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Peas of the Pod: The DivorcingDaze Columns

Posted Apr 12 2005 1:56pm

DivorcingDaze actually started as written columns, before the birth of our podcasts. We got so excited with the new podcast technology that we nearly forgot all about them and they lived only on my hard drive. I'm posting them for you to read, not hear. This is where it all began...

The Pink Parka

This is the thing. Some days are bad. And some are just worse. I have a four year old, a two year old, a cat, a 200 lb dog and I live in New York City. And I'm getting a divorce.
Divorce is not a good thing even if half of all married couples do it. Nope, nothing good about it. But where would we be if we couldn't laugh at our own misery?
If you are a New Yorker, you're probably familiar with those not too rare occasions where you are scheduled to be in two places at the same time. Even before my husband left me for his soul mate of a boss it was hard to get out the door with two young children. And now as a single mother with an overburdened schedule and bruised heart I feel like doing three Hail Marys when the children and I successfully exit through the lobby doors of my apartment building. And I am Jewish. Well, this Wednesday morning in the dead, and I mean DEAD, of winter, was one of those swell times.
Applying to kindergarten in New York City deserves a weekly column all on its own, but to say the least, it is a time consuming, annoying and nearly preposterous process. Even if all you want (or can afford) is public school.
So this morning I had a tour scheduled at PS 87 on West 78th Street at 9:00am. Which is the same time I drop my four year old off at nursery school on 103rd St. Before any of this happens I need to walk the 200 lb dog and get the two year old to my babysitter who is babysitting for someone else today (I won't explain).
To make my life easier, or so I think, I enlist my soon-to-be X to help with my morning rush hour. Did I mention that the soon-to-be X (from heretofore will just be referred to as X) lives six floors above me in the SAME building? And yes, that truly defines a living nightmare.
Now they say if you don't learn from your mistakes, you are just stupid. So please just call me stupid. Running issue through marriage was X's LATENESS. I guess you could call me optimistic, but I'm not. I'm stupid. X due downstairs to pick 4-year-old up at 8:00 and take her to school. My well thought out plan should work fine. She's up, (not easy), dressed (hard), eaten half a banana (with pleading), hair brushed (really difficult) and shoes on. Lunch is made, newly washed sheets for naptime ready to go. Scarf, hat and mittens found and the phone rings. X will be 10 minutes late. Thirty minutes later he shows his well-rested face. No dark circles under his eyes. No cat hair nor dog slobber on his coat.
So now I have 30 minutes to walk the dog, drop off the two year old and get to the school tour that starts at 9:00 SHARP and no latecomers need apply. I make a quick executive decision and tell the dog he'll just have to hold it in. I throw the two year old in her stroller, put on my hot pink down parka bought soon after X left -- in one of those "he can't get me down" buying binges aimed to heighten the "I'll show him" attitude.
I jog through high piles of New York City slush to the babysitter's. I arrive at her building, flushed, out of breath but feeling positive about the possibility of making this school tour for kindergarten on time. Only the elevators of this high-rise building aren't working.
Power is quickly restored but I've lost six precious minutes that I did not have. Drop the kid off and try to hail a cab. And try. And try. Run to subway, miss the local by a breath and then wait. And wait. And wait.
Itâ?s now 9:20 and Iâ?m running through the halls of PS 87 hoping to catch up with the touring moms and dads. When I sneak into the group, I think I feel judgmental stares. Perhaps it's the cat hair and dog saliva that decorate my hot pink down parka.
After the THREE hour tour of this elementary school I ask the principal for an application for an "out of zone" student so I can offer prolific descriptions of the academic promise of my four year old. The principal twists a wry smile and says, "Oh, you're too late for that. THAT was due in December. NO EXCEPTIONS."
I exit and trudge to the uptown subway. On the dank underground stairs, a well-dressed woman passes by and says, "Your coat's a great color." I'm actually, almost, moved to tears. Ailing, maybe, resilient, yep, hot pink? Absolutely.
So my hot pink down parka, even covered in cat hair and dog slobber, elicits a compliment. And for the first time this morning I smile. And stay smiling until I get home to see what the 200lb dog has done inside my apartment.

