Monday, December 14, 2015

Oooh, Christmas Tree!

December 2011

Christmas trees are for the happy, for the safe and secure, for those tight knit, hot-chocolate-drinking, marshmallow-roasting families to sit around in their adorable flannel pajamas. They’re NOT for the hurting, the sad, the bitter, and the lonely... or so I thought.

There were years before and after my separation and divorce where buying a tree seemed physically and emotionally arduous to me, more depressing than uplifting. The only reason I carried out the obligation was because I had two children who depended on me to make the season bright, to uphold the old and create the new traditions.

When my marriage first started to sour, the last thing I wanted was to celebrate Christmas, and I certainly wasn’t going to get a tree. My dear, sweet, super-Jewish friend, Shari, never had a tree growing up, but those Hallmark Channel Christmas Movie visions danced in her head and she wanted in. Shari begged me to let her come to the tree lot with us. At first I agreed, only to later confide in her that I wasn’t much in the mood for the season and we were going to skip out on a tree that year. The next night there was a knock at my door. I looked through the peep hole and saw only green. When I opened the door, there was the most perfect tree just standing there. Behind it was the most perfect friend, holding it up. I’ll never forget what Shari did for me that year, and how she knew that even if I didn’t want a tree, I needed a tree.
December 2011 with my beautiful mother

My mother said no one should ever shop for a Christmas tree alone. I’ve done it. She’s right. She made it a priority to always meet me at the lot, even surprising me one year when I’d completely had it! I turned around and there she was... with a smile, open arms, and a piece of crumpled Kleenex from her pocket to dry my tears.

 In the years since she’s been gone, my aunt and my dad have been there to help us find the straightest, plumpest, fullest, fattest Douglas fir in town. 

December 2014 with my Dad
December 2013 with my Aunt Shirley
One thing that will never change is that once the tree is securely tied to the top of the car, I play Kenny Loggins’ “Celebrate Me Home,” and drive slowly down the street. It’s my favorite 12-minute ride of the year. I’ll bet that whoever sees us thinks we’re on our way to a perfect night, and they’re right. It’s OUR perfect!

Back when I was taller than my kids, the biggest pain was trying to figure out how to get the damn tree off the car and into the house. One year we flagged down an alarm company patrol guy.   Other years, my brother, my prom date, and a buff neighbor rode to the rescue.  
December 2008 with my brother, Jeffrey

Here’s a piece of advice for the single and anyone else who’s harried, frazzled, and stressed -- ask for help and accept help when it’s offered! Tis NOT the season to kill yourself trying to do it all! Now that my 15-year old son tips the scales at 180 and hovers near the 6-foot mark, he does the honors.

I’m glad I didn’t bah-humbug it, and thankful that my friends and family wouldn’t let me. Christmas trees aren’t just for the happy. They’re for the hopeful, for the grateful, for the loving, and the loved… and they can be a shining light when all else seems kind of dismal and dark.

Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree,
Such pleasure do you bring me!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

horizontally speaking

Therapy is like bootcamp for the soul. It can kick your ass, but you know it’s good for you and that you’ll emerge stronger and healthier than before. When the thought of divorce was just a thought, I signed up for a few sessions with a nearby psychologist.  That was a big move for a girl whose parents were from a generation that believed only the crazies saw shrinks.  Nonetheless, even they were gung ho when I decided to go.  Never did I dream that after those few sessions, the therapist and I would be seeing each other for a couple years.

Every Tuesday morning, I’d plant myself on the worn out faux suede cushions of my doctor’s couch. His first name was Phil, so naturally I called him “Dr. Phil.” He wasn’t THE Dr. Phil, but he was MY Dr. Phil and he was one of the core people who spearheaded my journey from WE to ME.  Dr. Phil was a no-nonsense kinda guy. Though he had the look and build of a giant teddy bear, he didn’t cuddle or coddle me. Dr. Phil called it like it was, made me be accountable for what I did or didn’t do, and was one of the wisest men I’ve ever known. My well honed passive-aggressive powers didn’t stand a chance with him. Dr. Phil was my life coach, my guru, and my sage adviser who didn’t dole out advice, but made me uncover it on my own.

Many times, Dr. Phil would map out an assignment that was so completely uncomfortable that my skin would crawl -- something like, call your mother-in-law and ask for her help...  or call your attorney and tell her to drop some charges on your bill.  They were missions that required some major cojones!

I’d rather stick toothpicks in my eyes, but doing what he asked was akin to earning a Girl Scout badge, only this one was being sewn into my mental fiber, my backbone.

One day, when I felt like just a shell, a pale, gaunt, exhausted, hollow, emotionless shell, Dr. Phil and I locked eyes and he said, “you know, some of my patients tell me that being divorced has given them the best of both worlds.”

He explained that alternating weekends with their ex-husbands allowed his clients to have time with their children, and time to have or make a new life. My well thought out response was, “well, when the hell does that start?”
 At the time, I thought, jeez, this guy can really be alouf and callous! Now I realize that Dr. Phil was a genius! He knew that while I thought I was sinking, I would one day swim, and he was right! I’m doing laps! Every other weekend I have my kids and every other weekend I don’t. This arrangement didn’t happen right away. It was YEARS in the making, and worth every baby step.
My kids are happy and I’m happy to say that I’m happy. But happy doesn’t just happen. Happy takes work and Kleenex and sweat and negotiating and compromising and trusting and some deep digging.

