BIG Family

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I have a big family. No seriously, I mean a BIG family.

There are 6 children in my family, so that right there my family is probably bigger than your average family. Start counting up spouses and children and it keeps on growing. My parents have 13 grandchildren, and they are now getting older and having spouses of their own.

But my family doesn’t stop there. My mom has 3 siblings and on her side of the family alone I have 14 first cousins. Which is big, but they are not the kind of first cousins who I see only randomly and on rare occasion. They are first cousins who I still know very well and, for the most part, see on a regular basis.

I am very fortunate that when we were growing up we had a family place where we could all go. My grandfather bought a lake house where we spent a lot of time during the summer. You never had to worry about going to someone else’s house. It was a shared place that we all took responsibility for. Everyone just went whenever they could. Which for me meant almost every weekend of the summer.

The 14 of us cousins were close growing up. But that only accounts for some of the cousins I had. My mom’s aunts and uncles, and her cousins also came to the lake house during the summer. Not as frequently, but still fairly regularly and always for the 4th of July.

The 4th of July at the lake was a big tradition. We had an annual lobster/ clambake. I’ve only missed it once in my life. My relatives would come from all over. Sometimes we would only see these relatives at the lake for the clambake, but we knew that once a year we would all get together.

And the tradition still continues. This year, if you live on the east coast you would know there was an extra uninvited guest on the 4th of July, hurricane Arthur. Despite the rain and the fact that the best part of being at the lake is being outside, we still had our clambake. Not everyone could make it, but many of us did.

Let me try to put into perspective just how big my family is. Despite the fact that my brother (who does the ordering of the lobsters) did a pretty accurate count of who would be there and who would eat lobster, we had 20 extra lobsters. Yes, I said 20 extra lobsters.

Yeah, I have a big family.

Intentional Distraction

Going through divorce is not easy. No part of it is easy. Even when you are the one asking for the divorce, it still isn’t easy.

So the day of my divorce hearing in court finally arrived (the one that actually happened after nine months of cancelled court dates for one reason or another).

I work in a junior high school so I go to work very early. Instead of taking the whole day off from work, I went into school in the morning, got the day started, went to a meeting, then left work and went to court.

There are so many meetings and discussions and sidebar conversations that happen before actually going into court that I sat in the lobby anxiously waiting my turn in court and checked my phone. Several friends sent me encouraging text messages such as:
“Hang in there.”
“Good luck.”
“Hope all goes well.”
“Let me know how it goes.”
“Take care.”
And, of course the obligatory, “Hugs”

Then I get another text, “Sorry I missed your text yesterday, Hope you enjoyed the sunny day.”

Totally random. Totally off the point. Totally made me smile. It made me think about the other “stuff” going on in life. Like the nice weather we were having and the fact that I have awesome friends who were thinking of me.

After several meetings between the lawyers and getting everything signed and agreed upon before going into court, it is finally our turn. It goes about as smoothly as it can for a divorce.

I’m feeling emotionally beat up and exhausted. I head back to work and get myself ready to finish up the day.

As the day is ending, a friend from work comes to see me and ask how everything went that day. I start to explain, then stop and say, “I got the most random text from your husband today while I was waiting at court.”

My friend breaks out into a huge, mischievous smile. “What did he say?”

“It was just totally random, replying to my text from yesterday and talking about the weather. It caught me off guard, and made me laugh.”

“Perfect. We planned it that way. Thought you could use the distraction.”

And then I smiled too. My friends are awesome. They think about me enough to intentionally distract me on one of the most difficult days of my life. They intentionally plan to send me a random text to take my mind off of the seriousness of the situation.

Divorce is still not easy. Even now that it is over, it is not easy. But my friends and the amazing people in my life make it a little easier by helping me focus on the good “stuff” that is going on in my life.

When is enough enough?

I love football. This might not have come across in my earlier posts or my blog bio, but I do. I love football. I listen almost exclusively to sports talk radio and so, of course, I have been hearing a lot about Ray Rice and the domestic violence issue and the reaction, or lack of reaction, from the NFL.

The first problem that I keep hearing relating to this particular situation is that people keep comparing it to players who are being fined and suspended for PED or drug use, which is an inequitable comparison. For better or worse, right or wrong, the NFL does a have a drug abuse policy with set guidelines for punishment and they do not have one for domestic violence situations. 

