Rally the Troops

Sometimes a seemingly random occurrence is actually preparing us for something further down the road. Maybe much further.

This dawned on  me tonight as a large bat was swooping around my workplace. Said workplace is a house but, still, bats = Not Cool! Not cool at all. But luckily I was prepared because I’ve dealt with bats in the house before (my own house that time and it really was not fun). While my coworker was legitimately freaking out I knew exactly what to do. (Open one door, turn off all the lights except by that door, and try to gently direct the bat out if it isn’t finding the exit on its own. In case you were wondering.) And, although it was a terrifying ten to fifteen minutes, we had the bat out in ten to fifteen minutes. Had I not had previous bat encounters this night could have been a lot worse. I’m not sure I could handle a lot worse right now; just being at work is bad enough.

giant bat

The giant bat: An interaction with him is NOT my ideal night at work.

This week is one of those off the charts crazy weeks. Really it’s been the last two weeks. Last Wednesday, after furiously studying for way less time than I should have, I took the DAT to complete my dental school application. It went decently well and I was extremely relieved to have that out of the way but I had to hit the ground running with graduation open house planning as soon as the test was over.

My oldest son graduated from high school this spring (on my birthday). At the time he was adamant that he did not want an open house. I told him too bad; the open house isn’t for him, it’s for his family and all the people who have supported and encouraged him over the years to celebrate our  his achievements. He reluctantly conceded to a party. I think he realized that I wasn’t backing down on this and he really didn’t have much choice. After being invited to a few of his friends’ & classmates’ open houses he warmed to the idea…especially after he heard how much his one buddy got at his open house. (Apparently he didn’t believe me when I told him people give you money at these things.)

Because of the aforementioned test and my daughter’s horse shows there weren’t any feasible open house dates in June but my son’s 18th birthday fell on a Friday AND it was not one leading up to a work weekend for me. I pitched the idea of a graduation open house/18th birthday celebration to my son and he actually seemed to like it. Well, that weekend is this weekend. The open house is Saturday (technically tomorrow as it’s 3 a.m. right now) and my son’s birthday is…well, now. Unfortunately this not being a work weekend means I’ve worked the seven, maybe eight, days leading up to the weekend (including tonight, obvs). Not short shifts either, ten to twelve hour night shifts. This schedule is really not conducive to preparing for an open house.

Way back at the launch of the open house planning process I emailed my ex husband asking if we could collaborate on this. Not only would that make it more affordable but we could divide and conquer the work. Plus planning an open house together provided an opportunity for a much needed exercise in cooperation for us. Even though we’ve been divorced for three and a half years and separated for over five, there is only bare minimum communication between us and even that is tense and unpleasant. At some point we’ve got to get past that. Our kids can’t have two of everything. I mean, are they going to have two weddings: once for their dad’s family, once for mine??? NO! Sadly though my ex  did not see things the same way and declared that I could do what I wanted and he’d “Celebrate separately”. This, of course, left me running the graduation party show all on my own.

And once again lessons learned in prior life experiences came back around in a real and useful way.

Implementing a graduation party at my house (which is not typically visitor ready) in ten days or less seemed like No Big Deal…until I was staring down the barrel of those ten days. I got a little overwhelmed, paralyzed by how much work there was to get done in a short week that was already full with work. Holy, holy crap!

Just as I was on the brink of sheer panic my instincts kicked in and I did what I do more and more when I need help. I called my mom.

To be fair, a couple people had already asked what I needed help with but I wasn’t even ready to think about that until the DAT was out of the way. But now, roughly a week before Open House day, I needed the help! I’m insanely lucky (blessed?) to have a large, supportive family. Throughout the stressful, somewhat traumatic process of the dissolution of my almost twelve year marriage and the subsequent divorce and custody hearings I learned just how helpful and supportive my family is. We aren’t touchy-feely people, my family; we don’t verbally express our love and appreciation for each other. Not very often and when it does happen it’s a sign of deep concern. But that doesn’t mean those feelings (or whatever you want to call them…talking about feelings so much is starting to make me a little uncomfortable) don’t exist. It’s just that we’re Do-ers, not say-ers. The things we don’t say we show by doing, by being there when needed.

My mom offered to pick up meat and taco seasoning from me and cook all the taco meat (I’m having a taco bar at the party); my youngest sister spent a day and a half cleaning up my house and hacking away at brush in my yard; one of my brothers-in-law is coming over tomorrow to help set up the yard stuff; other people offered to bring something, to contribute. And suddenly I was not alone in this crazy endeavor.

And that is a thing worth remembering. Sometimes all you have to do is reach out and accept the help you need.

graduation selfie

Awkward graduation selfie because, much like the open house, my son was not entirely on board with this.

