Starting Over Never Stops

It’s been ages since I posted here, but that’s because the starting over never stops! I just moved me and my son into a new house in a new town, leaving New York City after 24 years. After all the change I’ve been through—starting with my divorce in 2004, and then falling in love again, losing my parents, changing my career, and going through another heartbreaking breakup—I felt like it was time for a change of scenery. And oh, it feels fantastic!!

One of the most difficult things about divorce is giving up the dream you had of the life you had imagined for yourself. And yes, that dream deserves to be grieved and wept over. But please remember this, also, to comfort yourself: That life isn’t what would have happened. What we imagine our futures to be is not what we get. In the end, we live some combination of things we’d dreamed and things we might dread—and then there are all the magical surprises we would never have been able to imagine.

For me, our new house is that. I had never thought past living in New York City. I don’t think I’d ever imagined staying there forever, either, but the house was not something on my horizon. Until suddenly it was, and the urge to have it became very strong. As I wrote on my other blog, “Filling In The Blanks” (which is sort of the story of everything that happened after my book ends, though I don’t write there as often as I would like), sometimes you hear a whisper in your head that says, “It is okay to want a life that is different than the one you have. Go and get it.”

That came for me years after my divorce, but it was nonetheless an aftershock of the divorce, of the reshaping of my family. Now, just one year after my second round of heartbreak, I am fully at peace with the shape of my little family: me, Zack and Zack’s father. Zack’s father has been so supportive about the move, knowing that it would be good for Zack, but also knowing that it would be really good for me—and therefore, also good for Zack. We all rely on each other, the three of us. It’s a natural and beautiful thing.

Eight years ago, I could never have imagined that would be true, that the three of us would feel like a family. But that’s just the point: The change, it never stops coming. Let that comfort you, because what we can’t see coming our way is not always bad. Be open to all the good that will find you in your life, if you can stay open enough after heartbreak to let it in.

A new home

Hello, there, anyone who is out there! I am so happy to announce and show off my new home for Falling Apart In One Piece.com…. My lovely book site had been completely taken over by spambots, and there was nothing I could do to save it, except build again.

That’s a pretty apt metaphor, isn’t it? For a site about a book—and, more importantly, about that moment in life—about rebuilding one’s life from the ground up?

In the years since Falling Apart In One Piece came out in 2010, a lot has happened. Just as I knew it would. I fell in love. Again. My boyfriend moved in with me and my son. Then my parents became gravely ill out of nowhere (healthy in December, both gone by July), I resigned from my post at Redbook, and I set about doing everything I could to help them through their last months, and then to pack up and sell everything they’d ever owned after they were gone.

Gutting times, to say the least. I clung to a lot of the lessons I’d lived in this book: holding on, knowing it wouldn’t always be this dark; remembering that life takes sudden left turns and the grief would lift. But I was also thrown into a more confusing space than even in my divorce, so much of my identity yanked away from me.

And, then, after the first year after their death, I started writing a new blog about rebuilding my life… again. You can find that blog here, at Filling In The Blanks. Fair warning: This blog is intense, as it is me living through all my loss in real time, not one year after I’d realized I’d made it, like the book is. And, of course, it’s also very raw because my boyfriend and I, despite our best intentions, despite our five years together and how much we loved each other, simply could not make it work. The reasons are many, and I could write 10,000 words about them, but as I wrote in Falling Apart, the only reason that matters is because we could not stay together. And yes, it was, and is very sad.

But I am once again doing okay. Though not at all interested in dating again until my son is 34!! And am so happy to have this bright, new, shiny site, where we can all come together and share our own stories of divorce and grief and joy and life and lean toward all the good things that are surely headed our way.

Thanks for stopping by! Please share you story or just sign the guestbook on this page here, and take some time to read about everyone else’s journey through loss. It’s actually very comforting to see how much company there is! More than 600 posts on this site to date! Or read some of the articles I wrote that compress the lessons I learned into 550 words, to share with your friends, or just read for yourself, and leave a comment. There are lots of places to share part of your journey, and I’d love to read it, and provide you whatever company I can.

Very best,

SLM

A Divorce Conference in NYC!

I am excited to announce that I will be speaking at a conference all about divorce: how to survive it, smart financial tactics, how to get on your own new path, and more. The conference is called The Start Over Smart Expo, and will be March 31 and April 1, 2012 in New York City. (Click HERE for more info)

In a way, my life has come full circle, because I used to speak at bridal expos when I was editor in chief of Modern Bride magazine back in the ’90s. (The magazine doesn’t exist anymore, and neither does my marriage, but that’s purely cooincidential, I assure you!)

