My counselor told me I’m doing things a different way. It was the best thing she could have said in that moment, where I was calling myself a coward or a doormat or whatever. Rewriting my oft-rewritten history. Being incredibly unkind to myself.
And she’s right. The path I’ve chosen can sometimes feel like giving up, and when I look back I cruelly decide I haven’t grown at all and I’m still just letting bullies kick me without standing up for myself. No, no bullies ever actually kicked me, ouch. It’s a metaphor – stick with me here.
When my son was little, he started taking a school bus for the first time, and reported to us, his parents, that he was being picked on by some kid on the bus. Simultaneously, his father and I responded with advice.
“Tell the driver. Try to talk it out.” I said, believing in a system that has really never worked in recorded history except in pamphlets.
“Hit him as hard as you can!” said the father of our already far-too-interested-in-violence 5 year old.
And here folks, you can see the deep cracks between parenting styles that exist regardless of divorce, but of course would become much wider in that inevitability. And while I realize that the short answer, hitting back, would likely be more effective than my own sad little peaceful entry, I just can’t bring myself to call it right.
Over the last 8 or 9 years, I’ve been called crazy by that man, and by my children. I’ve been called abusive. I’ve been kept from my children and lied about, hated and ignored. And you’d think that with all my heart I would be ready to fight back, to hit him as hard as I can. But that’s not me, and knowing this in my heart has been a gift and a curse beyond anything I ever expected to know on this planet. Sometimes I see it as weakness, and I call myself names like pathetic. Sometimes I need the people who know me best to snap me out of it. Sometimes those people tell me to hit him as hard as I can. Nobody likes to see a loved one getting bullied, it’s a natural reaction.
But, and maybe it’s from all that Sesame Street I watched, all that Mr. Rogers, I just know where it goes when you meet ugliness with ugliness. You become ugly. It grabs hold of you and spreads across your skin and eventually into your heart, and you become a different and harder thing. I don’t want to be that thing. I choose not to, again and again. This isn’t weakness, friends. It’s actually incredible strength. It’s character, and it’s solid, not a quivering thing like I sometimes believe. I’m not quivering, and I never have. I mean, sobbing sometimes, which makes me shaky, but no, no quivering.
And so because I haven’t fought back, I’ve allowed myself to “lose” the last thing I was holding onto from the recent post-divorce part of my past, the house I bought to raise my children in through high school. True, my last child is still in high school, but I haven’t seen her since she was in, what, mid-7th grade? It’s not likely she will return to me before she’s done. And really, I’m mostly okay with losing this house. We made so many compromises, my new husband and I, when we bought it – a few short months before our wedding date. We bought enough bedrooms for all our kids, in a school district that would be the least trouble for my children’s father to get to. A lot of bad moments happened in this house, the struggles with alienation, and the loss after, the fighting we did when we had no idea what was really happening to us all. But so many great things have happened here too. We fell back into love in the quiet, began gardening, making the space our own inside and out. We began to foster homeless dogs, and threw parties, and built the fire pit of my dreams – simple, like camping. And we set stuff on fire!
And now, we’re ready to move on, looking ahead in spite of the low blows we’ve been dealt again and again. There is no real loss here, just regaining who we are, who I am at my core. I am doing things a different way, the same different way that has seen me through all of the tragedy a life of 50 years will bring, and all of the wonder too. I am proud as hell of myself, my strength, and my husband too. We are excited about the future, and the amazing new fire pit we will build, the gardens, the warmth of our crazy life together.
No, make no mistake, this isn’t a gift, it’s not a blessing in disguise. WE are what make the good that comes from ugly things. We are the blessing, and we aren’t in disguise. We’re right here beside you, the people who choose every single day to make the best of things, to act in kindness, mindful of the lives around them. To do things a different way. This way works. I hope you try it.
Oh, and, um, wanna buy a house? It’s got a magical fire pit out back…