Losing as Art

This is the second of the original columns which inspired the creation of our DivorcingDaze podcast. Happy Valentines Day!

A couple of months after my husband left, my mother emailed me a poem called “One Art.   I think her motivation was to help ease my pain.  My English teacher mother often offers her maternal comfort and advice through the works of famous, dead, white, male authors like Shakespeare and Chaucer. Well, this day’s message came from a dead white woman poet, Elizabeth Bishop. 

I think Bishop’s point in her poem “One Art? is that losing is a craft – an art.  She writes,  “The art of losing isn’t hard to master.  And she writes, “Loss is no disaster.   For Pete’s sake, people lose things all the time, teaches Ms. Bishop: keys, an hour, a watch, a house, a city, a continent, a loved one.  People lose all the time, so, you know, get over it.  No more blubbering.  Move on.

What I have found in this past year of total loss is that losing breeds more losing.  And, quite frankly, it is a disaster, Ms. Bishop. 

Let’s see….upon discovery of X’s affair I spent the first two months losing lots of sleep.  Lots.  I’m still trying to catch up.  In a matter of two weeks, I think I lost 12 pounds. I lost all body fat. Loss of sleep provides a perfect breeding ground for losing many more a material thing. One wallet, one watch, one set of car keys, one cell phone, one pair of diamond earrings and one diamond and sapphire wedding ring that I still wore on my middle finger.  That’s a lot to lose in 10 months. And like Madonna, I have discovered, I too, am a material girl.  And it hurts.  Lots.

I lost my husband, my marriage, frankly, life, as I knew it.  I lost my in-laws, my sister in law, two nieces I adored.  Half my books and cds, that really good griddle. My self-esteem, my dignity, my youthful look, an innocence. Every other weekend with my two precious daughters.  Every other Thanksgiving, every other Christmas. My mind at times.   My boggle partner, my best friend (scratch that one), my lover, my tennis partner, my story teller, my dish washer, my financial provider, my medical insurance, my security, my boxing partner. Pictures that hung on the wall.  My coffee maker, who always woke before I did.  A smell, a confidence, a vow.

I lost a stressful job because I couldn’t handle “ALL THAT STRESS.  I lost my very helpful neighbors who moved to Florida. I even lost my divorce lawyer who became a judge.  That one was really tough.

So Ms. Bishop, for me, losing, no matter how much you do it, IS hard to master.  I’m still not used to it.  And here’s a secret I’ll share:  I hope I never get used to it. Because that would mean, I would really be left with nothing.

Losing doesn’t get easier the more you do it.  It isn’t something that improves the soul.  It most certainly darkens it.  Writers and poets, dead and alive, hear me roar….Losing is Disastrous. 

But life can go on.

The Divorce Lawyer

Here is one of the early DivorcingDaze columns that led to our podcast, this one about the high cost of divorce, paying for my divorce lawyer's vacation, and how I learned to be REALLY, REALLY cranky...

I don’t think you can write a divorce column and not have one piece focus on The Divorce Lawyer. They’re a breed unto their own.  I’m gonna come clean: I don’t like mine.
She just called to ask me why I’ve been cranky recently?  I swear.  Those were her exact words.  CRANKY!     As if it’s not bad enough that X resorts to name calling on occasion, but my lawyer? I now feel a special bond with my 4year old – it IS frustrating when the person of power asks why you are cranky.
Isn’t it obvious why?

Ok. So she wants to know why I’m cranky? Take a deep breath.  At 400 dollars an hour she needs that question answered?  I’m going through a divorce, after all. Of course I’m cranky!  Doesn’t she get it? The only person who seems to be getting anything they want in this divorce -- is my lawyer!  My life savings have been drained down to less than what I had when I was the 15-year-old neighborhood babysitter!   And my lawyer has it all.   Did she really just ask me that question?? 

I wonder if she is going to bill me for posing, “WHY AM I CRANKY?  After all, she billed me 40 bucks when she went on her Aspen ski vacation because she chose to tell her firm’s partner that “should  my client’s husband’s lawyer call while I’m away, tell her that I’ll be back in two weeks.  Really – I was charged for that inner office conversation.  For her vacation.   But I guess it was all worth it because I got to see a picture of my lawyer slash ski bunny on the Aspen slopes at a later meeting.   It looked like it was a lot of fun.

