When my kids are with their dad for a few days, it feels strange when I pick them up again. They almost seem like someone else’s children. They look different to me. My son appears sometimes to have grown overnight.
They are wearing articles of clothing that I might not recognize. Clothing that I did not choose carefully myself as I always had in the past, when I could have described in detail on any given day what they were wearing when they were apart from me.
They even smell different. They smell like the nice perfumey scent of the detergent their father and his girlfriend use. It’s as if any bad memories associated with their departure to that other place can be covered up by the floral overtones.
They have participated in activities I know little or nothing about, where before I knew every detail of their day when they were not at school. They have a relationship with another woman whom they see every day when they are not with me; this relationship I cannot characterize nor control. They have bedrooms I have not seen the insides of. They have different routines I do not know the ins and outs of. They have, in short, a secret life.
But so do I. When they are gone I also live differently than when they are with me. Shamelessly, this may occasionally include eating in front of the TV, sleeping in, and not making my bed. In my case, there also happens to be a lot of tuna noodle casserole involved as well as belting out some very choice Alanis Morissette lyrics!
But my secret life is also about self-discovery. This process began in young adulthood but got derailed somewhere along the stops at marriage and motherhood, so now I have to figure out who I am apart from an ex wife and mother.
What mattered to me before I had a family?
What am I interested in, and what do I want to try doing?
So in the last few months I have relished the comfort of things I once loved doing but haven’t done in far too long – like experiencing the thrill of watching someone else’s personal drama being acted out on stage and losing myself completely in the complexity of an exquisitely written novel.
But, I have also tried new things in the hope of finding sparks of myself in those activities, and contradictorily, in order to distance myself from the person who experienced a horrible betrayal and ensuing divorce.
Ever the introvert, I’ve never been part of a book club or a Bible study till now, but I have enjoyed coming out of my shell and sharing my reflections at these activities. I don’t do art – I can’t draw to save my life – but I felt an amazing release painting pottery for the first time with my children at an art studio. I’m the opposite of a jock, but, I loved the energy at the very first football game I’ve ever attended. First dates many years ago were awkward and uncomfortable, but this time around on my first date after 14 years it just flowed, and I didn’t want it to end.
Most importantly, my secret life is about pursuing my personal passion, which is writing. When I write, I feel ALIVE. This feeling is the polar opposite of what I feel when I think about the end of my marriage. When I write, I don’t feel the walls in my mind closing in like I do when I think about my divorce.
Doing what I love not only helps me work through the pain, but it allows to not be defined by what happened to me.
The end of my marriage brought so many losses:
My life partner,
Precious moments with my children when they are not with me,
My marital status and
My family unit as I knew it and financial stability.
But the joy of writing is one thing that cannot be taken from me. This gift belonged to me long before I was a married woman, and it will stay with me as a divorced woman. It is this gift, and my secret life spent nurturing this gift, that will make me whole again.
What makes you feel alive? Who were you before you were someone’s wife and mother? What would it take to find that person again? Live your secret life so that you can find out.