congratulatory photo collection. I needed it and yes, of course I'm getting a little weepy thinking back on all the good that happened in 2015. Sometimes we need a few reminders, ya know?

I wish for all of you the same things I wish for everyone I love: peace in spades, love endlessly, laughs innumerable, good dreams realized and the eyesight and heartsight to acknowledge and embrace all of it.

Thank you, as always, for being here. You are the best things to have come from this blog and whenever I think, Gah this is so stupid. I'm going to quit writing and pull the whole thing offline someone will send me an email in the middle of the night that will make me cry and remind me of what it felt like to be standing in front of a future that is so scary and unknown. Not that I'm like the Joan of Arc for Divorced Ladies but it's so important that we keep reminding all of the newcomers they are not alone.

So here's to us, my dears. Here's to another year under our belt and a big, fat fresh slate before us. Time to hit Play again. Let's go!


Minnesota Medium

Dreams have always fascinated me. It pains me when someone will say, "Oh, I don't dream" or "I never remember mine" because I wish everyone could enjoy them like I do. Every single night, I dream. Some are so vivid and real, I can recall the tiniest details months, sometimes even years, later. When I was little, like maybe 5 or 6, I had a dream that my cousins and I were all gathered in the big red barn on my paternal grandparent's farm. There were about ten of us, and we were all in our pajamas. Some of us were sitting on bales of hay, and some of us were huddled on the floor, wrapped in those thick, scratchy wool blankets they used to keep the baby animals warm during frigid cold snaps.

One of my uncles walked into the barn, and closed the big doors behind him. Then, as my cousins and I watched, he began the horrifying transformation into a freaking werewolf. Uncle Gary, please forgive me but for many years after that dream, I always made sure there was a clear path to an exit when you were around (love you).

The idea of dreams being something other than "head movies" (what? Yes, it's a Tropic Thunder quote, thank you very much) is intriguing as well. I love a good supernatural dream story...unless we're talking about the movie Inception which just made me feel really dumb. I adore the idea of our subconscious minds holding keys to problems or concerns our very wide awake brains grapple with. The old idiom, "sleep on it" makes perfect sense to me.

Much to the delight of those around me, I talk about my dreams. A lot. My poor kids are usually the ones who have to endure my early morning coffee-fueled babbling about where I went in my head the night before. They're very polite, though, and do a great job of feigning interest in what Crazy Mom is saying. It probably helps my cause that I tend to do my dream-talk while preparing breakfast. Captive audiences are my favorite.

So, this past Christmas Eve I had one of my super-vivid dreams. In this particular one, I received a phone call from my ex-husband. When I answered, it wasn't actually him...it was his lovely wife. She and I haven't spoken on the phone since a disastrous evening many years ago, when she called to let me know one of my kids was in an ambulance, en route to the hospital. She also chose that moment to call me a "fat bitch" but that's another story for another time. Also, one of the reasons she's not the first person I reach out to when I want to talk.

Her voice was raspy and in the dream she said to me, "We all have strep throat here, just wanted to let you know before the kids come over."

So, Dream Secretary is polite! I love that. But Dream Jenny can be a grudgy shrew so I was all pithy and cold with my reply, which was "I don't want everyone to get sick, so they'll be staying home." And that was that.

Of course I relayed this gripping tale to my brood the next morning as I iced the cinnamon rolls. They laughed (or was it grimacing? I can't tell anymore) and then the day played out as was planned: we opened presents, hung out for a while and then they were picked up by Big Daddy at 11:30.

Three hours later, they came tumbling through the front door, gift bags in hand(s). Molly whipped off her coat and exclaimed, "OH MY GOD MOM. You're never gonna believe this. Right when we walked in the door, Dad told us they had strep."

Chills? Maybe a little. Even though I knew it was pure coincidence, it was still freaky. For a second I imagined myself as a brunette Patricia Arquette in Medium, conjuring up messages and lessons from the Twilight Zone. And also wearing cute pajamas like she did in the show. I thought about other dreams I'd had and wondered just how many of them were only dreams and how many were previews of what was to come? My recurring dream where Melissa McCarthy finds my blog and decides she wants to make it into a movie and PLAY ME and we become the best of friends? Could it be true?

We all marveled over my new, fortune-telling abilities for a moment and then life went on. The kids and I had a beautiful, long weekend.

And now Molly has a sore throat. As much as I want to dream about me owning Kate Winslet's cottage from The Holiday and having Jon Hamm's car break down on the deserted road out front, I have a sneaking suspicion the film in my brain will look more like a trip to Urgent Care.

