‘Til Zoom Do Us Part

“Waiting for the Host to Start the Meeting.”

I was staring at a Zoom window with “Domestic Relations Daley Center” officially typed across it. Waiting for me on the other side of the virtual threshold was a judge I had never met, two lawyers whom I had only met remotely, and the man who had been my husband for ten years, now a complete stranger to me.

As I sat in the Illinois Circuit Court of Cook County’s remote waiting room, I couldn’t help but ponder the sad contrast, yet unexpected similarities, between the day my marriage began in a Greensboro, North Carolina chapel to the day it ended on a Chicago, Illinois-based computer screen. These two pivotal moments in my life, both equally meaningful and charged with emotion, yet delivered and packaged to me with such differing levels of pageantry.

My wedding day, my sweet father by my side, heart fluttering in anticipation of the beautiful ceremony, celebration and life ahead as we stood waiting in the church vestibule. The almost two hundred family and friends that helped build my groom and me, stealing glimpses of me in my Monique L’Huillier number, conservatively high in the front and plunging recklessly low down the back. My husband-to-be, his signature grin, chest puffed up and sparkling blue-green eyes looked on at me, his bride, from his end of the aisle.

I wonder if the 30-year-old me would have believed it, had she been told that the pomp and circumstance of that moment would deliver ten years of a relational rollercoaster and three daughters, only to be dismantled on a half hour Zoom video call. I clutched the very same rosary that wrapped around my wildflower bouquet at my wedding. I had bought it in Lebanon a few years prior and had it blessed by a local priest. Nervously wrapping the beads around my sweaty palms, I was digitally transported in front of a judge, our lawyers and a man whose status as my legal spouse would expire forever within the hour.

Not many of us think about our divorce day, but if your mind occasionally wanders to dark places, you may envision an echoing courtroom and a judge perched on the bench, gavel poised. I was more than happy to forgo the formality and closure offered by the courtroom for the comfort of my own bedroom. My parents, steadfast, loving, never judging in the ways this mess had upended their senior years, were in the room next door watching “Sophia” with my two-year old. Just as they had supported, encouraged and celebrated with me when I decided to marry this man, they comforted, consoled and cried with me when we divorced. They were mere feet from me when our union was terminated, just as they had been when it began.

The aura of the judge reminded me of the priest that married us, while not with her in the flesh, she demanded respect and exuded authority. Throughout our mediated divorce, my lawyers kept reminding me that the only figure with the power to order my husband or I to do anything was the judge. A stranger to us, oblivious to the ten years of “he said, she said” that resulted in this moment, she had the power to relieve us of our duty to the other. Our priest, a Monsignor — which I had discovered at the time is simply an honorary title in the Catholic church — was less than impressed and a little too serious for my liking. Having only met him once, he married us that day, blind to the fact that we were horribly mismatched.

The judge, our lawyers and the court reporter, rambled off formalities I did not understand. They asked me to raise my right hand and swore me in. I stared at a cheap Dollar Store plaque that read “This Girl Can” in neon pink. I had bought it for my eight-year-old daughter’s desk in an effort to advertise the strength and resilience I planned to instill in her. It turned out I needed it more, swiping it off her desk for all of our Zoomed mediation and negotiation sessions. It sat under my monitor reminding me that I, indeed could, and would.

My soon to be ex-husband, the plaintiff, had to answer a series of questions with “I do”:

“Do you agree that there are irreconcilable differences that lead to the irretrievable breakdown of your marriage?”

I do.”

“Do you agree that future attempts at reconciliation would not be in the best interest of your family and impracticable?”

I do.”

I had recently splurged on a brand-new second monitor — realizing my 2010 MacBook Air needed a serious upgrade if I were to go from stay-at-home mom to single, work-from-home mom. The monitor’s oversized screen reflected back an empty room behind me as I silently cursed that no one was there to witness the absurdity of these “I do’s.” Was “I do” really going to be recycled for this occasion? Thankfully I, the respondent, was only obliged to one “I do.” It still felt cruel. Punitive, almost.

My lawyer’s face suddenly took over the screen. Prior to that, she had been shrunk to a little box in a lineup of boxes that included all the meeting participants. Something about the neat lineup of little boxes transported me back to the perfect row of attendants at my wedding. Both so symmetrical, almost somber. She was asking if I was satisfied with my husband’s testimony and understood the terms of my settlement.

(Had anyone ever objected at this point? Does anyone in the congregation object to a marriage in the middle of the ceremony? In our case, maybe someone should have.)

More formalities and legal dialogue between our lawyers and the honorable judge. Apparently, the circuit court was satisfied that the binding nature of this contract was adequately relayed and imprinted upon this civilian couple. My lawyer triumphantly declared that I could resume use of my maiden name.

After a brief lull in activity, the judge’s face took over one last time. “Good luck,” she managed with a weak smile. The professionals exchanged pleasantries and goodbyes, passing on regards to various colleagues in their world of family law. One by one the little boxes dropped off my screen leaving a black square.

“The meeting has been ended by the host.”

After the exchange of rings at our wedding, I had marveled at how I was suddenly someone’s wife, yet felt no different. I was now someone’s ex-wife, yet felt no different. Perhaps a bit more jaded with pieces to put back together, a heart to heal and scars to wear proudly, but still just me. I took some victory from that, as the old adage “The more things change, the more they stay the same” turned around in my mind.

