Better late than never??

Watching him glance at the door between every punch during karate class.

Sensing him get increasingly anxious as the week goes on in anticipation of his dad showing up or not.

Having to join the “regular” class instead of the father / child class because his dad didn’t make it on time.

Trying to help him hope for the best but not be disappointed if it doesn’t happen is heartbreaking.
But as his mom, that’s my job.

This week at karate class my son had a father/ child karate class. Having divorced parents and not living with his dad, an activity like this brings a heightened level of stress and anticipation.

I tried to start early. I told my ex about the day. Told him that his son was looking forward to having him there. Tried to convey the importance. I told my son that we would try our best but sometimes dad was busy and might not be able to make it (still making excuses for him).

My son was anxious and irritated all week. Not sure what his dad would say. Not sure what would happen. And not sure how to say all the things he is feeling.

He said he would go.

I tried to encourage them to spend some time together before or after karate class. I tried to arrange for him to pick him up and bring him so they could go together. His dad said he couldn’t do that.

On the way to karate I get the text. “Running late”.

Class begins and they ask kids with their dads to go to one place and kids without their dad’s to go to another part of the mat.

As he begins class in the other part of the mat, he watches the door. Glancing over his shoulder between each punch, kick, move. Mouthing to me “where is he?” Waiting. Watching. Hoping.

His dad does come. 15 minutes late. But better late than never; right?

After karate he asked his dad and his girlfriend if they could do something together. They said “no”. He asked when he would see them again. They said “soon”. He thanked them for coming. They gave him some stuff they bought him. And they left, 15 short minutes after they arrived.

My son packed up his karate bag came over to me, gave me a big hug, and said, “Father / son karate was fun. But I liked mother / son karate better.”

I beamed. Me too buddy, me too.

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Together

I looked up the antonym for alone the other day and it was together, or accompanied. I have worried and stressed about being alone. I am not currently in a relationship and my ex is already living with someone else and has a new family with them. But last weekend I realized that I wasn’t as alone as I thought I was.

My son had has play, The Wizard of Oz. it was great fun. I went to all three shows (it’s what moms do). On Friday night we had 9 people at the show: me, a good friend from out of state who came all the way to see him, my son and his girlfriend who drove over two hours from college, a friend from work and her husband, a friend from church and her daughter and my pastor. It was such a great, warm feeling to have so many people there.

On Saturday afternoon 11 people were there: me (again), my parents, brother, another brother and sister-in-law, my niece and her husband, another niece, and a friend from work and her son. My son’s social studies teacher also came to see him.

On Saturday night I knew my ex was going with his girlfriend. I asked another friend from work to go with me. My son’s best friend since kindergarten and her mom also came. The whole weekend was great. He had so many people, there for him and I felt the opposite of alone, I felt surrounded. I felt surrounded by love, by friends, by, people and by caring.

And on Saturday night when I saw him with his girlfriend I recognized the look in her eyes. The fear and controlling that comes with spending time with him. I saw the uncertainty in her eyes of being in public with him. He could be so volatile, and unpredictable, and sometimes just down right mean.

And then I thought about how I felt all weekend. I didn’t feel the fear of upsetting him. I didn’t feel the hesitation of him controlling me. I didn’t feel the uneasiness of having my family around and having him be upset about it. And I didn’t feel alone.

surrounded

I realized that without him controlling who I spent time with and him limiting who I could be friends with, I have surrounded myself with a wonderful support system. It took some time to learn to let them in and accept the support and love from my friends, but I now realized that I am not alone.

And I’m happy.

Relationships

I work with junior high school students. There is one student who I have worked with quite a lot this year. I have been working with her on helping to help her deal with a difficult situation that she faced last year. But sometimes, I think she’s the one helping me.

We were talking today about the abusive and controlling relationship she was in last year. She has worked hard to get beyond this relationship and learn to trust again. But she is currently having a disagreement with her parents about the concept of dating and they are telling her that maybe she shouldn’t be dating at all. Her response to me was that she shouldn’t be punished and not allowed to date anymore because she dated the wrong guy.

