A Blind Date, After 20 Years, 1 Marriage and 1 Kid

One of my first blind dates was nearly 20 years ago with “tuna croquette” guy. My sister found him. Through a classified she placed in The Jewish Standard. Pretending to be me.

She told me he was a friend of a friend. She was oddly vague about the actual connection but with her alpha personality, she wasn’t about to budge and I was so ambivalent about the whole thing anyway. I agreed to have her pass along my number to this fellow Park Slopean.

The jig was up when we talked on the phone and he said he liked my ad. “My what?” I said. “Your ad,” he repeated. “In The Jewish Standard.” “Ohhhhh,” I said, dragging it out for as long as possible so I could try to figure out in less than three seconds exactly what the hell was going on. I was fighting the anger and humiliation and just decided to ream my sister out the next time we talked. But I figured I had nothing to lose. “Yeah, well, where should we meet?”

He offered to cook me dinner, which I thought was sweet. He turned out to be pleasant and non-threatening and prepared one of the only dishes he could cook with confidence, tuna croquettes. (For those unfamiliar with this, it’s a Jewish version of crab cakes.) The tuna croquettes tasted even better after several glasses of red wine. When I mentioned I had a penchant for cigars, he said he did, too, and we shared one. Then we got stoned. And made out a little on the couch. I had an overwhelming urge to pee so I excused myself to go to the bathroom. Then I passed out on the ledge of his bathtub.

When I came to, he seemed entirely unaware that I was even gone. But it was pretty clear that the date was over. He was a gentleman and walked me back to my apartment. I never heard from him again.

So fast-forward 20 years, and I am once again on a blind date. Of course, I never imagined that I would be here again, worrying about my outfit and my hair and my makeup and saying the “right” things. But this time, instead of practicing sound bites about my career and hobbies, I was rehearsing in my head the elevator speech about my divorce.

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It turned out that Mr. Blind Date 2016 should have been practicing his own elevator speech. He proceeded to break Post-Divorce Date One rules over and over again. He talked about the expensive gift he had just gotten his soon-to-be ex for her recent birthday. He offhandedly mentioned wanting to “get laid,” which obviously was going to be with someone other than me. He wasn’t a bad guy, just a little clueless. And it wasn’t going to be my job to school him. No amount of wine or pot was going to make this situation better.

We said our goodbyes, and I headed home, sober, clear-headed and not in the least bit worried about anything.

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2015 in review

For starting at the end of October, not too shabby!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 710 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 12 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

My New Year’s Resolution is to Dance More

The story goes that I learned to dance before I could walk. While that’s clearly my parents exaggerating, dancing was definitely my first love.

There are lots of home movies of my older sister and I in the early 1970s boogieing down with our aunts in our Queens living room. We had a stereo system that looked like a piece of furniture, housing a record player and speakers. My aunts were fantastic dancers and made sure that my sister and I were going to carry on the family tradition.

Dancing has always been one of the few things in my life that truly takes me away to a singular place of exhilaration and joy. My earliest dancing memory was when I was five years old at my aunt’s wedding. I remember being on the dance floor in my long fancy blue dress (my sister had a coordinating purple one) and having the time of my life.

I took some dance classes when I was a young teenager for fun and in college for easy credits, but that’s as far as any real training went. Dancing wasn’t a serious pursuit but I didn’t care. I am not in the least bit athletic, although I used to play tennis, but I have never played a team sport and can still remember how much I hated soccer, softball and even relay races in day camp. But I’ve always had good rhythm and so it was one of the few physical activities at which I felt like I excelled. When I am dancing, I am in the zone. And I’m usually the first on and the last off the dance floor at a party.

Two years ago, my dear friend’s daughter was getting Bat Mitzvah’d. My friend wanted to surprise her with a flash mob dance and asked me if I would participate. Hell, yes!

At the time, things were very difficult in my marriage, but I was so excited to be a  part of the flash mob. I practiced the moves every day and at the event when the DJ gave us the signal, our group sprung into action. It was a blast. I was completely in my element. Afterwards, my friend paid me an incredible compliment. She said that even though I had been going through a tough time, I still showed up with a smile on my face to dance.