Giggling and laughter in the next room forced me out of my reverie. “Sophia” had ended. I took a shaky breath and couldn’t help but smile inwardly at the humor of the situation. There I sat, old rosary in hand, new and updated Mac products on my desk, with a borrowed sign from my daughter. Perhaps this next chapter would bring more luck. After all, I had Something old, something new, something borrowed, something… Zoomed?

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What I Learned From My COVID-Era Divorce

It was February 14th, 2021, Valentine’s Day. My husband and I had taken our 10-month-old and three-year-old to a playground and ordered takeout from our favorite restaurant. To a social media follower, it was a lovely day.

When the kids went down for their afternoon naps, my husband took me aside and informed me he had filed for a divorce with an attorney he hired, sent a deposit for a rental home, and declared the move-in date for the rental home was within the next month. I could tell he had carefully rehearsed his words — he was trying the best way he knew how. We were both so emotionally starved by that point, I don’t even think he knew what day it was.

The pain I felt was beyond miserable. Oh hell, feeling miserable would have been a step up for me — I felt worse than miserable. In one year I had been pregnant, given birth to a second daughter, juggled a demanding full-time job, gotten COVID, and now I was steeped in a divorce … all in the era of a pandemic. I wished this roller coaster of hell on no one.

While I felt blindsided and betrayed in the moment, the Valentine’s Day announcement wasn’t a surprise. I had been asking for a separation and flagrantly tossing around the D-word for over a year. Last year I was angry and mad. Maybe it was the pregnancy and postpartum; maybe it was the anxiety of catching COVID; maybe it was the pressure and demands of raising two small children; maybe it was work; maybe it was living in a small place that our family had outgrown; maybe it was the isolation of the stay-at-home orders; maybe it was our well-intentioned in-laws that resulted in the fanning of flames between us; maybe it was the challenges of navigating an interracial marriage in the background of BLM or having differing views in an increasingly polarized political era; maybe it was him; maybe it was me … or maybe the marriage just wasn’t meant to be, and it took these experiences to make it abundantly clear this was the end of a chapter for us.

I had so much visceral anger toward him well before his planned announcement, to the point I found myself openly joking if he was worth more dead or alive (to be clear, I do not wish any ill will on him).

In the height of my anger, I began to seek resources on the topic of divorce. I was most concerned about my children and minimizing the impact on them. There was also a small part of me that wanted to “win,” as if life was a grand measuring stick and I wanted the bigger half. And in an era of too much information, dramatized depictions of divorce in Hollywood, custom ads served to individuals based on emotional late night online searches, and a whole industry dedicated to making money off the backs of couples getting divorced, it’s easy to get in a dark place … especially online, especially during COVID.

In the most haphazard way, I began to expand beyond the online divorce forums — I began to read books, I took advantage of county resources that offered free webinars on divorce, I listened to divorce podcasts, I spoke with a therapist, I enrolled in a Zoom-based therapy group, I sought guidance from other divorced people over the phone, and I leaned on family and trusted friends for support. Over time, after having started on a journey to educate myself on divorce with the small secret intention of winning, I began to turn inward. I felt like I had metaphorically thrown up, was marinating in my own smelly vomit, and was forced to take a mirror to myself.

It didn’t matter what my husband did, it didn’t matter how wrong I thought he was, or how right I thought I was … I could only control my side of the equation. And if I sat in my stinky vomit just long enough, maybe I could find some light and solace within myself. Maybe I could shine outward from within instead of constantly feeling the need to be externally chasing a light—it was time to stop chasing the fireflies and create my own magnificent fire from within.

My decision to stay or leave the marriage had to come from a rooted place, and if I were honest with myself, when I was asking for a separation (more like declaring it), I was not in a place of rootedness. I was red-hot angry for months, and blaming him was a mask to make myself feel better. I also saw this behavior in the women and men I spoke with who were also knee deep in their divorces or stuck in miserable marriages. I heard too many cis hetero men conclude their soon-to-be ex-wives had a borderline personality disorder while cis hetero women concluded their soon-to-be ex-husbands were narcissists. Surely there couldn’t be that many BPDs and narcissists walking around. Where were they when people were getting married?

I ultimately decided I wasn’t ready for a divorce and needed to focus my energies on bettering myself within the marriage. Fortunately or unfortunately, the decision to divorce was made for me in the most ironic way, on a day that celebrated love. And maybe this choice will end up being the greatest act of love for me. As part of my own journey, and in picking up the pieces of my own broken heart that I helped break, I needed to learn to let go.

Letting go is taking accountability for my actions, grieving for the loss of the expectation I had for my marriage, and putting one foot in front of the other toward a brighter future, in service of myself and my children. It doesn’t matter if I was 5% or 95% at fault. There is no magical measuring stick. We all lose in some way. My accountability for the downfall of the marriage were the following:

I did not know how to establish and communicate clear emotional boundaries. And then I got upset when my boundaries were crossed. This left me chasing and reacting.

I continued to feed the anxiety and fear of me not being able to control the future. This took time away from me being present in the moment and reflective of the past.

I found myself getting competitive, and instead of turning toward my partner, that competition turned into avoidance, resentment, anger, and bitterness.