I am really looking forward to my talk at the expo, because it won’t be a speech or a lecture. Instead I’m hoping it will be an exchange, a time for the audience members to share some of their stories and for me to help them think about their divorce differently, in a way that moves them forward, setting them free from staying engaged in the struggles of the past. The session is called “Reclaiming Your Divorce for Yourself,” and that’s the journey that I describe in my book, all those moments where I had to deeply consider what, exactly, it was that was so shameful, hurtful, and damaging about my divorce…. and then decide to think about it all differently. To think about it an opportunity to re-tune my vision of myself, to let go of worrying about what people thought and instead focus on what I thought. That was what I had to do to reclaim my divorce.

What would you have to do to reclaim your divorce, to not make it about what did or didn’t happen in your marriage, and instead make it who you are now?

If you are in the New York City area, I hope you will consider coming to the Expo.

For those of you who can’t, here’s a blog post I wrote for Start Over Smart, which talks a bit more about how I reclaimed my divorce.

And the Change Keeps Coming

I have been divorced for—woah!—more than five years now. And it was eight years ago that Chris told me he wanted to go. It’s hard to believe how routine and easy our divorced life is now, since it came from such a hard, emotional, challenging times.

But when I was going through the divorce, and then later writing the book, I knew that change would keep coming to us, and that we would only know how to react to those changes as they came our way. I am happy to report that Chris and I have had very few difficulties and troubles, other than the ordinary conflicts of clashing parenting styles and rules, which every couple, divorced or not, has to navigate.

Several months ago, I realized I was going to need to move out of Brooklyn, where Chris and I both live, 20 blocks apart, because I simply can’t afford to support my son and myself here in my current job. The day I decided to let Chris know that this was looking like the situation was scary in so many ways. We did not have an agreement in our divorce regarding living in the same city (as many people do), partly because I always knew the day would come when one of us would have to move away from this expensive town. But I don’t think I thought it would be me!

Would he be furious at me? Would he tell me there was no way I was allowed to move his son away from him? Would he insist we go to lawyers to negotiate this? (Unlikely, but still, I was entering uncharted waters.) But no, Chris simply said, “I was figuring that was going to happen.” And I promised that I would take full responsibilty to bring Zack to him as often as made sense, as often as we agreed. And he said that he knew that I would.

I was relieved. And I was also once again filled with a sense of satisfaction that Chris and I have been able to manage to have an open and trusting relationship. That he didn’t assume the worst, that I was trying to take Zack away from him or make some kind of parenting power play. He just knows that I am our divided family’s economic engine, and that it’s in all of our best interests that I be able to find a place I can still save some money for Zack’s future.

See? In divorce it sometimes simply isn’t about the Who Wins? Sometimes it’s simply about What Makes The Most Sense. I wish all of you the ability to get to that place with your own ex. It takes time, but the rewards are deep and wide.

Other People’s Stories, So Much Like Mine

I’ve recently started a new job, as editor of a new channel at BlogHer.com called BlogHerMoms. It’s a pretty amazing job, because I spend all day reading women’s stories about their lives that they’ve posted on the internet, and choose a few to feature.

Today I came across a piece that made me laugh, not just because it was funny, but because it described pretty much what had happened to me when my husband and I first separated. All our marriages and all our divorces may be different, but some things—like other people’s ham-handed curiosity—are the same for us all.

Here’s a snippet of the piece, written by Tara of Do These Kids Make Me Look Crazy?  Click through the read the rest on her site. It’s worth it!

Sometimes I Say Stupid Things. And By “I”, I Mean You.

I’m the queen of saying stupid things. Like last summer when I inadvertently implied that a friend was pregnant when she wasn’t and everyone congratulation her because she was starting to “show.” Or that time when I called my friend’s new boyfriend by her ex-boyfriend’s name at his own birthday party. Or yesterday, when I referred to a coworker’s daughter as a son despite the fact that a picture of the child is on her desk, and she has a bow in her hair.

It stands to reason, therefore, that karma felt compelled to taunt me after my husband and I separated a few months ago. Apparently, it was my turn to be the recipient of tactless questions and commentary. And because I prefer to think that I’m not alone in this experience, I asked my Facebook friends to chime in with their own sad tales. Here are some of my favorites.

Maybe you should try harder. (Let’s see, it’s been nearly a year, our counseling bill is higher than our mortgage payment, we’ve both lost ten pounds, and we still can’t speak to one another without tears or arguing.)

We never liked him anyway. Really? Like, you all sat around and talked about how you didn’t like him and it didnt’ feel at all disloyal to me? Awesome.

So, when are you going to start dating? Um, it’s Wednesday. He moved out Saturday. I’d answer you, but I’m crying really ahrd and the children keep pulling on my pant leg asking for Daddy.

CLICK HERE TO READ THE REST
Is this parade of ridiculous comments familiar to you? Have any other good ones to add? I promise that with a few years’ time, even these insanely rude comments get funny.