Then there was that 40 buck charge for the voicemail I left.  I think I said, “my husband is giving his lawyer his offer letter from his new job today and you’ll be getting it shortly.

I was also charged 900 bucks for a letter that never went out because “ we changed tactics.  I was charged 500 dollars for a memo I was not allowed to see.   Apparently a law student poorly wrote a summary regarding a legal question I had about the charge of adultery.  Only I was not allowed to see the memo because my lawyer didn’t like the quality of the writing. In fact, my attorney told me she was aghast at the low level of writing. That cost 40 bucks.  So she gave me the option to either spend more money for a more experienced attorney to clean up the memo or spend 200 dollars for her to verbally summarize the poorly written document. I opted for curtain number two.

In the last three months, I’ve been charged about 5K for miscellaneous lawyerly things like postage, fax, poorly written memos, etc. etc.  Yet nothing in my case has transpired.  Not one proposal has actually been sent out to opposing counsel. Just one lonely letter sent out to say we were working on things, please be patient. 120 bucks. 

No sense of closure on the horizon.  No light at the end of my tunnel.   Just more double digit charges for stamps, phone messages and emails.  The black hole in process only leads me to invent more legal questions for my attorney  -- and more charges.  The lack of definition concerning visitation and financials bombards my cranky home.  And then more questions. At an average of 250 a pop.

I’m actually a little surprised I haven’t been charged for all the tissues I’ve cried upon during the “tactical? meetings between blubbering client and attorney.  Maybe there’s hope.

But if I find out that on my next invoice, I’ve been charged the minimum 40 bucks (or probably more, because this phone conversation might have squeaked past the six minute mark) for my attorney to call and ask the oh-so-obvious question of why I AM CRANKY...I’m gonna, well I’m gonna….stomp my foot, join my daughter’s brigade and get ….really….REALLY…..  REALLY ….CRANKY!

And then I’ll call my therapist for help -- only 150 bucks for 50 minutes.  A New York City bargain.

The Soulmate

Ok, pinch me. OUCH.

So, last night (Saturday night) X took the girls for "his weekend" at 5:00pm. This morning, fourteen hours later, 7:00 am, the phone rings.

Me: "Hello?"

X: "Oh, did I wake you? I'm sorry."

Me: "That's ok."

X: "You sleep with the phone by your bed?"

My Sunday morning needs to begin with X questioning what appliances I keep near my bed? This could get interesting. But I'm a realist so I change the topic.

Me: "What's going on?"

X: "Well, I was wondering if you could come up and watch the girls for a bit so I can run to the supermarket."

Me: "ok."

X: "Really appreciate it."

For two years I manage to feed, clothe, clean, and raise the girls, work, and walk the dog three times a day without relying on him. Although come to think of it, there were two occasions when I asked X to help me out with the dog. The first time he said, "Stop testing me, Laurie." And the second time he said, "NO." But who is counting here? And obviously nobody is keeping score.

So, like the obedient wife, I drag myself out of bed, make a pot of coffee and head up to the 9th floor.

It does warm my heart to enter X's apartment because my two reasons for living greet me with their sleepy smiles and warm hugs.

X is dutifully apologetic and grateful, which of course, warms my heart as well. Note to self: discuss this point in next therapy appointment.

I tell myself this is really one of those win-win `situations.' I get to see my kids…. I get a chance to be in X's apartment without him….

So X returns from the supermarket and invites me to stay for breakfast. The girls cheer combined with the memory of his bacon (the one food item I will always burn) and his cinnamon French toast convince me to stay the morning.

During breakfast X complains about his migraines and sleepless night. (Ya' know, voodoo dolls really can work!)

He asks if I could watch the girls for a few hours so he can try to nap. No problem, I offer. I tell him I'll take the girls to a movie.

X shifts uncomfortably in his chair, looks away and says, "Well, we have a big day planned."

"What's planned?" I ask.