As often happens, our conversations typically stay with me long after we have finished talking. I am divorced, actually I’ve been divorced twice and I have just started thinking about dating again. I tend to be a little bit (ok, probably a lot) negative about dating and relationships just assuming that I am not very good at it and I have a bit of a defeatist attitude.

But as I began to reflect on my conversation with this student today I thought that maybe it wasn’t me, but that I picked the wrong guy (s). I shouldn’t “punish” myself or not date again, just because I messed up in the past but that maybe I should give myself another chance and try to learn to trust again.

So rather than give up completely on the idea of finding companionship with someone and closing myself off before really giving it a chance, maybe I need to take a chance on relationships and give myself another try at finding the right guy or at least being open to the idea.

Valentine’s Day tears

Sobbing. Bawling, Tearing up. Weeping. Welling up.

There are a lot of different ways to describe crying.

Being in my 40s I kind of through that a simple holiday like Valentine’s Day would no longer have the power to make me cry, but this year it did. Twice.

First though, it was tears of joy.tears of joy

I am the principal of a middle school and one of my sweet 8th grade girls created some Valentine’s Day fortunes for her friends. I saw one on another girl’s plate and it read:

“I’m dieting this Valentine’s Day, so I’m accepting diamonds instead of chocolate”

Very cute, very fun, and very appropriate.

So she asked me if I wanted one. I asked if they were “principal appropriate.” She smiled and said “Mostly.” I guess I could have walked away at that point, but they were cute and she really is a good kid. So I pick out a Valentine’s fortune. As I read it, the girls next to me starts reading it too and we burst out laughing.

The one I picked read:

“Wishing you a happy Valentine’s Day from the bottom of my boobs. I would say my heart but my boobs are bigger.”

We were all cracking up. I’m not sure whose face was redder – hers or mine.

She tells me to pick another one. So I do. And it read:

“I’m only in this relationship for your cute butt.”

I hand it back to her. The entire table is now hysterical. Tears are rolling down my face from laughing so hard. “Those are the only 2 that were bad at all.” She promises me, but I tell her I’m all done with her Valentine’s fortunes.

She frantically finds me another one that says:

“Yay! Valentine’s Day! That means discounted chocolate the day after.” I smile wiping the tears of laughter from my eyes.

While that moment of crying was a good one. My next Valentine’s Day tears were not shed in joy. I woke up at 5:00 in the morning and couldn’t fall back to sleep. That’s not usually a good sign for me. It’s when I start to think too much, and that’s exactly what happened.

I began to think about Valentine’s Day and being part of a couple, which I am not. And I started to get sad, really sad, about being alone.

And I cried. A heart wrenching, sobbing, all out bawling cry.tears

I hate being alone. I am afraid I will never have someone to share my life with, to share myself with. I am afraid I’m a burden to my friends. I’m sad that I feel so damaged that no one will love me again. So I cried.

But one thing is true about both of the cries I had on Valentine’s Day. They were both good for me, good for my soul.

The laugh until you cry cry, was great. It was fun. It made me smile. It made me feel good. And it is important to let yourself laugh and feel good.

The heart wrenching, tears pouring down my face cry, was also great. I spend so much of my time pretending that it doesn’t hurt and that I’m not sad, that it was great to just let it out and cry.

Being alone is hard. Being alone is scary. But being where I am now is better than were I was before. Sometimes it is hard for me to recognize and remember that. Giving myself permission to just cry and be sad is important. Just so long as I don’t get stuck in the sad tears and allow myself the tears of joy too.

Disappearance or disappointment

I have 2 sons (the pride and joy of my life) from 2 different husbands.

