I want to begin writing again, but I will confess that I am beginning with some trepidation. Figuring out how to begin this story has been very difficult. I mentally crumpled up draft after draft and threw them in the digital waste bin, unable to properly articulate what C and I have been through. Re-reading this, there’s so much I have had to leave out about my personal experience—my divorce has been shockingly dramatic at times, to say the least — but I really think it’s for the best.
This will likely be the only post where I discuss C’s experience in detail. There is a very fine line between too little and too much information. I hope I have managed it well.
In January of 2012, I left my husband of five years. Out of respect for both his privacy and my daughter, I will not go into great detail about the reasons I left, but the important piece is this: Everything C knew of life, from the womb up until the day we left, was tension and anxiety. Any time I think of what C's life must have been like, I think of our poor dog, who lived much of her life with her tail between her legs.
C held it together through the upheaval surrounding our separation, even though it included a lot of change. She and I traveled to Oregon to stay with my parents, took a ten-hour drive back to California, lived in a motel for nine days, and found a small new apartment where we shared a room. Everything fell apart four months later, though, when I got a job outside of the home.
I have been the only constant in C's life. To this day, she has never spent a night away from me, and I am the only one to ever comfort her at night. For a child who often struggles to go to sleep and doesn’t sleep well at night, this is a big deal. She is two-and-a-half and still wakes up at night, scared. The first time she spent more than three hours away from me was her first visitation day with her dad at 18 months. At the time I went to work, C was a little over 18 months, and she had never been away from me for any real length of time.
I found a job, specifically looking for something flexible. I was very lucky to find something that allowed me shorter-than-average days (thanks Joanna!), so that C wouldn’t have to be away from me for 10 hours a day. The job is also four days a week, which has proven absolutely necessary for C’s well being.
Once I found a job, I started looking for a daycare. I did a ton of research, trying to find the best possible place for her. When I found the daycare I settled on, I felt confident that she would be in a loving environment. There were 14 kids and 5 adults. The caregivers assured me that she would be well cared for emotionally and that they would help her through a difficult transition.
The transition to daycare was far worse than I ever could have imagined. I prepared her for it ahead of time, explaining what would happen, and taking her for visits. The first day I left her, she screamed “MOMMY! MOMMY!” and had a look of total terror on her face. I again assured her she would be fine, exited quickly per the Internet’s advice, and held it together until I got outside, where I literally collapsed on the sidewalk. I felt horribly guilty. Thank God for my mother, who reminded me that I truly had no other choice—I had to work to support us.
You never know how strong you are until you’re forced to be.
C’s experience at that first daycare was so traumatizing for both of us that it literally pains me to recall it. The daycare provider tried everything she could, but she couldn’t comfort C. During the first week, she cried most of the day and refused to eat or drink. By the second week, she was withdrawn and quietly depressed. When I came to pick her up after work, I would find her sitting in an outdoor swing with the primary caregiver, staring off into the distance. I started calling this behavior “going to her happy place.” Every once in awhile, she still goes to her happy place, but luckily I recognize what’s going on and can talk to her, which helps a lot (man, am I ever thankful she can communicate now!).
The daycare lasted for nearly a month before I realized it was never going to improve, and continuing to leave her there would just cause more trauma. The daycare had a caregiver entirely dedicated to C, but she still couldn’t cope. They gave her two more days until she was essentially kicked out, but none of us (me, C, or the caregivers) could take it anymore. My mom flew down from Oregon (again) to stay with C while we tried to find another option.
Thus began the search for a nanny we could afford. The nanny I found, Cyndi, was sent from heaven above, I swear. She is kind and patient, super experienced, and willing to work with C—but even she was blown away by the level of anxiety that C was displaying. She became completely hysterical by the sight of bark chips, sand, shadows on the ground...and a lot more. It was heartbreaking.
Cyndi worked very, very hard with C, and I credit her with much of C’s improvements during that period. Part of their time was spent in a nanny share with Cyndi’s son, which was ideal because C was also afraid of other children. By the end of their time together (Cyndi and her family moved), C walked right up to a group of kids playing in a sandbox at the park. That absolutely never would have happened just a few months prior.