My mornings with Dr. Phil were priceless, so when he told me he was retiring, I got that old feeling, the same one I had when my dad took his hand off the seat of my two-wheeler, leaving me to peddle on my own.

I knew I could do it, but I also knew I could fall. That’s the thing with divorce, you look around, know you can make it, but also know you just might fall. I fell a few times, dusted myself off, steadied, centered and climbed back on, peddling down roads that are rocky and others that are smooth as silk. I learned that by horizontally speaking, I could become my very best.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

my affairs

I have had three affairs in my life. The first time I initiated it, the next two I was lured by a phone call and a little card in the mail saying they missed me and wanted me back. Sometimes that’s all a girl needs to hear. They seemed to come knocking whenever I was in the thick of it, or feeling down in the frumps. I’d then remember how good it was when we were together, how my body felt, how I’d leave our weekly rendezvous feeling energized, alive, sexy, motivated, happy... Whenever we met, they’d greet me with a smile, throw their arms around me and my overly curvy curves, and even shower me with gifts (like a coupon holder, a chip clip, or tester sized granola bar). They were the sweet, smiling staff at Weight Watchers. No matter what that scale of shame read, they were happy to see me. It always started out the same. I’d drop a pound or 3 and feel exhilarated, a little cocky, and excited for our future. But things between us would eventually sour. I would cheat on them, get tired of their ways and stop showing up, never to return phone calls or respond to emails.

Trying to rid myself of a solid 8-12 pounds has been a lifelong ambition/struggle/pain in the ass, so you can imagine how elated I was when, little by little, I started effortlessly shedding weight, just as my life began to unravel. 

Here’s how it went down: My kids were one and four when my husband and I called it quits. My son was in preschool and my daughter had just learned how to walk, at a time when I could barely put one foot in front of the other. I didn’t want my children to know that I was dying inside, so I saved my crying for the four walls of my bathroom. It was there one day, while the tears were gushing and I was wondering how I’d ever make it through, that I glanced in the mirror. What I saw made me gasp! I froze and the waterworks abruptly stopped. All I could think was, “my ass looks incredible in these boy shorts!” My body had morphed in a way that was probably completely unhealthy, but who cares? My husband was gone and so was my appetite! Even though my life was falling apart, I looked HOT! Yes, it’s shallow. No, it didn’t last, and I am in no way suggesting or advocating a daily diet consisting of the crust from the toast your kid doesn’t eat, coffee, and a 5PM glass (or 2) of Chardonnay. All I’m saying is, for a girl who’s always wanted a slimmer silhouette, this was a temporary blessing from the heavens… and I was euphoric! My lifelong friend, Mary, said my butt looked like Jennifer Aniston’s. Can you imagine? I hugged her with all my might. Again, I cried… big, fat tears of pure JOY!

The early months of my separation were gloomy and dark, but when I least expected it, a rainbow appeared. Mine happened to be in the form of a thigh gap and a cheap pair of size 2 jeans I bought at Target, knowing they would soon wind up in the Goodwill pile. 

I tell all my friends who are going through their own torrential storms to look for the rainbows. They’re sometimes hard to spot, but they’re out there. They’re in a killer blow dry, a Facebook friend request from the biggest babe in high school, or a weekend girls’ getaway. Rainbows are pretty. Sure, they don’t last forever, but the good part is, neither does the rain!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

we go together...

I’m just a girl who can’t say no… to a support group! There’s comfort in a crowd and it’s there for the taking. Not to capitalize on anyone’s misery, but there’s a certain consolation that comes in knowing you’re not alone... and that other people have it way worse than you. When breast feeding caused excruciating pain, when it made me wince and cry, when my nipples looked like beet-red raspberries, I joined a breast feeding support group and left every meeting feeling like maybe I didn’t have it so bad.

When my ex and I went from “It Had To Be You,” to I guess we’re through, I didn’t just join one divorce support group… I joined three! The first was at my church… the same church I’ve attended since I was six years old. We were a band of about five men and five women. At the helm, measuring 4’9” on a good day, stood Sister Pat, a sweet-hearted nun in her 80’s who no doubt spent the duration of the hour-plus meeting thanking God that she listened to His calling. We were a precious bunch of broken hearts, each wanting to vent, to ask why, to be understood, and ultimately, to heal. While I did do a bit of all of those things, I wanted a leader who had walked the walk.

Rob Kaufman’s Divorce Dialogue was a bigger, badder, bolder group. We were the pissed off, the cynical, the cheated on, the bitter, the fooled -- men, women, all ages, all professions, all stories. Admission cost $35, plus an appetizer or dessert. In return, we got to spew. Each week was a potluck potpourri and we never knew what would be brought to the table, literally or figuratively. I listened, I learned, I shared, and I grew to accept that my once perfect pathway had irreparably cracked and would wind in ways I never dreamed imaginable.

The third group, Divorce Detox, was more of a class, an 8-week course covered by my health insurance, complete with a text book and homework assignments. Six to eight of us would gather in a Shabby Chic-esque, comfy white-couched office. We listened to the leaders’ stories, and absorbed their advice on how to pull out of the muck. For me, it was a respite. It was a time where I was on lockdown, forced to deal with my myriad of emotions, forced to get over it, stop stewing, invent a game plan, and start singing a new tune.

Each group worked. I left every meeting standing a little taller, feeling a little more hopeful, and knowing that I wasn’t alone. Even during times when I felt like I was floating down the “river of despair,” I knew I was squished in a really big boat with a lot of people doing the exact same thing… and the best part was, we were all still afloat!