I have amazing friends. Women I can call at 10 o’clock at night and ask to join me in a hair-brained scheme at 6:30am the following morning. Women who answer, “Sure, why not?”
My husband and I celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary at a fancy restaurant. After he ordered an expensive bottle of wine, he reached into his pocket and pulled out his gift to me. It was a handwritten list of treasured memories from our marriage. Memories, he said, that reminded him of how much we belonged together.
It was a long list, maybe twenty or so memories. I glowed and held his hand as he read them to me. Some memories I had long forgotten, like the deep embarrassment that accompanied our first and only visit to a nude beach. Others were stories we told over and over because they touched our hearts.
I met Russell in Georgia a few days after I had made the decision to leave Atlanta and return home to Buffalo. My life in Georgia had taken a turn for the worse and I needed to go home to the safety of my family, regroup and start again. We had been dating casually for about three weeks and despite loving my time with him my plans hadn’t changed. But that didn’t keep me from agonizing over them.
One night, we were returning to his apartment after a date. He was unlocking his door when I began complaining about my dilemma. “I really should move home,” I said. “And it’s too late to change my plans now.” He stopped fiddling with the key and turned to me, exasperated but smiling. “You could keep debating about this, or… you could stay here and be happy with me.”
That sentence ushered in the next twenty years of my life.
My husband folded the list of memories and put it back in his pocket. Our food had arrived and there was no more time for reminiscing. We had more important things to talk about. Like where each of us was going to live and how we were going to break the news of our pending divorce to our kids.
There was no illicit affair, no drug, alcohol, or sex addiction, no financial troubles, no split-personality disorder and no secrets. None of the socially acceptable reasons to end what seemed like a perfectly decent marriage. Which is why some of our friends are finding this new development so hard to accept. And why my husband and I are having such a difficult time explaining why we are making the decision to separate after two decades together.
“And so, you’re going to end it. Just like that? As far as I can tell you’re throwing away a really good thing.” This, from a friend who loves me dearly.
“Are you sure you’ve done absolutely everything you can do? I mean, absolutely?” Another good friend.
It had never occurred to me that I would have to justify our separation to our loved ones. I expected surprise and maybe sympathy, not outright demands for an explanation. And my reasons never seemed quite good enough.
“Honestly, Kris. Your marriage is a dream compared to mine. You don’t know what you’ve got.”
“It couldn’t have been that bad or you wouldn’t have waited so long. What about your children?”
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
As scenarios like this played out over and over I found myself resenting these questions and the people who asked them.
“If you are so sad, why don’t you work on your marriage?”
I was stunned. Why the anger? Why the hostility? What the fuck? We had read the books. We had seen the therapists. We had taken the vacations strategically designed to rekindle the romance.
“I’m sad because I have been working on my marriage! I’ve been working on it for eighteen years and it’s not getting any better!”
I’d had enough. Didn’t the fact that my husband and I no longer shared the same dreams count? Didn’t it matter that we had grown so distant that we sometimes didn’t speak about anything personal for weeks? When we did dare talk about personal matters, it was always with trepidation. Who would disappoint the other? Who would blow up in anger or stop talking altogether? Who would cave to the fear of being swallowed by this growing sense of being stuck? Would this be the conversation when one of us finally admitted that that we were too tired to try anymore?
“Well, I think you are courageous,” a girlfriend told me over drinks. “You are making a decision that many of us would like to make but are too afraid to even consider.”
Like twenty years before, a single sentence changed everything. Our normally loving and caring friends weren’t demanding explanations. They were asking for reassurance. They wanted to make sure we were doing the right thing. But they were also afraid. For us and for themselves. They felt blind-sided. We seemed so happy. Yet, we did our best and our foundation still broke apart under our feet. Could the important things in their lives crumble too?
The list of memories that Russell gave to me for our anniversary was bittersweet. It was full of loving, tender, and funny moments. The problem was, except for two notable exceptions, when our daughters came into our lives, every single memory that reminded Russell of why we belonged together, was from the first two years of our twenty-year relationship.
