For the first time since I started blogging, I don’t know where to begin. [FN1: Are sighs and deep breaths different? I think to someone listening, they would sound the same — at least when I do them. But it’s kind of wild how different what is going on in my head and my heart as I do them. The sigh is what I do when I’m on the precipice of despair — a swirl of frustration, exhaustion, hopelessness, and bewilderment. It’s a release of sorts; it keeps me balanced on the edge rather than cascading down. The deep breath is what I do when I’ve hit whatever the present bottom is, and it helps me start the crawl back up. Or something like that, I think.]
I told you I didn’t know where to begin! One more deep breath, and I’ll start.
Each of my ex’s parents dropped off a Mother’s Day gift bag for me last Friday. I just opened them, and now I’m trying to figure out how I feel about them. And I think when I’m honest, I’m not really trying to figure out how I feel about the gifts…but I’m trying to figure out how I feel about my ex’s parents. The reality is I’ve been trying to figure that out since this whole separation and divorce nightmare started…and while many, many things are becoming much more settled, my feelings about them are becoming more and more complicated.
One of the tricky things about journaling in this public forum is figuring out how much of whose story I can tell. And while I’ve made a conscious decision to talk pretty openly (albeit “anonymously”) about myself and my kids, and our experiences and struggles, my sense is that my ex’s story — particularly his home of origin story — is not mine to tell. So when I try to wrestle through my present feelings about his parents, all of them are filtering through what I know, or what I think I know, about my ex’s upbringing. So in this forum, for the time being and for the most part, that’s just going to be a mysterious black box.
What I *know*, though, is what my ex and his parents have told me directly, and I’m confident that those things are my story to tell.
Here are some of those things: (1) my ex has said, to me directly and also with me in the presence of a therapist, that he prefers traveling and working to parenting (and he lives out this preference by traveling for work nearly 80 percent of the time); (2) he has said, in those same forums, that he never wanted to be married, that he was faking it the whole time, and that he feels no grief about the loss of our relationship; (3) immediately prior to our separation last summer, my ex was engaging in increasingly severe cutting behaviors, which he told me he was doing because he “couldn’t handle the stress of parenting and family life”; (4) in the nine months since we’ve separated, my ex has inquired about the well-being of either child exactly zero times — but he’s inquired about hundreds of practical and financial things as we’ve moved from separated to divorced; (5) my ex had a serious, serious, serious anger problem that tended to manifest more dramatically with the children than it did with me, probably because I had learned lots and lots and lots of (unhealthy) techniques to avoid escalating potentially rage-inducing situations; (6) my children have a complicated mixture of positive and negative feelings about their dad (for obvious reasons), but have, on a variety of occasions, vocalized fears like that if they make him mad, he might pick them up and throw them across the room. [FN2: For the record – to my knowledge, my ex never engaged in any sort of physical abuse of our children. None. I would like to think that I would have been wise and courageous enough to walk away on my own had that been the case…but I acknowledge that there’s a real chance that I would not have been. I might post more about this sometime; it’s a well-documented phenomenon. What I was too isolated to realize was that his frequently observed rage-y behaviors, like throwing knives and cell phones and cups full of drinks; and kicking and shattering craft bins that the kids were using; and using shame-based parenting techniques; and (harshly, in a foreign language that I only somewhat understood) asking the kids rhetorical questions like “Are you insane?” and calling them “idiots” when they did something that was not to his liking — those things together constitute emotional abuse and have many of the same neurological and psychological consequences.]
For a combination of all of the aforementioned reasons, I’ve steadfastly insisted that my ex’s parenting time be supervised until a neutral third party makes an assessment about what’s in the best interest of the children. And to bring all of this back to the whole point of this post — the people who do the supervising are my ex’s parents.