I thought I could change my partner. The idea that I will somehow make another person see what I see, that they will finally understand, and change for me was 100% my ego. My ego was so large, it was blinding.

I fought to win fights, not for the marriage.

I used anger and blame as a way to deflect from my own painful insecurities.

I was a poor communicator of my insecurities.

When adversity did not bring us closer, I thought I needed to try harder. I ran two marathons to the left when I really should have taken a few steps to the right. And then I went ahead and ran another marathon to the left … over and over again. And now I am tired. I am so, so tired.

Now that I see these things, I can no longer unsee them. These are behaviors that I need to work on and change, not only for myself, but for my kids. And it will take time. I wished I could have been able to do it hand-in-hand with my spouse, and I accept that I will be taking this journey on my own, with the help of a community I inadvertently built to support me through this.

While I have a lot to be thankful for and recognize my privilege as a self-sufficient soon-to-be single mother, I wish the pain that accompanies divorce on no one. And in the moments when I feel small, I will inch my way toward living large. Living large for me is to lean into the vulnerability with intention, honesty, and kindness. To continue down the path of further self-actualization. To show compassion to myself as much as I am capable of being compassionate to others — big and wildly.

And, to let go.

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To My Ex, While You Were Busy Replacing Me

While you were replacing me, my time was spent comforting our three daughters through a catastrophic change in their little lives. There’s a reason divorce ranks second after death of a loved one in terms of life’s possible hardships, and I was determined to buffer their blow. Hellbent on protecting them from what was to come, I read every parenting book and tracked down the best child and family therapists out there. I set out to be their safe haven, to answer questions about our recent separation and pending divorce in an age-appropriate way and to protect their innocence to the best of my ability. While I was trying my best to heal their childhood scars, you were adding to them.

While you were replacing me, I was protecting our kids from something else, from a global pandemic that brought the entire world to its knees. As I held them close in our small apartment, you traveled far and wide with my replacement. As the girls and I braved one school closure and quarantine after the next you were enjoying the company of a stranger in our previous marital home, the very one our children still slept in a couple nights a week. While I was doing everything possible to keep harm out, you were willingly inviting it in.

While you were replacing me, I was frantically recruiting skills that lay dormant after my eight-year tenure as a stay-at-home mom. It is a scary thing, to suddenly have to face your financial security after a brutal discard and turning a blind eye to finances for so long. You left me with an acceptable amount of money, sure, but that didn’t make up for the fact that I still had to reinvent myself and reenter the workforce. While you were lavishing her with expensive dinners and first-class trips, I was looking to the future and wondering how the hell I was going to make it.

While you were replacing me, I was analyzing and deconstructing our ten-year toxic marriage with the help of serious therapy. Am I codependent? Are you a narcissist? Do I have boundary issues? Are you emotionally unavailable? I struggled to come out of the fog, faulting myself for the mess we both created. While I took on all blame and accountability for our failed marriage you carried on as if nothing ever happened, blissfully free of any remorse.

But while you were replacing me, something else amazing happened…

In the darkest corners of my sadness and hurt, I found an authenticity I never knew existed. An ability to experience such devastating heartbreak also equals the capability for tremendous love. I realized that my feelings are so intense, they deserve validation, and going forward I will never ignore them simply to tiptoe around another person’s sensitivities and moods.

During the loneliness and isolation brought about by quarantine and single parenthood, I learned to enjoy my own company. I am perfectly capable of being alone, cultivating passions and interests, and just getting to know me again. Never again will I pretend to be someone I am not or allow another person to dictate what I should or shouldn’t be passionate about.

In becoming a single mom, I found the respect for myself that was so sorely lacking. I may not be able to model love and respect between two partners, but I can model love and respect for myself. Never again will I tolerate verbal and emotional abuse.

During hours spent self-reflecting alone and in therapy, I discovered the ability to reassure and soothe myself, to look within for comfort and direction. From now on I take responsibility for my own life and happiness. Never again will I look to someone else to fix my insecurities or make my decisions.

Looking into my spilled tears, I finally woke up to the fact that I was mourning ghosts. A man and marriage that only existed fleetingly at the beginning. Never again will I waste tears on someone undeserving – I will choose to believe and see what is in front of me, not what I wish it to be.

While you were replacing me, I discovered the strength I have been missing. As it turns out, I have everything I need to forge a bright future for our daughters and myself, to be the best damn mother and female role model. The hell I have been through is not for the faint of heart, but I have endured and was capable all along. So, she can have you. Because while you were replacing me, I was doing something better. I was finding me.

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Why I’ll Never Have A Joint Checking Account (Without Having My Own) Again

When I was a little girl, my mother stayed home with my three siblings and me while my dad went off to work. I remember her cooking, cleaning, and watching soap operas. She talked on the phone with friends and made the best brownies. She always mopped the floor on Tuesdays, and hung out the laundry even in the dead of winter.

She took her time doing things, never rushing through chores or acting like she couldn’t keep up with everything.

I’m not sure if this was because my memory is skewed and I wasn’t paying close enough attention or if this is how it really was.

I just remember thinking I always wanted to be a mother and stay at home with my kids like she did. I loved cooking and cleaning and wanted to sew, just like her.

When I was in junior high, she got a job as a secretary and was happy about it. My dad wasn’t, but he took her out shopping to buy some nice clothes to wear. She had to dress up, and after being a stay-at-home mom for so long, all she had were T-shirts and Lee Jeans.

