One of life’s wonderful quirks is how true beauty is born of brokenness and despair. When my husband of 17 years announced he no longer wanted to be married two weeks before Christmas, I felt strangely detached from the experience. It didn’t seem real, so how could it be? For the sake our 2 children we limped through the holidays, and by the New Year he had moved out, and I was left floundering as though underwater. My senses were bathed in eerie distortion and I held my breath while I clumsily navigated the first few weeks of being the one in charge. It stands to reason since the human body is 60% water; nature had kicked in and was cushioning me from feeling the impact all at once. I was not prepared to be single. I hadn’t been trained for that. In some ways a divorce is like a death, except there are no casseroles filling the freezer or Mass cards being offered in condolence.
Just as so many other little Baby Boom girls born in the South I grew up waiting for my husband. There was never a doubt or fallback plan. So when that husband left, my only real world skills involved driving a minivan, baking birthday cakes, polishing the silver on holidays, spot cleaning pet stains from area rugs and fashioning costumes out of old sweatshirts. No one I knew was divorced. My only references were in movies and books. There was no “What to Expect When You’re not Expecting Your Husband to Walk Out” to guide a novice like me through the initial betrayal and humiliation; no chapter on gracefully attending a child’s soccer game when it isn’t your “weekend.” What I have learned in the last ten years isn’t rocket science, or the stuff of Nobel Prizes, but it might be useful. Maybe if women pooled their experiences, there would be enough information to write such a book detailing the many nuances of divorce.
In my opinion, the very first chapter should begin with reassuring the reader she is not crazy. It is perfectly normal to have the urge to use one’s husband’s favorite shirt to spot clean carpets one minute, and beg his forgiveness for ever considering it while dropping it off at the dry cleaners the next. And while it is amusing in books and urban folklore, filling hollow curtain rods with tuna fish before moving out is not a good idea, if for no other reason than karma. Even if you aren’t feeling it, be magnanimous and take the high road. No one wants to remember themselves ugly. Your frustration is better served in more positive pursuits such as having a mani-pedi while there is still money to pay for such treats. Scheduling dental visits and home and car maintenance is also worthwhile. Aside from being financially prudent, these tasks are a means of keeping busy and serve as forward momentum at a time when crawling into a fetal position is far more appealing.
If there are children involved, a working title for the 2nd and most important chapter might be, “It really does take a village.” Hilary was right. As a do it herself-er, it went against every fiber of my being to accept help. In my mind’s eye, I was a master plate spinner. It was a relief to hand some of those plates to wonderful friends and family members who offered to help. The healthiest, big girl step I made was assembling my team of villagers to insure my kids were as okay as they could be. At the time of my husband’s epiphany we had just moved to Georgia. If I had not relied on “the kindness of strangers” and my parents albeit 3 hours away, my now 17 year old son would still be wearing Velcro shoes and riding a tricycle.
The overwhelming guilt a mom experiences can cause her to do things she wouldn’t ordinarily do. My 3rd piece of advice; never make a decision based on an impulse or after 2 glasses of wine. I learned this lesson the hard way. I had gone to a fund raiser where one of the auction items was a precious German Shepherd puppy. Since I hadn’t felt like eating in weeks, the wine I drank went straight to my head, and left me vulnerable to the charms of a furry face and the desire to return home a hero. Twenty minutes and $400 after my first bid, I left holding a wriggling mass of trouble and regret, but I was too pleased with myself to realize it. Thankfully, several holes in the wooden fence, 2 gnawed table legs, many pairs of devoured shoes, a few deflated soccer balls and 3 Shawshank Redemption style jail breaks had my children begging me not to look for Scout when he made his last mad dash through the 2 inch crack in the door during a tornado warning. Whether real or imagined for several years after his escape, we would catch a glimpse of Scout off in the distance scampering about. After a breakup, I have known parents who have spent money on fabulous trips or cars in an effort to mend their children’s broken hearts. Although, divorce seems the exception, money and live animals, can’t buy you love.
Instead, invest time in hugging your kids and assuring them they are loved. Let them know there is no shame in being a child of divorced parents. In order to do that, the parent left behind must come to believe it. Do whatever it takes to get your kids into counseling, no matter how many times you hear how resilient kids are. The truth is they are fragile, and are entrusted to us for safekeeping. We can’t shield them from the hurt, but we can love them through it. In the end the delicious irony of it all is the only antidote to surviving divorce is love.
If I were to write a book on divorce, there really is no better ending than realizing Happily Ever Afters can be tweaked and reimagined over and over. The secret is to never lose hope. The best way to find love is to be love. Model love for your children. Let them see real love is fierce and gentle, often messy and inconvenient, but most of all beautiful.