Unfortunately, X knows he can no longer dodge, for his five-year-old daughter sings like a canary. Forced to admit the truth he explains that he, the girls, the " soul mate boss " and her girls, are all going to see "The Incredibles."

It isn't until I return to the third floor I realize what has just happened. X has asked me to take the girls on my one day off in two weeks to watch them so he can nap so that he won't be too tired to go on a date with the woman he left me for. And not only that, but he puts in the request that I not see a movie when I'm with the kids cause that's what the Brady Bunch will be doing this afternoon! Who needs to see the movie "The Incredibles" -- I've got it all right here.

As we three leave his apartment he asks that I have the girls ready at noon.

The hours pass, X picks the girls up surprisingly on time. The girls leave with washed faces, pressed clothes and braided hair. Wouldn't want them to disappoint the boss.

Win – win you ask? The entire morning screams Win – LOSE! Or just LOSER! But as I crawl into bed to hibernate for the rest of the day, I recall my lack of judgment and immaturity. I'm the first to admit that 'you can take the kids away from mom but you can't take the kid out of mom." Those few minutes alone in X's apartment afforded me just enough alone time with the soul mate's toothbrush. And you know what? Forget chicken soup. Revenge soothes the soul just fine.

Self Image

Self image, such a fragile thing. Like a baby's demeanor, this image of self can darken or brighten in a matter of seconds.

Sometimes the smallest comments can carry the biggest ammo. You know those comments, the ones made in passing...innocently…. And at the time those 'comments in passing' are passed, you laugh them off with a shrug, a giggle, perhaps an eye roll. But then, sometimes, the comments, well…linger. They grow. Take on new meaning. Haunt you. For hours…days...weeks...even MONTHS!

Time of divorce, reasonably, can be a sensitive time. It is a time, in fact, when friends and family, should, well, lie to you. Little ones, white lies. To push you forward, instill hope and inflate the divorcing ego.

But not everyone you encounter will be that 'sensitive.' Innocent, yes, ego propping, perhaps not.

Not too long ago, my five year old, cuddling next to me in bed, early morning, gazing at me with awe and adoration, in a way, only a young child can offer, tenderly touched my face. It felt so good. Worth it all. And then she whispered, "Mommy, you grew another chin."

If life had sound effects, the slide whistle ending in a crash would be heard.

And then there was the time, not too long after the aforementioned epiphany, that the same five year old told this writer to cover her legs more, to prevent the babysitter's boyfriend, from seeing these 'fat legs.' For that would offend.

Offense taken.

A few weeks ago, I hauled my two girls, dog and self off to my parent's beach house for a little R and R. "Nana will take care of us," I declared. Within the first hour of arrival, "Nana" defiantly noted, "oh look, you have stretch marks. I didn't know you had those."

Some comments just can't be commented on back.

For my 41st birthday (ouch) my babysitter gave me a day at the spa. Luxury for the soul the certificate promised.

As I'm wrapped in warm towels, serenaded by Enya and the essence of lavender, my facialist (is that what they are called?) tells me what creams and oils she is applying to my skin. I'm at peace. But she continues. In her thick Russian accent, she declares what her obstacles are. For a bigger tip? She thinks aloud? She is cruel? I hear things like "broken capillaries," "dark circles", "blotchy red skin" "whiteheads," "blackheads." These dirty words of hers are followed with a "tsk, tsk, tsk". On my birthday, no less.

My grandmother taught me that every cloud has a silver lining. A motto I truly believe. I have to, afterall.

The manicurist at the spa delivers the birthday promise. I tell her this spa day is a gift from my babysitter. She says, also with a Russian accent that sounds more mellifluous than the former beautician's, "You have children? You're too young." "Oh, I'm older than I look" I assure her. And then to push my luck I ask, "How old do you think I am?" She studies me with a discerning eye and offers, "Twenty-six?"

And I'll let that comment in passing linger and soothe my soul for a long, long time.

The Stranger Within

My five year old daughter woke this morning whimpering there was "a ghost in that closet". She pointed to my half-opened closet that once housed X's suits, shirts and ties. Instead of the expected maternal reassurance, I whispered back, "yes, sweetie, there is a ghost there." My own inside joke.