When they came home with a few department store bags overflowing with a few dresses, heels, and a few suits, my father showed me the receipts.

Looking back now, I see he wanted his family to see that he had purchased these things for his wife because she didn’t have any money — it was his — something he was always very clear about.

After my mother had a few years of working (and moving up the corporate ladder) under her belt, she left my father. She had more than enough money to take care of herself and was always dressed to the nines. 

I clearly remember one day after they divorced, when my father had run into my mother at the grocery store. He said, “You mother looks different. She’s always wearing skirts and lots of eyeshadow. She never used to do that.”

I remember wanting to say, “Maybe that’s because you never let her spend your money on such things,” but I didn’t. My father used the belt on our bare asses if we talked back, and it wasn’t worth it to speak up.

I could give other examples of how my parents’ marriage and divorce should have made me open my eyes to the importance of being somewhat financially independent, but it didn’t leave that much of an impression. In my mind, I always wanted to stay home with my children. I figured the money thing would work itself out.

And, at least at first, it did. I married someone who was more than happy to support his family and encouraged me to stay at home when we had children — although if I had wanted to work, he would have supported that too.

He was in no way like my father when it came to money, but he was a saver, thrifty, and I always felt like I had to ask permission to spend money. Like many couples, we had disagreements on what we thought was important. I loved buying clothes for the kids, and he wanted me to tone it down. I felt guilty if I spent money on getting my hair done because he thought it was a waste. If I wanted to go out to eat, there were times we’d argue. 

He was also in charge of the checkbook, our retirement account, and all our other finances.

When we divorced, I was nervous about handling the money. I didn’t want to take on the budget or think about the fact I had to make a certain income now. It was overwhelming and left me frozen with anxiety many times as I stood in the shower, wondering if I was going to be able to do it on my own.

This isn’t a story of getting screwed over and having my credit ruined. My ex-husband was very good with money and there were no surprises. This was more of a realization that I’d depended on someone else for so long to make (and manage) the money while I stood on the sidelines, never having any real control. And then suddenly, it was different, and I was unprepared.

These past years have been hard, and the adjustment has cost me a lot of sleep. There have been many days I’ve realized how much easier times were when my sole responsibility was to take care of the kids and leave the money to my husband.

I have a very different take on things now, though. And it’s something I bring up to my kids all the time: It is actually much easier to take charge of your own finances, have control, and know what’s going on than it is to depend on someone else to do it. 

I have zero guilt when I buy something I know I can afford. I get to choose if I want to take my kids out to eat without an argument. I know exactly what’s going on in my bank account, and I don’t need permission from anyone to buy a handbag.

If I ever live with someone again, even if we are married, I will never, ever have a joint checking account with them without having one for myself. I will never depend on anyone to manage my money again, and I will always make sure I will be taken care of if anything should happen to the relationship.

I didn’t think I’d ever feel relaxed about money when my ex-husband, who was the breadwinner and manager of our money for so long, moved out and I was on my own. But now, it gives me immense peace of mind knowing I can handle it all on my own, without help, and this is the relationship I need to have with money for the rest of my life.

I believe you should share a lot of things in a partnership. However, I will never share all of my money with someone. I will always have my own accounts and pay close attention to them, because this feels a hell of a lot more empowering than standing in the shower, wondering what I’m going to do next.

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I Got Divorced During COVID (And It Sucked)

My two daughters have been through the wringer. A few months before quarantine disrupted our reality, their dad and I had separated and filed for divorce. Our beloved library was closed. Our favorite parks were covered in yellow tape and encircled by tall, looming fences. We were no longer seeing friends or having playdates and we were left in the Arizona heat without a splash pad or a pool. “Surely,” I thought to myself, “schools will reopen in the fall of 2020.” And some did. But not where we live.

We live near the heart of Phoenix’s downtown in a vulnerable community and thus the schools have remained closed. My oldest had been talking about kindergarten for what felt like forever. She asked about her future teacher, her school bus,  and would she get to eat lunch with her sister?! But even kindergarten was taken away … along with her family unit that lived in the white house with the blue door and a huge backyard. We moved from our beautiful home on a quiet street to the heart of downtown, her dad keeping the dog and me keeping the cat.

While their dad and I are good friends outside of our ended marriage, we recognize we quite literally blew up their sense of normalcy. We knew we could band-aid the problem, letting our wounds beneath grow deeper and thereby do even more long-term damage. Or we could rip off the band-aid and experience a painful albeit healthier healing. The long-term health of our relationship was what we needed to prioritize for our individual health but also children’s health. And so, we chose divorce.

Would I have made this decision to file for divorce had I known that they would also lose parks, playdates and school? I don’t know. I can’t know. And to be honest, I am thankful we filed before COVID hit because it could have kept us clinging to what we knew was broken, in foolish hopes of easing our pain.

But the guilt ate away at me. I began to say “yes” to more and more. Yes to a second serving of ice cream. Yes to candy before bed. Yes to more screen time. Yes to the whining, yes to more toys (that we definitely didn’t need). I slowly moved from a parent to a circus leader. Because this SUCKED. We were all hurting. Not only was our external, global world hurting and falling apart. So was our internal, family unit. It was messy and painful and looking back, I don’t regret for a second giving them more ice cream or letting them watch “Mulan” immediately after “Wreck It Ralph.” I don’t regret letting them play naked in the mud in our old backyard weeks before moving or driving them through the Starbucks for cake pops three days in a row (yes, three).