Or, it might be Uncle Gary the werewolf. We shall see.

Sweet dreams, my friends.


Not A Creature Was Stirring: Surviving The Holidays After Divorce

There you are, just chugging along...life is working out despite some serious roadblocks. Your divorce, while unfortunate, happened and somehow you've managed to pick yourself and your kids up, dusted everything off and are making nice headway into your New Normal.

And then the holidays arrive. Your divorce-spidey-senses start tingling, sometime around Halloween. You make furtive glances towards the calendar, knowing in your heart that although it seems so far away, those biggies we call Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas will be here in the blink of an eye.

You get out that decree, which, if you're newly divorced is probably still smooth and stapled together (you should see mine now, lol. Highlighted, wrinkled and stained with blood, sweat and wine.) and you go over the holiday stipulations. Most of us divide up the holidays on an even/odd year structure. Sometimes, you and your ex are agreeable to changes and swap certain dates with a smile. Sometimes, you and your ex can barely speak to each other and cling to that schedule like Rose hung onto that freaking board in Titanic. Sometimes you even join forces with your ex and decide to toss that schedule into the wind and hold your own Big Happy Holiday, providing your children with a united front.

All of these situations are normal. All of these situations are okay. You must know this, right now: ALL OF THEM ARE OKAY. There is no absolute right or wrong when it comes to piecing together a family holiday post-split. What there is, is black and white and fifty-thousand shades of grey. And you need to do what is not only best for the kids, but what is healthiest for you. These two objectives are like big circles in a Venn Diagram. Sometimes they overlap so much they look like one and that's awesome. When they don't? Well, that's life.

If you are in the Big Happy Holiday camp, bravo! From the bottom of my heart, congratulations. What you're doing is remarkable and wonderful and will no doubt instill some lovely, warm memories into your children's brains. They will look back on these times and be grateful their parents were able to put differences aside and go all kumbaya.

For those of us who don't fall into that camp, and who couldn't even find the freaking campsite with Sacagawea and GPS, don't sweat it. What works for some people doesn't work for everyone. To quote all the cool kids, "You do you."

A lot of you are still in survival mode, and during the holiday season you have to kick it into high gear. The absolute worst part of this season will be letting go of the kids. Whether it's for one night or a week, most of us will be apart from our babies for a while. That first time is like nothing else. I can't really describe it accurately except to say that watching them drive away felt like my heart was a big ball of yarn and someone was slowly, deliberately unwinding it.

Waking up on Christmas morning to a silent house. No hot kid breath in your face imploring you to WAKE UP MOMMY SANTA WAS HERE, no little feet pounding down stairs and no squeals of joy when that lusted-for toy was discovered under the tree. For some of us, this is the stuff of nightmares. And guess what? It sucks. I could pussyfoot my way around this one for you, drape some garland over it and say oh honey it's not so bad but my friends...that shit hurts.

The good news is, you'll survive. The better news is, so will your kids.

And each year, it gets better. Does the hurt ever go away? For some, yes. For others, it doesn't disappear completely but it shrinks down to a manageable size. Some of us take time to reflect. Go back over the pages in our brains and press our hands over memories, remembering long ago moments and noises and faces. It's fine to do that. It's normal to look back. But what you really need to do, what is best for you is to also look around your now. Look at their faces, they've changed so much but you can still see those little kids inside them. Enjoy the moments you're given, and really let them sink in so when they're not with you, you can close your eyes and see them.

As for what to do with all of that quiet time? Girl. The options are endless. You go ahead and wallow that first year, and okay...maybe the second one, too. That's your God-given right and nobody can tell you otherwise. But eventually you'll tire of being the Divorced Christmas version of Miss Havisham and want something different. Here are a few ideas:

