Please Hold On To Me: A Memoir (post 6)

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I’ve been taking care of our life without this guy for at least three years and I can continue to do it without dragging him along, heels dug in. I can let go of him and do what I know how to do—love and care for my girls, hold on to them. Good riddance.

This understanding fills me and I run faster and deeper into the trees, through mud, and over logs. Control and empowerment give me temporary strength. Time stands still. I can do all the life things without him. I can take care of my girls and pets and house even with the leaks and moss and the weathering from the rain. I have and I can.

As if a breeze of confidence calls my subconscious from the deep ocean within, doubt leaks inside my ship. But what if he’s hiding money, I hear another voice call to the surface? What if he disappears altogether? What if he leaves you with nothing? What will you do then? You’ll have to get a new house and they’ll have to change schools and get new friends—or worse, they won’t have friends. What if you have to leave your girls every day to go back to work? Remember how much you used to work, how hard it was to stop at the end of the day, the weeks spent traveling from New Jersey to Chicago and Sacramento and Denver? How will you hold on to them if you’re consumed with putting your life back together? You know how this will turn out, the voice says.

I’m a hard worker, loyal, passionate, and have lots of experience—I can get a job. But, I also know for sure I can’t work like I used to work and take care of my girls like I’ve been able to take care of them—by myself in the suburbs where my kids have their friends and activities and school. Any major change after this year will be a final blow. I can’t pick them up and move them without serious repercussions to their fragile psyche—they are experiencing trauma just like I am. The only thing more traumatic to a kid than divorce is the death of a parent and right now it feels like there’s been a death without the balm of love and kindness that surrounds a family in loss. I can’t even summon the wherewithal to hold myself together, how will I prove myself at a new job AND keep them together? Bang! The thunder stops me. My stomach seizes because I know the guy I’m married to is capable of leaving me with nothing. He doesn’t care. He’s gone.

This terrifying path starts to track like a Survivor course: my kids are abandoned by their father who lives in Florida now, I resume my career, we are pulled further and further away from the life we know. They feel emotionally abandoned by their mother. They see him once a year and have a stepmother (or stepmothers) who doesn’t want them around, scares them and doesn’t let them close to their dad; they are untethered in this world and start to rely on only themselves. They turn inside out and their true selves—sweet, curious, and trusting—disappear into the world. They fall down the rabbit hole of statistics on children and divorce: they can’t deal with the stress so they leave their body and turn against themselves (and me), they’re angry and distraught, school becomes too hard, they have issues with peers, get bullied, start smoking pot and drinking beer or Jack Daniels with Coke in a red plastic cup to belong; they sleep with boyfriends to feel connected, smile and shove who they are so far out of reach, they don’t remember who they once were, they marry someone only capable of loving themselves, they don’t remember their light, or worse they give it all away because it doesn’t seem worth holding on to…

I stop walking because I can’t be in this nightmare, use my muscles, and breathe at the same time. I am me now, reeling from the disaster called my life; I am my younger self trying to hold on, and I am my girls. Is this just the beginning? Will I lose my girls like I lost my parents—shells discarded from a long ago ecosystem scattered hundreds of miles by the rhythm of the tides?

I see myself on a deserted island after the storm that raged for days and I am pulled under fifty-foot waves, black and white, charcoal and gray, resurfacing for seconds of breath until I am washed up to the shore choking, barely breathing, lost, alone, wrecked. Am I destined to be left on a deserted island, unworthy of rescue? Will my girls be by themselves, repeating the story because their father left them and their mother was decimated by the aftermath?

Please Hold On To Me: A Memoir (post 3)

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It feels like I’ve barely survived a natural disaster of calamitous proportions, seeking refuge from bitter winds, torrential rain, plummeting temperatures. My house a shelter, the last safe place. Although I’ve never been directly affected by hurricane winds and flooding or had my house crumble in front of me, I imagine those shattering situations to be better than what’s happening right now, regardless of how soft my couch feels, how lovely the vacations, or beautiful the view. All I’ve ever wanted is to go through life’s ups and downs with the person I love. I imagine we could get through anything, even a natural disaster, holding on to each other and our children but that is no longer the case for me.

