But It’s Not Over Over. Right?

Callie & Arizona broke up. And this set into motion the epic meltdown of 2016.

SARA RAMIREZ, JESSICA CAPSHAW
Photo Cred: Ron Tom_ABC

But, I guess you’ll need a little more background than that: Simon & I watched Grey’s Anatomy voraciously last Fall. We’d dissect the characters’ (often baffling) life choices and analyze their relationship dilemmas. This gave us a safe way to talk about hypothetical relationship issues without really delving into our own.

This seemed like a good plan—until it almost ended us.

I guess I should pause to note that nothing really “seemed like a good plan.” We didn’t consciously decide to avoid our issues. If you’d asked me at the time, I probably would have said there wasn’t anything to talk about. And, as for Grey’s, who doesn’t love good catharsis? Which is what I was getting every night. But catharsis can’t alleviate the underlying problems. It’s just a temporary, feel-better fix. Hindsight, though. In that moment, Simon & I were just hanging out, loving Grey’s, as folks do.

But we’d reached a point in the ever-winding plot that proved problematic for us:

  • the focus was on Callie and Arizona’s relationship. And seeing two women together brought up all my feelings of loss and displacement… and anger.
  • Callie & Arizona were having some relationship struggles. And so, I’d pick a side and argue it passionately, with way more investment than necessary. Because what I wanted to do was argue with Simon. But I was too emotionally exhausted. So I argued with characters in a TV show.
  • Then they took a break. From each other. And this plot development turned out to be disastrous for us.

Simon & I had been negotiating a rather uneasy peace since we moved to Atlanta. I looked around every day and celebrated just being in the city, living a life that for so long felt like it would never be a reality. I immediately immersed myself in racial justice activism, in Jane’s elementary school, in work with new, fun clients. Simon—well, he liked Atlanta just fine. But he certainly wasn’t as intoxicated by just being here as I was. (It is fair to note that I am given to bouts of extreme enthusiasm.) The distance between he & I grew daily. I didn’t want to know what was wrong with him. I just wanted him to fucking fix it.

I was exhausted.

We’d been through a lot in our 13 years together: being batshit crazy drunks, getting married, getting sober, infertility, miscarriage, pregnancy, parenthood, getting married again, Simon’s transition. Any one of these events can end a relationship. We’d been through all of them. And, I guess, after Simon’s transition, I expected everything to be smooth sailing. But Simon will be the first to tell you that transitioning doesn’t fix everything. Simon still had some work to do. And I was completely ignoring everything I felt, saving just enough energy to make passive-aggressive jabs at Simon about what I thought he needed to fix.

At various points, I’d thought about leaving. Or asking for an open relationship. I just wanted to not feel so responsible for us. I wanted to think about me for a minute. There hadn’t been a lot of time for that in the past two years.

Then it happened. One night, after Grey’s Anatomy, Simon said, “I think we should do what Callie & Arizona did. Take a break.” I looked at him like he had sprouted a third eye. Because WHAT? I was the aggrieved party. I was the one who’d married someone who changed the terms of our relationship when he transitioned. How DARE he suggest a break? What the ever-loving hell was wrong with him? Which I asked him, in colorful language. He said he thought I’d be happier. I asked if this was a break or a break up. Everything about what he was saying sounded so final. He said he thought it should be permanent. And, just like that, we’d started the process of conscious uncoupling.

I called my best friend the next morning to fill her in my newly bizarre and topsy-turvy world. Actually, what I told her was that I thought Simon had broken up with me. Because I couldn’t fathom this whole turn of events. I mean, did relationships really end just out of the blue? I didn’t want my relationship to end. I wanted it fixed. It could be fixed, right?

Bless her, she had to deal with my anger (if he wanted to split up, why the hell didn’t he just stay in Tampa?), my fear (holy shit, I can’t pay for the house by myself… what am I going to do?), and my tears (but he didn’t even try to work it out. Doesn’t he love me? I always thought he loved me). And she was also managing her own shock. Because, if you weren’t living in our house and couldn’t feel the ever-present tension and complete disconnect between the two of us, this uncoupling seemed to come from nowhere at all.

