Wednesday, April 30, 2014

"Mom, Put On Your Ears": On Paying More Attention

Sometimes when I'm having a hard time falling asleep, I'll start writing blog posts in my head. As made obvious by how infrequently I post, 9 times out of 10, this helps me fall asleep because I'm even boring myself. There are those rare occasions, however, where something sticks and then I actually have to get up out of bed and type it out. Tonight is one of those nights. (And I'm hoping after getting at least this off my brain, I'll have an easier time falling asleep when I head back in to my snoring preschooler).

Liam and I were driving to the store today. I was running through the grocery list in my head, while simultaneously trying not to sing along to "Let It Go," thinking about my to-do list to get ready for celebrating a friend's wedding this weekend, and going over my student conferencing schedule for the next day. Though I hate to admit it, I was doing all of this thinking while Liam was talking to me. In my defense, he was reciting the same lines from Leo the Lightning Bug that he had been saying since we left preschool twenty minutes before, so I thought I was in the clear. But then, from the back of the car, I hear

"Mom, put your ears on."

At first, I had no idea what this meant. Luckily, I'm in the my-kid-is-totally-a-mini-human-being-and-can-articulate-himself-pretty-well stage, so I flat out asked, "What does that mean?"

"You need to listen," he said.

And then he proceeded to pull out the mom trick of whispering his next sentence to make sure I really was, indeed, listening to him.

Though a funny moment (and a later funny Facebook status update) at the time, I really started to think about it while attempting to fall asleep next to his snoring. Liam reminded me today that with the craziness of the end of the semester, news of a new summer course, both exciting and tragic things happening in life, I've not been a very good listener lately.

Sometimes, we can take our kids for granted.

Liam is my constant. He's there (most) every morning when I wake up and (most) every evening when I fall asleep. If I'm not at work and Liam isn't at his dad's house, I'm with him. He's there for stories and dinners and breakfasts and play time and breakfast-for-dinners. He's there when I'm happy, when I'm frustrated, when I'm sad, when I'm tired, when I'm excited -- all of it. And, with not even being four yet, I'm still in the stage where it feels like he always will be a constant. But, the kicker is, he won't.

Right now, I'm his best friend. Right now, he wants to tell me everything, in excruciating detail, that happened at preschool. He'll tell me all of his fears. He'll share all of his joys with me. I get the tears and the laughter. The tantrums and the living room dance parties. But it won't always be like this. Now, I'm not mourning that eventuality -- my whole goal as a parent is to create a responsible, compassionate, functioning ADULT who builds his own life outside of my home -- but that I need to spend more time focusing on the Liam I have now.

I remember when I was pregnant and first had Liam, my thesis advisor told me, "Don't blink." I remember thinking, probably too harshly and jadedly, that those words were some sentimental "mom stuff" I would never feel. However, I blinked and now Liam is four. I'll blink again and he'll be eight. I'll blink again and he'll be a teen. And so on and so on and so on.

So, I'm going to start to try and focus on putting my ears back on. On making my time with Liam, my time with Liam.

Damn, I never thought an almost four-year-old could teach me so much.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

On Divorce: The "You Just Didn't Try Hard Enough" Myth

In late December, my (then) partner and I decided to get a divorce.

The reasons for the divorce are complicated and their own story, one that is between my ex-partner and myself. The Cliff Notes are that for a myriad of reasons, not being together as a couple anymore was the best decision for our family. There were issues on both sides, no one is to blame, and we had A LOT of very important, mature conversations that, frankly, should have happened long before a wedding. A few weeks after my ex moved out, our three and a half year old kid looked at us and said, "thank you for not fighting anymore." I think that explains enough. 

What I feel the need to write about are the reactions. I didn't know what to expect from friends and family (and, as I was soon to find out, strangers). I had kept many of my relationship "issues" away from family, not wanting to harm our image as a couple should we work things out, so it came as a surprise to some of them. Though, for the most part, family and friends (especially) have been supportive, there is a certain rhetoric around divorce that really started to bother me.

"Marriage is hard. You just need to try harder."

I understand where this statement comes from. We live in a culture of seventy-two day marriages, marriages for money, marriages for fame -- there is this idea that marriage isn't taken "seriously" anymore, or that committed relationships in general aren't taken seriously anymore. However, the "marriage is hard" argument has become overused, and when dealing with someone who has tried and tried and realizes that their family is heading down a dark path and divorce is the only way out, a very hurtful and damaging statement.

Marriage IS hard. It's hard living with someone, communicating with someone, making your needs and desires known, sharing a life -- talking about finances, the "boring, adult" stuff. All of that is hard. And marriage takes compromise. It takes each person waking up every morning and choosing to make the relationship work. However, compromise is different than sacrifice. What I found myself doing was sacrificing fundamental parts of myself to try and make the relationship work. I don't blame my ex for this, I did that to myself, but I somehow had lost myself in an effort to do the "right thing" and all it did was hurt my partner and my son. And "hard" is different than "difficult" or a "constant uphill battle." Yes, there will be arguments and disagreements, but every day shouldn't be a battle. Every day shouldn't feel like either walking on eggshells or trudging through a foot of mud. 

Had I realized that earlier, I would have saved us both a lot of pain.

When I first started telling people about the divorce, a lot of response I got was that "choosing love" idea. But it takes two people for a relationship to work. It takes trust, communication, openness, and honesty -- things my ex and I had lost or never had. 

Divorce is an incredibly personal, difficult decision. And, what it comes down to, is that no one, but the people in it, knows the dynamics of the relationship. When we first made the decision, I had my week of crying, of freaking out, of feeling lost. But then I gathered myself up and starting working towards making the best life I can for myself and my kid. Many people took my pragmatic, positive attitude as either not caring or the divorce being solely my decision. If I've learned anything from becoming a mother, and now going through a divorce, it's that I can't control how other people act or what they say, but I can control how I react and how those things make me feel.

I know there are a lot of people out there who are disappointed in me. Who maybe think I didn't try hard enough. But, over the last few months, I have felt a sense of relief, of a weight lifted off my shoulders. I've been a better mother -- more patient and understanding. My kid has had less emotional breakdowns at school, has been a better listener, and has overall had a more positive attitude. That tension in the home is gone. I would rather my kid have two parents that are separated, but happy, than parents who try to stay together "for the kid" and spend their relationship miserable and fighting.

Now, instead, we are attempting to co-parent from separate households -- both still very active in our son's life. My ex may not be my husband anymore, but he always and forever will be our son's dad, and we will always be our son's parents. And he still is, as he always has been, an incredible father.

So, yes, I've become part of a statistic. But I'm learning that it's okay for me to do what I know is best for my family, despite what others think. It all goes back to that old metaphor about putting on your own oxygen mask first. I don't think that's selfish. If I am going to be a good mom (and eventually a good partner again), I need to make sure I'm taking care of myself, too -- that includes physical, emotional, and intellectual needs. 

I know I'll hold a stigma -- maybe only for a little while, maybe forever -- but I have learned more about myself, love, and relationships over the past four years than I ever have in my life. For that I am thankful. 

And I know that if a friend ever comes to me in the same situation, I won't fall back on "marriage is hard," or "well, did you try?" or "love is a choice." Instead, I'll offer support. I'll be someone to listen. I'll help with a new budget, or childcare, or going out for drinks -- whatever that person needs. The best response I ever heard was, "I'm sorry this happened to you. What can I do to be supportive?"