Our closets weren’t full of shameful secrets, cackling skeletons rattling the doors for attention like a cheating spouse or a gambling habit – reasons for divorce that our friends could understand. No, our skeletons were like ghosts, floating just behind us, reaching out their thin bony fingers to tap tap tap on our shoulders, and whisper… don’t turn around, you will have to face what you see.
Friday morning Zaffron crawled into bed with me for a quick cuddle before she got ready for her last day of school.
Me: Zaffy, I am so sorry, but I forgot the make the cookies for you to take to school today.
Zaffron: Mom! You promised! Can you make them now?
Me: I can’t. We don’t have the ingredients in the house.
Zaffron: Fine! Then, I’ll just bring strawberries and Chardonnay!
One of the things that I love about traveling solo is how it opens up opportunities for me to face my fears. I’ve talked about this before… facing my fear of massages in Nepal, facing my fear of heights in Japan.
My fear of heights. I can’t seem to shake it. But I have had a lot of nervous fun trying in Belize, France, and even here at home in Hawaii!
Even though it was technically a “business trip” for Journey Soulo, my last trip to Paris was no exception.
My business partner, Toni Takeno, and I were there to research our upcoming trip with clients in May (psst! You should come with us!). When Toni & I saw that there was an opportunity to go high in the sky and film it…. well… here’s what happened!
“I don’t like you, Mommy,” I whispered into my mother’s ear. “I love you.” I giggled, tickled with myself. I thought I was the cleverest 5-year-old she could ever meet. I nestled into her lap, certain I would fit there forever.
I asked her a few years ago if she remembered this moment, which is still so vivid in my mind. She said, “No, but do you know what I do remember? I remember the exact moment when I realized your world no longer revolved around me.”
I asked her to tell me about it. She declined.
Fast forward, oh, about a thousand years. I have my own daughters. They are 6 and 8 years old. I am their favorite person. Of course, if they’re hanging out with just my husband, he’s their favorite person. Or if I’m forcing them to do their homework, he’s again the easy favorite. Seems fair.
When I pick up my oldest, Zaffron, from school, her face brightens and she yells, “Mommy!” with the same delight I used to have when I heard the tinkling, tinny music from the ice cream truck down the street. “Ice cream!”
She even pulled the “I don’t like you, I love you” joke on me recently. “I got you, didn’t I?” she asked grinning.
I grinned too. But with a small tug of anxiety. This is all so temporary.
Zaffron and I were standing across from her school hand in hand. When a boy she has a crush on walked near us, she casually dropped my hand. After he passed by, she grabbed it again, not missing a beat. That was last Monday. Last Thursday, the scenario repeated itself. This time, her little hand didn’t seek mine out after the boy had passed. As we walked silently to her classroom, she was perfectly content, completely unaware she had skipped that second step, so vital to reassuring me of my place in her heart.
Yesterday in the car, where most of the important stuff comes up, I realized boys aren’t the only things that might force the gap between us wider.
My husband and I adopted Mgazi, my youngest, from Africa when she was 2 years old. We’ve always been very open with her about her adoption, sharing as many details as are age appropriate.
“Mommy, would it be OK if I loved my other mommy too?” she asked.
“Your Africa mom? Of course! You can love her as much as you want, honey.”
“Will you be mad if I love her more than you?”
Zaffy couldn’t take it. “What the heck are you talking about? You don’t even know that lady!”
“Mgazi, you are going to find that, as the years go by, you will love lots of people in different amounts. Sometimes lots. Sometimes not so much. Someday you might feel that you love your Africa mommy more than me. That’s OK.”
“Don’t be mad, but I think I love her more than you right now.”
A sigh from Zaffy.
“It’s OK, Zaff. You too, Gaz. You love your Africa mom just as much as you need to.”
I spoke with as much love and reassurance as I could muster. After all, she’s only 6. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She hasn’t seen her birth mother since she was three days old.
I’ve got time.
My mother says she knew exactly when things were different between us. Like a Band-Aid that was suddenly ripped off. My Band-Aid, which is Hello Kitty by the way, is being pulled off more slowly, gradually revealing the bittersweet heartache I’ll endure as my children grow up and away from me, bit by bit.