Since our time with Cyndi, we have slowly worked our way into a preschool setting. After Cyndi, C had another nanny, attended a Montessori school with only six kids, and is now in a very calm, structured preschool with 12 kids. Although making that many transitions is far from ideal, we had a lot of unexpected issues arise that made it impossible to find the right situation immediately. In the end, I think it has turned out perfectly, because her school is fantastic. She will be able to stay there until she starts kindergarten, and, for the first time, she is thriving in a school environment.
A child who grows up with a baseline of stress develops a fight-or-flight response to any negative emotion. I did my best to create as relaxing an environment as I could for my daughter and I, and in some ways this made life even more confusing to her at first. One time, about a month after we left, my mom realized she forgot her glasses at my house and made some sort of exclamation like, “oh crap!” From the backseat, C started crying: “Mimi sad, Mimi sad.” My mother felt awful, and of course C picked up on that, too. Her life had become very calm, and she reacted to even the slightest bit of arousal.
Trying to Find Help
Soon after I started work, I went to a Meetup of “freshly single mothers.” One of the women in the group had a horrible experience with domestic violence. Her son was in therapy at a clinic specializing in early childhood trauma, and had made great strides. I called the clinic as soon as I got home.
It took awhile to start the treatment, but C’s therapist has been incredibly helpful. She’s taught me how to communicate with C in a way that she understands, and in a way that offers her comfort. She’s also provided me with a long list of books (which I’ve added to), which have helped.
As her ability to express herself has developed, C’s inner turmoil has become more and more apparent. While it is heartbreaking to hear what’s going on inside her little head, she’s now able to understand my explanations more, and I’m able to ease her fears—currently focused on bugs, goats, and polar bears—more than I could before. I am so thankful that I found professional help for her when I did.
We are now a year and a half past the separation, and I have been working outside the home for over a year. It’s been about nine months since C started with her therapist, and I’ve found that a calm, relaxed home environment is what we both need to be happy. In many ways, things have improved a lot, but we still have a long way to go. She still doesn’t sleep, has a hard time with certain situations, and needs a very structured routine in order to feel safe.
Through this process, I have learned a lot about toddlers (sensitive toddlers specifically), and would love to share the information with others. While C’s emotions and reactions have been amplified due to her sensitivity and early experiences, many of her difficulties are issues that all toddlers struggle with. Some of the most common are separation anxiety, difficulty with sleep, fears of the unknown, and transitions.
Little kids don’t have to go through trauma to have a hard time with transitions. Despite this, finding resources to help C was really difficult. Many of the books and advice aimed at helping kids are for ages 3+, when you’re able to reason with them more successfully. Toddlers under two, on the other hand, face specific challenges…most notably a lack of ability to communicate. They’re also a lot more aware of their surroundings and other people’s emotions than we give them credit for. They may not be able to speak, but from a very early age kids can understand everything going on around them, and are constantly trying to make sense of it. At times it was hard not to talk about the divorce in front of C, but she could understand everything we said.
I am sure that we have many challenges to face in the future, but I definitely think things are (finally, hopefully) improving. One of my main goals for C is to help her learn to be a strong woman—to find her own voice and speak her mind, even if it doesn’t please others. This is something that I have found challenging in my own life, and I think my personal experience (and that of other strong women we know) might be helpful to her.
The past year and a half has been very bumpy, and I’ve had to be very vigilant about protecting my daughter, while teaching her that she doesn’t need to be afraid so much. This wasn’t an experience I felt comfortable sharing at the time, but it feels right now. I am looking forward to sharing with you all again.
If there is anything at all you’re curious about, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments. If I don’t feel comfortable discussing it with the entire Internet, I will contact you directly. Thanks so much for sticking around.Comment
Becoming a mother transformed me. It turned me into a more patient person. A selfless person.
Motherhood is the reason I left my marriage: I wanted to create a better life for my child than I had created for myself. She is a perfect, tiny little being, and she deserves nothing but the best of everything.
Divorce, too, has transformed me. Where I once was a public person, I am now relatively private. Some of this relates to motherhood—I don't want C reading the unraveling of her parents online—but it's also deeply personal.
Divorce has simultaneously made me unapologetic and sort of fragile. I no longer apologize for who I am and no longer feel guilt about my decisions (after all, I'm doing the very best that I can, truly). But I also feel like I've been through a war in the past year. I never used to be particularly kind to myself: I was my own harshest critic, and I spent a significant amount of my time picking apart my actions in the name of "becoming a better person."