I started dancing with my daughter when she was a newborn, and it’s become a part of who she is. She loves to dance. She’s got a beautiful sense of rhythm and musicality. And I love watching her. Like me, she is transported to another place that clearly brings her so much joy.

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My daughter and I often have impromptu dance parties in our kitchen. These are some of my favorite times. I crank the music and forget about table manners and homework and packing lunch. I am totally in the moment, feeling the beat, letting it move me. In that moment, I am genuinely myself, and I can tell that my daughter senses that in her own way. She always wants to keep dancing.

Each year, I make one simple New Year’s resolution. One year it was about hosting more social events at my house. Another year it was about eating more greens. This year, my New Year’s resolution is to dance more. It’s a piece of my true self, and I need to experience that more than ever.

I can’t wait to dance into 2016.

How My Divorce Helps Me Celebrate My Friendships

Today is my one-year separa-versary. One year ago, I moved out of the home I shared with husband. He is now my ex-husband. I still stumble over that phrase. Sometimes I can’t believe all the changes I’ve been through in 2015.

It has been quite a year.

It’s been a year of trauma and starting to find joy again. It’s been a year of connecting and reconnecting with new and older friends. It’s been a year that I’ve lived with less and been happier.

It’s also been a year of learning many little yet critical things, so here’s my list of accomplishments that I managed solo in 2015:

  1. Got a new car and insurance. (Hard to believe I never had to do this before the age of 46, right?)
  2. Took care of R. when she had the flu, she couldn’t keep anything down and gave her a suppository. Twice.
  3. Kept R. and myself fed, including some green things, and in clean underwear.
  4. Did the optional science fair project with R. (Don’t ask me why I opted in.) Make that two projects since the first one didn’t actually work.
  5. Hosted a mostly homemade child’s birthday party with a craft that I prepped, with a glue gun and spray paint. (I am the antithesis of crafty so this was epic.)
  6. Accepted that there’s a massive number of items on my To-Do list that really, truly do not need to get done. Especially if there is clean underwear.
  7. Took a vacation with R.
  8. Started this blog.

One year ago, a number of wonderful friends helped me pack and move. I’ve never liked asking for moving help, but these moms who have known R. since she was a baby offered before I even asked. And for the first time in my life, I accepted.

I had been doing well up until the end, when I started agonizing over every belonging. Should I take it or leave it or donate it? What was I supposed to do with my wedding album? How many stuffed animals and coloring books and which Barbie dolls did R. need at each house? Each decision had me in tears. This was really happening. And I really needed help to get to the finish line.

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My get-it-done team of friends took over in the best way possible. They told me they would handle the rest of the packing while I ran to Home Depot and Bed Bath to get last-minute items to prep and clean my new place. When I got back to my old place, everything was neatly wrapped and boxed.

I wandered from room to room in a physical and emotional daze. I slowly checked drawers and cabinets and closets for anything that might have been left. There was a slight echo and it felt empty in the way that the absence of stuff feels.

I took a moment to think about all that I had done to get here. On the cusp of this major transitional moment, I could feel positivity—which had long been buried—start to bubble up. I was ready to move on.

I woke up early the next morning energized and ready to get to work. Even my friend who was coming with me to get the moving van commented on my five-minute-early arrival, which is completely out of character for me. The rest of the crew arrived and the mood was upbeat and fun. Everyone was pitching in for this cause of helping me to move on to a better place. I really felt loved.

In just a few short hours, it was done. My new place truly had my friends’ presence. Because I also had a donated-furniture smorgasbord.

One friend had a TV cabinet for me. Another had a microwave. Another dear friend, whom I have known for 26 years, drove from Westchester with a kitchen table and chairs and special doll furniture for R. She encouraged me to start unpacking right away, and I could feel my mind start to register in a small, but very concrete way, my new normal. We put away my dishes and pots and pans. In my awesome cabinets. In my new kitchen. In my new home.