My oldest son’s father was the disappearing one. We left him when my son was only a year and a half old after disappointmentthe relationship turned violent. I tried to keep a connection for my son with his dad, but I couldn’t do it alone. He did not make the effort to stay connected, so he disappeared from his son’s life. I worried about my son and tried to provide him with father-like figures throughout his life. He had my dad and my brothers as father figures in his life and some of my great friends who were there for him as well.

But mostly he had me, as both mother and father. He is an amazing 19-year-old young man who is surprisingly well adapted and not bitter about his disappearing father.

My younger son has known his dad most of his life. He is 11 years old and we are only recently divorced. He sees his dad every other weekend. Every other weekend he is faced with disappointment from his father. He says it doesn’t hurt when his dad shows up late or cancels, but I know it does.

Being the one who’s home with his all the time, I sense a difference in his voice and his spirit when talking about his dad. He is careful and guarded. He is shy and uncertain. When he wants to make a change in his plans with his dad, he asks me to intervene. When he wants his dad to come watch him compete on his swim team, he asks me to invite him. And when he comes home from his dad’s, he holds me tighter.

I think that because he had a dad involved in his life for a long time, he misses the “dad” role more so than my older son did. He talks more about what kind of a dad he wants to be. I have a few friends who he looks to as a father figure. He talks about them to me and always tells me what he admires in them. He is constantly comparing and questioning.

He thinks things through very thoroughly. We were visiting with my sister one day and he asked her he could live with her if something happened to me. He had it all planned out. He told us all about it. First he would live with my sister and her family, then if something happened to all of them, he would live with my brother and sister in law, then if something happened to all of them, he would live with my friends. Then if he had to, he would live with his dad. He said to my sister, “You know, my dad is a pretty good dad, but he’s not a great parent, if you know what I mean.” Unfortunately, he does know what he means.

While both my boys are different and have had different experiences with their fathers, I think that the disappointment is harder than the disappearance. While my older son was probably disappointed by the fact that his father was not in his life, it was not a constant sense of disappointment every other weekend.

It will be a struggle to help my son deal with the constant disappointment. I will continue to give him positive role models in his life, both male and female. And I will continue to be there for him, as both mother and father. And I will continue to love him enough to grow into the wonderful young man I know he will be.

Experiences

A recent blog post suggestion asked what would your present self tell your 10 years ago self. 10 years is an interesting timeframe for me as I am 1 year out of a 10-year long marriage. As I look back on the past 10 years, actually on the past 20 years, I would have liked to have been able to spare myself some of the heart ache and pain. I would have liked to tell myself to be smarter and not get involved with this man, or that man. But in the end, who I am today has been shaped by each choice and each decision that I have made. Who I am and where I am is because of the events that have happened in my life. Hopefully some of the wisdom I have gained from those experiences will help me to help others.

Over the past few weeks I have talking to 13-year-old girl about a horrible event that happened to her. She had a bad start to the school year and was acting in a way that I thought was out of character for her. She was being down right mean. I had a few occasions to talk to her, and one of those times she told me in detail about the horrible thing that happened to her last year. And while I thought that no 13-year-old should ever have to go through what she endured, it started to make sense to me as to why she was so angry and mean.

A few of the things we talked about really resonated with me and made me appreciate what I have been through, if only to help this girl.

One of the things we talked about was the meanness of people. She was talking about how mad she would get when people made jokes or comments about her. Many of the kids knew generic, and often incorrect, information about what happened to her, so when they made comments or did things, she overreacted to them because it was so raw and painful. She said to me, “Ms. S. you can’t tell me that when someone is talking about you, you are just going to sit there and take it. You get mad and want to get back at them.”

I told her that people could be mean at any age.

At the end of last year I told my teachers that I would be going back to using my maiden name. I wanted to be sure they knew so that they were not surprised when emails started coming from me with my new last name. Most of the teachers don’t know the details of my divorce, nor do they need to. But I happened to overhear two of them talking about me, snidely commenting on me being divorced, again. It hurt. I didn’t like what they were saying. I didn’t like the judgment they were passing on me because it was such a raw and painful experience for me.