I Don’t Want Company

It’s finally happened, something I never, ever would wish for: A dear, close friend of mine, whom I’ve known since I was officially a kid, has decided she must leave her marriage.

I am happy to be able to be her guide, to lend my steadying arm, to have at the ready all the things you have to learn as you go through divorce, and then never need again. I hope I can save her some time, some fluster, help her find her way to her answers faster, with less confusion and panic.

I may be an advocate for finding a graceful way to let go in divorce. I may believe that I can help people choose the least damaging path when they fall apart.

But that will never, ever mean that I am blasé when I hear the news of another breakup.

Life is fragile. Handle with care. A moment of silence, please.

Edging Toward Two Daddies

Another thing about this father’s holiday is…. well, you know, Zack has a second father figure in his life: my boyfriend, who lives with us, and has lived with us for more than a year.

Frankly, I have to admit I’m still amazed that this is allowed to happen. The fact that I could meet a man who loved me *and* my son, and who agreed to take us both on (of course, without his even knowing what was in store for us just weeks after he moved in, but that’s another story unrelated to divorce, and you’ll have to go here to read about it), just seems like an impossibly lovely occurance. But if I learned anything from my divorce, it’s to stop expecting that you have any idea when the good and the bad will make their grand entrances in your life. They don’t really care about our schedules, it turns out. So you just have to say howdy and pull up a chair when they decide to visit.

The process of Zack and my boyfriend’s getting used to each other was an amazing thing to watch. In my case, my boyfriend was more reserved about making the connection than was my son, being worried about overstepping his bounds. But Zack’s like me: a big, sloppy wet-kiss puppy waiting to love any creature in an 8-foot radius. So Zack learned to adjust to his slower pace, stopped draping his body all over D’s, waited for all the signals to align. One night as I was putting Zack to bed, he said to me, “Mom, D—— doesn’t love out loud like we do.” Exactly. But the important part was, clearly he was feeling D’s love anyway.

So Zack has spent a lot of time investing in the language of ownership. Last year at the 1st grade school picnic, he screamed delightedly when D showed up, “My mom’s boyfriend is here! My mom’s boyfriend is here!” I blushed, because something about the nomenclature made me feel like D and I had just escaped our love nest, with the hot blush of nookie still on our faces. A few weeks later, Zack said he wanted us to get married, especially because we had a family trip to Hawaii coming up. (I don’t know how he knew, but he said, “Hawaii’s perfect for a wedding! You can get married on the beach!”) He also admitted, when I asked him to tell me more about what he was feeling, that he didn’t like calling him “my mom’s boyfriend,” he said. It wasn’t like everyone else. But what I really think was going on is that that term didn’t capture Zack’s very own relationship with my boyfriend; Zack, ever a wordsmith, knew he wasn’t included in that language.

So when we were in Hawaii, we got sent a little piece of grace, in the form of a sprite-like 4-year-old blonde charmer in a flowered bikini who struck up a conversation with Zack in the pool. She said, “Is that your daddy over there?” And Zack said, without hesitation, “No, that’s not my dad. He’s back in Brooklyn. But he’s like my stepdad.” I quickly hid my face behind my puzzle book, so Zack wouldn’t know I was listening, and I threw an elbow in D’s ribs to make sure he was catching it. Then the little girl said, “I have TWO daddies. And we live in Atlanta.” Zack said, “Oh, cool.” And the two of them paddled and splashed around the stairs until, sure enough, the darling girl’s second father showed up, and jumped into the pool to swim with her.

We’ve had many more “stepdad” and “parent” incidents since then, but each one stil feels like a totally original pearl, a thing of beauty born out of heartbreak and hard times. On Memorial Day weekend, D was trying to teach Zack how to ride a bike. Pedal-pedal-fall over; pedal-pedal-fall over. I was standing by, guarding a stair railing that might impale Zack if he tipped in the wrong place. Z fell over again, this time the pedal scraping his leg as he went down. Indignant and furious, he stood up and said, “You two are the worst parents EVER! I’m calling the police on you!” before he started walking back toward the bike.

D and I just raised our eyebrows at each other, before Zack could see it, and Zack walked over to the bike desipte his anger, and got on and tried again, content that two terrible parents were helping him through this rite of passage.

I’m posting a picture of my son and his third parent (though my boyfriend would be very unhappy about it), because I wanted you to see their expressions. You can’t make this stuff up. Which, it turns out, is the truly great part about it.

image

Those Damn Parenting Holidays

When I was first divorced, Mother’s Day was agonizing for me. My son was just 16 months old, so for him the holiday was just another day (and trust me, I wasn’t expecting a card from him or anything). But for me, I spent the day thinking about how Mother’s Day is actually a holiday from the FATHER to the MOTHER. And I didn’t live with Zack’s father anymore. And I was still feeling like that was some kind of huge failure.