And yet another friend brought over a home-cooked dinner and a bottle of wine and we ate and drank at my hand-me-down table. She offered to organize my pantry and we chatted while she made wonderful order out of my boxes of cereal and pasta, spices and baking supplies. Every time I go to grab chocolate chips or olive oil, I smile and think of how much she helped me.

So many friends, local and long distance, continually offered me their time. To vent. To cry. To be heard. The outpouring of support was incredible. I have never felt so rich in friendship as I did that day, and on so many days since then.

It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a village to get divorced.

Sometimes I wonder if I have been able to love and give back to my friends as much as they have given to me. Many times I just try to pay it forward. The gift of giving has really and truly felt like its own gift.

Today is a celebration of how far I’ve come and an acknowledgement of all the friends who have been there for me, making this difficult first year a lot less difficult. For that, I am forever grateful.

Happy New Year, my friends.

With love and gratitude,
Michele

 

 

Why “Heartstrings&Shoelaces”?

The idea for this blog started close to two years ago. When I would broach the subject to a few close friends who knew what was going on with my divorce, the response was always, “You should!” But I kept allowing many things to get in my way – my anger, my sadness, my fear. I think I had a lot more fear than I even care to admit to myself.

For years, I lived in a constant state of fight or flight and for anyone who hasn’t experienced this, you can take my word for it that it’s completely and utterly exhausting. I had just enough energy to get through my work day, take care of my daughter and do the bare minimum to keep the household going. I was trying to survive my pressure-cooker living situation with my now ex while starting divorce proceedings. Intense doesn’t begin to explain it.

I wasn’t ready to write my story. Or share it. But over time, concepts and sentences would start to form in my head. Paragraphs would take shape. I would never write anything down and in fact, I would actually push the words away, telling myself that I didn’t have the time or the energy or even the privacy to transcribe my swirling thoughts.

Something clicked this past October and I was ready. It was a combination of factors: getting through nearly a year on my own as a single parent, knowing that the real end of my divorce was imminent and wanting to get some control back. Maybe it was also the wise words of another divorced friend who said, “I can’t remember the bad memories as much so I can make room for the good memories.” I needed to start purging my bad memories first, and I knew that the act of writing would help accomplish that.

Once I was ready to start my blog, the name for it came very quickly. I love the way words look and sound and “heartstrings” popped into my head immediately. They refer to my heartstrings, my daughter’s heartstrings, how they have been pulled and stretched to the breaking point.

“Shoelaces” materialized almost as rapidly and the more I thought about myself and shoelaces, the more sense the pairing made. I loved the image of “strings” and “laces” and I loved them sitting side by side. I also always seem to notice when children’s shoelaces are untied. It’s a very vulnerable moment, I worry that they are going to fall and get hurt. And there is something particularly tender when a parent bends down to tie a child’s shoelaces. In less than a minute, everything shifts. All is snug and secure.

Rachel's laces

The idea that I could put order back into my highly chaotic and emotional life was very reassuring. And that is exactly what this blog has helped me to do.

If you know someone who has gone through a separation or a divorce or is just having a hard time in a relationship and think they could benefit from my story, please share. We are not alone.

I am grateful to all the readers of Heartstrings&Shoelaces – thank you so much for your support. I will have more stories to tell, and I hope to replace the bad memories with significantly more good ones.

I am looking forward to tying our heartstrings back together.

 

The Christmas-Hanukkah Dilemma

My daughter is obsessed with Christmas. I can’t really blame her. What with all the toy commercials, holiday TV specials, Santa Claus (asking a man who looks like a friendly grandpa for presents?! Wow! Sign me up!), and decorations everywhere—which all start earlier and earlier each year— what child wouldn’t be enthralled and want to be a part of it all?

When I was a child, my favorite part of December was the holiday lights. They were magical. When we would visit our grandparents and drive from Queens to the Bronx, my sister and I would play a game. We each looked out our respective car windows and counted the lights we saw outside of homes and apartment windows. Each siting was one point, and whoever had the most points by the time we got to our destination won. I remember the thrill of searching all over the landscape for glowing, colored lights.