OK, I quickly came to and added, " I'll go get rid of it."

I swear, that is the farthest I go in intentionally "bad mouthing" X in front of my children. I'm actually quite proud of my upstanding behavior and attitude regarding him -- in the presence of his children. They have no idea of my truth. I am surprised, if not enlightened, by my evolved behavior. If given this hypothetical 5 years ago, I would have predicted tantrums, obnoxious outbursts, and sarcastic jibes all over the place.

And I am all too acutely aware that even though X has become a much stronger father figure in the girls' lives since he moved out two years ago, he has faded as a three dimensional person in my life. Sure, he prevails in my daydreams and nightmares – as I still navigate through the terms of our impending divorce. And yes, I update him almost daily on the ear infection or new shoe size. And yes, he still lives six floors above me.

But who and what X is and does during his workday and/or free time is now a total unknown. He is a stranger. A ghost. I would never leave my children with a babysitter I knew so little about. But here, weekend after every other weekend, Wednesday night after Wednesday I hand my two jewels over to a complete stranger. In fact, I know nothing about the man I shared a bed with for five years. In his explanation of his infidelity he said that he had "contorted himself" to fit into our marriage – that he was not being who he really is. Now, I'm not sure he knows who he really is as he continues to dabble with married women and such. But certainly, then, I know less than nothing about the father of my children. Who they spend weekends with! Does he know what to say when they wake in the middle of the night with a nightmare? Can he comfort a wounded feeling? the hurt knee? Can he convince them to eat their greens? Wash behind ears? Slather SPF 40 over their delicate skin? Put them to bed on time? Will he buckle their car seats securely? And soberly drive the speed limit when they are with him?

The answer to all of the above is that I don't know. But as I look back over the last two years of survival and revival….of redefinition and transformation, it has been the strangers in my world who have helped me survive. The gentleman who stopped on the Merritt Parkway to change my flat tire. The woman who carried one of my two crying children up the subway stairs. A neighbor who offered to take my dog for his nightly walks. All strangers in my world who literally saved the day. My day. My life, it seems.

And so, I believe in trusting the stranger in my midst. Including the one who lives six floors above.

Truth is, the most interesting stranger I've met in these days of divorce is myself. The part I had not known fully before. Full of emotions and desire, the entire range, I did not know I had nor could feel. Including forgiveness.

The Wedding Anniversary

Today is my wedding anniversary. And technically, I am still married. As we approach the signing of our divorce agreement (isn't that – divorce agreement -- an oxymoron?) I am more than sure that this will be the last year that my wedding anniversary will pass that I will be, in fact, married.

How often is it that you can knowingly predict something like that? Most of the time death arrives unexpectedly, or at least, at an unknown, moment. You don't usually celebrate a birthday knowing for sure 'this is the last birthday I am ever going to have as a living person.' But I digress….

I have a secret to tell. A few weeks ago, I was acutely aware this day was drawing near. But which day exactly, I was not sure. The 10th? The 11th? And the confusion made me proud. Pumped. Sure that the light at the end of my tunnel was indeed here. And that it was blurring, if not blinding, the once precious and ingrained date of celebratory marital bliss. Perhaps this is a sign that in five to ten years I will not even remember the month this blessed day once occurred.

So as the "anniversary" draws near, I can't help but ask myself what it means to me now. This celebration of the day X and I chose to join together as husband and wife, for life, for better, for worse. A glorious day from my past that I no longer cherish. And although it was a self-appointed life holiday, I no longer celebrate it, X, nor Us. Of a promise I sincerely made in vain, when I think of this day, my love life feels cheated…cheated on…by X…by life. By a series of unfortunate events. By marriage in general. So how then, is this day reconciled? I could mourn it, ignore it, pretend it doesn't exist. Breeze through it. Get a pedicure. Pretend I feel nothing. Pretend I don't even notice….

Admittedly, I have neither adequate nor significant answers to these thoughts. All I know for sure is this day provokes me to…well…feel. Deeply. And I guess I am thankful for that. Because of that, I know I am alive. And, yes, that is a good thing.