But it did come from somewhere. It came from almost a year of drifting apart emotionally, of divesting from each other’s lives, of believing deep down we’d be better off apart. We were so emotionally estranged by this point that, in the preceding months, when I’d found a lump in my breast and been terrified it was breast cancer, I didn’t lean on him for support. And he didn’t offer much of it. We were totally broken. But, even if we were currently shattered, I didn’t want to give up yet. We had Jane to consider. And I knew that I loved Simon. Even if I couldn’t see how to get back to a healthy version of us.

I corralled him into a discussion about the unraveling of our relationship that afternoon before I picked Jane up from school. Could we work things out? No. Could we go to couple’s counseling? No. Could we just try one more time? No. No. No. He’d made up his mind, it seemed. He’d decided that Jane & I were better off without him. That he was only an albatross, weighing us down. It didn’t really matter what I wanted or what I said. He was convinced that our split was the best thing for me.

My head exploded. I yelled. I cussed. Then I yelled some more. I went over the edge completely. Who was he to make this decision for me? I’d stood by him through his transition, held his hand, worked so hard at being okay (at least I thought so at the time). How DARE he leave me now? But he was gone. We were, in fact, over.

(To be continued…)

Flux

Life is constant flux. Knowing is transitory. Grasping destroys even the most beautiful things.

When Simon transitioned, I knew—knew down in my bones—that this would be better. For him. For our family. For Jane. But that knowing clashed against my belief about who I was—defined largely by being a lesbian. I couldn’t conceptualize how I could be gay and be with Simon. People often rail about being put into a box—they don’t want to be labeled. But I did want to be labeled. I’d worn this particular label (lesbian) for over 20 years. And I was pissed that someone would try to snatch that away from me. I felt betrayed by Simon’s need to be himself. Because that self wasn’t what I’d signed up for.

Everything I wrote about that summer—two years ago now—was true. We did reconnect in meaningful ways. Our physical spark returned. We fell in love again.

But all the while, I felt off-kilter. Like I was lying to myself. I didn’t know if I could be married to a man. Because I didn’t want to be. I’d married the person I wanted. Now she was gone. And in her place was this guy—who looked like her, who both was but was not the person I fell in love with. My everyday life was a total mindfuck.

Angry. Sad. Betrayed. Lonely. Scared. All of this I felt with varying intensity, all the while cheering Simon on through his transition. Which was never about us (it couldn’t have been; it shouldn’t have been). Simon transitioned so he could live, really live, his own life. Which left me to figure out how my lesbian self—fit into this new life of his. And how he fit into mine.

More and more, I was convinced that he didn’t.

I crafted the life I wanted to live. I built it up brick by brick, carefully constructed to fortify me in case of disaster. Because disaster loomed large any time paused long enough to evaluate our situation. Which wasn’t often. Emotional survival became the ultimate goal.

When shit went wrong (like, really, really wrong), my fortification didn’t do jack to protect me. I felt vulnerable. Crushed. And searingly lonely. Everything I’d believed to be true for more than 13 years suddenly felt like a lie. A complete fabrication. I couldn’t breathe.

But I could see clearly.

I saw that grasping at a label—even one that served me so well for so many years—was destroying me. I finally saw the person standing in front of me—and he had real needs, fears, desires. Those had both everything and nothing to do with me. When I could just see us standing there—me and him, stripped of labels, and free to choose—then I knew that I wanted him. Not in that sure, we’ll stay together way. But in an I choose you way. Not you are good enough, but you are ALL that is ever going to be good enough.

So I chose him. And in the choosing I found freedom.

Kindergarten Pandas

IMG_3360Simon & I spent a lot of time planning our family. It took us 2 years to get pregnant, so we had lots of time to choose baby names, to debate how we’d handle hypothetical disciplinary scenarios, to make crazy proclamations like “She’ll never wear pink or play with princesses!” But all that time, I wasn’t imagining a baby. I was imagining a little girl who would bound home from school each day, discard her school stuff haphazardly at the front door, and clamber up to the kitchen table for an after school snack.