I grew up in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood and most of my friends were Jewish. I attended Hebrew school three times a week and attended temple nearly every Shabbat. We often walked home with a large group of friends including the young rabbi and his family. My parents were involved in the temple socially, with my dad playing racquetball there every week and my mom serving as co-president of the PTA. In fact, my religious education made such an impact on me that after learning about the rules of being kosher, I went home, spoke to my parents about it, and we became kosher.

So it’s been a little alarming to me to watch my daughter, who has a Biblical first name, talk non-stop about asking to decorate our home for Christmas and ask Santa for the kitty cat that she so badly wants. Like a gentle broken record I will say, “We’re Jewish, we don’t celebrate Christmas.” Or, “If you believe in Santa, he will bring you presents. But we don’t believe in Santa.” None of this seems to make a difference to her. And no matter how much I try to talk up Hanukkah and the myriad of other Jewish holidays and traditions, it all pales in comparison to December 25th. She’s like a dog with a bone with this Christmas business.

During my first job out of college, I became very good friends with my office mate who was Catholic. For Christmas Day, she invited me over to partake in her family’s traditional meal. I loved being around the delicious-smelling Christmas tree and her mom’s Italian cooking. I loved looking at all the ornaments and learning the meaning behind them. It became a tradition each year. As I moved along in life, I would find myself connecting with Christmas-celebrating friends and joining them for a little piece of the holiday.

My favorite part of the season is still the lights. I love driving around after the sun has set and see the neighborhoods glowing. We have family members and many friends who celebrate both holidays, and we often get to participate in tree decorating and sharing meals. But in no way does this threaten my love or commitment to Judaism. I’m always very happy when I see a menorah in my town or in office buildings. I’m thrilled when Adam Sandler releases his newest Hanukkah song. I’m working hard to instill a strong sense of Judaism in our home, and we clearly still have a ways to go.

But last week, one of the books that R. took out from her school library was about Hanukkah crafts. I did a little internal jump for joy. The next morning, this happened:

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To all who celebrate, enjoy the Festival of Lights. Happy Hanukkah.

Follow my blog at heartstringsandshoelaces.com

Yoga, With a Side of Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving, I won’t be with my daughter. It’s an odd-numbered year, so she will be spending the holiday with her father. Odd year him, even year me. That’s how the holidays are dictated now. There’s no other way to characterize how I feel about this new reality except that It. Sucks.

I try not to think too much about the time that I don’t have R., especially for weekends and holidays, because I’ll just dissolve into tears. When she’s not with me, I try to keep myself as busy as possible so my mind won’t have as many chances to go to that sad place of missing. Missing her. Missing out. Missing time that is more precious than ever.

This is all still pretty painful, and I have no idea when it gets better. I worry that it won’t ever really get better. Perhaps I will eventually make peace with it. It’s hard to know right now.

This Thanksgiving, I will be by myself. Or rather, I will be with myself.

This Thanksgiving will remind of the first Thanksgiving that I spent with myself.

It was two years ago, and I was supposed to spend the holiday with my then-husband’s family. Two days before Thanksgiving, he and I got into a huge fight. I was so incredibly upset about the idea of having to put on a happy face in front of all his relatives. I was afraid of not being able to hold my tongue and snapping at him and embarrassing us all. I was afraid of what R. would witness.

I also desperately needed peace and quiet from the tumultuous, life-sucking energy that existed in our home. More than anything, I needed his absence.

I told him to take R. and go without me.

He was a little shocked. He kept asking me if I was sure and tried to make up with me, but it was too late. I think in that moment he realized that I was done. I was willing to be alone on Thanksgiving and that seemed to say everything.

While R. watched the parade on TV, I prepared the side dish I had promised his mother I would make. I packed up R.’s things to stay overnight and told her I would not be going to her grandma’s because I didn’t feel well and I needed to stay home and rest. Which was actually true. When I said goodbye to them, I wasn’t even really sad. I felt good. Lighter. For the first time in a long time, I knew I was doing right by myself.