Of course no cards, fancy dinner, nor flowers will be exchanged between X and me today. That is not expected. Nor desired. But perhaps recognition, an acknowledgement of some kind? To celebrate our once blessed, if flawed, union that produced two jewels slash children that both X and I cherish more than life itself. So do we not observe our date of marriage, that flunked-out of life, but for only the fruits it bared. For the fruits it created. We, X and myself, Created, Together.

But this morning when X came by to pick up one of our jewels to bring to school I did nothing. And so did he. In the rushed routine of last minute cheerios, and ponytail adjustments, it was easy to ignore. Easy to avoid eye contact. So we did not have an awkward moment. Nor a sweet moment. Nothing. We did not have to wish each other a happy ex anniversary. Because that would be impossible. Despite my attorney's drafts, overly inflated invoices and 43-paged agreements, this day cannot be erased, nor (h)exed out. Ignored perhaps, faded maybe, but never forgotten.

Perhaps instead of a card or flowers or a loving, steamy massage, this year, I will simply send X this column. Cause that's all I have.

All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go

Holiday Season. Although just as deserving of a column, this one will not be about my first alternate Xmas without my children. This is much more 'tis the season' than that.

Xmas present to self is to finalize divorce (which has been on the table for two years now). And get a pedicure. So four way meeting is set for five days before Xmas among X, X's brand new attorney, brought on moments before signing divorce agreement 'cause X "needed better representation," my attorney, who has made it clear I am the poorest and least important (not necessarily in that order) client and myself.

Monday morning's appointment is preceded by a week of boasting to all of my loved ones, and anyone else who will listen, to the trials (hope not) and tribulations of my divorce's picayune legalities and countless hypothetical non possibilities that might occur. "I'm walking out of that office divorced. Or I'm not walking out…." I gloat to all of my listeners.

Except I have to get dressed first. What does one wear for such an occasion? Aware that X has not seen me "dressed" in quite a while, I want to look good. "Good" meaning confident, sexy, powerful, hip, happy, better off, heart healed, moved on, loved by another, and even desirable…by him. (I admit.) The only thing perfectly suitable to satisfy stated definition is black. A nice complement to the white once worn to inaugurate the union. Ying Yang, I suppose. Black pants. Black top. Every black item I own is tried on, tossed aside and tried on a second time with stomach muscles squeezed tighter and head held higher. There ya' go.

Hair. Makeup. Scent. Confidently clasp necklace X bought for me during romantic Parisian getaway, intended to/wondering if it will evoke feeling of remorse. Or any feeling at all. Removal of dog and cat hair. He was not fond of the animals much (I should have known then). Final dabbing of lip gloss in the elevator's reflection in my attorney's office high-rise only afforded by tenants who charge their clients 400/hour. Riding up to the 34th floor allows just enough time to do breathing exercise aimed to raise level of serenity and lower possibility of potential tears at the scene.

Receptionist announces my arrival. Attorney's 225.00/hr assistant appears and says X and the better representative have cancelled. Mix up. Bad communication. Misunderstanding. Someone wise once told me people divorce the way they were married. Case in point. So here I am, all dressed up and no place to go. In a vain attempt to accomplish something I suggest a four-way phone meeting. All parties reject that idea. So the next available date to meet appears to be in the second week of January! I take my black outfit and defeated self right out the door.

I will be married come the new year. We will file taxes jointly for 2005. Oxford health plans will have a Mr. and Mrs. X in their records. I will celebrate Xmas married with children but alone. All that much more wrong. "I can't even divorce well," I gloom to myself.

The failure of our four way meeting today drives me to take drastic action…I take matters into my own hands. Free of charge. I step into the discounted department store across the street from attorney's high rent skyscraper and in the midst of the store window's mannequins; I call X and insist we negotiate all outstanding differences on the phone. Right there and then. The makeshift office inspires me to remain as cool and emotionless as my stiff and steely witnesses. After all, I am as well dressed as they are.

By the end of my storefront negotiations I feel less defeated than the morning promised. What transpired in that discount department store, the week before Xmas, gave me everything I wanted and I gave everything I was willing to give.

Tomorrow I'm getting my pedicure.
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