It’s supposed to be us taking on the world, not us taking on us, as it’s been all too often in my life. The person who promised to hold my heart, and I his, changed his mind and got on the last flight out. I am left holding onto everything we built together – except his business but he credits only himself in that endeavor. I am ever grateful for the life we chose together and all that has been bestowed to me but I would trade it all to joyously raise my girls with the man I love and who truly loves me.

My parents were divorced. It was my dad who got full custody of my younger brother and me when I was almost five. The actual event was barely a drizzle raining down from Seattle skies. It wasn’t their divorce per se, but the constant drip of stress and smaller traumas that slowly poisoned my childhood, eighteen years summed up with one word.

For my generation, whose childhood spanned the 1970s and 80s, divorce is hardly remarkable. It happens so often; forty to fifty percent of couples break apart, a number that rose exponentially from less than twenty percent in the 1950s. Divorce is old news, hardly worth mentioning anymore. From the outside it’s just a light dusting of snow on the lowland hills, only a change in seasons – short-lived and life resumes once everyone is settled. “When are you going to move on, Janna, it’s over,” said one of my closest friends at the time, like I had food poisoning six months ago and keep making myself sick for attention. What? Although well-meaning, I’m sure, my friend’s comment speaks to our collective naivety of what it means to be forcefully extricated from the life you live, and imagined you’d live until your time here on earth is done. In the game of Life, you go back at least twenty spaces. I don’t have to choose my career path again, thankfully I took the college route, and I already have three pink pegs in my blue car, but I do have to go back too many spaces to be counted as a mere setback.

To say divorce is unremarkable negates the impact it has on one million kids per year whose parents try to start life over, ending their connection to each other and often times to their family. If it’s your parents, your kids, your life, it’s shattering. Many times, the parent who doesn’t have custody feels the immediate heartbreak most acutely, the children not quite aware of what’s happening and the parent with custody can briefly forget within the routines of parenting, respite from the ache. A lack of awareness is a blessing and a curse. In my case, it was my mom who was pushed out and then gave up on being a parent to look for solace in new bonds and a new life free of guilt and shame and loneliness. But in most cases at that time and now, it’s the dad who is kicked out of the tribe – first in moving away from the family and then by emotional bitterness setting him up for failure in holding the connection to his children. Ultimately it’s the child, millions of kids, it was me, and now my three girls who lose the most.

We all have the one thing we say we will NEVER do, ever. We will do whatever it takes to avoid this horrible thing we experienced as a child. We will bound to the top of snow-covered mountains or crawl through a waterless desert, navigate the greatest storm in a rowboat but we will never let this one thing happen. This was my thing – never, never, never will I get divorced and put my kids in a situation where they question the love of either of their parents, where they have to grow up faster than they are supposed to. “Really, God? This is where I am going? This path right here despite it all?” I look up into the gray clouds to ask these questions daily. I am incredulous. My only solace is that maybe within our one tragic-awful-catastrophic-heart-shattering-calamitous-no-way-never thing is where we ultimately find wisdom, acceptance of life and ourselves, grace. Even so, it doesn’t seem fair but who am I to argue? I have to concede that this life is my life and, yes, I must move on as best as I can.

When I was young I felt responsible to hold onto my dad, my only available parent, but I was just a kid. Our deepest need is to be attached, to belong. The only power I had was to sit quietly and wait for him to hold on to me until I couldn’t wait anymore, I had to grow up despite the conditions. This one gut-wrenching year when my own marriage fell apart gave me the gift to go back in time to parent myself through my dad’s three divorces and loss of his fourth wife from cancer, to give myself what I’d desperately needed as a kid – to be held onto by both parents. This time I did have the power to change the trajectory for my girls. I had the power to hold them close so they didn’t have to choose to hold on to their parents or to grow up – two essential imperatives hardwired from the beginning and should never be mutually exclusive. It was my responsibility to hold onto my girls, and despite every raw instinct to keep them safe from the person who was hurting me more than I thought possible, it was my responsibility to keep them connected to their dad. No one, not even me, can replace a parent.