The other common argument that I am hearing is that the league needs some type of policy for arrests, while that is probably true, I still do not believe that this will address the domestic violence issue. While I do not claim to be an expert on this particular situation or to know all the facts around it, what I have seen in the video, what I have heard and through my own experience, it does seem to be a classic case of domestic violence. And there is an inherent conflict with domestic violence and pressing charges that lead to arrest.

One of the suggestions I heard related to punishments was that they league should wait until they have an arrest, charges or a conviction. That concerns me specifically in relation to domestic violence. This puts the pressure back on the woman for pressing charges, which is exactly what the police and domestic violence advocates don’t support. The problem is that then the woman feels responsible, and that perpetuates the cycle of abuse.

One of two things would typically happen.

1) He will promise it will never happen again, she will believe him, and she will not press charges. But then it will happen again. Because that is how the cycle of abuse works.

2) She does press charges, then he faces suspension or fines based on her pressing charges, she feels guilty, he is angry, and it happens again. Because that is how the cycle of abuse works.

No good outcomes from either situation. This is why most domestic violence advocates push for laws that take the decision out of her hands. The police file charges whether she wants to or not. But so much of domestic violence is not even seen or reported.

The Ray Rice video with his then fiancée happened to be caught on camera at a casino. If that was caught on camera, in an elevator, a fairly public place, what do you think happens behind closed doors?

As a survivor of domestic violence, it is scary. The terror of living in that kind of a situation is all consuming and, for me, I just wanted it to end. It is hard to see your way out of it. I didn’t press charges. Maybe I should have, but I didn’t. I left. I protected myself and my family.

But was that enough?

Is it ever enough?

What will be “enough” of a punishment to (hopefully) make a difference to Ray Rice and make him stop treating his wife this way?

What is “enough” of a punishment for the NFL to make a stand to say they won’t tolerate domestic violence?

And when do we, as a society, say Enough is Enough.

Safe place

In the midst of my divorce last year, when I had realized it was bad, but hadn’t quite figured out what to do about it, I had a few friends at work who I could talk to and trust. I still didn’t fully explain everything to them at the time because it was too hard to admit all of it, but they knew that things at home were rough and that I was having a hard time.

One of my friends who was always very kind and supportive of me and knew some of the basics of what was going on at home happened to walk past me in the hallway. He could tell just by looking at me that something was wrong.

He stopped me and asked, “Is everything ok?”

I put on a smile, like I always did, said “yes” but shook my head “no” as my eyes welled up with tears and my hands began shaking.

He knew I couldn’t get into the details in the hallway at school, so he didn’t push me, he just said, “Is there anything I can do for you?”

Half as a joke and half because I was terrified about going home that night I replied, “Can me and my boys stay at your house if we need a safe place to go?”

Immediately, without hesitation, he answered, “Of course.”

 

The next morning, he came to find me. He said he went home to his spouse and without going into detail about what was going on with me, he asked his spouse if my sons and I could stay at their house if we needed to. His spouse, who hadn’t even met my children or me yet said, “I’ll go make the beds.” No questions, no complaints, just support.

They probably never even thought twice about the offer for us to stay with them, but I did. I thought about it all the time. I thought about it when I was truly scared that I would have no place to keep my sons and myself safe. I thought about it when the thought of going home gave me anxiety attacks so powerful that I couldn’t breathe.  I thought about it when I was trying to figure out what I was going to do next.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but that conversation was a turning point for me. Just knowing that I had a safe place to go (one my ex-husband didn’t know about and wouldn’t suspect) made me that much stronger. I had reached a point in my marriage that I knew that things couldn’t go on like they were, but I didn’t know how to change them or how to get out. I had been afraid that if I confronted him he wouldn’t leave, or he wouldn’t let me leave. And if we did manage to leave, I didn’t know where we could go.

Admitting to someone else that I might need a safe place to be to get away from my husband – the man who was supposed to love and protect me – made me realize I needed to do something about it, and soon. So that night I went home and packed an emergency bag for my two sons and me. I packed a toiletries bag and some school/ work clothes, pajamas and play clothes. I put the bag in the trunk of my car, knowing that we now had a safe place to go if we needed it.

We never needed to stay at their house. My husband did leave when I confronted him. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. But I survived, and I am stronger for it.

I am in a different place now, both physically and emotionally. And because of my amazing friends, I know that I still have a safe place to go when I need it. Now it is more of an emotionally safe place than a physically safe place, but everybody needs a safe place to go sometimes.

Where is your safe place?

It’s the strangest things…

Sometimes it’s the strangest things that get to you, and you can’t always predict what it is.