  • Get the word out that you're going to be alone. You might be surprised at the invitations you receive. Whether it's from a friend inviting you to her big family shindig or a fellow single who needs some companionship, embrace the offers. They are symbols of love and caring. 
  • Eat something you love. If you're poor, this might be the perfect time to go big and buy a few crab legs. Try making a cheesecake and eat that sucker right out of the pan. Buy a bag of Red Vines, let them get a little stale (please god tell me I'm not the only one who prefers them that way) and chow down without having to hide them from the kids. 
  • Binge watch something on Netflix or Amazon. I always joke that I need a good blizzard in order to really get my binge-watch on, but my best watching times were when the kids were with Big Daddy. I've heard good things about the Aziz Ansari show on Netflix, and I'm currently sucked into The Wire on Amazon. Idris Elba has become the face of my body pillow. 
  • Move your ass. Go for a walk. I once took my dog for a walk on a lonely Thanksgiving. The smell of turkey dinner and intact families hung over my city like a fog and I walked through it like I owned it. It felt good and my dog-mom guilt was relieved for a day. 
  • Go see a movie. I have never mastered the whole "go alone" thing but I've heard it's not so bad. Theaters are open on the holidays, yo. Even if you just go and sink into a plush seat and don't cry for approximately two hours, it'll be worth it. 
  • Have you a lovah? (say that with your best Downton Abbey accent) If so, yay! Now is your chance to do something crazy, like go get a glass of water in the middle of the night completely naked or make out in the living room. Get ur freak on, friends. It's what Santa would want for you. No lovah? No problem. This would also be a great time to shop for a new shower massage
  • Do something nice for someone else. Babysit a dog, volunteer at a soup kitchen or shelter or surprise a sad neighbor with a basket of goodies. Nothing on this planet will chase away the woes like doing a good deed. Although pretending your body pillow is Idris Elba does a fine job, too.

Whatever you do, remember this: holidays come and go. Your kids will, too. One day there won't be a decree telling you who goes where and what days are yours. What you do with these dates now is entirely up to you. I encourage you to make the best of it, regardless of how crappy you feel or how mad you are or how much it hurts to see so much change. It may seem impossible, but you can make the holidays happy.

In closing, I'd like to invite you to watch this video. My dear friend and Listen To Your Mother director (producer? GAH) Galit Breen is part of the fabulous VProud network. They made this video featuring women JUST LIKE US talking about co-parenting during the holidays. Some good tips in there and also some funny.

With that, my dears, I will leave. But not before I give you a big hug and my most sincere wishes for a good holiday season. If it makes any of you feel better, I broke down yesterday and cried yet again, this time while driving around. And I've been at this for 9 years now. The good news is, I was fine when the floodgates finally closed and today my eyes hardly look puffy at all. Sometimes you just have to let it out.

Know that you are not alone in this. Always, always know that. You are not alone.


10 Ways My Dog Trumps My Ex Husband

Oh no! A listicle! I know, they are the lowest common denominator in the writing world. They are to writing as McDonald's is to food: fast, cheap and they just kind of make you feel like less of a human whether you're the one reading, writing or eating it. I KNOW.

But sometimes a lady is in bed, and starts thinking and it's late and maybe she's had a glass of wine (only because the beef stew she made needed a half cup of it and who can pour just a half cup?). And maybe she's making herself giggle thinking of all the ways her dog totally kicks ass as a life force when compared to the person to whom she was once betrothed.

That lady is me, that dog is my beloved Walter and these, my dear friends, are ten ways Walter trumps Big Daddy:

1. He's fixed. Enough said, amirite?

2. He's loyal as a...well, doy. As a dog. Walter's got my back, and if I'm laying down, he's usually got my side and part of my front as well. He's a warm yellow blankie. Dude won't leave me, except to chase squirrels and if someone has food. But he always comes back.

3. When I can't find Walter late at night, I don't worry that he's hunkered downstairs, texting some floozy. He most likely heard someone opening the fridge and had to investigate.

4. He spends time with the kids. (burn? yes. If the flame fits...)

5. He's honest. You always know where you stand with a dog. They either like you or they don't.

6. He listens. He really does! He'll look at me when I'm talking and even though my brain knows all he's hearing is BLAHBLAHWALTERBLAHBLAHWALKBLAHBLAHBLAHTREAT my heart knows if he could talk back, he'd sound like John Goodman and be full of funny anecdotes and loving platitudes.

7. He loves me no matter what phase I'm in. Of course he likes Exercising Jenny a great deal because LOTS OF WALKS but he also chills with Couch Jenny because WARM YELLOW BLANKIE. This past weekend Showtime had their Free Preview and I watched approx. 200 hours of the show The Affair. Have you watched it? Jesus. Except for the money and the murder it's way too much like my story. Walter watched with me and every time I muttered "oh my god what an asshole" he looked at me with his soulful brown eyes and basically was saying, "I know, right??"

8. When I undress in front of him or he walks in on me while I'm using the bathroom, there is zero critical judgment. He doesn't jiggle my arms or make a cutting remark and has never once exclaimed "UNLEASH THE FEEDBAGS!" (you think I'm kidding, don't you?). Although I did confess to my friend Danielle that sometimes I get a little freaked out because what if Walter is one of my relatives or a hot guy reincarnated? I will admit to sometimes saying to Walter, "Please look away" during more intimate moments.