When I told her this story she said, “You could fire them.” I laughed, not for that. But I did still have to work with these teachers professionally. So we talked about taking the high road and knowing that my real friends understood and were there to support me. I also admitted to her that it did hurt. I didn’t like people talking about me. I didn’t like people judging me. But what was more important than what they said and that they were talking about me, was my reaction to them. I couldn’t control them. I could only control me and my reaction to them.

After one of our conversations she told her mom that she told me the whole story. She told her mom that after we talked she felt “lighter.” One of the things I tried to stress to her was that she was not alone. While most other 13-year-olds would not understand or be able to relate to what she had been through, I tried to assure her that she isn’t alone.

She told me later that when I shared with her some of my experiences she felt better. She said it helped to know that someone else understood what she was feeling and that she isn’t alone. I have noticed that she does look lighter. I’ve seen her smile more. I’ve seen her be a little kid again talking about silly junior high stuff. And I’ve seen her smile at me with a warmth that comes from knowing that someone else gets it.

She has talked about moving to a different school next year and I cautioned her that running away isn’t the answer. It might seem easier at times, but this isn’t something to outrun, but rather something to outlive. I encouraged her to think about what would be best for her. And in the end, she has to make decisions for her future, not simply to escape her past.

It’s easy to run. It’s easy to get mad. It’s easy to act like you don’t care. But in the end, what happens to us shapes who we are and who we become.

I was married, and divorced, twice. I have been in abusive and controlling relationships. I have been victimized, but I am not a victim. I am a survivor.

So if everything that I have been through over the past 20 years has helped this little girl know she isn’t alone, then it is all worth it.

If I could, I would tell my younger self that you are stronger than you think and you will have to deal with a lot, but in the end you will help others.

Disappearance or disappointment

I have 2 sons (the pride and joy of my life) from 2 different husbands (not my proudest moment).

My oldest son’s father was the disappearing one. We left him when my son was only a year and a half old after the relationship turned violent. I tried to keep a connection for my son with his dad, but I couldn’t do it alone. He did not make the effort to stay connected, so he disappeared from his son’s life. I worried about my son and tried to provide him with father-like figures throughout his life. But mostly he had me, as both mother and father. He is an amazing 19-year-old young man who is surprisingly well adapted and not bitter about his disappearing father.

My younger son has known his dad most of his life. He is 10 years old and we are only recently divorced. He sees his dad every other weekend. Every other weekend he is faced with disappointment from his father. He says it doesn’t hurt when his dad shows up late or cancels, but I know it does.

Being the one who’s home with his all the time, I sense a difference in his voice and his spirit when talking about his dad. He is careful and guarded. He is shy and uncertain. When he wants to make a change in his plans with his dad, he asks me to intervene. When he wants his dad to come watch him compete on his swim team, he asks me to invite him. And when he comes home from his dad’s, he holds me tighter.

I think that because he had a dad involved in his life for a long time, he misses the “dad” role more so than my older son did. He talks more about what kind of a dad he wants to be. I have a few friends who he looks to as a father figure. He talks about what he admires in them. He is constantly comparing and questioning.

While both my boys are different and have had different experiences with their fathers, I think that the disappointment is harder than the disappearance. While my older son was probably disappointed by the fact that his father was not in his life, it was not a constant sense of disappointment every other weekend.

It will be a struggle to help my son deal with the constant disappointment. I will continue to give him positive role models in his life, both male and female. And I will continue to be there for him, as both mother and father. And do my best to love him enough to grow into the wonderful young man I know he can be.

Practice what we preach

I work with middle school students all day long. I spend a lot of time trying to help them to deal with and navigate social situations, especially bullying and cyber bullying. You would like to think I don’t have to deal with adult bullying in my life, and sometimes it is harder to recognize, but that is exactly what my ex-husband is – a bully.