 

 

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Good Ol’ Fashioned Angry

I’m feeling a little angry today. And yesterday. And maybe the day before that, it’s been quietly building for a little while now, lying in wait for the perfect moment to sneak up on me and yell “Boo!” It found its moment, that good old fashioned anger that used to simmer just below the surface back in the good ol’days when everything was in a tumultuous state of turmoil. It’s been relatively peaceful for a bit so I guess I was due for a good bout of repressed anger rearing its ugly  but all too familiar head. It’s not like it used to be, though, with no rhyme or reason to it. There’s reason. But I’m not going to make it rhyme.

The old patterns are back and mounds of frustration with them. Largely because there is literally nothing I can do about it now, nothing at all. I’ve exhausted all my resources and gotten no where. Like a dog chasing its tail, I’m all worn out but have gotten no where. A very expensive no where, thousands of dollars in legal fees, days spent in court, a year of insane stress crushing down on me. Very expensive indeed, a lot spent on a whole lot of nothing.

Round and about we went going no where, getting nothing but dizzy. And then it ended in a fizzle of stupid admonishments and court ordered counseling. All that and nothing to show, back to square one. Or negative zero. There were a few brief months of playing nice because you thought you’d won. I sure felt like I had lost so why not? Maybe you did. I’m pretty sure we’re all losers here though. And now it’s back to the basics, no new reality just the same old shit and bad behavior. The same guilt, spread thick, to manipulate and damage the kids. The same games, punishing me by not bringing them to their end of season awards banquet. The upset kid going to school and telling his teacher, as he fights back tears, that he won’t be going to middle school camp because it’s his dad’s week and his dad was making him feel bad about going to camp because his dad had plans for his birthday. The kid’s birthday. The kid who now feels guilty about going to camp with his classmates and friends because it happens to fall on his birthday. (But don’t tell my mom because then she’ll be mad at my dad.) The same kid who just now texts me from his brother’s phone to ask me to bring his camp stuff, clothes blankets, and all because it’s too much for his dad and step-mom to pack and prep these basic needs for the kids. Even though he’s at their house. But “Hey mom can you bring my stuff…Because my dad said since you signed me up that  you have to provide.”

It’s bullshit. It’s fucking bullshit, that’s what it is. What kind of asshole does this to his kids?

So, yeah, I’m a little angry again. I’m ranting and raving, shaking my fist at the sky. Trying hard not to let it seep from my pores. Trying not to let it dominate my life and steel my joy. Because there is joy to be had. Even with no good answers, no solution, just an awareness that this is the way things are. What can you do? Be the change you want to see? There is no fucking change! This is the perma state of life, your burden to bear, kids, and mine. The thing that will eventually fuck you up and already has me. All I can do is balance, and try not to eff you all up even more. Be steady, be calm and kind even when I’m writhing inside with a white hot anger. Good luck with that! Deep breath in, deep breath out. Punch the bag, this is why you have it, go for a run. One foot in front of the other, go go go…

Don’t Explain

Communication in relationships is hard. Even if you love (and maybe still like) the other person it’s challenging to communicate effectively on a day to day basis in a way that doesn’t build and foster resentment. Trying to communicate with someone you don’t live with anymore, don’t love anymore, and don’t even really like much is exponentially more difficult especially after you’ve gone round and about in the court system a couple of times. Unfortunately it’s also often necessary when kids are involved. And there’s no shortage of things you have to communicate about when you’re trying to co-parent.

Recently my ex-husband and I started attending “communications therapy”. It’s been almost three years since the finalization of our divorce and we basically communicate as little as possible. The pattern goes like this: Something happens or is coming up that (legally or logistically) requires us to coordinate or agree in some capacity, I email him, he ignores said email, whatever needs to be handled gets closer, I resend the email or email asking if he’s going to answer, he (finally) responds with as few actual answers as possible. Typically he’ll throw in an insult, snide comment, or ridiculous statement about me as a person or parent and half answer what ever needed to be addressed. If there’s something from his end that needs to be conveyed he usually tells the kids to tell me or talk to me about whatever. This pattern sucks and accomplishes nothing but frustration. On top of that it often puts the kids in the uncomfortable role of go-between.

Even though this communications therapy isn’t something either of us chose or was super excited about, it’s clearly something we can benefit from. I’m a little bit skeptical about how helpful it’ll be, mostly because my ex is very minimal in his participation, but it’s worth a try. And also it’s court ordered so there’s that.

We’ve had three sessions so far.