This post was originally published on Families in the Loop, an amazing parenting site where parents let loose, under the title, Mom’s Growing Pains: The Sweet Sorrow of Raising Kids.
(photo credit: arztsamui/freedigitalphotos.net)
Do you remember saying goodbye to me before I left for my trip to Paris? You kissed the top of my head and said, “Be safe. Don’t do anything stupid.”
“Of course,” I promised as I got into the taxi headed for the airport.
Russ, honey… now don’t be mad but…
I kinda did something just a little bit stupid.
It was the fourth day of the trip. Toni and I were taking a leisurely stroll along the Seine, stopping to browse the wares of the various vendors. I felt so blessed to be there. The day was bright and it felt like only good things could happen – as though the sun was shining rays of luck down on us rather than the same old boring rays of light. Mere moments after I mentioned to Toni how much I loved you, we happened upon a group of six or seven elderly gentlemen gathered around a man crouching on the sidewalk. At first I thought he was a magician. He was shuffling three small boxes on a red square of carpet at his knees. He was asking those huddled around to guess where he had hidden a white marble. Of course, I realized almost at once that he wasn’t a magician at all, he was a scammer… taking the money of those poor elderly gents as they chose the wrong box again and again. It was a shell game.
I felt sorry for them in a way. It was apparent that their tired old eyes simply couldn’t keep up with this man’s flying fingers. But the crouching guy was smart… he let them guess correctly every once in a while to build up their hope and keep them coming back for more.
The thing is, honey, I knew where that white marble was every single time. It was almost frustrating, watching one man leaning on his cane guess wrong time after time. In exasperation, I pointed to the center box…
“It’s in the middle one,” I whispered to Toni. “I don’t see what’s so difficult about this.”
The swindler must have overheard me because he popped out of position and strode right to me. He pressed a 10 euro note into my hand and drew me to the middle of the circle. Before I knew it, I was crouching down too, scrutinizing the boxes, considering his insistent offer of double or nothing.
I decided to go for it. I felt like somebody needed to put this guy in his place. I reached into my wallet and pulled out ten euros to match his own. Suddenly there was a lot of angry hand-waving from the man and discontented mumbling from the grandpas behind me. The man disgustedly snatched the original bill out of my hand and snapped it in front of my face.
Oh. It wasn’t a ten. It was a fifty.
I stood up to go. “No, no. Merci, but there’s no way I’m betting you 50 euro.” I tried to back away but stumbled over a metal walker precariously supporting a man who must have been in his late eighties. I tried to apologize for my clumsiness. In response he reached into the frayed pocket of his wrinkled cranberry sweater and pulled out a fifty euro note.
Honey, two things flashed through my mind as he gently offered me his crumpled money.
I knew I had to take the bet. I knew it with a certainty that in hindsight seems somewhat misguided but I felt like I had the potential to be a hero… to stand up to this rip-off artist and his hustling ways… to give the elderly men surrounding me some measure of justice or hope for a better, albeit limited, future or something like that. And I would get a good story out of it to boot.
I pulled out fifty euros to the cheers of the frail old men behind me. Toni later told me it was just a general murmur of approval, but at the time, I heard cheers. A man wearing a jaunty hat congratulated me with a hardy pat on my shoulder. I resumed my squatting position and concentrated as the scammer man arranged and rearranged his three little boxes in an arrogant attempt to confuse me. His movements slowed and he lifted his hands. Palms up, he invited me to choose. I pointed to the box on the left, confident and somewhat self-satisfied. He flipped the box over and there was only red carpet. The white marble was not there.
He was a magician!
I jumped up and shrieked!
And that’s when I learned that I can do magic too. With that single high-pitched yelp, I had managed to clear the entire sidewalk of every human soul except Toni and myself. The con-man scooped up his carpet, shushed me with a furious finger to his lips and took off down the walkway. The man with the cane – he disappeared. The walker guy in his cranberry sweater – vanished. The entire entourage (each of whom I now understand had their own unique role to play in this shakedown) had scattered.
My 50 euros? Poof.
I looked at Toni.
“Only you,” she said, shaking her head.