I hurt my back. I was in a car accident 20 years ago, a pretty significant one in which my elbow was crushed and my tricep was severed. It was as gruesome as it sounds. And the lasting effects have been just as bad. Ever since then the strength in my arm hasn’t been the same and about a month ago the pain in my back was so bad I ended up at the ER.

Today, I went back to physical therapy to address my back pain and try to strengthen and my arm. My doctor recommended this new physical therapy place and told me that she really liked the woman who owned the place. So for whatever reason I assumed I would be meeting with a woman for my physical therapy. But it wasn’t. It was a man.

The receptionist told me that “he” would be with me shortly and for some reason my breath caught and my heart started beating faster. I couldn’t really identify why, but I was shaking. So I stopped freaking out and forced myself to think logically about what was going on.

Then it hit me, my ex. He hated when I talked to men and he would have hated that my physical therapist was a man. He would have hated that this man was going to touch me, albeit in a professional manner, he would have freaked. And that is why I was freaking. 

I’ve been to PT several times over the past few years and when I first got the referral my ex-husband (we were married at the time) freaked out because my physical therapist was a man, a young man to be exact. So even though the PT helped, I began creating excuses as to why I couldn’t go so that my husband would be mad at me.

When I had to go to PT again, I made sure I had a woman therapist, which was fine, because she was awesome, but it was kind of stupid of me. But that was the kind of thing that I did. I always tried to manipulate the situation so that he wouldn’t get upset with me.

So here I am sitting in the office of my new physical therapist, a man, realizing that when I get home at night, no one is going to grill me about him, or about what he did, or if he touched me, or if I liked him, or make me feel bad about it. I could, very innocently go to a physical therapist and get help and not feel bad about it.

So that’s what I did. And I’m going back again next week…

No more secrets

In mid-March it happened again. He got mad. Threatened me. Harassed me. Controlled me. But this time a friend noticed that I was upset. He walked into my office and saw me in tears. I couldn’t say anything when he asked what was wrong. I just shook my head. And I lied. I said it was no big deal. I said it was nothing. But he knew it was something. He didn’t push, but later he gently prodded and was there to listen when I was finally ready to talk.  

When I first spoke about the reality of the marriage that I was living in. It became so much more real saying it out loud, so much more obvious how horrible and how wrong it was. But in another way, it was also freeing. I didn’t have to hide it any more. Some one else looked at my situation and justified for me that this relationship was not normal, that I deserved to be treated better.

I clung to that and began to see the destruction. It wasn’t until May that I actually did something about it and it was really just the simplest of things: I stopped.

I stopped covering.

I stopped conceding.

And I stopped hiding.

 

And then I started.

I started talking.

As I talked and as I looked back on the past I realized all of the things that I covered for and all of the things that I denied and all of the things that I justified in order to stay in the marriage. I felt like I deserved it. If only I could have been better, or not upset him or not done something then it wouldn’t happen. I felt like I had done something wrong. I felt like I was a failure because I couldn’t make it work.

But sometimes, it’s not about me. Sometimes it’s just bigger than me. And this time it was about him and his actions, not me at all. I couldn’t control it. I couldn’t control him. And it wasn’t my fault.

There, I said it, I wasn’t my fault. I’m sure I will need to say it over and over again before I really believe it, but it’s true. I couldn’t fix it and I couldn’t change it. I couldn’t change him. But I could change things for myself. I could get myself, and my sons out of this situation.

And that’s what I did; I got out. And every day I reassure myself that I did the right thing, that I’m strong enough to do this, and that it wasn’t my fault.  I know I have a long way to go to heal all of the wounds that I have. But I’m trying my best, everyday, to be strong and move on.

 

Unrevealed…

“Unrevealed until its season…”

In church today we sang a song that hit me for some reason.

In the bulb there is a flower

In the seed, an apple tree;

In cocoons, a hidden promise;

Butterflies will soon be free.

In the cold and snow of winter

There’s a spring that waits to be,

Unrevealed until its season,

Something God alone can see.

In the Bulb there is a Flower – by Natalie Sleeth

The song was so beautiful and it made me stop and think about myself. I know that I am a work in progress. I know that I’m not finished and I think that in many ways I too am “unrevealed”. I’m hoping that my time will come and that I will be able to bloom into something amazing.

