I write about difficult things all of the time. And I’m told by many that, while my experience is entirely different than theirs, the fact that I fearlessly share my struggle with such honesty is helpful. So, I am going to do that again here.
In 2006, I left a marriage that was literally killing my body and spirit. I was advised by health care professionals and counselors at the time that, if I did not leave, I would not survive. And a few months prior to leaving and reclaiming my life I had the unenviable responsibility of telling my young children (then ages 11, 9, 7 and 7) that their father and I were divorcing.
The littlest one put her head into my lap sobbing inconsolably. We were seated cross-legged on the family room floor and, when she could collect herself enough, she clamored up on her knees, cupped her hands around her tiny mouth and whispered in my ear, “When will you decide who goes with who?”
You see…she is an identical twin and she had recently seen the movie The Parent Trap about identical twins separated at birth – one went with the mother and the other with the father. This will go down in my personal history as one of the most heart sinking moments of all time topped by a small handful of others. Despite all of the preparation and assurances we gave with the announcement she was absolutely certain beyond any doubt that she would never see one of her parents again, along with her twin and possibly her other siblings.
She was certain. And I was crushed.
In the years that followed and despite a hostile divorce, I have made inhumane sacrifices. We solidified some of them including a “commitment for continued residence” provision in our divorce agreement. That means I am chained to a 30 mile radius of our former marital residence where I endured unspeakable things. In fact, I live only 2.1 miles away.
• I live in a community where I feel unwelcome. Worse yet, unsafe.
• I am not free to make career changes because I must continue to pay their father child support and there are no other jobs at this level in this city because of the economy.
• I am required to stay in a climate that causes my left side to feel as if someone has taken a blow torch to it in the winter because of underlying nerve problems; I cannot leave even though it is causing me excruciating pain and physical harm.
• I bite my tongue on the bleachers, at school conferences, in the pediatrician’s office, at music concerts, and just about everywhere because he lingers there.
• Every day is full of nastiness that nobody sees.
I stay because I promised I would and I am meeting that commitment as much as it kills my spirit a little bit every day.
But then, this year, one of those *other* heart sinking moments happened. One that trumps the “parent trap question” by a large margin. On May 14th my daughter, the littlest one, the one that was so afraid we would choose…chose instead. After a yelling argument about the condition of her room she chose to live with her father for now. She chose not to come home any more. She chose to post a photo on Instagram on Thanksgiving that carved me out of the family. She implemented a fucked up version of the parent trap that I never saw coming in a million years and it knocked me flat on my ass.
She did not choose me.
So, do you know what I did?
(Well, technically, first I bawled like an infant and curled up in the fetal position until her twin finally called my mom for back up and a posse of my girlfriends showed up to scrape me off the floor. But…after that…)
I thanked her.
That’s right. I swallowed my pride and I thanked her. And then I got up and got busy changing my life.
The truth is what we need most sometimes is a proper ass whooping to have a look at our priorities, to reset and to go forward differently.
While both my daughter and I share the responsibility for our challenges, I cleaned up my end.
• That very same day I ended an unhealthy, long term relationship of 5.5 years that didn’t serve me. I was so busily investing in his life that I lost sight of my “lighthouse” briefly (which is fighting for what is right for me and my kids and not losing myself in the process). I was caretaking to the point of harming myself; and the more I did for him the less he did for himself. We all lost in that equation but my daughter and I most of all.
• I took a solid look at this unhealthy pattern in my life generally and am actively working not to make the same mistakes again…including with my daughter. This was certainly not all my fault. She plays a big part in this. But this is her path to walk. I do not agree with her decision and I do not believe for one moment that it is in her best interest. But I do honor her journey as a human being and I am here if she needs me.
• I manage my priorities carefully. Sometimes work still rises up but it is only that…work. I do not let it consume my days any longer. I choose where to spend my time and with whom. I would rather invest in my kids and my writing than other things. Every minute I make solid decisions with me at the center.
• I make time for myself every single day ~ a walk in the woods, an acupuncture session, meditation, proper sleep, time with true friends, writing, or whatever else my soul needs. Me. That’s right. ME! Without apology this time because I do occupy space in this world and I’m worth it.
• I push every day for my creative endeavors. Sometimes they crawl along because there isn’t nearly enough time with these other obligation. That is my reality for now. But, what I do accomplish matters because of the very nature of the sacrifices I am making to make them happen. Good things lie just ahead and they are beginning to blossom.
• I have learned to care less what other people think. That’s the proper use of that expression – care…less. For the naysayers or those who criticize me…the old me would have cussed you out of Dodge but I just don’t care. Have at it.
• I have become keenly aware of where I end and other people begin. I don’t want to change them; nor are they welcome to change me. Some I like close to me…or even very, very close to me. And others are not welcome in my space at all. These boundaries establish a playground worthy of exploring in inquisitive ways. It feels good to be safe again.
• I am finally stepping into my greatness.
I am getting stronger by the day so that someday, when my daughter receives an ass whooping in kind, she can look back at the grace and responsibility I showed toward everyone during this difficult time and choose to right herself with grace as well. It is strange how life works that way.
In the end, the parent trap really isn’t about if they stay or if they go. The parent trap is simply this….no matter if they stay or if they go one has no choice but to love them unconditionally and to set a good example regardless of how much it may hurt.
So, when taken in this context, it is more of a nest than a trap really ~ a place to rest myself steadfastly and with comfort until she finds her way home again.