Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Divorce Diaries

Christmas. Part One.

So I was sitting there staring at the box of neatly wrapped Christmas ornaments, dumbfounded. My brain hurt. My heart hurt. My body felt leaden. I had to remind myself to breathe.

It was a great love story to tell for so many years. September 2, 1978. Flying in on a Cessna over the festival site, 20,000 people below. Meeting him backstage. I was 24, he was 44. I was barely a woman and he was a Peter Pan in cut-offs, barefoot, shirtless, salt-n-pepper beard and flowing hair. It’s a long story from there to here. And I’ve told it often.

And now this box of ornaments, dusty and well worn. 33 years of Christmases packed neatly in a large plastic storage box. Each memory carefully wrapped in tissue paper.

So sad, looking at that box this year. Didn’t feel like I had the heart to take the lid off, let alone dig through it. My 9-foot Christmas tree stood by at attention—waiting to be told what and who we are now—bare, but for the perfectly placed twinkle lights. I wondered—do I open the box and just start pulling out the “Baby’s First Christmas,” Grandma’s hand-me-downs, the sweet fragile handmade-by-the-boys’ sticky fingers ornaments, the mementos from Hawaii and England and Poland, the gift ornaments from sisters and step-children and friends? Do I put the same tree up, as I have done year after year? Can I?

This being our first Christmas as divorced people, with two households, 2 kitchens and 2 Christmas trees—I hit another roadblock with that box.

I couldn’t help but go back over it. I couldn’t help but have another “moment” over this, as the blues began to envelope me again. All those years, all those Christmases, our family history can be partially read from what’s inside that box.

When I finally visited a divorce lawyer earlier this year, there were so many other important points and issues that had to be discussed, but not something like this. We went over the big stuff—like parenting and custody plans, division of property. Those were the hurricanes we had to weather as we have progressed through this process of the dissolution of a marriage. And we have weathered them and it’s been hard. But the divorce lawyer didn’t cover some of the little things that come up, these microbursts of localized storms that hit me in the solarplex and knock me off my center. No one told me about the Christmas box.

I have found that these kinds of moments can creep in and derail me—finding meaning and attachment in the stuff that mounted up over the years and seemed so mundane at the time—those moments, the ones that send me back over time and over all the years and happy and the bittersweet memories. How many of those Christmases did I stress out and rush and pull it together and overdo it, trying to make the perfect experience for my family? How many times did I wonder why do I make it so important every year?  The tree that this particular box of ornaments decorates is the symbol of all of that.

As I looked at that box, still unopened, over the next day or two, I began to get inspired. What if I didn’t open the box? What if I could bring myself to buy some new ornaments this year and start over? I could try to not make this about putting the same family tree up as we always have done. I could get creative and make a new statement with it this year. Just for this year. Maybe this year I’ll just reinvent the tree. A clean slate. A fresh outlook.

And I’m not even a proper Christian! I’m all-inclusive, but closer to being a Buddhist, actually. The tree isn’t even about religion for me and for our family. It’s about giving and family tradition. The winter festival of lights.

In our living room, the tree stands next to a Buddha, an angel and some Native American art. It faces an Aboriginal painting and a feng shui fountain. My meditation pillow sits on the floor nearby.

After the inspiration hit, I realized I’d have to have one of those sideways “discussions” with my 17-yr old Sammy. I have to go in sideways with him because he really does not like to talk very much. Especially about meaningful stuff. Or at least “Mom’s meaningful stuff.”

I lead with a general statement about how I want to discuss something that he will deem as lame….

Me: “So I know you probably don’t care about this, but I want to ask you something about the Christmas tree.”

Him: “I don’t care.” (Not looking up from his phone.)

Me: “Yeah I know, it’s probably not really important. But I had this idea that maybe this year I’d do something different with the ornaments. Like maybe not use the old ornaments at all and get something new, like make a new design or color scheme.”

Him: “OK. But I really could care less.”

Me: “Yeah, I know, but I’m your mother and even if you don’t care it’s important I give you the option to weigh in.”