But. As we all came up for air, I knew it was time to make a shift. We had gotten into a rhythm. We had found some ground in the un-grounding. We were adjusting and slowly healing. And now it was time to acknowledge the guilt but no longer give it my power. I put my daughters to bed, took a bath and then put on my favorite sweats. I grabbed my favorite pen and wrote a letter to myself and then I wrote a letter to my girls. Acknowledging all we had made it through thus far. Not necessarily celebrating it but absolutely honoring it. Paying homage to who we had been and what we had gone through.

After this, I had the space, both mentally and energetically, to pick up the pieces I had let fall to the floor. Just like I choose to rip off the band-aid of my unhealthy marriage, I needed to rip off the band-aid of my easy-breezy-lemon-squeezy-parenting. I needed to put my big girl pants on and be okay with being the bad guy. I needed to be okay with saying no and enforcing chores (gasp!). I needed to absolutely be okay with their feelings instead of trying to distract them from their feelings. If anything, I needed to empower my children. I needed to be okay with them being uncomfortable. I needed to acknowledge that my job was not their immediate happiness but their long-term wellbeing. And I needed to stop trying to ease their immediate discomforts.

Discomfort is a gift. It’s how we grow, change, evolve and emerge into our best, beautiful selves. In fact, wasn’t discomfort how these beautiful children that I love so dearly got here in the first place? Regardless of how babies are born, vaginally, cesarean, it’s no picnic. It’s hard, uncomfortable, and often painful. But that’s where new life begins.

I needed to lean into the uncomfortable spots of my parenting and look them in the eye. I needed to reevaluate the long-term effects of my short-term decisions and choose differently, in hopes of raising strong, independent, adults who are unafraid of ripping off their own band-aids so they too can be their biggest, best selves.

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Four Years After My Divorce, I’m Ready To Tell You What Happened

“Do you mind if I ask…what happened?” Her face showed genuine concern as she asked a question I wasn’t sure I could answer for myself, let alone to a mom of one of my daughter’s friends on a school playground while we stood under our children on the monkey bars.

Six months after my divorce I started to realize no one else was going to tell people for me that I had gotten a divorce. No one else would provide excuses for my children’s age appropriate behavior for what was happening in their world. No one else was going to shield questions as to why I changed my last name on Facebook. No one was going to step in when someone who didn’t know that I didn’t have a husband asked me how my husband was doing or where he was working. It is not their fault for asking, and in most cases their concern was genuine. They loved and cared about me, and they were concerned for me. But they were also worried about themselves.

It was after a long conversation with a loved one that followed their question of me “Do you think you got a divorce because some of your best friends got a divorce?” that I realized many times, their concern for me was compacted by their fear for themselves and their own marriages.

They wanted to make sure I was okay. And they wanted to make sure what happened to me wouldn’t happen to them. I get it. If you’ve been following me for anytime, I’ve never sugar coated how hard my life is. But few things worth having come easy, and my life is more than worth having.

So, four years after my divorce, I thought I’d share: what happened. Grab the popcorn and pour yourself a glass of wine (it’s 5 o’clock on the East Coast as I write this).

What happened was I came of age during a time period that the heroin chic look was hot, and the only time sex was talked about was in the toxic umbrella of purity culture. What happened was I saw commercials and magazines where hip bones stuck out, and I went on my first diet when I was 12. I remember it vividly: I was standing on my bed in the middle of my navy blue bedspread (sorry, mom!) and holding a dial phone with a curly cord while saying aloud to a friend of mine “I am 88 pounds! That is disgusting! You have to help me go on a diet. We can do it together.”

What happened was the only time my youth group talked about sex, they had a guest speaker talk to us about being pure. I remember a brave teenager suggesting that perhaps a person might like to figure out what they like sexually before getting married and that they were shamed and the answer *by a peer* to their concern was “There’s something special about learning what you like with the other person.” What happened was I signed a “purity pledge” in a book given to me by an older friend, and reminded myself anytime I looked at that little card, that I would have nothing to offer a male except my body. And my body was bad. Every magazine, TV show, dressing room, and poster told me so.

What happened was when I stopped eating, boys started paying attention.

What happened was, the more boys who paid attention, the more boys who paid attention. What happened was I had options, and if the only thing I was good for was my body offering to my future husband, I needed options.

What happened was I was told “boys will be boys.” What happened was I was told I was “too much” – my hair was big, my belly was big, my laugh was loud, my passion was overwhelming, my jokes hit too hard and I spoke the truth when others didn’t. What happened was I was told I needed to shrink to be loved and I was finally shrinking and the boys were paying attention so it must all be true.

What happened was when I was a teenager and we told adults we trusted and respected we didn’t like an older man in our lives, they told us we were being too difficult. What happened was when he rubbed my shoulders in a public space, when he rubbed another girl’s feet, when he pressed his knees into mine behind his closed office door, no one said a word to the 40 year old man touching the 16 year old girl, and it was up to me to turn around and yell at him that if he ever touched me again, my lawyer father would sue him.

What happened was when my periods were debilitating, I was told birth control was only for girls having sex.