So, imagine my surprise when, in late January 2011, I found myself staring down at the face of an adorable, incredibly helpless baby. I was overjoyed and full of “what-the-hell-do-I-do-with-this-tiny-person?”. Fortunately, Jane is a good teacher. We muddled through each baby and toddler stage with varying degrees of success. But always with so much love & forgiveness for each other’s shortcomings.

This week, my baby girl started Kindergarten. And this… this is everything I dreamed it would be.

Jane likes learning (although she does have to fight through always needing to be right, in order to absorb new information. No idea where she gets that). She’s enthused about new adventures. And she adores people. New friends? Loves them! New teachers? Just more folks to love. Jane’s amazing preschool experience at the YMCA in Tampa set her up to completely rock Kindergarten. But there’s always an element of the unknown when dealing with a 5 year-old. So, I eagerly anticipated her first day of school, all the while fretting about how it would go. This is my way. It’s just what I do.

She’d made a specific request that we NOT be late on her first day. I’m not sure why… we aren’t usually late to things… but she was clearly worried. So I promised we’d get there early. But, on the morning of her first day of school, she slept past 6:45. Excuse me, but WHAT THE HELL?!? We’ve been trying to get this kid to sleep past 6:45 forever. And she never does. Not on Saturdays. Not on Sundays. Not on holidays. But on her first day of school? Sleeping like a log. I had to shake her to wake her up. And then she flopped right back in bed like a dead fish. Again, WHAT THE HELL???

She perked up when we wandered into the kitchen for breakfast. But I started eyeing the clock as it passed 7, and she was still munching pensively on her raisin toast. I swear, she was eating it so slowly that it was spontaneously regenerating. I told her to hurry. I wrung my hands. I asked if she was almost done. I bounced my leg anxiously. Nothing would entice her to eat faster.

Then, Bobby… oh, sweet, understanding, perceptive Bobby…stepped in, picked her up and asked if she was scared about her first day. And then there were tears. Yes, it turns out. Eating toast excruciatingly slowly is a symptom of being scared. She shed precisely two tears. Then she wiped them away and began excitedly chattering about her classroom, her Shimmer & Shine backpack (etc, etc, etc).

By the time we got her in her adorable uniform and walked up to the front of the school, she didn’t seem nervous at all anymore. She greeted the Principal and her teacher with her general bubbly good nature. When she saw the art and activity stations in her classroom, she exclaimed, “This will be FUN!” And then she was officially a Kindergartener. No more tears (from her or me).

And having a school-aged kid is just as amazing as I thought it would be. She chatters about her new friends, tells me what they did each day, and professes her love of being a Panda (it’s their mascot). She is growing up so quickly. And I am so grateful to be along for the ride with her.

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Resilience

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“We are going to move away from the only home you’ve ever really known,” we said.

“Okay,” she said.

“We know that you’re leaving behind friends and family. It’s okay to miss them, and its okay to cry.”

“But I will get to live in the same place as my best friends. And their moms. And we love them so much. So, it’ll be okay,” she said.

We said goodbye. To the house. To family. To friends. To our house.

“I am sometimes sad saying goodbye,” she said. Then she cried broken sobs that shattered my heart. I held her until she was done. She dried her eyes, looked up at me and said, “But it’ll be okay.”

We made the long trek from Tampa to Atlanta and arrived in our new (temporary) home after 11p.m. Nothing of hers had made it here yet, except a few favorite toys.

“I love sleeping in my sleeping bag next to you, Mommy. It’ll be okay,” she said.

The next morning we got up bright and early; the three of us walked to one of the most stellar breakfast spots in Atlanta. She ate a pancake, which she declared the best she’d ever had.

We set out to walk home and she burst into tears. “I miss everyone,” she sobbed. Her Bobby held her until she was done. “It’ll be okay,” she said, “as long as I can ride on your shoulders home.” So she did.

We sent her off to spend time with her best friends and their moms, the ones she loves so very much. She declared that definitely much better than okay.

