“Karen,” I don’t know your situation or what you know about kids and grief, but it’s a horrible, bumpy, rocky road. There are steps forward and giant leaps backward. There’s regression and repeating the standard grief steps over and over as he reaches different maturity milestones. As a parent, you just never know what will trigger a regression or how long it will last. Continue reading
“Beautiful children. Are they all yours?”
We stopped for lunch at a mom-and-pop restaurant in a smallish town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, on our way home from spending Thanksgiving with B’s parents. (More on that another time.) An older woman behind the counter asked the question.
B was carrying his youngest daughter, following the server who was taking us to our table; Ethan was close behind, talking nonstop in B’s ear about something or other; and I was shepherding Lauren and B’s other daughter as we traversed the small entry of the restaurant, filled with knick knacks and tchotchkes for sale.
“Yes. Yes, they are,” I said, barely making eye contact with her as I made sure the girls’ heavy winter coats didn’t knock over something I really didn’t want to buy. I was busy holding the hand of one girl while directing the other by the shoulder.
The woman behind the counter followed it with, “But you both look so young…” and a sort of tsk-tsk sound.
Crazy lady, I thought. Of course they’re ours. What other kids would be with us? Does she think we found some kids alongside the road and brought them in for Swedish meatballs and limpa bread?
We were at our table at the back of the restaurant when it finally hit me what the woman meant.
“Are they all yours?”
Oh… are they OURS? Like O-U-R-S, mine and B’s? Well…
I felt a little foolish for misunderstanding the woman. Yeah, they’re ours, but not technically O-U-R-S. Like if we start getting into if they’re our biological children and genetics and stuff… well, then…
But then, I realized I didn’t misunderstand the woman at all. YES, they are O-U-R-S. Damn, it, all four of them. For all their faults and all their goodness. For all the little arguments we referee. For all the cuddles we share. For the goodnight stories and kisses and late night movies and board games. For the helping make Christmas cookies. For the knock knock jokes at dinner. For the tears, for the laughter. For better or worse.
“Are they all yours?”
Hell, yes. Yes, they are mine. Yes, they are B’s. They, all four of them. They are ours.
I’m shaking as I type this. I’m angry. I’m embarrassed. And I’m a little nervous about the confrontation I just had.
Background: My hair is growing back, but it’s in a really awkward stage. It’s no longer “Oh, look how cute! Little hair!” And it’s not long enough to do anything with. It’s just…there. I’ve overcompensated lately by dressing more girly than normal – dresses or skirts, soft colors, scarves, makeup, jewelry – things that scream “GIRL!” Or so I thought.
I was standing in line at the sandwich place in the food court of the Union. It was pretty busy, but I was hungry and sometimes this place has a decent sandwich. I stood there in my jeans (rolled at the ankles to expose cute black flats) and white t-shirt with a ballerina in a mixed-medium lace skirt. I wore red lipstick. I carried a bright pink purse and checked Facebook on my phone covered in a bright pink and gray case. A pink Fitbit on one wrist, and a delicate purple stone and silver ring on the other hand.
I placed my order at the counter, and then the student worker called, “Next!”
The older man behind me said, “Did you get this man’s order?” and pointed in my direction. At this point I was looking directly at him.
“You mean HER order?” the student worker corrected.
“Yeah, his order,” the guy said again. Then looked me in the eye and said, “Oh, HER’S…” It was a condescending, sing-songy tone.
He patronizingly patted my left shoulder twice. I looked away.
I was seething. My eyes started to get liquidy (not tears, but I tend to leak from the eyes when very angry). Do I say something? Do I let it go? I played a couple of scenarios in my head, a few things I’d like to say. The kind of things you think about but you know you won’t really say aloud.
I was stuck. This guy was an older white man, dressed in a suit coat and tie. I work at a university, and dress code is usually pretty casual, except for administrators (most of whom are older white men). Do I dare jeopardize myself, and possibly my job, by saying something?
I started to shake.
I grabbed a drink from the cooler and made my way to the cashier. After paying her, I realized the guy was behind me. And I realized that I was really pissed.
“Hey,” I said, looking him right in the eye. “You called me a man back there. Referred to me as a ‘him.’”
“Sorry, I wasn’t looking. Your hair…” he said, his eyes wide.
“Yeah,” I pointed to my head. “This is called breast cancer. Six months of chemo, 17 radiation treatments, and surgery. I’m a women, god-dammit, regardless of what my appearance might suggest.”
“I’m…I’m sorry,” he said again, looking down.
“Just do me a favor. Maybe you should LOOK next time. Really look.”
I turned and walked away, out of the Union, back to my building, into the elevator, and to my office.
I don’t know who that dude was, and know what? I’m not sure I’d change a thing if I DID know who he was.
Now, I’m going to enjoy my lunch before my next class.
Two unrelated stories today:
It’s been a heck of a week. I’m on spring break, which has an entirely different meaning as a professor than it did when I was a college student. I’ve spent the week grading, drinking large amounts of caffeine, and cleaning my closet. And when faced with no real schedule but still stuff to accomplish, I procrastinate by going shopping. (This has NOT helped the closet-cleaning situation since I’m filling it back up as quickly as I’m eliminating the junk.)