 

 

Please Hold On To Me: A Memoir (post 1)

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I have prepared for this year all my life, a primordial fate once hidden under a melting sheet of ice; now cracked, the rushing river underneath sweeps me off my feet and threatens all I once called mine.

I made it to another Friday; it’s 4:00 a.m. and as with every morning after waking up two hours before my alarm, I get up, splash water on my sunken eyes, swallow something for my throbbing head before stumbling downstairs to feed my dog and cat. Coffee is first; I add the filter, two tablespoons of ground Starbucks Verona and six cups of water. As I wait for the magic that is coffee, I check my email and Facebook to see if something has changed since 11:00 p.m. Black Friday sales are coming early but otherwise nothing. The coffee pot beeps and the sound of hot liquid pouring into my cup whispers to me that I can do this thing I have to do today, unbearable even one month ago, yesterday; any earlier would have killed me, but I feel mostly dead anyway, so maybe it doesn’t matter.

The only thing that matters is to save my girls from losing their childhood far too early, from losing their connection with their parents from divorce like I did. I sip my coffee at the kitchen table, vanilla cream and chocolate stirred in to cut the bitterness. It’s dark still, rain pelting the windows that look toward the Olympic Mountains in the distance, one of the only houses in the golf community with a view other than the course. My girls sleep for another couple hours before it’s time to get dressed for school, excited to say goodnight to their dad for the first time since we moved back to Washington State six months ago. Our one magical year living at the base of America’s first ski resort, Sun Valley, Idaho, turned into an avalanche sending all five of us careening down the mountain I spent the past seventeen years climbing.

Every morning since the end of August, I crawl out of a dark crevasse; the routine of getting my three girls to school is my only foothold to what had been my beautiful life. I am in shock – the I-have-to-choose-to-breathe-in-and-out kind of shock. At night I only fall asleep after reading Pema Chödrön’s book, When Things Fall Apart, with a hot water bottle on my chest, melting the ice crystals lodged in my heart, constricting even a breathe without conscious effort. My blood pressure is so low I should be passed out on the floor and I’ve lost twenty-five pounds, my weight less than my ten-year-old self. Every night, the same prayer, “Please help me. Please tell me what to do tomorrow,” and every morning I get up with a singular focus. There is no weighing of options, always just one thing I must do.

This evening I have to take my girls, the three people who mean more to me than my own life, to stay overnight with their dad for the first time since our lives collapsed from the weight of secrets and lies and madness. I thought living in the Rockies for a year, my husband’s fly-fishing dream, would be a magical year of togetherness, of connection, and outdoor adventures, but instead ended in complete devastation. The end of June, my husband disappeared from our driveway with the Uhaul hitched to the back of his pickup without us, excused by his travel schedule that kept him away most of the time during the past year – while we waited for him next to the river, on the trails, on the mountain. I never saw him again, at least the guy I thought I was married to. And now, tonight, I will drop my girls off by themselves, my worst nightmare based on my own childhood defined by divorce, with this person who became untethered living at 6,000 feet above sea level, that I don’t know anymore, and may as well have shot a bullet into the center of me and left me for dead.

Write Now

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The time is NOW.

I have a business degree and had a successful marketing career I loved in another lifetime, but through the twists and turns of life (i.e. three children, a specific life set up chosen by mutual commitment–also in another lifetime–and an internal gauge that doesn’t allow more than one setting at a time), I no longer crave the fast-paced, hand-shaking, yes-hustling, suit-wearing, jet-traveling, conference-room-brainstorming world of yesteryear.