Fortunately for me, my amazing friend Kim (read more about her amazingness here) invited Zack and me to join her and her daughter and husband in their Mother’s Day brunch. I was so relieved not to be alone.

For the first Father’s Day, I handed off Zack to his father in our normal share-the-weekend routine, and I did manage to wish him a happy father’s day. And I meant it. Even though it was hurtful to see the way he was blooming as a parent without me—I’d had such a hard time to get him involved when we were still married—I was immensely grateful for what that meant and would come to mean to Zack. As I wrote in my book, if Chris had to pick one of us, he chose the right one.

This year, Zack and his dad are going to a baseball game in Brooklyn, to see the Cyclones play against the Yankees (!) on Coney Island. Zack will be wearing his baseball uniform, and attending with some of his baseball teammates and their fathers. I have to admit my heart swells a bit at this charmingly old-school father-son event. I feel like I should capture it in a sepia photo or something.

But for some people who’ve divorced, these holidays still awaken old hurts. Sometimes it takes years to get to the place where you can even consider celebrating the other partner. And since I don’t think everyone in the world had the kind of divorce I did, I want to send you on over to read a great, honest post by Moxie, about the tangle of Father’s Day for her, at the totally awesome blog she writes with her ex, Laid-Off Dad, When the Flames Go Up, about the perils of co-parenting with an ex-spouse you don’t particularly like.

Vive la difference! I really admire them both for the way they work through their could-be-ugly stuff with such dignity.

Do You Dare Date Again?

Well, of course I say YES, you do have to dare to date again. It took me awhile to buck up my nerve. For twelve months I was in total internal seclusion, just coping. And then I lucked out and started a text-and-telephone relationship with a college not-quite-boyfriend. It was like a relationship with training wheels (even though it was very consuming). The distance and the fact that we really couldn’t be a couple in reality made it all feel very safe. And then the relationship just slowly faded away. After that, I ended up online, that wonderful one-stop-shopping spot for groceries, clothes, books and toys, and a nice guy to go to a movie with on a Wednesday night when it’s time to stop being alone. (Warning: one of my just-for-entertainment dates turned into a now-three-year boyfriend! Funny how that happens!)

Here’s my radio interview with the fantastic Joanie Winberg, of the Single Again? Now What radio show (as well as the director of the National Association of Divorce for Women). In it, I talk about how to know when you’re “ready” to date again and how to get ready. (No, not hair and makeup tips; I talk more about how to get your heart ready.) Live and love! Especially after loss!

Click this link to hear the show!

We Stumble Together

So my ex and I have hit a snag. Not a snag between us. Rather, a snag that envelops us.

Turns out, suddenly money is really tight. It’s tight because the economy stinks. Tight because both he and I have been out of work for long patches here and there (though thank goodness, he’s working fulltime again). And tight because our son—our beloved project who will outlast our years together as a couple in six more years—suddenly needs a lot of care and intervention and special attention. That’s $$$pecial attention, in case you were wondering.

Times like this is when living in New York is great, because there are plenty of warm and wonderful people who are helping us understand what Zack’s issues are (educational, social and otherwise). But what can I say? It’s a financially vulnerable time for us to be taking all this on.

I will admit that I really put off telling my ex that I was in trouble and struggling to pay for all these services. I didn’t want to be weak. I didn’t want to NEED him. He left me, after all. Needing someone who rejected you feels like a death-defying proposition. Even though I’ve forgiven him and all is well. I had to admit that I’d fallen a little in love with an idea of myself as the strong survivor. Because of my steady career as a magazine editor, we were able to separate without too much financial panic on either of our parts. My ex didn’t care about “my money,” he said, and he acted accordingly, allowing us to work out a nontraditional agreement that gave him what was his, while also giving me enough to buy a big apartment for our son to live in fulltime.

And now, I’m staring at my emptying out bank account, and looking over the cost of the private schools and so forth that our son needs, and panicking. And having to work with Chris to find a way to make it work.

And you know what? We are. I exposed my fears and mounting financial concern to him, expecting anger, eyerolls, refusal, since I am the more comfortable partner. He responded by reassuring me that we’d figure it out. By sending a long and thoughtful email about what he can do now, and what his plans are to help more later.

I’m so grateful. Grateful that that’s who he is. Grateful that we broke up in a way that means every time we have to renegotiate the terms of our connection (since it’s not really negotiating the terms of our separation anymore, now, is it?), we find a new path. We walk in all this unknown together, even though we are apart.

No, that doesn’t pay the bills. But I’d rather be financially stressed and at peace than the opposite any day.

Thanks for being a great partner, Chris, still, four years after we stopped being married.