Yesterday I went to campus for a few hours. Afterward I took the long way home. I saw a housewares store that I hadn’t been in for a long time, and I jumped across three lanes to pull into the lot. (I’m a sucker for off-the-wall kitchen gadgets, so I love this particular store.)
I walked through the aisles, just browsing. Killing time. No real purpose.
I came to an end cap near the dishes and stopped.
I stood there, staring at the display, for five minutes. Not moving. Barely breathing. Eyes starting to water. Forcing people to find a way around me because I couldn’t move.
I walked closer to the display, touching the dishes.
When the first tear fell, I knew I needed to walk away. But I kept looking back.
The dishes were the same as the ones Mike and I registered for when we got married. We used those dishes for 10 years. I sold them in a yard sale last spring.
Selling them didn’t phase me but for some reason, seeing the same pattern, the same brand, (even though the colors are different now), took me back to a happier time. And the pit in my stomach grew as my eyes continued to water.
I loved those dishes. I fought to have those dishes as our “everyday” pattern. So many meals served. So many family celebrations. So many happy times (and some sad ones).
I left the store, without buying anything, and finished the drive home. I just can’t stop thinking about those dishes. Funny what brings you back, and how emotions can be tied to almost anything.
My ex-sister-in-law (T) messaged me this week with a story.
T divorced Mike’s brother about four years ago. She’s now happily married, and she and her husband own a well-known bar in Mike’s hometown.
So, T and her husband were walking hand-in-hand through the parking lot of a local “taste of” festival. Their bar was one of the participants, and they were going to make sure things were going well.
It was in the parking lot where she was confronted by a crazy woman, who appeared out of nowhere.
She started wagging her finger in T’s face. “I hope you’re happy! You girls ruined my life!”
T wished the woman well, and kept walking. Her husband was confused (and probably a little scared) by this crazy person confronting his wife.
The crazy woman? Mike’s mom.
Thinking about that confrontation – and T’s perfectly calm reaction (I probably wouldn’t have been so nice) – has made me smile all week.
Still blaming T and I for ruining her life. Yep, it’s our faults that your sons turned out like they did. And, just like always, it’s about her. I REALLY don’t miss the in-laws…
I was robbed of having an ex-husband. I never had a chance to figure out how to co-parent or balance an ex with a new relationship. Some friends have remarked that I’m lucky in that way. Ha!
I really felt, when Mike and I separated, that we’d eventually fall into a rhythm, a separate-lives-but-always-intertwined sort of understanding. I honestly thought we’d maintain a friendship revolving around the kids. We were together for almost 20 years. We knew each other in a way no one else could ever imagine – we matured from college to grad school to life to parenthood. It was a bond no one else could ever be part of. Even if we wouldn’t be together, we’d remain attached.
Perhaps it’s because of this mindset that I “get” B’s relationship with his ex-wife. I’ve met her on a couple of occasions, usually in passing as they’d exchange the kids with one another.
Of course, B told stories about her. And, of course, I’d done my own research. Based on her Pinterest boards and some stuff she’d posted publicly on FB, I thought we could be friends (if things were different).
That’s why when B proposed going to the circus with all four kids – and his ex-wife – I was totally game.
B was nervous to ask if I’d be okay with the ex coming along. She wanted to be there when her girls experienced their first circus. She and B make an effort to do things together with their kids every month or so. And she’s their mom – she SHOULD be part of these things. I was totally cool with it.
I was only concerned that Ethan would ask wildly inappropriate questions of her. B laughed at this thought and said he should totally mess with her. (I disagreed and bribed E with Pokemon cards if he was on his best behavior.)
So we all went to the circus. Me and Ethan and Lauren. B and his ex and their two girls.
The ex greeted me with a HUGE hug, complimented my hair, and acted like we’d known each other for years. She shook E’s hand and told Lauren she liked her dress. And we were off.
We arrived just as the circus was starting. Good timing, considering three of the four kids are UNDER the age of four (meaning no one has any patience to wait). Lauren and B’s daughter (who’s the same age as L) both sat on my lap. The baby sat on the ex’s lap with Ethan sitting at her side. (E adores the baby, and the baby LOVES E, so they wanted to sit close.) B sat next to me and the girls.
We watched. We laughed. We ooh’d and ahh’d. B and I held hands and made our own commentary about the ridiculous acts – like SkyMan, a completely generic superhero whose act was basically one bungee cord trick after another.
After two hours, the circus went into intermission and all three little girls broke down. So we left before someone was shot out of the cannon (bummer).
It was really a fun morning with B and his girls…and the ex. The ex and I parted ways with another big hug and a few laughs in the parking garage elevator. Later, the ex told B that it was obvious why he liked me, saying that we share the same sense of silly, nerdy humor. She also said E and L were awesome, and she liked spending time with us.
The ex is always going to be part of B’s life, and as we approach the one-year mark of our relationship, I hope to be part of B’s life for a long time, too. I think there’ll be more outings, just the seven of us…