I know that someday you'll find better things.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


I’m not sure anyone knows the perfect thing to say when they hear news of an impending divorce. Statistically speaking, we have more opportunities than ever to practice responding in a socially acceptable and supportive way, but it is still hard to know the best way to proceed aloud.

When I got divorced, the comment I encountered most frequently was this:

“Really? That’s such a shame. So there’s no chance of staying together? Did you really try?”

The try part was usually delivered with the same tone of suspicion reserved for young children’s restroom visits.

But I wasn’t preparing for a long car trip, and I wasn’t readying myself to step into a snowsuit, so the accusatory intonation, no matter how mild, stung.

Marriages are over long before anyone files paperwork at the county courthouse.
Marriages end, I think, before most people even feel comfortable sharing the true nature of their situation with even the closest of family and friends.

It is so SO far past the try stage.

To a degree, the path of getting divorced is perhaps more challenging than staying in a dysfunctional marriage. Choosing an attorney, dividing assets, paperwork, making new living arrangements, packing—it’s pretty overwhelming. If kids factor into the equation, multiply that responsibility by a zillion.

Staying put in a loveless marriage?
Definitely easier.
Sadder, though.

Staying seems easier.
Staying solves nothing.

If you want to get divorced, you have to be really brave. You have to summon strength you didn’t know you had. You have to make a permanent decision. You have to grow a tough exterior—quickly—to shield your heart from the “Did you really try?” questions that you’ll undoubtedly face.

Which is why, when I learn of impending divorces of close friends, I say this:
“I am so proud of you. I am so very proud of your awareness, and your courage, and your strength.”

And if the friend has kids, the celebration continues, for that friend has chosen to model happiness and hope for love. Isn’t that what we would want for our own kids, in their future? I would never, ever want our kids to feel socially compelled to remain in a loveless marriage.

And if the person is not a close friend, I say this:
“I’m sure this has been very stressful for you, and I hope things are more peaceful for you soon.”

And if I don’t know the person at all—a celebrity, maybe, or a politician—I say nothing out loud. Their private lives deserve the same respect that mine does.

But in my head and my heart, I’m thinking
I am so proud of you. I am so very proud of your awareness, and your courage, and your strength.
I’m sure this has been very stressful for you, and I hope things are more peaceful for you soon.

Good, Better, Best

“Have a better day,” the cashier said.

I contemplated that. 
Not a good day, like so many people bid us as we move through our daily existence.
Not the best day, either. That would be presumptuous—best is somewhat sacred.

Best not to spend that top-spot billing on a Tuesday that involved a trip to the supermarket, the gas station, and the post office.

A better day.
Better than what? Did I look like I wasn't having a good day? I wondered briefly if I should be offended, but I quickly dismissed the thought.
Better than it had been prior to this conversation?

What did she mean?

Maybe I was over-thinking this. Better is superior to good without the responsibility of best.

If this was her intention, I liked it.

I hope my day lived up to her request.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Dirty Dog Dilemmas

 “It’s all we can do to keep our kids alive,” Russ jokes-but-not-really, because he’s telling the truth.

Kids and pets are a lot of work, and because we already have so many kids, we made the choice to be a pet-free home. Every so often, the kids will beg for a pet, but we’ve had too many failed attempts in our personal pasts to go down that path again.

I had a pet during my first marriage. My then-husband had raised dogs for hunting and for shows when he was young, and he said he felt his life was incomplete without canine companionship.

“I don’t know, dogs need a lot of attention, and we’re never around,” I’d said.
He assured me we’d figure something out.

“I don’t know, dogs are pretty hairy. Wouldn’t it shed everywhere?” I persisted.
He assured me there were special breeds that didn’t shed.

“Yup. They’re called,” he paused.

Was it for dramatic effect, or was it to send up a silent prayer for forgiveness for the words that would soon leave his lips?

“…Labrador retrievers.”
“Gosh, I didn’t realize they didn’t shed. Well, in that case, okay I guess…”

And THAT is how a ten-week-old polar-cub-white pup named Stoli joined our family.

As it turns out, Labrador retrievers DO shed.
They shed A LOT.

Every day I would sweep that house—several times—cursing the heaps of fluff and marveling that the dang dog had any fur left on his little body.

“Oo-la-la Labrador retrievers are magical mammals that don’t shed,” I’d mimic, muttering just out of earshot of both man and beast.

Fed up, I finally put the dog outside in the backyard. It was a lovely backyard with tons of room to run around. We’d built him a house. He had a kiddie pool filled with water if he wanted to take a dip, and a big tree if he wanted to nap in the shade.

I checked on him periodically.
He seemed happy.
He was filthy!
The house, on the other hand, was spotless. It was great!

We developed a routine, we did.
On the days the man was home with the pup, the dog stayed in. Dirty house, clean dog.
On the days I was home with the pup, the dog was out. Clean house, dirty dog.

Now before any dog-loving pals disown me, you should understand that my reluctant attitude toward dogs is not my own fault. It’s the way I was raised—and years of behavioral conditioning can be difficult to reverse.

I wasn’t always opposed to dogs. In fact, I remember begging my parents for a dog.
My mother said no.
It seemed that the cleaning lady was deathly afraid of dogs.

“Would you rather have a clean house or a dog?”
“Well, I want a clean house, and we can’t have both.” And my vote counts double, she did not add.


So eventually, when my marriage ended, I got custody of the kid and he got custody of the dog, which we both felt was fair. This meant I could have Clean House all the time. In theory, anyway.

Our house isn’t spotless all the time, but we don’t have a dog fur problem, either.

My whole life, I’ve been told that nobody can have it all, and this has proven true in the case of Clean House, Dirty Dog.