I already knew what my first activity  would be: yoga. I hadn’t had a regular practice since my pregnancy, and I missed it terribly. Yoga did so much for me—it was calming and energizing and fulfilling. It reassured my soul like nothing else I have experienced. For years, it was practically a religious experience for me. It was exactly what I needed.

The warm yoga studio was packed. There was only one space remaining, up front and near the door. It was pretty much the worst spot in the room. I didn’t care. I unfurled my mat. There was no more two inches around it and between my neighbors. In such a tight spot, people wind up knocking limbs into each other and it can be a little distracting. But I was so grateful that day that there was room for one more. My mat completed the puzzle. And I didn’t feel like it was crowded. It felt…full.

The instructor told us to close our eyes and she began to chant. The familiar sounds were like dear friends coming out to keep me sweet company and they filled the room and the space around my body. As I began to repeat the phrases in our call and response, my tears began to fall. And they fell and fell and fell. They wouldn’t stop. They ran in tiny streams down my cheeks and chin and onto my clothes. I wept through the entire class. I wept for my heartbreak. I wept for my loneliness. I wept for all the fighting. I wept for my exhaustion and the futility of hanging on to a marriage that wasn’t going to make it. I wept.

I had a pile of used tissues on the side of my mat and I wasn’t worried for one minute what someone else would think. When the class ended, my tears finally did, too. I had cried it all out. It was a true catharsis.

I thanked the teacher from the bottom of my heart and the kindness in her eyes spoke volumes. My insides, which were usually in tight knots, had finally unwound. At that moment, I felt completely back to my self.

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I headed to the grocery store to get a Thanksgiving meal and a delicious dessert for one. I got into my pajamas, ate dinner on the couch and watched a movie, all in quiet solitude that brought a smile to my face. I felt sweetly content and peaceful. It was one of the best Thanksgivings I have ever had.

This Thanksgiving, R. will be with her father. I will wake up early and go to yoga. I will chant, I will feel the welcoming “om” in my mouth and the way it resonates and makes me feel filled up and whole. I will breathe. In and out. Over and over. I will move into the positions that my body still knows so well. I will find peace in being present, being with myself. And being truly, truly thankful.

Michele Silver is a professional writer and editor living in Montclair, NJ with her daughter who is first grade. Follow Michele @ http://heartstringsandshoelaces.com

 

Home Sweet Home

I live in a building that many people mistake for an old-age home. Granted, there are many elderly people who live here. It offers many amenities that make life a little easier. It’s one of the best-kept secrets in my town, according to my realtor. I completely agree.

This place is my Craig’s List miracle. Somehow during one of my searches, this listing caught my eye. But there were no photos (almost always cause for suspicion, what are they hiding??) and then only two sentences describing the property. It didn’t look like much thought went into it. How good could this place possibly be? Then I read it. A 24-hour doorman. Workout room. Parking. Laundry on the premises. A pool. A POOL? Where was this place? It turned out to be a six-story building tucked away in a lovely residential neighborhood yet within walking distance to many of my favorite restaurants, shops and yoga studio. I was positively giddy about finally finding this glorious needle in a haystack of overpriced, too-this, too-that apartments.

The pool really helped me sell the place to R. It was going to be hard enough moving out of the only home she ever knew. And even though we made this huge transition during the winter, we always talked about how great the summer was going to be. The day we saw the pool-cleaning van in the parking lot, we couldn’t contain our joy. We started skipping around, chanting “We have a pooo-llll! We have a poooo-lllll!”

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The big selling point of my new place

It turns out that the pool is just one of the many things we love about our place. We love that in the lobby every week, there’s a platter of treats and candy. We love the carpeted hallways that are perfect for practicing cartwheels. We love our doorpeople, especially Alice, who takes a little extra time to wish us a good morning and a good day in her sweet, upbeat way. “Good morning R. and R’s mommy,” she says.

Whenever we get dressed up to go out, there is always someone who smiles at us and tells us how nice we look. There is acknowledgement of our life here, and I feel it every day.