I’m certainly working on it. Starting this blog has been quite an adventure for me. I never really thought of myself as much of a writer. I guess that’s a family thing. We are math and science people, but we never really focused much on writing. I never thought I was a great writer (I still don’t think I’m a great writer, but I find pleasure and comfort in my writing, that I’m going to keep doing it). But to my own surprise I find joy in writing and sharing experiences with people. I hope that you find some joy in reading what I write and maybe you will be there when my time comes to be revealed.

 

Leaving Denial

It was late January and I was headed off to a meeting, just a typical after-school professional development (PD) meeting for my teachers. As the principal of a junior high school I arrange a variety of PD activities for my staff. Some are required by state law, some are required by my district, and some are things that, as educators, we just need to learn more about and address with our students.

This PD was some combination of all of the above. The topic was “Healthy/Unhealthy Relationships: Teen Dating Violence Workshop.” I will admit that I was looking forward to this particular PD. Sometimes the topic just hits home and you know how important it is, for everyone.

The presenter had a personal connection to teen dating violence and she spoke with a passion and understanding that came from that connection. She lost her daughter to a controlling and abusive boyfriend who took his obsession too far and killed her. She was a health teacher and now she speaks to teachers throughout the state to help educate them about the warning signs of abusive relationships. And, hopefully, we can use this information to identify warning signs in the students we work with and help them to see the warning signs too.

But sometimes those warning signs are seen a little closer to home then we want to admit.

While I was sitting at the meeting listening to her talk about unhealthy and controlling relationships, I sat with my cell phone in my lap checking my messages because my husband at the time would often text me and if I didn’t respond within a few minutes, he would become angry and send more demanding and insistent texts. He would ask where I was, what I was doing, who I was with. Even though I was legitimately at work doing my job, I knew he would get mad if I didn’t respond to him.

While I listened to the simply stated cycle of abuse the presenter explained, I could no longer deny it. It all started to make sense, but I didn’t know what to do with it. I had lived in denial of the abuse for so long that I didn’t want to see it. I couldn’t see it, because if I did see it and recognize it, then I would have to admit the life that I was living and leave this lovely land of denial that I had become so comfortable in.

So I continued to hold it in and tried to make things calm and peaceful, like I had tried to do for so many years. I figured that if I didn’t rock the boat, then he wouldn’t get upset and then I wouldn’t be afraid of what would happen next. Then maybe I could continue to believe that the abuse wasn’t my reality, again.

But the abuse was bigger than me. I was finally beginning to realize that I couldn’t control someone else’s behavior and reactions. I was finally beginning to realize that I couldn’t make it all better.

Listening to the presenter, the message had been heard and now I couldn’t un-hear it. I kept thinking about what she said and realized I had to do something. The abuse was emotional, but it was just as strong, just as controlling, and just a terrifying as physical abuse. Every time my phone would buzz and the text messages would start, I could hear the presenter’s voice in my head saying that the excessive texting was a way of controlling.

I knew it, I heard it, but I didn’t want to believe it.

 

The Land of Denial…

Here I am in the midst of a beautiful east coast summer, unwinding from the busy school year, taking a breath, and reflecting on where I am now, and where I’m going.

I am a principal of a middle school. I love my job and I love being a principal. I recently got an extension on my contract. I love my school, I love my teachers – they are an amazing support to me, and I absolutely love working with middle school kids – they are the best. So professional life is good – check.

I’m a PhD student. I recently completed three years of course work, with an amazingly strong cohort of six (including me) women. Each of us are conducting our research in a wide variety of areas. My research topic is still being refined, but it has become more doable, more applicable, and, in all honestly, more interesting to me. Academic & intellectual life – check.

I’m a mom. I have two amazing sons. My oldest son graduated from high school and just finished his first year of college. He’s an outstanding young man. He amazes me with his kindness and generosity, as well as his wit and humor. My younger son is in elementary school, just completed fourth grade probably ready to go to college too, but he’s going to have to wait. He’s smart. He’s funny. He’s handsome. He’s outgoing in ways that I could never be. They are the loves of my life. And yes, they are both momma’s boys. Being a good mom – check.

Then I guess that only leaves the love life/ romantic part of my life, and truth be told that is a huge mess. I feel like this is the part of my life I can’t seem to get right no matter how hard I try. But I’m stubborn and I’m not going to give up. I look back on my life a few years ago and it was completely different. At that time, I was living in the beautiful land of denial. The land where everything is wonderful and, well, if not perfect, at least pretty darn good, or so it seemed.

But it is unfortunately not a real place to live, at least not forever.