Pause. (He was reading a text, I think.) I wait. He looks up.

Him: “Mom! I don’t c….”

Me: “So if you decide there is something from the old box of ornaments that you really miss and you want me to add, just let me know because I’m your mother and it’s my job to….”

Him: “I really don’t care.” (Back to the text.)

And that’s how it went. But at least he knows that he could weigh in. And he won’t come home to another big change, as God knows, there have been so many in the last few months. I’ve prepared him. And at least he knows that I care.

So, I went to Target and filled my cart. I decided to go with a cool color scheme: it will be brown and gold this year. I got excited! I went straight home and put them up on the tree. A flurry of activity, a surge of energy overtook me.

And then, I stepped back.

Beautiful. Majestic. Creative. Artistic. And a bit generic.

And foreign.


Sunday, January 9, 2011


You’d think I’d be used to teaching a kid to drive, this being my third time through it (2 sons and a stepdaughter). But I recently learned that the best way for me to be in the car with my teen driver is to let my husband sit in the front seat, with me in the back. I have to promise to keep my head down and not look while we merge onto the freeway. Not that our teen driver is doing so bad, he’s actually doing quite well. The problem is me. I’m a worrier.

There is a lot to be concerned about, though. Car crashes are the number one killers of teens in the United States, so it’s important to know the facts and risks. I thought I’d pull together some resources to both bolster up my arsenal of helpful tools and to also share some tips with other parents of teens out there that are going through it too.

First of all, we have no problem turning over the lessons to a professional instructor and mining outside resources. I need all the help I can get, no matter how good a driver I may be. The good news about a professional is that they don’t have the emotional attachment that could add to the stress of the situation and they have the experience to teach this skill in a calm and efficient way.
But in between lessons and the driver’s license test, though, a lot of hours have to be logged behind the wheel so that we can prepare him to be a proficient driver for his lifetime.

·      Don’t be negative, freak out or have a meltdown. (Sit in the back seat if you have to and have someone else be co-pilot!)
·      Don’t use their time behind the wheel to nag them about other issues like their chores or homework!
·      Don’t allow your teen to take his behind-the-wheel test too soon. It’s always better to wait. Sure, it will be convenient for your teen to have ability to drive themselves to the game practice or the store, but the more supervised experience they have under their belts before being on their own, the safer they will be. And safety should be our number one priority here, not convenience.

·      Decide ahead of time what today’s lesson will be and outline it (like today we’ll be practicing left-hand turns around this specific route).
·      Start small for their first lessons, like in an empty parking lot. Work up to the freeway!
·      Use encouragement and positive reinforcement (point out what they are doing well).
·      Calmly point out when mistakes are made, without shaming or freaking out.
·      Make lots of opportunities to practice (like on errands and extra curricular activities)
·      Set a good example when you are driving. Make conscious choices to remain calm, don’t run yellow lights, always make full stops, stick to the speed limit, wear a seatbelt, show respect to other drivers. It’s important that my teen driver listens as I explain what I’m doing and why, when I’m doing the driving.
·      Use at least one lesson to go over emergency roadside situations, changing a tire, driving in inclement weather, checking the oil and coolant levels, filling with gas and jumpstarting a battery. And we need to have a plan about what to do if the car breaks down or if he’s involved in an accident.
·      Draw up a safe-driving contract with your teen. This would include all your house rules about your car and all the state laws, like wearing a seat belt at all times, refraining from speeding, driving under the influence and talking on the phone or texting while driving. The Automobile Club of America has a great contract (it’s free), as well as other resources for parents of teen drivers.

The most important thing to remember with a teen driver is that we are preparing him or her to go out there in the world and use this 3,000 pound machine in get around in safely and responsibly. But it is not a “right,” it’s a privilege—and it’s important for us to help him understand that. As long as he is a minor, we will allow him to drive under the rules we have set down, after he has completed a driver’s training course and signed a contract with us. It is our job to make sure our teen driver develops an appreciation that driving is a highly complex task for which he needs maturity and judgment.

And in the meantime, I've been relegated to the back seat.