We love our wonderful neighbors who always take the time to talk to R. about school or her plans for the day. They’ve done special things, too. Florence dropped off a special bag of Purim goodies for R. Shirley took R. on a tour of the fascinating artwork in her home from all the places she has traveled. Mark gives R. mini Dove bar ice cream treats.

But our No. 1 favorite neighbor is Jeanne, who lives right across the hallway, two doors down. Jeanne is 90 and plays the piano. I love hearing her play. She runs a chorus group in the building, too. Jeanne was a widower at 34 and raised two children on her own and never got remarried. She has a zest for life that is enviable.

I always feel better after I see Jeanne and we chat about what good things (and sometimes not so good) have happened to us during the week. Jeanne knows that I am divorced and work full time and have most of the responsibility for R. She often has helpful bits of advice or an encouraging word for me. I feel a connection to her as a woman. She is a grandmother/aunt/wise friend all rolled into one.

Jeanne has been giving R. piano lessons and the relationship that has formed between the two of them is precious. R. always wants to pop in and say hello to her when we come home from school. When we see Jeanne sitting outside reading on warm, sunny day, R. goes running to her for a hug. R. even asked me if she could invite Jeanne to her birthday celebration. A 6 year old wanting to have her 90-year-old neighbor at her party? That was something special.

Of course, there are plenty of downsides to apartment living. Like hearing your neighbors’ conversations (and them hearing yours) through the vents. Like the woman who insists on vacuuming at 10:30pm every Sunday. Like the tough-as-nails building manager who scolded me for moving a table that was outside the pool area to inside. I actually felt shame from the incident and for several weeks afterwards, I was terrified of running into her.

But, I feel over the moon that I have discovered this best-kept secret.

Of course I often wish we could live in a real house with a playroom and a backyard and more space to entertain friends. But in this apartment, I no longer have to pretend that I am happily married and we are moving to that next step of “planning to save for a house,” which my ex liked to tell people even though we didn’t know if our relationship was going to make it to our next anniversary. Hearing him say that made me feel like a fraud. There were so many times that I just wanted to blurt out, “No! That’s never going to happen!” I kept this feeling a secret for a long time, until I couldn’t anymore.

My divorce, in a way, has leveled the emotional playing field for me. I am actually more comfortable as a single parent than an unhappily married one. I am exactly where I need to be. Discovering and feeling this truth has been wildly freeing. I am infinitely happier.

I adore our “old-age home” and it has given me a new lease on life. It turns out that best-kept secrets are meant to be discovered.

 

This is a Job for Bullet Girl

When I was in graduate school, I got to experience thrilling new challenges that also could be quite overwhelming.

The Medill School of Journalism had been coined as a boot camp and I immediately saw why. It was intense. We were learning a craft at warp speed. The instructors expected us to learn new skills, integrate them quickly and produce compelling copy on deadline.

Interviewing subjects proved to be the toughest for me. While I am fairly extroverted, I learned that I was shy when conducting interviews. I wasn’t used to asking people so many questions. It felt a little invasive and uncomfortable. One night, I was stressing about my less-than-stellar interview skills to a good friend whose creativity and drive I admired. He told me that whenever he faced a challenging client, he would take on a sort of superhero persona: Bullet Boy. Bullet Boy was a highly focused, more aggressive version of himself who didn’t take no for an answer. It seemed like a great way to tackle my challenges. So for my next writing assignment, I channeled my inner Bullet Girl. And she delivered.

During my publishing cornerstone project, I scored a major coup. We were producing an upscale magazine for rich, urban motorcycle enthusiasts, and I had been assigned a piece on congressmen who ride. I called the office of Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell to ask his press secretary if he might be interested, and the next thing I knew, I was flying to Washington, D.C. to interview him and another Harley-Davidson devotee, Rep. Gary Condit. (This was years before the intern scandal.)

I rode in the members-only elevator and had lunch with Campbell and Condit in the Senate dining room. It was incredibly exciting and I knew my class was rooting for me. I had prepped like crazy and I had a long list of questions–some general, conservative ones and others that were more provocative. I was trying to get through the basic questions, but Campbell seemed to have his own agenda. He had a huge personality and it was taking over; even Condit had stopped talking. I needed to regain control of the interview. Bullet Girl spoke up. “Senator,” she said, “do you feel sexy on your motorcycle?”