The passion I pursue is storytelling layered with why people do the things they do, how the times we live in and people we live with shape us; what it means to be one person in this big world and one person in our own small world. The first story I need to tell is my own and it’s the story of how I lost my parents through divorce, heartache, and growing up. It feels like a giant dough ball I keep kneading and pulling apart and putting back together. I have been working that dough ball for quite some time, along with the little thing called learning to write. It feels important. 

I had a good childhood but a lot went wrong too and I used to blame all of it on my parent’s divorce when I was four-years-old. My absolute worst fear ambushed me when I went through my own traumatic divorce a couple years ago. Juxtaposing my adult experience with my childhood was terrifying and I will have to write that book when I no longer relive those few years.

Alas all is well now, I landed that highjacked plane, but I have learned some things from my child eyes, two decades of obsession with understanding human nature, and watching my three girls during our family upheaval. The story I can tell is how divorce was done in the 70s and 80s is no longer the same today. My generation was the first to experience divorce en mass, where over a million kids per year lost a parent, and maybe two by their other parent’s grief, pursuit of new love, or working three jobs. The divorce rate shot up to fifty percent by 1980. It was a crazy time. Governor Ronald Reagan signed the No Fault Divorce laws in California in 1969 (one month before I was born,) our country’s social and political structures made seismic shifts toward chaos, and yet many young people still wanted to believe the Leave It To Beaver pace of life would hold them. It didn’t, as many can attest.

I have read too many books about writing, purchased even more and I’ve been to many conferences and talks to teach myself how to write creatively. Turns out business writing isn’t so creative. I wish I could have just download the software since I already have enough school. Darn. Anyway, the time is NOW. I am starting this book and the above chart will mostly likely be the trajectory of my progress.

Let momentum be my kick in the…buns.

Life at the Speed of Life

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This week I had two of my three girls home for Spring Break. Since they were tiny, we have always traveled to Sun Valley, Idaho to catch the end of ski season and the beginnings of spring in the Rocky Mountains. However, this year is the first year our family of five is a family of four and we are all feeling less like butterflies and more like a caterpillars ensconced in chrysalis. Staying home was a chance to do life at the speed of life.

My younger girls are what I call Pioneer Girls (my preteen is a pioneer-girl-in-training, I call her my book girl) because they like to get their hands dirty and would prefer anything that has to do with real life than the entertainment most kids would go for. We had a ball sewing blankets and pillows, baking, gardening, cleaning our house, bike rides to the park, play dates with friends, and a few movies thrown in for extra snuggling on the couch after sleeping in and hanging out in our PJs for at least half the day. It was balm to my soul. It was life at the speed of life for all of us.

This year has been one of the most difficult (okay, actually the MOST difficult) years of my life, but at the same time has been the most peaceful, filled with extraordinary ordinary moments that have changed my perspective on life forever. Instead of breakneck speed of shuttling three kids to, well, everywhere, traveling and keeping everyone in a family of five happy (not easy when one was hell bent on being unhappy), our lives have now become grounded in our tranquil home with candles, flowers, flute music, healing crystals and art, lots of art. Sometimes the activity schedule gets disregarded, school breaks are spent at home and our lives are now filled with color, kindness and love.

The vibration of life has changed dramatically. I am noticing all that is quiet and lovely. When you slow life down to quiet, your inner self can come out of your head and you notice all the people who are doing the same ordinary, beautiful things you are: taking their kids to school, going to work, the grocery store, walking their dog, planting flowers, reading the newspaper, helping their parents or grandparents, nursing a hurt knee or teaching a child how to ride a bike or fix a flat tire. You revel in small conversations with the woman at the check out counter or the veterinarian or the man helping you at Home Depot. Kind people living life at the speed of life, who go home to their families, make dinner, go through the mail, let down their shields in the only real place that any of us can; at home, our sanctuary.