What happened was I was told that boys would want to have sex, but girls would not. What happened was I thought something was wrong with me for wanting to have sex. What happened was I visited extended family who weren’t allowed to wear their size jeans but a size bigger because the male brain operates in such a way that fitted jeans would put us in an unsafe position.

What happened was I was told to hold my keys between my fingers when I walked to my car and to never put my drink down at a party. Because that was the only way a rape would happen – if it was a “preventable” attack. What happened was no one talked about assault in the way it happens 95% of the time, that it’s very rarely random and it starts with teenage girls not being advocated for in public places.

What happened was I was told I could do nothing without a college degree, but that the college degree that interested me only gave me a piece of paper and a whole lot of debt. What happened was when I was diagnosed with PCOS at 19 and handed a pack of birth control pills like candy, I started gaining weight. What happened was I started to make more choices out of fear.

What happened was I knew that Amy Grant wasn’t a “real” Christian singer because she’d gotten a divorce. What happened was real, strong people “stick it out.” What happened was I was told “vows mean something.” What happened was a single woman, or a divorced woman, became my worst fear.

What happened was the church, the patriarchy, the media, purity culture, and diet culture created the perfect storm for a passionate, worthy, beautiful, smart girl to feel none of those things and to make choices out of fear. And I am not talking about the choice to leave.

So, what happened? That girl grew up. She had babies and realized how she wanted them to grow up. That girl had friends grow up and recognize their own worth around the same time. Purity and diet culture harmed more than just me. So, did I get a divorce because some of my best friends did? Maybe. Freedom and peace are contagious. And thank God for it.

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To The Mom Who Was Blindsided By Divorce

Since my divorce about four years ago, I’ve learned more about myself and life than I did during my first 41 years of life. I was with the same man for almost 20 years. I hadn’t worked outside the home for almost 14. I had a cushy, comfortable life that was literally gone with one conversation.

I remember being paralyzed with fear on the night my ex-husband and I decided to divorce. The thought of not seeing my kids every day, being financially independent, and the only adult in the household was beyond scary.

I didn’t think I could do it. Any of it. 

He turned to me and said, “You will find some doctor or lawyer who will take care of you, I’m sure.”

In that moment I realized something: I, in no way, wanted someone to swoop in and take care of me. I wanted to do it myself, even though there was a lot in my head telling me I’d fail.

I needed to figure out how to work, take care of my kids solo, adjust to a new living situation, all while dealing with the fact I wasn’t going to be married any longer. Those emotions alone will take you for a dangerous ride.

And finding another person to come to your husband’s place isn’t the way it works anyway. Sure, it sounded easier, but you know what feels a whole hell of a lot better?

Taking control and doing it yourself.

That’s not to say you will have it figured out any time soon. The divorce process is just that: a process. It’s going to take time, and it will be hard. You are going to have to learn to ask for help and find new ways of doing things.

But you can (and you will) get through it. It’s doable, and you are capable.

First, make a list of things that are important to you; then try not to swallow them all in one bite. I’m telling you (from someone who’s been there and tried to make everything okay overnight), the key to doing this is taking one tiny step at a time.

Get out of bed, and think about the next thing you need (or want) to do. That’s it. Don’t try and figure out your entire day. And please, don’t try and figure out your next year.

Only think about the next thing, whether it’s something small like getting in the shower or something big like looking for a job.

Do not sit in front of your computer trying to put together a resume and wonder how you can ever let another man see you naked.

Don’t wonder what it’s going to do to your kids’ mental health while you are trying to look for a new place to live.

This is hard, I know — but your brain won’t be able to handle all the “what ifs,” and before you know it, you will be experiencing a level of anxiety you didn’t know existed. We are not wired to try and control so many things with our minds, things that in real life, we don’t actually have that much control over.

Do you hear me? One thing at a time.

Take care of yourself. We all know it: you cannot take care of others if you are depleted. This is not the time to sacrifice that. Yes, it’s a change and hard on the family, but you will make it harder by not taking care of yourself. You need it now more than ever.

Stop, talk to a friend, ask for help, seek therapy, buy something that will lift your spirits, make your favorite meal.

Even if you don’t feel like doing these things, try and do a small one and watch your happy feelings multiply because you are taking action. One good thing usually leads to another. 

After my ex left, I forced myself to buy new bedding and get something to help me sleep. It worked, and because I was sleeping better, I felt a bit better each day.

The biggest thing you need to do right now is remember even though this may be the hardest thing you’ve ever gone through, you can do it, and there are people around who want to help you. Let them.

There will be tears, setbacks, and hard days. It’s okay to not be okay, and to make mistakes, and to learn as you go. Don’t be hard on yourself; the process is difficult enough without the self-ridicule.

My divorce made me realize how much I trust myself. It was a long haul, and I still have days where I feel horrible and miss my old life. That’s just my reality; it may not be yours. However, I know that no matter what comes up,  I can handle it because I’ve shown myself I can.

And you can too. I promise.

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Why I’m So Grateful For My Kindergartener

Dear Kindergartener,

This year, in the words of Alexander Hamilton in a musical that we both love, “the world turned upside down.” But instead of sitting here and focusing on what we’ve had to wrestle with, I am sitting here being filled with gratitude.