The question stopped him in his tracks. For a split second, I had no idea if I had crossed the line. He looked at me and dove into the answer, his voice booming out, “Honey, I AM sexy!! The motorcycle just helps!” I was in. He showed me his Softail that was being watched over by a security guard on the Capitol steps. Then he invited me out that night to a popular D.C. biker bar where he and his friends were hanging out after their H.O.G. chapter meeting. I got the most amazing material and wrote a feature that was selected for the coveted cover story.

Ben Nighthorse Campbell poses with a motorcycle at San Diego's Planet Hollywood. | AP Photo
My Bullet Girl journalism moment happened with Senator Campbell.

My inner Bullet Girl continued to emerge at various points in my professional career. But during the five years that I was a stay-at-home mom, she had stayed very much tucked away.

Until that day in court.

We were waiting for the judge to call our case so that our divorce could get finalized. My lawyer was doing the talking, and I was staying quiet, as I had been instructed. I was supposed to let the professional do his job so he could get me the best possible outcome. I didn’t really trust myself to speak, anyway. During the required meeting with the court mediator to discuss our parenting schedule, I had gotten so emotional that I could barely speak without crying. I hadn’t been able to keep it together or fully express my thoughts. I was supposed to stay angry and strong, and I felt like I had failed.

I was terribly afraid of losing it again, and now we were down to the final sticking points.

At this very moment, my lawyer and opposing counsel were arguing loudly outside the courtroom.  Maybe this was normal for lawyers in this situation, but I felt grossly uncomfortable. It felt embarrassing and out of control. My stomach was in knots. Every so often I would re-cross my legs while I sat on our side of a hard wooden bench. Finally I got up and walked down the hallway, and the clicking of my heels on the glossy floor started to ground me. I went to the restroom, took some deep breaths and stared in the mirror. I heard my best friend’s voice in my head, “You are strong. You can do this.” I walked back to the benches and the lawyers were still at it.

Something in me sprang into action. It was Bullet Girl, and she spoke up in a strong, clear voice. I had spent time preparing for this possible scenario, and I was ready. It was go time. I wound up doing the final negotiations with opposing counsel, with my lawyer and my soon-to-be ex sitting there listening and watching. I held my ground, I fought back with facts, and I did not give in any more than I wanted to. It was the most incredible moment, and I wanted to run a victory lap up and down that hallway. Bullet Girl was the best version of myself, and I had triumphed.

Wait, What’s Today?

In those first few seconds between unconscious slumber and awareness of a new morning, my brain scrambles to assess what day it is. Wednesday? Thursday? Is my daughter sleeping in her room or am I alone? Every day, I dread this tiny moment of uncertainty.

It’s been 10 months since I moved out of the apartment that was my home with my ex-husband and seven months since our divorce was finalized. Every morning, I wake up with my mental calendar in a jumble. I can’t remember if she’s here. It’s unsettling. I would say that “unsettled” would characterize a lot of what I’ve been through over the past years.

I’ve moved a fair amount since graduating from college–there was Charlottesville, Va.; Washington, DC; Westwood, NJ; Evanston, IL; Westwood again; Brooklyn; and two addresses in Manhattan. I rarely put pictures on the walls or decorated. I knew that I was probably going to move again at some point, so why get too comfortable?

But then I made the biggest move of my life. I was moving in with my boyfriend and we were getting engaged. I was filled with joy and optimism. It was incredible for me to reach this stage in my life and I fully embraced it.

I was wearing a gorgeous diamond ring, looking at venues, making the guest list, and dealing with the insane stress of planning a wedding. I should say, the insane stress of planning my wedding. At that time, my job entailed event planning, but organizing my own wedding was positively awful. I hated most of it except the dress shopping. There was a lot of family conflict and agita and I cried a lot. I couldn’t wait until things settled down.