Don’t react – or at least don’t let them see you react

I tell my students that the bully likes the reaction. They thrive on upsetting their victim and seeing the reaction. In junior high one of the hardest things is that the friendships twist and turn so much that the “best of friends” one week are the one who are tormenting each other the next week.

The bigger problem with that is they know each other’s secrets and they know how to hurt each other. It makes the betrayal sting all the more. Someone who you once trusted is now the one using those secrets against you. Which makes it even harder not to react. I often tell my students that the hurt is there and very real, but if you don’t show them that it hurt you, then you take away the power they have over you.

Unfortunately, that is the tactic my ex-husband uses. He is so used to having control over me and being able to manipulate me that he pushes those buttons, hoping they will still work. It does still upset me, but instead of showing him my reaction, I have a few friends I will often text with a random “He’s such an ass” text. They have learned that this is my release for when my ex does something that is upsetting me. I have tried my best to take away the power that he has over me, step by step. First is by not letting him see me react. Soon (I hope), he will stop being able to upset me by the things he says. I’m still working on that.

What about the bully?

But the other part of my job is that I am often in my office with that kid who is being the bully or (more recently) the “mean girl”. And when confronted, they are just scared little kids who are pushing first because they are afraid of being hurt. They will often break down in my office and tell me the terrible things happening in their lives. Sometimes they are facing inexplicable horrors in their own lives. Sometimes an adult is taking advantage of them at home. Sometimes there is no adult who seems to be paying them any attention at home, so they are taking care of younger kids. And sometimes, they just don’t know how to interact with people in a nice way, so they do so in a mean way.

I have tried to remember this when dealing with my ex. He has spent most of his life manipulating and controlling people that he really doesn’t know how to interact in a non-confrontational way. While I can’t be the person to help him learn this skill in his life as I might try to do with my students, I can at least try to understand why he does what he does. He has lost power and control over me and so he lashes out. It doesn’t make it easier when he pushes my buttons, but it does help me later on when I stop and think about what he has in his life and what I have.

Taking back the power

One of the things I struggle with my students with is encouraging them to take back the power from the bully. There were several students being picked on by the same student. I tried to encourage them to realize that they are more powerful as a whole than the kid picking on them. It’s a tough lesson to learn and hard for middle school kids to stand up to someone they perceive as having more power then them. In working with my support staff and teachers, we are trying to show these kids they are the ones who have the power.

And that is what I did a year and a half ago, the first time I told my ex-husband “no” and stuck to it. I took back the power he had over me for years. I’m still fighting to maintain that power and control. I don’t always feel like I have any power, but I know I do. I have broken from his control and I do have the power over him that I once didn’t. I won’t let him know how much he hurts me, but I know that at the end of the day I have power over me and that’s more than he has.

Redefining alone 

Every other weekend I have to see my ex husband. He brings his new girlfriend with him every time he sees me. It’s his way of proving to me that he’s moved on. It’s his way of rubbing it in my face that I’m alone and he isn’t.

But maybe alone isn’t what I think it is. A good friend of mine told me that maybe what I need to do is redefine what it means to be alone.

Dictionary.com defines alone as:

  1. Separate, apart, or isolated from others: I want to be alone. 
  2. To the exclusion of all others or all else: One cannot live by bread alone. 
  3. Unique; unequaled; unexcelled: He is alone among his peers in devotion to duty. 

In looking at definition 1, I’m certainly not alone. I’m not isolated from others. But in many ways my ex is alone. He has separated himself from his family and his friends. He keeps himself isolated and alone. I don’t. I have amazing friends and family who care for me and check in with me on a regular basis. I have people in my life that I can turn to to make me laugh, that I can depend on when I need a shoulder to cry on. I have people in my life that let me vent and that build me up when I’m down. I have good people in my life who remind me to be gentle and patient with myself.