I no longer do that. Of course I am introspective, always looking to improve. That's part of my nature, and it will never change. But I am done making my own life harder by constantly second-guessing myself. I am being kinder to myself, out of necessity. The truth is, I am a fragile being—we all are—and I am deserving of kindness. And part of that kindness meant being more private online and no longer putting myself in a position to receive others' judgment. While I know I can handle it—after all, I've been through far worse than a critical comment here or there—I don't want it.
I am lucky to have the community of readers and friends on this blog that I do. Since I quit Weddingbee, I haven't received a single harsh comment here. By contrast, there has been nothing but an outpouring of love and support at every turn. And for that, I am immensely thankful. I miss you guys, I really do.
I've been thinking a lot lately about where I see my life going. What the future of this blog and this business are. This was a cocoon of safety, friendship and self-esteem for more than five years. When my life exploded, I wasn't sure what role Stinkerpants would have in helping me rebuild. While the friendships and relationships I formed through the business were completely positive, the actual business of, well, running a business, was a source of extreme stress for me. This business was also an integral part of my marriage—the two felt tied together inextricably. After all, the business itself began with our Save the Dates. Where would it end? Does it have a place in the "new" life I have created for C and I?
The answer, I believe, is yes. But possibly in a different form.
Randomly, I came across something the other day:
Know the impact you want to have...Be the guy glowing with passion. Let the people around you feel your fire for the impact you want to have on the world. Prompt others to share what makes them come alive. Share in their excitement. There is no more empowering, genuine way to connect. If you don’t know the impact you dream of making, how will you know who you want in your corner to make it happen?
This spoke to me—not so much in the context of creating connections, but more in the existential-what-am-I-doing-with-my-life kind of way. In my quiet moments, I meditate on this question: what impact do I want to have on the world?
I am coming to some answers, but they're not fully formed yet. I know that they revolve around creating a better world for my daughter and children like her (more on that soon, I promise). As far as my business? I hope to use it as a catalyst for whatever the new-and-improved will be. My artistic style will evolve—I am moving away from my computer and more toward actual, real, tangible things. It may look different—in fact, it probably will—but I hope it will make people smile in the same way.
And I hope you will stick around as I re-enter this world, in whatever form I decide to. I am thankful for each and every one of you. Thank you for your patience, love and understanding.
This weekend, I went to a meetup group for newly single moms. You know, trying to meet people in my same situation and all.
While I was there, I realized three things:
1) I do not feel emotionally damaged;
2) I have no doubt that, with the exception of things I cannot control, my future is very bright;
3) being a single mom is hard and people judge you.
One of the moms at the group confessed that she judged single moms before she became one. She said to herself, "wow, you couldn't make it work, huh?" and "just didn't try hard enough, did ya? Couldn't keep your man?" At first I was a little shocked, as I have never judged single mothers. People who voted for Prop 8, yes, but single moms? Never.
By contrast, I always had a deep respect for single mothers. I felt that their lives must be extremely hard, and always visualized a woman who had to work two jobs for her child(ren). Sacrifice. That's what I thought of.
But then I started thinking about some of the comments I've heard from strangers: "well, it always takes two to tango," and "XYZ probably happened because he was feeling ABC," and "well, isn't that true of ALL men?" The answer, strangers-who-think-they-know-
So yes, people judge single moms. Why, I'm not sure. In some ways, this goes back to my last post -- perhaps people are insecure or hold a strong opinion about the effects of divorce. As I've gotten older (and ostensibly more mature), I've come to realize that most people have a good reason for being in the situation they're in. It's never as black and white as it may appear, and there are always parts to the story that you haven't heard. I just don't think it's wise to judge others.
I don't spend a lot of time feeling sorry for myself. I try not to consume myself with thoughts of who might be judging me. And I don't tell people how hard it is to be a single mom, which it is (what I wouldn't give for a dishwasher! And I would be willing to give up many things for a cleaning lady. And could someone please tell C that she can go ahead and like daycare already, so I don't cry every morning before work?). I simply don't see a point in dwelling on all the negatives.
Instead, let's focus on the positives: I have a comfortable apartment in a nice neighborhood. My baby sleeps with me every night. And I feel free.
