It wasn’t all time outs…the elves, an army of gingerbread men and High Maintenance Kitty have a midnight battle on the kitchen table…
Alistair and Oliver got me in big trouble this Christmas. But by doing so they solved the greatest riddle of co-parenting after infidelity leads to divorce. How do you partner with a person who you cannot trust and you do not respect on the most important project of your life – raising independent, morally sound, responsible and happy children?
If parenting is the hardest job then co-parenting with an adulterer is like brokering peace in the Middle East and on every Real Housewives show simultaneously using only sign language. With mittens on.
So, how do I do it?
For the past few years I, like many exhausted parents, have been at a total loss on the last few nights before Christmas, when, around midnight, I remember that I have to whip some creative elf mischief out of my bum so The Dudes don’t wake up and discover Alistair and Oliver really are just stuffing and fabric.
On this particular night I spied a bag of caramel popcorn that I had been meaning to throw out because popcorn is the third ingredient listed, behind sugar and even more sugar. (If any of you have an in with the Boy Scouts could you let them know I am not pushing drugs, I mean selling that crap anymore?)
They can be playing with the new video games that The Dudes received as an early Christmas present from their grandparents. They’ll think that’s silly.
And it’ll take me just a few minutes to stage the scene.
So I propped the elves up on the kitchen table. Flipped open the Nintendos. Opened the (TWELVE DOLLAR!) bag of popcorn. Tried some. Retched. And then scattered it around the table and in the laps of the elves. A few pieces found their way on the top of their heads and on the control panels for the games.
Lights out. Nighty-nite. God, I hope High Maintenance Kitty doesn’t eat the popcorn and die.
Well, in the morning a gooey liquid leached out of the Styrofoam masquerading as popcorn and fused with the plastic control panel. Chemicals have a way of bonding like that. There were globules of sticky foreign substances everywhere, as if the gunk had spent the night line dancing all over the kitchen table. Seriously, somehow this stuff oozed along like the blob. It moved. Frightening.
When The Dudes woke they were momentarily amused and then they became mini versions of parents, scolding the elves for being careless with electronics. The Tall Dude was especially miffed. He pursed his lips and looked at his elf with scorn.
So that night I put the elves in a time out. Faced them to the corner and wrote an apologetic note on the blackboard in the kitchen.
We’re sorry for getting your games all sticky. We put oursELVES in a timeout. We love you.
Later, I received a text from my former spouse criticizing my move, questioning how I could put the elves in a time out on the last night they can be magical. It wasn’t actually the last night, but that didn’t matter.
The games were all cleaned up and ready to lull The Dudes into a digital stupor, while I stared at my screen in awe – I’m being scolded for bad elf behavior. A grown man actually took the time to type out a text marveling at what I chose to do with elves. Elves.
My Mom whispered in my ear, Consider the source.
Had he given as much thought to the behavior of the elves (my behavior) as he did to his own behavior during our marriage perhaps we wouldn’t be in this adversarial mess right now.
Have conversations, not affairs. Divorce is not the problem, although it is a problem, the infidelity is.
As I read those words, and others that came at me after, I was stymied. How am I supposed to create a productive co-parenting relationship with someone who felt the need to criticize my choices with stuffed elves but can justify years of deceit and betrayal?
With a sense of humor.
And an open mind.
It’s a choice. And one I am determined to make because of what happened on New Year’s Eve Day.
My hilarious and delightful brother and his beautiful and wisdom-filled wife came to Bolinas to soak in the sights and spend time with The Dudes and me. She was the first family member I saw after discovering my former spouse’s double life.
I will never forget the day. I drove to Napa to pick her up after a girl’s weekend. She was to spend the night with us before flying back home. Only an hour before I had searched for the word LOVE in his Skype application.
I arrived at her rented house in Napa in shock. She opened the door, and I literally fell into her arms. I can still feel the pain that tore me apart as if I was running full speed through wall after wall of barbed wire.
She saw me at the epicenter of grief.