9. Feeding him is so easy. He's never once pushed a dish away because it contained celery and by God I have never had to make tater tot hot dish for him. Haven't made that ish in 8 years! Rejoice! He is pretty gassy, though. They have that in common.

10. Walter has yet to break my heart, or the hearts of my children. I know he will someday, and I try to not think about that. But you know what? The love and memories we'll have of this wonder dog are so vast and beautiful. We will take so much comfort in that. So, I guess his legacy trumps, as well.

This is, of course, a farcical post. I know Walter is just a dog and not a replacement for human companionship. But I call him my Divorce Dog because we got him from the Humane Society shortly after the divorce was finalized in December of 2006. He's approximately the same age as my divorce. And truth be told, I also call him my Divorce Dog because he saved me. He showed me (and the kids) how much love we still had to give and how worthy we were of love in return.

Good boy.



I don't think I've shared this news with all of you here...God knows I bragged it up to the poor souls I interact with in "real life" but for those of you who know me only through this blog, I have something fun to share: one of my essays has been published in Family Circle again!

It's in the December 2015 issue, the one pictured above. In the magazine the essay is titled "Present Tense" (which I thought was brilliant, by the way) but those of you who have been around for a while will remember it as the feisty declaration I called "I'm A Divorced Mom, And I'm Taking Christmas Back" or something similarly way too long. It's been tweaked a bit to better flow with the Family Circle way, but I still love it.

If you are so inclined, please pick up a copy the next time you're out and about. Just please don't do as I did and torture everyone within earshot by shouting "HEY I WROTE THIS! THESE ARE MY WORDS HERE IN THE FAMILY CIRCLE!"

While I am so pleased and proud and honored and all that jazz, I'm also feeling kind of sheepish. Because a lot of people liked that essay when it first appeared here and on Huffington Post. It gave them hope that they would also relearn to love the holidays. I'm glad about that, you should know. Any time someone says that I've helped them cope or move on or just plain forget about their worries for a bit, my tiny hard heart grows a little bit. It's validating, y'all.

Here's where the sheepy part comes in: I am currently feeling blah. Not just the "meh" blah, but a deeper one. A darker one. And it's scaring me a little bit.

See, I think Christmas was the easier of the big holidays for me to tackle. Most of my demons fly the coop by December 25th, it was just a matter of me reclaiming that whole FA LA LA thing and pulling myself up by the proverbial boot straps and dammit, taking it back.

It seems to me that the bigger issue might be this week. The week of Thanksgiving. I started feeling angsty and sad a couple weeks ago but chalked it up to PMS and me being a flake in general. But the past few days have been tough. Not going to lie...they've kind of sucked.

If anyone knows how to put on a happy face and smile through the downpour, it's me. I should teach classes at this point. "FAKE IT UNTIL YOU MAKE IT 101" or something like that. And here's the kicker: it usually works. Normally I can outfox those stupid sad feelings and convince them (and myself) that they are nothing. Dust bunnies in my brain, is all, something a little Swiffer action and some good old Midwestern laughter will take care of in a jiffy.

This time it's not so easy to shoo away. The smiles are harder to force, the laughter doesn't come as easy. And oh my god...I'm crying again! Yeah, tears are never far away with me but I'm talking about real crying, like the kind that screws up your face and leaves you with those weird post-cry hiccup things.

For instance: today was a relatively warm day, given that it's late November in Minnesota. We haven't had any snow yet, therefore the deck furniture has not been put away. Today, I did it. I put on my boots and some gloves and also a bra and heaved all of the ancient teak chairs into the garage. Covered up the fire pit and tucked it away. Stacked up the plastic Adirondack chairs and moved the firewood under the deck where it will wait until that first kinda-warm spring night in 2016.

It felt good, to be outside, to be moving, to be accomplishing something. Which is why I was so surprised to find myself stifling sobs in the garage. It wasn't a prolonged weep session, it passed in just a few minutes, but that fact that it happened at all is puzzling and bothersome.

Aren't I the strong one? The warrior who has battled long and hard and came out smiling? The independent lady who doesn't need anyone or anything to make it?

Apparently not. It seems as though I am just as soft and weak and vulnerable as ever. Only now, I know this:

It's okay. Crying isn't surrendering, feeling sad isn't giving up. It's a sign, though. That maybe things need to be looked at, adjusted...like the essay in Family Circle, maybe something in my life needs to be edited. Just a bit.