I couldn’t think of a clever response because the part of my brain in charge of self-preservation immediately started a mental list of reasons why you shouldn’t be mad at me even though I had just blatantly ignored one of only two simple requests you had made of me.
So, honey. I would like to humbly submit to you, in writing…
Reason #1: What’s really important is that everybody is safe and that nobody got hurt.
Reason #2: In the end, it was a bargain. Yes, 50 euros is roughly $66.27. The whole experience was about ninety seconds long and both Toni and I learned a valuable lesson. So, if you give that lesson a monetary value of let’s say, $40, and divide it by two (for Toni and me) and subtract 30 seconds…the whole thing only cost about $12.50.
Reason #3: I promise never to do it again.
Russell, if it helps, I want you to know, I really enjoyed the whole experience. For that minute and a half, I was having the time of my life. Now, I must admit, for a couple hours after, I was acutely aware that you might not be as understanding as you usually are about this kind of thing. So, I’ve created a list of the trinkets and treats that I didn’t buy on the trip to try to make up for the money that I lost.
Sorry, honey. I actually bought everything I wanted exactly when I wanted it. I didn’t curb my spending at all. I couldn’t help it. For some reason, I wasn’t able to look at my run-in with this racket as a bad thing. It was a just a lesson learned. Another one of my “little moments” in a foreign place. Another entertaining story to add to my cherished collection.
I hope you are not mad. I almost didn’t tell you. But who doesn’t love a story with a surprise ending?
For those of you who have been wondering where I’ve been lately, I’ve been here: Journey Soulo. My good friend, Toni Takeno, and I have started a business that supports and encourages people who dream of traveling the world. We’ve got blog posts and videos, an online travel course designed to build courage and confidence, and we’re hosting a trip to Paris in May 2014. So, I’ve been a bit distracted. But I’m back!
Mgazi: AAAAAAARRRGGGGGAAAAAAH! <– That’s supposed to be a scream
Zaffy: I’m sorry! I’m sorry!
Mgazi: You punched me!
Zaffy: I did not!
Mgazi: You did!
Zaffy: I smacked you with the back of my hand. It’s totally different!
Where was I during all of this? At my desk. Pretending it all wasn’t happening.
The kids routinely try to figure out the password on my iPhone. This is what happens when they become bored after many failed attempts:
As we were leaving the restaurant she said to me, “Kristine, you are obviously in your late forties. I want to tell you, you look great. There’s not a wrinkle on you!”
I am not in my late forties. And I knew the polite thing to do was to accept the compliment with grace and thank the woman. But I couldn’t do it.
“Actually, I’m forty-two. But I appreciate the compliment very much.”
“Forty-two,” she said. “Well, you’re a young one then!”
Holy shit! Wait a second! That means that an eighty-nine year old woman’s gut instinct was to categorize me as NOT YOUNG?
I felt sick. A burst of heat emanated from the center of my body. There’s no doubt. It was my very first hot flash.
“Coco is dead, Mommy! Coco is dead!”
“Oh, honey. I’m so sorry. Who’s Coco?”
“He’s one of the fish we bought for the new aquarium. There’s Zippity, and Sucker and Coco and… ”
She broke off into sobs. I waited, knowing the story would continue when she was ready.
“We found him this morning. He wasn’t moving so Daddy took him out and shook him. He still didn’t move. He’s dead, Mommy. Really really dead.”
Her wailing continued. When it turned to sniffles I said, “Oh baby. I’m so sorry. You know when I was a little girl I had a goldfish named Sprite. When he died, I got a new fish and named him Sprite Two. Maybe we could get a Coco Two.”
Silence. You know the kind. Stunned silence. The kind where you can tell the other person is actually stunned that you could say such a thing. It was only punctuated by a single hiccup. And then this:
“Mommy! How could you? Nobody can replace Coco!”
“Oh! Of course not, honey. I just meant –.”
“What? What did you say, Daddy?”
She paused and I heard my husband’s muffled voice in the background.
“Daddy says to tell you that I have only known Coco for less than 24 hours.”
“Ah, I see. But that doesn’t really help much, I guess.”
“No,” she said. “No, it certainly doesn’t.”