We explored this big, beautiful city, and her eyes grew wide with wonder. “This isn’t like Tampa,” she said. “But I think I like it okay.”

We found our new YMCA, and I signed her up for camp. She cried before we left he apartment on her first day—something she has never, ever done. She didn’t want to go. I sympathized. I cajoled. And then I finally insisted she go. She looked so small when I dropped her off, there in this new place with new people she didn’t know. When I picked her up, she got in the car and yelled, “Today was the best day ever!” So, I guess that means it’s okay.

She is 5. She’s full of enthusiasm, optimism and a flair for the dramatic. And she’s not afraid to feel things. Not sadness. Not joy. Not even fear. She names her feelings for what they are, feels them, and then lets them go. She is amazing. Adaptable. Resilient.

She is making Atlanta her home, day by day. She has friends at camp. She can’t wait for Kindergarten (just another week and a half!). And she loves the friends she already had here. She is joyous and aglow when she is with them. And I am so grateful to have a child that does not shrink from living her life.

And she is definitely okay.

 

 

Grace, Unexpected

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On Tuesday morning, Jane and I barely made it out of the house on time for school. Getting ready in the mornings involves some pretty stellar teamwork—and when I say teamwork, I mean that Jane is responsible for getting her own self dressed & ready to walk out the door. It each girl for herself before 9 a.m. in this house.

Jane spent a large portion of her morning obsessing about the princess ring that she’d gotten out of the treasure box at school. She couldn’t find it. She thought perhaps I might know where it was—and apparently she thought my answer might change on the 101st time she asked me. I did not know where her ring was, not the first time or the 101st time. But she was undeterred. She needed to find that ring.

Galloping Gumdrops! Her ring was right where she’d left it: in her booster seat. (No, I don’t really say Galloping Gumdrops. But we’ve been reading a lot of early reader chapter books, one of which was rife with exclamations like “Salamanders & Salutations!” and “Peonies & Princesses!” I suffered greatly. Thank you for sharing my burden.)

I was distracted on the way to school, making travel plans, finding the perfect song on the radio. The usual. We got to school; I turned around to look at my precious 5 year-old singing along with the radio in the backseat.

And suddenly, shit got real: “Jane, WHERE is your backpack?” “Uh oh. We must have left it at home. “WE must have left it at home?! No, WE didn’t leave it anywhere. YOU left it at home. Your backpack, your responsibility.” I sighed loudly, for added emphasis. Because 5 year olds are especially susceptible to exasperated sighs.

Then I looked down at her. She looked crestfallen. And I realized that I could teach her about natural consequences and personal responsibility, or I could offer her a little bit of grace. Grace won. I squatted down so I was eye level with her, and I said, “You did something that was irresponsible. But YOU are not irresponsible. You made a bad choice. But YOU are not bad. You’re a great kid; I totes love you.” She threw her arms around me and whispered in my ear, “You’re a good mommy. And I’m very sorry about my backpack. I won’t leave it again.” And then she grabbed by hand and pulled me inside the preschool, like she does every morning.

I could recount the boring conversation we had about consequences for the next time (which I’m sure sounded pretty much like the teacher from the Peanuts to her); but most important was that she seemed to understand that we all make mistakes. And our mistakes don’t define who we are.

Fast-forward to Tuesday night: I made (pretend) BLTs for us. Simon was out of town, so Jane & I were enjoying just paling around. We were cutting up about something silly, when I heard a popping. I kind of ignored it. But then I heard it again. It was coming from the kitchen. The intrepid adventurer that I am, I went to investigate.

HOLY SHIT, BATMAN!

Instead of turning off the grease that I’d cooked the (pretend) bacon in, I’d turned it on high. The stove was glowing red & radiating heat. The grease was just pre-flashpoint. It was already smoking. I almost panicked (What do I do for a grease fire? OH MY GOD, I AM GOING TO BURN THE HOUSE DOWN.) I grabbed the pan off the stove & stood there for a minute indecisively. I wanted to get it far away from the heat source.