This week is hard because it's the week of the dreaded wedding anniversary. It's on the 25th and I preemptively bought a ticket to a concert that night, hoping to dance and sing away the darkness at my door with some friends and a legendary Minneapolis band. But I still can't help looking at those numbers on the calendar and feeling some loss. I know, I know! GET OVER IT ALREADY! Lordy. I'm trying. I really enjoy being happy, people. 

This week is hard because it's a time for family gatherings. For far-away relations to walk through the door, stomping the snow off their feet and holding out pumpkin pies covered with tinfoil and for warm flannel hugs and catching up with Uncle Steve and Cousin Sue. It's time to hold new babies and give out lame parenting advice to people who smile politely like we once did.

I don't have family like that. I do have a sizable troop of friends, however, and was once again invited to an annual gathering with some of them. And that's good news, right? The kids are with me, as far as we know...they haven't heard from their dad and I forgot if I had even or odd years a long time ago. But again, with the loss. I used to have that family. I used to get and give those hugs and sit around and talk about the kids and life and my dog's persistent ear infections.

Life is always changing, isn't it? I think, though, that as we get older, as our kids get older, as the world gets older- the change becomes more obvious. Time has acquired a sickeningly speedy gait and I can see all of it, all of this change, the flux of it all, so clearly now.

When the kids were little and even when they were not so little, time did that odd crawl/fly thing where the days would take forever to pass but you'd look around and suddenly one kid was almost as tall as you and the voices were deepening and oh, sweet Hay-Zeus, the shoes you tripped over were getting so big.

But now? Now that they are 21 and almost-20 and 18 and 15? My God, you guys. It's incredible to see them grow and change right before your eyes. It's beautiful and heartbreaking all at once and crap, here come the tears again. Trying to hold onto this silken strand of time is one of the most arduous tasks I've ever attempted and even as I feel it slipping through my clenched hands I am acknowledging the loveliness of it all. Even through the weeps I see that this is the way it's supposed to be and while I know this is it, the end goal, the reason I became a mom in the first place, it's so freaking bittersweet.

And for some reason, this week amplifies all of that bittersweetness (not a word, by the way, but I'm using it anyway).

So what's a bummed out lady to do? I suppose I could mope around, really get my hands dirty in all of these feelings. I could cry some more, and probably will. I could put that giant fake smile on, and when someone asks me how I'm doing I could answer with my usual "FABULOUS! HOW ABOUT YOU?".

What I think I shall do is this: a little bit of all the above. Let those feelings flow along with the tears. I'll go to that concert and laugh with my friends. I'll whip up three batches of my famous Roadside Potatoes and take my kids to the friend's gathering on Thanksgiving and count each face there as a blessing in my life.

The flux is scary. But I've faced scary things before. Scarier things, just like some of you. And I think we're all going to make it through this just fine.

And just because I love you, here is my Roadside Potato recipe. It's literally gone in minutes so this year I'm tripling the recipe. Yes, my arteries hardened as I typed that, and not in a good way. Happiest of Fluxgivings to you, my friends. 

JUDY'S FAMOUS ROADSIDE POTATOES (who is Judy, you ask? A former boss of mine.)

1 (30 oz) package frozen hash brown potatoes, thawed
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese (I use sharp)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup half and half 
1 medium onion, grated (I just chop fine)
paprika (I use an all purpose Penzy's spice)
additional 6 T. butter

Combine potatoes, melted butter, cheeses, cream, onion, salt and pepper. Spread mixture in a 9x13 inch well-greased baking dish. Sprinkle with paprika, dot w/ butter. Bake 350 degrees for 1 1/2 hours. Tastes like butter and self loathing.


Always Something There To Remind Me

The receptionist at the dental office looked at me over her glasses. When she spoke, her voice wavered slightly somewhere between exasperation and incredulity.

"What do you mean, you don't know his address?" Her brightly painted fingernails hovered above the keyboard of the computer where she'd been entering all the facts and figures that would become my son's patient chart.

I felt stupid, and petty, and also kind of incredulous myself. Why the hell would I know my ex-husband's address? It's not like my kids spend any time there. I don't send him cards or flowers. It's kind of like asking a person if they know the address of a long ago lover. Someone with whom they shared a lot of history, but nothing current.

I gave her my own look. The one that, in my head, says I dare you to say something about how lame I am for not knowing this man's address but in reality probably says something like aughhh you're right I'm the worst parent/ex-wife of all time! Condemn me please! Judge me! And please, pretty please, tell me to get over it already!