Little did I know, the wedding-planning stress would pale in comparison to what followed. I got pregnant three weeks after the honeymoon. It was planned, and we were thrilled, but we weren’t expecting it to happen so soon. We had to move to a more expensive apartment and a few weeks later, I lost my job. The economy tanked. I couldn’t find another job and certainly not anything local, which I knew would be ideal after the baby arrived.

My pregnancy was relatively easy and I had a relatively easy baby, but I had a hard time nursing and a decent wallop of post-partum depression. I could not fathom job searching and going back to work. Most of that first year was a blur, but the fights were not.

We had lots and lots of fights. Horrible, intense, emotionally debilitating fights. Many of them were over money. And then it seemed, the fights were about everything.

We never really came back from the fights. There were apologies, attempts to make up, but the painful parts always seemed to remain. I learned that we had massive differences about how we wanted to live our lives; we were rarely in sync or in a rhythm that felt like we were a family together. I was miserable. I had a beautiful, sweet, happy baby whom I loved so much it made my heart hurt. But my love for my husband was disappearing, and my attempts to reconnect us failed over and over. I envied many of the families we had become friends with. The husbands and wives seemed so much more together than us. When we would come home to our crappy third-floor walk-up after these family playdates, I felt even more depressed.

I was so deep in unhappiness that I just wanted out. He knew it, too. It was his idea to go to couples’ therapy and I agreed. The process made me realize I wanted to work on the marriage with him. I think he worked to the best of his ability, which is to say, he didn’t do very much. Apparently, my anxiety was a big part of the problem. So I went on anti-anxiety medication, I got back to doing yoga and exercising, and I looked for work. Things got a little better, but it felt very temporary.

We did couples’ therapy for a year, but nothing stuck. Our marriage wasn’t going to make it and it was obvious to both of us. After many incredibly difficult conversations, we decided to start working on a separation plan. We researched mediators and set up a timeframe to save money to set up two homes. It was all very civil and perhaps ironically, I felt the best I had in a long time.

We were one week away from meeting with a mediator. I had been dragging my feet about getting a babysitter. Procrastination can often serve as a gift in the form of insight. The truth was, I didn’t want to go to a mediator. I was getting very panicked about the process about negotiating custody and our hot-button financial issues with my soon-to-be ex-husband who is a natural fighter. He’s really, really good. Mean. I had experienced it for years. I was scared of how this would turn out.

I got a lawyer, and I filed for divorce. This news hit him like a hurricane and he went on the offensive and proceeded to strike back in every way he could. It was worse than I ever could have imagined. The fights ramped up to a new level that could only be described as hellish.

I tried to focus on R., my job, seeing my friends, and looking for my own apartment. The only way I was going to escape the toxic environment was if I moved out. I told myself I would not settle–it was my new mantra going into the next phase of my life–and it took me months to find just the right place.

The day I signed my lease, I felt such extreme relief. I could start to pack and begin the process of moving on. We told our daughter the news. I had practiced in my head for months, and I made my soon-to-be ex practice with me the night before. I was nervous and scared and worried. It was one of the most painful things I have ever had to do.

We moved, and the transition was actually way better than I had predicted. R. was excited about this adventure and she was adjusting remarkably well. I just kept trying to put one foot in front of the other.

It’s safe to say that I have changed more in the last six years than I have in my entire life. And at 46 years old, I am living a very different kind of life than the one I had imagined.

I am a divorced, working mom juggling life as best as I can. On many days, that feels OK. Sometimes it feels amazingly good. Other days, it feels surreal. Hard. Exhausting. Sad.

I am constantly navigating through the days of my week on a legally binding parenting schedule that was negotiated after countless emails, phonecalls, arguments, soul searching, sleepless nights, emotional break downs, and ridiculous sums of attorneys’ fees. Before all of this, knowing whose day it was wasn’t anything I ever had to think about.

But my new home with R. feels like the home I never had when all three of us were together.

Some mornings, R. quietly makes her way to my bed and before she even says “Mommy? Can I cuddle with you?” in her little-girl voice, I know what day it is. It’s my day. I’m only too happy to pull the warm covers down and cocoon her inside. I hold on to her and this moment. And, I feel settled.

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