What about you? Do you or have you judged single moms? How do you feel about being judged yourself?Comment
When sharing the news of my divorce with people, I feel very awkward. People usually have the same look of shock on their faces, and I can tell it makes them uncomfortable – especially if we aren’t very close. They want to ask what happened. They want to ask what happened really, really badly. But they don’t, because they don’t want to be nosy. And I appreciate not having to talk about it in detail – but I still feel awkward: should I tell them? Should I keep it to myself? What is the protocol in this situation?
In the very beginning, I really didn’t want to tell people I was getting a divorce at all, let alone the reasons why. My emotional state was a super healthy combination of fear, shame, and embarrassment. When you get married, you check off a certain box on the Success Worksheet, and unchecking that box feels like a huge step backward. And announcing it? It’s like saying to the world, "hey world! I have failed! Look at me!"
It’s especially difficult when you don't know many other divorced people. From the outside, everyone else’s "Marriage" box is checked off in permanent marker. It remains to be seen how many of my friends are actually happy in their marriages, and how many are serving themselves up a big ole plate of denial for breakfast every morning. In short, I’m the first one to get a divorce, and being first sucks. It’s embarrassing.
But, as my mom predicted, I got over the embarrassment pretty quickly. Now I’m just sort of matter-of-fact about it: “Yep, I’m getting a divorce. No, no one cheated.”
People have different reactions. Mostly they want to know what happened, because they never saw us having any problems. Sometimes they want to know simply because they’re curious…but mostly I think they want reassurances: did you always know it wouldn't work out? Did you guys mean "forever" when you said, "I do"? Marriages are hard – are you just quitters? Basically, they want to hear that our relationship was fundamentally different than theirs is. They want to know that nothing is lurking in their marriages, ready to jump out and cause the D-word. They want to know that divorce isn’t contagious.
I can’t give them any of those reassurances, though, because I have no idea what is lurking inside their marriages, just like they didn’t know Divorce was lurking in mine. All we see of one another’s lives is what we choose to share – and most people only share the good stuff. After all, marriages are made up of good, bad, and mundane, and it’s hard to paint an accurate picture of what your marriage really looks like when you can’t share every little detail. I think people are afraid to talk about anything negative because they worry they’ll regret it the next day when the fight is over. Or they’re afraid their friends will judge them. Or that everyone else’s relationship actually is as perfect as it seems, and they’re the only one with major (or not-so-major) problems.
Plus, talking about marital problems can ruin friendships - everyone has a different opinion about what’s acceptable and what isn’t, and you might get a whole lot of unsolicited advice that you don’t agree with if you do choose to open up. And of course, most people only want to hear what they’re willing to confront – and some people will get angry if they hear anything beyond that.
I wasn’t ready to confront the issues that led to the end of our marriage, so I didn’t tell a single soul about them. Sometimes I worry that my friends and family feel betrayed because I was so silent.
I could end this post with a call to action: “let’s not be quiet anymore! Let’s tell the world every little detail, in the name of empowerment! Let’s blog about it!” But I’m not going to. I actually think it’s a good thing that people aren’t sharing every single detail of their married lives on the Internet. In an online world where people can tweet faster than it takes to second-guess themselves, it’s good to know that some things are still sacred. Or if not sacred – at least private. Because too much honesty can come back and bite you in the butt.
I may have taken a very long time to get back to you. Here’s why.
I’m not one for airing my dirty laundry in public, so I am going to be short & sweet about this:
- I won’t be talking in great detail about what happened here. I don’t think it’s particularly mature and it’s not good for C. But no, no one cheated.
- C and I have moved into a small apartment and are sharing a room. I bought a twin bed for the first time ever. I’m not sure whether I’ll be sharing photos of our space or not, as I am feeling much more private about my life right now. I’m trying to create as relaxing a space as possible for us.
- Being a single mom is harder than I ever thought it would be, but not in the way I thought it would be. I feel such an intense need to protect C from this awful situation, and the knowledge that she is now from a “broken home” kills me. But it is better than the alternative, so that brings me some solace. She is doing well and seems relaxed (despite FOUR MOLARS coming in at once, people!).
Please be patient with me as I try to get the details of my new life worked out in the coming months - I will be slower to respond to emails than usual. Thank you.
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