She kept her eyes on me and told me that she needed it. "We can't take him on as a new patient unless we have all of this information." 

I wanted to tell her that this wasn't the worst part of my awkward and dysfunctional co-parenting situation. I wanted to tell her about the time we ended up in a courtroom in order to ensure that he would be the one who'd provide health insurance for the kids. I wanted to tell her how it befuddled me, his strong and unrelenting insistence to have the kids on his health insurance until a friend explained things to me, things like "tax breaks" and "write offs" and "people who love money so much they'll do just about anything to save it".

Instead what I did was pull out my phone and in a sheepish, shamed voice said, "I'll Google it." And Google it I did, standing there in front of the receptionist with the tanned skin and the shellacked nails. I Googled that motherfucker and tried to act like it was the most normal thing in the world.

Hey Jenny! What are you doing?
Aw, hey there friend. I'm just Googling my ex-husband!

And there, in between pictures of him from his company's website, in between a sickening blurb that said "Big Daddy and his wife Secretary live in Adultery Valley with their four children" (uh, note to the webmaster...time to update that bio)...there was his address. I read it out loud to the receptionist and when she was done entering it she sighed and said, "I suppose you don't know his date of birth, either." 

At this point I was hulking out just a bit and said back to her, "Is that a question or a statement? Because I do know his birthday." I rattled that one out to her with only the slightest pause (because he and my former BFF were a day apart and I always confused them...) and then she handed me the standard clipboard with instructions to fill out the front and back and turn it in when I was done.

These are the kinds of situations you find yourself mired in when you're divorced. If you had a sane, amicable one, the kind where both parties truly parted on good terms, I suppose it makes sense that you'd know each other's addresses and social security numbers and maybe, just maybe, even stats about the new spouses.

A few days prior to the above-referenced appointment, I'd called to see if my son's insurance was accepted there.

It's not bad enough that every time I look at the kid's insurance cards I have to see the name of the woman my husband dumped me for. It's lost the shock value after all this time but part of me still winces. Her name also appears on the child support payments, which again brings up some pangs but also some wtf as well. But to add insult to winces, when I call and arrange appointments for any of the kids there's almost always the barrage of questions about her. The insurance is provided through her employer, therefore it's her information they need.

No, sorry. I don't know her date of birth. (if I'm in a joking mood I'll add, "all I know is that it's like twelve years after mine, hahahahahahahaweep")
Nope. I also don't know the name of her employer or that address or anything else other than the fact that my ex insisted on providing their insurance and now I have to do this song and dance a few times a year.

I don't know much about her other than the fact that when I see or hear her name, all I can picture is her, bent over a desk and my then-husband standing behind her. Sorry. A friend of mine told me a story once, about someone opening an office door and stumbling upon that very scene and I have never been able to erase it. It's half-hysterical, half-tragic and for some reason it's the thumbnail my brain keeps on the file marked "Them".

There was an article somewhere, not too long ago, about divorce and the length of time it takes to recover from one. As usual, there were comments on it from people who were adamant about "getting over it" and admonishing those who expressed sadness or anger or anything other than a giant Xanax smile about being divorced. Lots of "let it go" and "you should really move on". And yes, I agree with them. Somewhat. I believe it's possible to get over a divorce, even a bitter, hurtful one bearing the scent of betrayal and lies and deep wounds. You can get over it. You pick up the pieces, wipe off the blood and shit and take inventory of what you have left and you wake up every day and get the frick over it.

But just like that sweet 80's jam by Naked Eyes taught us, there's always something there to remind me. Some days it's easier to let those reminders bounce off, roll off our backs and slither down into the gutter where they belong. Some days, it's not so easy.

Please be kind to those you know who have gone through this crap. Know that when they do let it get under their skin, it bothers them and it's definitely not them wallowing in it.

And if you're the one, like me, who sometimes lets these little reminders become big fat thorns in your side, please be gentle with yourself. Our reactions to these triggers depends on so much and just one little bump in the road can make it all that much harder to bear: maybe you've had a harrowing morning with the kids, maybe you're PMSing, maybe you were road-raged on the way to the appointment. Maybe you're just plain exhausted. No matter. The thorn will work itself out, and you'll be wince-free again. Until the next reminder comes along. But that next thorn will be just a fraction smaller and duller, and you will find yourself plucking it out with greater ease with each passing year.

Hang in there, my friends. You are not alone in this.

This post dedicated to Kristin J. and all the others who have sent emails thanking me for letting them know they aren't alone. You totally aren't, Kristin. xoxo

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