You have been hit with a burst of what can only be described as Kindergartener Energy. This past weekend, when I wanted to relax a bit, this Energy would not allow it. By the end of the weekend, buried under piles of YouTube-tutorial drawing pages, a heap of dirty dishes from food experimentations, and at least three layers of costume makeup, I wondered how I would survive the upcoming winter with limited opportunities to leave the house. I had once used the Nintendo Switch or Disney+ as temptations to allow your tiny caboose to sit still and my much larger backside to take a quick 20-minute snooze or a lightning-fast cleaning session, but now, even those don’t hold your attention for long. So there I was, at 8:30pm on a Sunday night, snoring on the couch while you were still singing to your unicorn stuffy in bed after your final goodnight kiss.

But then Monday came, and you returned to your dad’s house. And that was it. Immediately, I started to ache for your return.

There is a quote that I love from a movie called Friends with Kids, in which the merits of being a divorced parent are discussed: “Actually, divorced people have it kind of great. They get all of the toxic, unsexy stuff out of the way with the first person, then when they meet the person they really want to be with, they only have to be with the kid half the time…they get all kinds of time together when the kid’s with the ex, then they get QT with the kid because it’s special.”

This is a quote that I think about often. I think about it when you are at your dad’s house, and never when you’re with me. Why specifically then, you might ask? Because it’s a coping mechanism. When you grow up and start to experience hard times that you have no control over, you have to find the bright side or those hard times will consume you. And the truth is that, with only having you half the time, I get some fantastic bonding time with the boyfriend, and I get some much needed rest after a hard day’s work or an active weekend. And those are insanely great bright sides.

But the reason I have to fixate on this quote is because if I don’t seek out the positive, the fact that I will only experience half of your childhood by your side will consume me. It still happens anyways sometimes, even when I try my best to keep those thoughts away from me, and it is too much for this anxious lady to handle. I wouldn’t change it because your time with your dad is just as important as your time with me, but fuck, to say it hurts just doesn’t do it justice.

But QT is absolutely right. Every time I see you again, it feels like Christmas did when I was your age. Like I have been waiting excitedly for this time and I get exactly what I was hoping for: you.

Today, we woke up early (mostly because you ran into my room and demanded snuggles and a showing of Bluey), made some eggs together, and laughed as the puppies tried to lick the peanut butter and banana topping from our toast. We put fancy dresses on and we danced along with Spotify in the family room. We had a blast.

Because, though I only see you half the time, I am eternally grateful for the time I do have with you — and that I’m the one who gets to be your mom.

Your Adoring Mama

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Why I’ve Loved Watching My Parents Find Love Again After Divorce

Seven years ago, my parents decided to end their marriage. After a long struggle to understand and process a lifetime of his experiences, my father decided he was ready to tell all of us that he is gay. He told my mother first, and they navigated that revelation in privacy for quite a while before deciding to tell us kids and move on to separate lives for their second acts.

To this day, my father is adamant that he loved my mother, felt very attracted to her, and never faked a moment of happiness in their life together. My mother will tell you the same. They were happy for a long time, but people evolve. They were a perfect match until they weren’t.

Their divorce came after thirty years of marriage and changed the entire composition of our multi-generational family. I won’t pretend there was no anger, pain, sadness and grief. Every single member of the family had to come to terms with the changes, and that took time.

But my parents fought for each other way more often than they fought with each other. They emerged as friends, and to this day, they are both there for every milestone and every holiday. We are a new kind of family now.

My dad found love after divorce pretty quickly. Five years ago, my dad met the man that would become his husband. Doug has become a second grandfather to my children in every way. My mom even attended their wedding reception.

Through the years, my mom just never got seriously involved with anyone. She is gorgeous, and not just “for her age.” Men have been interested, some very seriously interested. But Jeanne never found one that made her feel like settling back down. She talked about finding love after divorce once in a while, but didn’t want to look for it. She wanted to travel.

After the divorce, my mom found freedom she had never known. She traveled the world as a chef, accepting short-term cooking assignments at high-end lodges and resorts. It was hard for her to imagine loving any man more than she loved the feeling of waking up on the beach in New Zealand.

Then it happened.

A man from her very distant past came back into her life by chance, and within weeks it became clear that their paths were meant to cross again.

My mom is in love after divorce.

The mix of emotions I feel when I see those words is hard to explain.

My overwhelming emotion is warm joy. I’m so happy for her. I haven’t even met her new beau yet, but I can already tell how he makes her feel. During our video chats, they just laugh and laugh. My mom is quirky and funny, and he gets her. He and I have already discussed her idiosyncrasies, and he thinks they’re great. Her new man doesn’t care that she wears readers over her prescription glasses. He doesn’t run from her seven-thousand-year-old blue sweatshirt that she wears so often it’s almost see-through at this point.

Her socks balled up on the coffee table make him laugh.

More than that, she assures me that he carries her insecurities gently. He is patient, making her feel as beautiful as she deserves to feel. After thirty years with the same man, getting comfortable with someone new felt like an insurmountable challenge to my mom. None of the men who wanted her made her feel safe enough to give love a second try. She knew this new man was meant to be her man when she realized she didn’t feel like she wanted to hide the parts of her she sees as flaws. She was willing to be fully known to someone new.

I thought that might never happen.