Amid all this, Jane is staring at me, looking perplexed and a little concerned. “What is it, Mommy? What’s happening?” Honestly, these aren’t usually my best moments of parenting. If I feel that hot sting of shame, like I’ve really fucked up… well, I usually get snappy, dismissive or mean. But I didn’t. Because I just finished reading Daring Greatly, where Brené Brown talks about Minding the Gap (between our aspirational values and our practiced values). I tell Jane all the time that people are not their mistakes, that we can all use a bit of grace… but that means nothing unless I practice it with the person I am least likely to offer grace: myself.

So, I chose vulnerability. I put the pan in the sink (no, I didn’t put any water on it. I at least remembered that much from Home Ec. And I remember how to sew a stuffed unicorn. I can’t wait to see when that comes in handy). I looked at my worried kid and said, “Mommy made a mistake. I wasn’t paying enough attention, and I did something that could have put us in danger. I am sorry about my mistake. I feel bad about it. But we are both okay.”

Immediately, she walked over, hugged me and said, “It’s okay, Mommy. We all make mistakes. You just made a bad choice. You are a good mommy. I love you.”

Well Caterpillars and Catshit, she DOES listen to me. And this is wonderful, and frightening, and a bit overwhelming: she watches me. She waits to see how I act, because that shows her what I really value. That morning she received grace, and that evening she freely returned it. She knew I didn’t expect perfection from her; when I was vulnerable enough to admit to my mistakes, she let me know that she valued my honesty and vulnerability over perfection. Kind of amazing, really.

And, grace aside, we are both pretty happy I didn’t ACTUALLY burn the house down.

You Don’t Like the Buzzer?

IMG_2051When I signed Jane up to play basketball this winter, I had no idea how much I’d learn. And my learning had little to do with the game itself and much more to do with resilience and joy and kicking perfectionism in the ass.

Our family belongs to the YMCA. Consequently, at the tender age of 5, Jane has already played soccer (multiple times) and tee ball. She’s taken swimming lessons, done gymnastics on and off since she was a wee tot. Our theory falls into the try-everything-and-see-what-sticks method of choosing a sport. So, when I signed her up for basketball, it was just something else we could see if she liked.

Oh, sweet baby Jesus, she was awful at it.

The first practice, she had no idea how to dribble. Which I thought would be fine. In the other sports she’d tried, no prior skill was necessary at all. Hell, a decent percentage of the kids ended up playing in the dirt or chasing bugs during the soccer and tee ball games. But what I’d failed to consider is that this wasn’t the “baby league” anymore. This was the 5 & 6 year old league–and they were serious.

She had two practices before her first game, during which she kinda-sorta learned to dribble once or twice before the ball would simply hug the ground. The first game left her completely bewildered. She was supposed to defend (which she’d never heard of before), to dribble (which she couldn’t do), and make a shot on a rebound (what?!?). She basically stood still in the middle of the court, halfheartedly followed her team around, and tried to look like she was part of the action while staying entirely away from the action.

And then it happened–the buzzer went off to signify the end of the period. Sweet girl was lucky she didn’t pee her pants, it scared her so bad.

I was sure she’d want to quit after the first game. Jane is a known perfectionist. If she isn’t sure she can totally rock something, she usually loses all desire to participate. But not so in basketball. In fact, she loved it. She constantly asked to go outside to practice her budding dribbling skills. She loved practice, and stayed more engaged than I thought was possible given her lack of basketball skills.

She loved something she was awful at.

I’d love to say I fully embraced her enthusiasm. But my ego was a bit wounded watching her look constantly confused on the court, seeing her struggle to pick up the skills that seemed to come easily to the other kids. And I was afraid–afraid the other kids would make fun of her, that they wouldn’t want her on the team. I was terrified they’d be mean to her and crush her spirit.

So, instead, I almost beat them to the punch by constantly offering “helpful” suggestions, by insisting she focus, by criticizing her efforts when she was already giving it all she had.

