Saturday, August 27, 2011

Better, Not Bitter

This piece originally appeared in the Non Custodial Mom Chronicles on Post Divorce Chronicles.

Shortly after my ex husband and I separated, I plummeted into a darkness that I could not have imagined.   It wasn’t just the fact that I’d experienced the sucker punch of betrayal, but I was grieving for the life I knew I was losing.  I was strong on the outside during the day.  I went about my usual chores and daily rigmarole that was familiar and calming to my three children and tried to act normal.  But at night, the darkness swallowed me.  I couldn’t sleep.  I worried and felt angry and lost.  In those early days, I clung to my religion for dear life.  Sleeping alone in our king sized bed for the first time in 17 years, I used God like a dying person uses morphine to snuff out the pain.  I prayed.  I wept.  I read passages in the Bible, searching for wisdom and signs to tell me what to do.
In the mornings, I woke up early, before the kids even began to stir.  My ritual was to light a fire in the fireplace, wrap myself in a blanket and simply sit and stare at the flames.  Sometimes I cried.  Sometimes I prayed.  Mostly, I absorbed the silence.  It was in those hours I pulled myself together so I wouldn’t fall apart in front of my children.  Once the initial spells of weeping and grieving began to subside, I prayed less and listened to the quiet around me more.  It was in those hours that I made decisions about the life in front of me — the new life I was starting to let myself imagine…
What if life is a series of events and happenings that God (or Destiny) puts in front of us for our own good?  What if our purpose in life is to see the path in front of us and go along with it, even if it’s not what we planned for ourselves?
What if we are supposed to be quiet enough to pay attention to the signs along the way, and have the guts – and the faith — to follow the signs, no matter where they might lead us?
These sacred mornings allowed me that time and space I needed to start thinking about what I hadn’t thought of before — options.
At first, I never thought I would entertain the idea of letting my kids live with their dad, not even for half the time.  I kept thinking about how content I was with our old life — how comfortable, predictable, and cozy it was for our children.  How dare my husband do what he did!  It dismantled our family, and I didn’t want to share my kids with him.  I didn’t think he deserved them.  I just couldn’t imagine not being the same kind of mom as I had always been.  I had been raised by a traditional, baked-cookies-after-school type of homemaker mother, and this was the model that I knew and was comfortable with.
So when the idea to enter into a joint custody arrangement with my ex began to emerge as a real possibility, I thought there must be something wrong with me.  I really thought that maybe I’d flipped a switch or was going a little bit crazy from the pit of sorrow that I had been stuck in for so long.  I had doubts.  I felt guilt.  I knew I would miss my kids and they would miss me.  Even though it went against my upbringing, I asked myself — what if being a responsible and good mother now means that I need to work outside the home instead of flipping pancakes and shuttling the kids to school and practice every day? Ultimately, I decided that it was my turn to bring home the bacon, and their father’s turn to be the caregiver.  I decided that I would have to let go of what everyone else would think and pay attention to what my children’s practical needs were instead.
In all epic dramas, there is always a darkness that threatens to overwhelm the characters we identify with.   In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion are on the run from the Wicked Witch.  In the end, they learn that the reality they were seeking, the salvation, was right in front of them all along.  My life was changing abruptly – that was a fact.  But instead of feeling sorry for myself, I decided to take advantage of what, at first glance, looked a lot like a bad situation.  Instead, I looked at it like an engraved invitation to do something new while showing my children a stronger and more self-sufficient version of the Mom they knew.
I wasn’t sure at first how to go about designing this new version of our family.  I had no blueprint.  What I was sure of was that, even though, I was entering into uncharted territory, I was terrified and excited at the same time.  I began to realize this sure beat being bitter and paralyzed by the past.