According to the second definition I’m also not alone. My ex tried to keep me alone when we were together. He tried to control me and keep me away from others both physically and emotionally. Whenever I made a connection with someone, he would try to turn it around and keep me away from them. He made me doubt their intentions. It was actually one of the turning points in our marriage. He tried to ban me from seeing a friend I had made at work and tried to force me to choose between him and my friend. I don’t know why I refused to give up this friend but I just wouldn’t do it. It was the first time I had really said no to him about his controlling behaviors and he spiraled out of control.

As for being unique, I’m not alone in that way either. That is one of the great things I’ve learned through blogging and through connecting with people. I am divorced. I was lied to, manipulated and threatened by the man who promised to keep me safe and love me forever. But I’m not the only one. I have a strong group of women I connect with who are going through similar situations. We talk, we share, we connect and we commiserate. While unfortunate, I’m not unique in what I’m going through.

So I guess it’s not so much about redefining being alone, but defining it correctly and realizing that I am not alone. I do not currently have a significant other in my life. But my life is filled with many significant others who love me and care about me. I am not alone.

Must have’s for a new man

I am dually terrified, and not because Halloween is coming. I’m terrified about relationships. I’m terrified about the idea of putting myself out there and getting into a relationship again. I feel like this is an area where I am not very successful. But I’m also terrified about the idea of being alone for the rest of my life.

I’m not sure which one terrifies me more. I think that fluctuates day by day. But in what can only be defined as a positive move, I began thinking about what I would want in a man if I were to ever date again. I guess it’s a good thing that I am even thinking of dating again. Maybe it means there is some healing going on. But I admit to being tentative and scared that I will fail again.

My list, of course, starts with my boys. They are the most important people in my life and if anyone wants to be in my life, they have to understand and appreciate this. I know no one will love my boys as much as I do, but they are so important to me that it is essential for someone to be in my life that they must care about my boys and figure out a way to build a relationship with them. My ex couldn’t do this. He was jealous and controlling of everyone I talked to. He could never comprehend my relationship with my older son, his stepson. He was so jealous that he became angry and resentful of my relationship with my younger son, his biological son.

Religion or more specifically spirituality is also significant to me. I have always been a deeply spiritual person. My connection to a particular organized religion has varied throughout my life. I have often gone back to Catholicism because it was what I was raised and where I thought I was comfortable. But I wasn’t. I disagree with many of the Catholic Church’s tenants and beliefs so I have spent a lot of time exploring churches. I am currently a practicing Presbyterian but bigger and more importantly than the actual religious affiliation is the fact that I now know what it is like to have a church community where I can really belong.

If I were to get involved with a man again, I would want him to have some type of religious conviction and spiritual belief. My first husband was the son of a Lutheran pastor, but he was not very spiritual. He actually resented the church and the people of the church because he felt that they took away some of his family and his father because of the demands of being a pastor’s son. My second husband went to church because I went, but he really didn’t believe and he was not invested. Spirituality is something that is very important to me and something I value in a partner.

That is the next thing. I want a partner, a companion, a friend. Someone I can count on and rely on. Someone who is there for me, as I would be there for them. Most of my previous relationships have been about me being there for and giving up myself for my partner and not the other way around. I want someone to do things with and share things with and talk about things with. I want a partner who is invested in me as I am in him.

Doing things with a partner would mean that we should have some things in common. I love football. You would think as a woman that would be an easy sell to a man, but so far, no good. I like watching football. I like going to football games. And at some point in my life, I would love to travel to different stadiums to watch football games. I would like to do that with someone who would enjoy those games with me. I’m hoping that somewhere out there is someone who can appreciate a woman who is passionate and knowledgeable about football.

As I began contemplating this list this weekend, I went to church on Sunday and saw an even better list to live by. The front of the bulletin said:

Clothe yourself with:

Compassion,

Kindness,

Humility,

Gentleness,

Patience

And above all else, Love.

What more could I ask for. As I look to find someone to share my life with, I will first try to practice the qualities I want to find in others: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience … and above all else, LOVE.