So, she really did not want to see him on New Year’s Eve day. Nor did my brother. My request to meet off the Calmmune so he could take the boys for the holiday was not well received. More criticism. But I’m getting really good at playing Bat Back the Bull S…tuff.
Yet, when I wake in the middle of the night or get behind the wheel of the car for a trip over the hill, I still hold court in my head, with my former spouse on trial.
Don’t you think it’s poor form to judge my choices when you should still be atoning for yours? At least I didn’t break a moral law when I poured out crappy popcorn on a table. I didn’t betray our family. I didn’t live a double life, robbing you of the chance to live through the ups and downs of a marriage, even if the ultimate result was divorce. I didn’t disrespect you so violently. Break my vow to you without any remorse.
The result of those make-believe conversations? Me not sleeping. Me arriving at my destination like a tightly coiled spring. Me not breathing. Me not seeing magic. Me having to work like a salmon swimming up stream on its last day in order to get through one of my precious days on Earth.
On the way into town with The Dudes I practiced the 7-11, a seven second breath in and 11 seconds to slowly let it out. The Tall Dude did it with me. The Little Dude was distracted by cows covered in their winter fur grazing on a newly greened slope of coastal grass bordering a silver-slicked pond, within yelling distance of the ocean. I would have been, too, if I wasn’t busy preparing for another scolding by creating a bubble of energetic protection around my sELF, a sELF so weary from the intermittent onslaught of Bad girl! You should know better. You complicate things. You’re rude. You’re…
You know what I am? A chick trying her best to deal with a person who has ‘said’ in no uncertain terms, You don’t mean jack to me. You mean so little to me I have no problem completely screwing you over, and over, and over. Even though you’re the mother of my children, I couldn’t care less about respecting you. You created a void in me that I had to go fill. And so I did.
As many of you know first hand, that’s a pretty big challenge. One that society thinks we should be able to handle. And if we don’t ace the challenge we’re labeled as bitter, angry, scorned.
I’m none of those. I’m respecting myself for the first time in years by not allowing my former spouse to have a say in the choices I make in my life. If I don’t want him to come to my house, I have the right to say no. If I want to put the elves in a time out I have the right to do so. Goodness, I can’t believe I even need to justify that with a published sentence!
I have rights.
And so do The Dudes.
I pulled my car to the curb in downtown Bolinas. All one block of it. My former spouse was across the street. I expected a bright greeting, and then a look of disgust shot at me when The Dudes were looking elsewhere.
All I got was the bright greeting. Holy Christmas Magic!
The Dudes climbed in the backseat. I gave kisses and wishes for a fun New Year’s Eve. My former spouse asked me how it felt to be on skis after so long, as we had just returned from a few days in the Sierras. I reminded him that I don’t ski, laughing inside at the vision of me plummeting off the chair lift or cartwheeling down the mountain.
Our eyes met and I was momentarily stunned to not see the usual judgmental glare. We all shared three minutes of tension-free conversation.
And then The Tall Dude excitedly spoke nine words that changed me forever:
I’m SO happy! You are using your happy voices!
He had been listening and watching, and like a good parent, gave us in-the-moment positive reinforcement to encourage good behavior.
In that magic moment I saw clearly how important, how ESSENTIAL it is that he have the opportunity to not be burdened with the aftermath of the poor choices his father has made.
He has rights.
And my rights don’t have to be compromised by having positive interactions with his father.
So, what happens if my former spouse lashes out at me again? Or tries to steamroll me when he doesn’t get his way?
Do you remember the old advice given to those nervous about public speaking?
Well, you can bet your last candy cane I am NOT going to picture my former spouse in his underwear. Not a chance.
But I can picture him in an elf outfit. And then put him in a symbolic time out while remembering the absolute joy in the voice of the Tall Dude when he exclaimed how happy he was to see his Mom and Dad at peace.
Joy to the World.
And Happy New Year.
Our weekly gathering over the fiber optics, Yoga for the Emotional Body, is soon to be announced. Just putting the ribbons on the website. FOLLOW or LIKE to join us as we spin magic out of Infidelity and Divorce in 2015. XO