The emerging theme is that we somehow need to break the cycle of mutual distrust that feeds our dysfunctional communication. The problem is that neither of us is going to take the first step. We’re in a Mexican stand-off. But if nothing changes then…well, nothing changes. The therapist made the suggestion of stripping our communication down to the bare minimum for now. Exchange only the information necessary. Exasperated, I told her that that’s what I’ve been doing. I pulled up our most recent email exchange on my phone to illustrate my point.

“Look”, I said “this is what it is, when, how much, and why it needs to happen.”

At which point she stopped me saying that even the Why is too much right now. We’re not there yet. I was a little baffled. I think it showed on my face. It just makes sense to me to tell why whatever thing that’s going on actually needs attention. It’s part of the basic facts, at least in my mind it is. Why is important! It’s what makes it all make sense.

The therapist continued, saying when I start explaining why he might be thinking “Oh great, here she goes again. Nag nag nag, blah blah blah.” and then he stops hearing what I’m saying. The door of communication is closed. The why, my explanation, she said, might be a trigger for him. It’s part of the cycle that clearly needs to be broken.

This blew my mind a little. Something as basic as that was a trigger? That?!? That’s what gets his panties in a twist?

He didn’t respond but it made perfect sense. Years and years of communication dynamics with this guy who’s now basically a stranger but I still know so well came into focus. I could see it. Explaining. This was a thing that put him on the defense. This?!?

Back when we were dating and first married my ex-husband used to call me “Little Miss Know It All”. He meant it in an entirely endearing, condescending way. He always felt like I was trying to show off how smart I am and how much I know. Ironically I really don’t think I’m all that smart. I’m like Carry from The Incredibles…”Half the time I don’t even know what anyone is talking about.”

I do, however, have a tendency to try to explain myself. Until this therapist pointed it out to me I never even really noticed it. I mean, obviously I’m wordy. Even when I attempt to be succinct it’s a challenge. But I really did think I was just giving him the basics in these emails. Now I catch myself doing it frequently. When talking to my kids’ teachers or the school, in conversation with other parents, in the presentations for my lab class (it’s especially unhelpful in science writing where brevity is paramount), I hear myself giving reasons, almost excuses, telling why for everything. It’s like I feel like I have to justify and defend what I’m saying even when it’s something as basic as calling the school about a sick kid. Now that I notice it it’s driving me a little crazy.

The most ironic thing about this being a factor in our broken communication cycle is that this problem, my habit of explaining myself, was at very least perpetuated by the relationship dynamic of our marriage if not created by it. When dealing with my then husband I often felt the need to explain the why, to make excuses and justify myself to him. It was part of the tiptoeing process that dealing with him often required. The why served a purpose. But now it’s causing problems. Probably it always has, I’m just now able to identify that.

Self-awareness isn’t really my strong suit. I’m at least self aware enough to be aware of that. When I looked at the problem of communicating with my ex I could not say what I was doing wrong. Not because I think I’m so right all the time, but because I really could not tell what my part of the problem was.

Part of me is relieved to know what I can change to improve things and, hopefully, ease some of the discomfort of communicating with my ex-husband. A small par t of me is irritated though. Because I have to change to accommodate him. Again. I’m the one who needs to solve the problem. I need to adapt and change around him…even though he’s probably more of the problem than I am. Why is this on me? Why is it my responsibility to fix the problem? Why am the problem? All the bullshit he deals out and I’m the problem???

I’m not. Not really. But. I’m the one sitting here trying to solve the problem.  My choices are change or don’t. But if nothing changes then Nothing Changes. What’s worth more, digging my heels in on a matter of principal or adapting my communication style to more effectively communicate? To me it’s a slippery slope. A steep downhill with loose gravel. Yes, this one thing is not a big deal. But a lot of little deals equal a big deal. Where is the line? I’m pretty sure it’s written in invisible ink so you can’t see it until you’ve already crossed it.

Relationships are a series of compromises, of changing who you are to accommodate the other person so that you can co-exist and grow together. In a good, healthy relationship both people are actively and continuously changing and it makes things better. But there’s always the risk that this growth, this changing, won’t be balanced and that you will be the one doing the brunt of the leg work. The tough part about navigating a post-divorce relationship (well, one of the many tough parts) is that you already know this isn’t going to be a balanced, healthy relationship. That’s probably how you ended up divorced in the first place. But you are the only person you can change, you are the only one who you have control over, you can only determine your own actions, reactions, and behaviors… if you want something to change in your post-divorce interactions, you have to be the one to make the change happen.

So, here’s to putting on the adult pants (even though you’d prefer not to wear pants). Here’s to self awareness and changing. Here’s to baby steps towards a more functional co-parenting post-divorce relationship.