I am so glad she has someone keeping tabs on her well-being. She lives a thousand miles away from me, and this is the first time in my life I haven’t been five minutes away. I worried about her when she was alone. She’s still young and can take care of herself, but I know my mom. She loves her freedom, but she never wanted to spend the rest of her life alone. She deserves someone who will make her soup when she’s sick and rub her feet after a long day. I hated the idea of my mom being alone the whole entire time it was happening. And now she’s not alone anymore.

It’s still a little weird for me. It didn’t take long for me to get used to my dad and his husband, but to be honest, I think that was easier. I never had to see my father with another woman. I think the comparisons would have made it much harder to see him move on. The temptation to compare his partners has never existed because Doug is man. It has never felt like he was taking my mom’s place. That made it easier for me to see their marriage as a completely new and separate entity from any life that came before.

Seeing my mom with another man feels different to me a little bit. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I think it makes me feel a little bit disloyal to my dad. Like I should be skeptical of the man who is “taking his place.” I feel a little guilty that I am so happy for her. That makes no sense at all, and I realize that. It’s just something my heart needs to work through, and I’ll put in the effort. My mom and her new love deserve that.

Watching your parents fall in love after divorce is strange and beautiful. There’s nothing I want more for my parents than to feel loved, supported and understood. Just because they can’t love each other like that anymore doesn’t mean I want to see them any less happy.

When they divorced, I worried that my father might not find a partner. He was a newly-out gay man in his 50s in the Bible belt. It never crossed my mind that my mom would take so much time to move on, but I’m so glad she held out until it felt right to her.

I can’t wait to meet him in person, learn to trust him, and welcome him into our lives. As long as he loves her well, he’s welcome here.

There’s so much love in our unconventional family. We always have room for one more.

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Co-Parenting Is Hard Enough Without Adding Pandemic School Into The Mix

“I think we should get the kids back in school. They all told me they want to go back to school.” This is what my ex-husband said to me over the phone the other night as I was just sitting down to dinner with my kids after not seeing them all weekend.

We agreed as a family they would do 100% remote learning, and now they were apparently missing school.

I had just faked my way through helping my son with Academic Physics, which I didn’t even take in high school, so the idea of sending them back to school in person wasn’t looking too shabby because I felt dumb, helpless, and exasperated.

But then that frustration just passed onto my ex, because we’d already sat the kids down earlier in the summer and talked to them about the choices they had for the upcoming school year.

Once we decided they’d stay home, I had to fill out paperwork. I had to tell them there was no going back and they had to stick with this decision until January. I had to go get their books and computers. I’ve had to help them when they didn’t understand something or had trouble logging on to Google Classroom. I’ve had to wake them up most mornings to make sure they are up before 7:30 because that’s when their school is taking attendance.

It’s this way because I work from home and I’m able to be here for them, which I love. Their dad gets them around dinner time and then they drive here in the morning twice a week before they start their school day.

It was only a few weeks ago when he said he didn’t want our daughter to attend a birthday party with two other girls because he didn’t think it’d be safe. I felt bad for my daughter, but I agreed it would be too risky. But now he wanted me to do something to get them back in school? It seemed hypocritical — and really fucking annoying.  

I’m not telling you this to complain, I’m telling you this so you can see why it’s irritating for me to do all the leg work and then get an out-of-the-blue call from him because he thinks we can just — *snaps fingers* — send them back to school and it shouldn’t be a problem.

When things like this happen, it undermines the work I’ve done and the things I’ve said to my kids about their safety and knowing they have to stick to this plan. My ex doesn’t see it that way, of course, so it adds another level of drama to our family life because now my kids know we are in disagreement on this subject.

There’s also the fact of making sure we are in tune with all they need to do for their classes and homework on the nights they’re with him. For example, my daughter needs to have access to a printer during certain days so she can prepare for the next day’s class. This forces us to communicate more than we would normally.

We are lucky in that we get along well and have always put our kids first, but that doesn’t mean we don’t snap at each other, argue, and disagree about what’s best for them. Even though we normally have a pretty easy time co-parenting, pandemic schooling has thrown a wrench in that, to say the least.

If you are co-parenting right now due to a divorce or separation, you are definitely feeling the wrath of 2020, and this shit is getting really old. 

Emotions are probably running higher than they ever have: We are scared, our kids are scared, and we are literally just winging it trying to survive this thing.

Doing it alone on certain days, then with someone you used to be married to when you need to communicate or need help, is enough to make you want to tune out … or walk around in a pissed off state all the damn time. 

I’ve been to both places several times over. 

We get an email from the school every day. Our kids’ schedules get sent to us once a week. There are parent/teacher coffee hours once a week. All of this is helpful and necessary. And it’s something we have to manage together because I can’t do it all on my own.

This past week alone, we’ve gotten several calls and emails from the schools alerting parents of positive COVID-19 cases. Our kids have not been in contact with anyone going to school, so we are out of the woods — but this is still something we are navigating together because it involves our community, our kids’ peers, and teachers they know and love. Not to mention the fact that they’re really hoping to head back to school next month … but now, I don’t see that happening, despite my ex.

When there’s a global pandemic, it’s hard to feel safe and content. It’s also really hard to communicate and get along with someone you used to be married to and agree on things like whether they should participate in certain school activities or not.

And I’m pretty sure I’m in good company when I say the co-parents of the world want to go back to arguing about the regular stuff they used to and take this pandemic schooling discussion completely off the damn table. 

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