I suppose you could make it work if you’re willing to spend all of your time cleaning up after the dog, in which case you’ll probably go crazy. I’m guessing that would have its own set of drawbacks.

Clean House, Dirty Dog is not an isolated phenomenon.
I’m finding this Stay-At-Home Mom adventure is following a similar course.

We wanted our kids to have nutritious home-packed lunches, home-cooked dinners, an opportunity to play and participate in activities after school, a clean and organized home, and an available parent when the school nurse inevitably calls, but we found that we didn’t have time when we were both teaching. Now that I’m home, we have all of the above, but with one income, we don’t have money for restaurant meals or pretty much anything beyond our basic needs.

The first month was exhilarating—the challenge was fresh, the coupons were plentiful, and the bank account was still robust.

The second month was a bit discouraging. I ran out of Clinique Sparkle Skin—the best exfoliator in the world—and I really, really had a hankering for Kenny’s Wood-fired Grill and those perfect little seared tenderloin morsels atop crisp rounds of crostini with dollops of béarnaise and a delightful demi-glace that you’d drink from a mug were it socially acceptable. I also discovered the downside of the Dollar Store—some things aren’t really a value, and some of the products aren’t even worth a dollar.

I was so frustrated about the things I wanted but couldn’t have that I wasn’t mindful or appreciative of the blessings I did have.

Yup, that second month was a doozy.

Here we are at the end of the third month, though, and things have leveled out. I’ve found a sense of balance, and with that, a sense of peace. Like the Dirty Dog Dilemma—and like almost everything in life—nobody can have it all. Choices must be made to support priorities.

Our family chose this path, and we knew it would come with sacrifices. If Clinique and Kenny’s were so important to me, I could have chosen a different path. It’s comical to picture myself saying to the kids, “Sorry, guys, but you’re going to have to go to afterschool care for the rest of the year—Mommy needs Sparkle Skin exfoliator.” When I allow myself to visualize that alter-universe, it helps focus the lens on my genuine priorities.

I know I’m not alone in my out-of-balance situation. I suspect that there are lots of people out there who are fighting a battle between what they want and what they have. There are probably dog-lovers out there who are frustrated by their fur-filled homes, but oh how empty their hearts would be if they were willing to part with their pups. For them, it’s better to find peace with the “extra décor”.

If you ever find yourself in the style of dilemma, my advice to you is this. Take a moment to reflect on what you do have and what you might lose if you pursued that other tempting possibility. Most people default to good choices, I think, and you are probably already surrounded by all kinds of wonderful things that might be sacrificed if you pursued other options. You’ve probably already made the hard decisions; it’s just a matter of acknowledging to yourself that you chose this path because it supports your values.

And if, during analysis, you discover that your path doesn’t support your values, remember that you always have the opportunity to change.

Ground Turkey

Ground turkey has come a long way. I remember when it was first invented—my mother (yes, the same woman who’d purchase Hebrew National brand hotdogs, reasoning that they were “safer” because they were blessed by a rabbi, and no, we’re not Jewish) tried to sneak it in to every beefy meal.

No matter how long she cooked it, it was always pink and squishy.

I don’t know how they are making it nowadays, nor do I want to, but I am ever so thankful for the improvements. I now sneak it into my family’s meals several times each week, and they don’t appear to notice at all.

Saturday, December 1, 2012


Imagine my surprise when Mia’s preschool teacher pulled me aside at pickup time to conference about some concerns. The words “conference” and “concerns” seemed so schooly and official—not really what I’d expected from a child care center, even if “Learning” was in its title.

“Is there something going on at home?” the teacher asked. I was immediately grateful for her gentle, quiet tone. I was also completely flummoxed by the question.

I’d been the teacher who’d asked that question before, usually when a student was having violent or emotional outbursts, or clawing at his or her paper with a pencil, making deep gashes in the notebook.

“Um,” I replied, still so puzzled by the question that I wasn’t even self-conscious about my inability to be articulate. “Uh… hmm…” I stalled. “Well. Ah, hmmm. I can’t really…um…think of anything,” I stammered. Jeez, this was becoming painful.

“You see, Mia has always had such a joyful spirit. She’s always brought such a happy energy and enthusiasm to our class.”

Where on earth was this going, I wondered.

“For the last three weeks or so, she hasn’t smiled. She hasn’t really wanted to play with the other kids, either. Have you noticed this at home, too?”

I had not noticed this at home.
I hadn’t noticed anything at home.
My ears filled with what could only be the sound of my soul shattering.

I was so stressed out from that situation at school—from trying to document accommodations and adapt lessons and create visual aids and reinforcements and research the best ways to reach “twice-identified” special ed gifted learners (while still meeting the needs of the other 80 kids) that I hadn’t interacted with the family in…

…at least three weeks. Probably more, to be completely honest.

The only time that I ever really saw them was at the dinner table, which I routinely had to excuse myself from due to spontaneously bursting into tears if my mind had wandered toward all the additional work that the evening would entail.

Until that point, I hadn’t really thought about how my stress was impacting the family. I knew it was hurting me—I was hardly eating or sleeping, and the gripping panic attacks were definitely taking their toll on my health—but I was so consumed by the situation that I didn’t even consider the ways it might be affecting my family.

This could not continue. I knew I had to make some serious changes as soon as possible.

I’ll always be grateful to that preschool teacher for giving me the wake-up call I so desperately needed. If she’d been the kind of person who only took action for the big things—violent or emotional outbursts, paper clawing—who knows how long and how far things might’ve spiraled out of control?

We are definitely on the road to recovery. The proof is in Mia’s smile as she skips out of kindergarten at the end of the school day. And because I’m a stay-at-home-mom now, I get to be right there to see and appreciate that joyful spirit that I’d previously only heard about.