And then one day at practice, I noticed how much fun she was having. How she continued to try, even though she couldn’t execute the drills perfectly. My perfectionist kid wasn’t perfect–and she was okay with it. In fact, she seemed oblivious to it. And I realized I was watching her develop resilience–which is arguably a more important skill than dribbling.

Her basketball picture reminds me of joy and resilience in the face of imperfection. And it gives me so much hope for the woman that she will one day become, a woman who doesn’t have to be perfect to live life wholeheartedly and with great joy.

Expect … Nothing

We stood, shuffling about in line, waiting for our first ride on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. I’d been anticipating this ride the entire trip. The wait time had never been under 80 minutes. But, since it rained that morning, the park was emptier than usual. Which meant only a 40-minute wait time. 40 minutes is nothing when I’m on a mission.

To their credit, Disney tries to make everything in the park as magical as possible, including adding diversions in the cues to enhance the waiting experience. We made music & splashed in water. We sorted touch screen gems. We spun buckets that projected images on the ceiling. We were simultaneously diverted and bored, which is a rather odd way to feel. The thing is, anticipation makes people antsy. Especially kids. Or maybe its just that kids aren’t as good at hiding their antsiness. Either way, the result is the same. In lines for rides or to meet characters is where the worst behavior pops up—from kids AND parents.

It was in this heightened Seven Dwarf Anticipation state where a kid in line in front of us effectively got his mother’s goat. Not only did he get her goat, but he was prancing around with her goat and showed no signs of giving it up. Their conversation went something like this:

Kid: (some action that is annoying only to the parent of said child)

Mother: (to husband) “I don’t know. I don’t know what his problem is, but he needs to be more appreciative.”

Kid: (sullen looking away from mother)

Mother: “Do you see where you are? Do you see everyone else having fun?! Why do you insist on being like this?”

Kid: (still sullen)

Mother: “Do you even want to ride any more rides? Because we don’t have to! You can just not ride any more rides all day long!”

Kid: (Sullen McSullerson)

Mother: “You are going to start having fun right now! You are going to put a smile on your face and have a good time! Do you hear me?!?”

Mother’s goat = Gotten.

Parents are often on their worst behavior at Disney. Parents expect their kids to appreciate the sacrifices they’ve made to get them to Disney World. They expect their kids to be laughing and joyful the whole time. I mean, duh… it IS The Happiest Place on Earth™. Except that the reality is that kids get tired, and overwhelmed, and emotionally frazzled from the anticipation and excitement. Kids cry. They whine. They ask for ONE MILLION things. Kids behave no differently in the Magic Kingdom than they do anywhere else in the world. They are still small people, with personalities and needs. Regardless of the Disney advertisements that try to convince parents otherwise.

I have a soft spot for the kids whose parents are losing their shit over poor behavior, screaming at them as the kids clutch their bags of cotton candy with Mickey Mouse balloons tied to their wrists. I want to gently pull the parents away and shake them back into their senses. I want them to see their kid, snot streaming down his face, doing his level best at the moment, but still failing to live up to the expectation. I think I feel so connected to these kids because I know that if I hadn’t spent time in recovery, I’d be treating Jane the same way. Because expectations were always my Achilles Heel.

When I started my recovery journey, I learned quickly that expectations only breed disappointment and resentment. And I was Queen of Outlandish Expectations. Consequently, every holiday, every special event, every PERSON was a disappointment. Because my expectations were entirely unrealistic. I cringe when I think how the people who loved me must have felt—it sucks to try so hard & still come up short.

The trick isn’t to LOWER expectations… that is just pessimism. The goal is to not HAVE expectations at all. Don’t expect the kid to be appreciative at Disney World (she has no idea how much it costs—and would I really want her to? No.). Don’t expect only laughter and lightheartedness (she’s still going to be just as sensitive as she is in the real world). I walk into the Magic Kingdom with zero picture in my head of what the day will look like, of what we will do (I mean, of course, no expectation for what we will do AFTER we ride the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train), of how Jane will respond. If I drop the expectations, then we each get to be ourselves, without fear of reprisal. And isn’t that one of the best things we can give someone we love—the freedom to simply be themselves instead of what we expect them to be?

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