So, here’s why this gets complicated. My ex’s parents are in a wretched situation. Their son is doing and saying and experiencing things that I genuinely do not think that they have space for within their particular worldview. They are in the midst of extraordinary denial and grief and confusion and I can only imagine what else. I recognize that, and I don’t really know what to do with it other than acknowledge it. They love their grandchildren. They do not want to be excluded from their lives, and they routinely remind me of their interest in the kids’ schedules and their willingness to be helpful even when my ex is out of town. I am willing to go to great lengths practically and emotionally to help my kids maintain their connections.
But my ex’s parents are also…well..his parents. And it’s basically impossible for me to separate my hot mess of feelings about my ex [see, for instance, pretty much every other blog post I’ve written] with feelings about them. I have a hurricane of feelings about my ex’s upbringing, and about the ways that they’ve insisted throughout this process that my ex and I just need to really sit down and listen to one another because what he’s telling them and what I’m telling them don’t line up and this must just be one big misunderstanding (#ijustcantwiththegaslighting #iamnotcrazy), and about how they insist to me that they still consider me one of their daughters and they hope that I will think of myself that way, and about how they funnel information to my ex about my kids’ schedules so that he can unexpectedly show up at — say — a piano recital when I think that he’s out of town.
I also have strong and complicated feelings about how many “thoughts and prayers” they’ve offered to me over the past nine months. I have alluded to my need to post about this more in-depth on lots of occasions, and there’s a post brewing in the drafts. But for now, just two quick thoughts: The first thing that I always want to ask when they affirm that they are praying for me and for the kids (with complete sincerity, and with deep respect for the genuineness with which they offer those thoughts and prayers) is “what, exactly, are you praying for?” Because I’m genuinely and truthfully really, really, really curious what it is. [FN3: I routinely ask for prayer from people, and offer prayers to people in response to challenging situations. But largely based on my experience of the hollowness of “generic” thoughts and prayers, I have tried to become much, much, much more specific in both my requests and in my offers. So please — do not hesitate to pray for me, and to let me know that you’re praying for me. I’d just ask that, if you’re willing, you let me know what you’re praying for.] The second thing that I always want to ask is why it is — given that they are so committed to offering their thoughts and prayers about the situation — that no mention of the cascade of events in my universe has ever made it into their monthly newsletter that goes out to all of the people that provide financial support for their missionary work. I get that newsletter, and for the last nine months I’ve read all sorts of prayer requests for all sorts of things about my ex’s father’s work and my ex’s mother’s health and my ex’s sister’s new baby and lots of hard and challenging and personal things. But SILENCE about our situation. [FN4: I can come up with lots of reasons that it might be the case that they’ve chosen not to mention it. And I can respect at least some of those plausible reasons. But there’s still a deep sense of the situation being buried/erased/ignored/denied in public, which makes the private efforts to maintain something resembling normal as far as my relationship with them feel quite awkward, indeed.]
The gifts. I’m processing Mother’s Day gifts. Okay. So my ex’s father dropped off a lovely bracelet, with a little slip of paper in the box that says “prayer changes things.” And my ex’s mother dropped off a lovely framed photo that she took from her prime center seat at my daughter’s recent piano recital, with the relevant excerpt from the program taped to the back to remind us all that the piece that my daughter worked so hard to learn and perform was entitled — of all things — “Daddy’s Rocking Chair.” And I didn’t know what to think. And I hope, for all of the reasons that I’ve described in this post and previous ones, it makes at least some sense for why it would be sort of a tough-to-process-on-one’s-first-Mother’s-Day-as-a-single-mom moment.
I’m doing everything, everything, everything I can to be thankful that they are doing what I assume is everything, everything, everything they can in the midst of an awful situation. They love their grandchildren. They love their son. They love me. But just like with so many other things, I have no idea how to feel or think or react — and now I have yet another memento to put in the “What do I do with this memory?” pile.
I’m tired. And for now, the only answer I have is to soak up everything I can find about the Fruits of the Spirit (this course being my latest binge-listen in my car) and try to just be and do love, and joy, and peace, and patience and patience and patience, and kindness, and goodness, and faithfulness, and gentleness, and self control.