Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Christmas 2004

            “Have you ever cheated on me?”  How were these words coming out of my mouth?  I was married to a “good Catholic boy,” after all.  The revelation that the “good Catholic boy” designation was self–professed came to light as I stood in the garage the day after Christmas watching my illusions that he was actually “a good man underneath it all” dissipate into a smoky haze.  New just-played-with toys were scattered all over the house, wrapping paper was overflowing the trash cans, and the boys were still riding high from candy-filled stockings and the excitement of Santa’s visit.
            I stood behind the kitchen door in the garage watching my husband sobbing.  He said his friends had advised him not to tell me anything, but he had decided to be honest and answer any question I wanted to ask. 
            “Hang on,” I said.
            The boys were two, four and six years old.  I couldn’t leave them unattended for more than a few minutes.  I opened the door to peer inside.  Through the kitchen and into the living room, I saw the Christmas tree lights shimmering, the stockings flung on the floor, toys and candy strewn about.  The smell of the Christmas tree hit me as I scanned the kitchen still covered with Christmas morning donuts and cookies.  The boys were quietly playing.  The middle one was watching a Christmas movie, the youngest was riding his new tractor, and the oldest was playing his new video game. 
            I turned back into the darkness of the garage and closed the door.  I looked around to see our life in the shadows.  Christmas boxes were awaiting pick-up. Bikes, rakes, and tools were haphazardly arranged.  Boxes of outgrown clothes were awaiting the next boy’s growth spurt.
“Have you ever cheated on me?” 
I don’t know why I asked this question.  We had many problems, but nothing I believed was insurmountable.  He was a good person underneath it all.  He was a good person underneath his white lies, misrepresentations and failure do the things he said he would do that apparently whittled away at my ability to trust him and prompted my question.
 “Um, well, not really,” he said.
Not really?  This was not a definitive answer to my question.  This question should have a definitive answer, and at that moment, I knew.  His penchant for rationalizing bored full-force into me, and I felt invisible to myself.  Everything I knew to be true was a lie.  As I listened to an endless description of what specific acts he believed constituted cheating, I felt as though I had left my body and was watching this scene from above myself. 
“Hang on.”  I had to come back to myself and check on the kids.
I opened the door again to check on the boys.  They were getting a bit restless, running around the living room, flinging toys up in the air as they giggled and shrieked.  Frosty the Snowman was blaring from the TV. 
My mind replayed the last week as I watched them.  The Christmas Eve service at church, the Sunday School Christmas party, making cookies with my parents, all of it was so normal.  I told them to finish the movie, and I would give them a bath. 
When I turned back to the dimly lit garage, I began to ask questions with surreal calm.  I had to chip away at his resistance to the truth despite him offering to answer any question. He began to sob harder and harder as he related a tale of infidelity spanning five years of our ten-year marriage. 
“I don’t know,” he said. 
“What do you mean you don’t know?” I could not fathom his answer as I once again had left my body, floating above and watching this happen to me.
“I don’t know who they are.”
“How many?”
“Too many to count.”
At that moment, my two-year-old came bounding out of the house, all grins and wanting to play.  The bright light of the kitchen fell on my husband’s tear-streaked face.  I stepped to block my son from seeing him, scooped him up and carried him back inside.  I asked my 6 year-old to play with him for a few minutes before their bath and I would be right back.
“I don’t have any more questions,” I said.  I turned back into the house filled with lights, music and the sweet faces of innocent, giggling boys.  I shut the garage door to the man I never really knew.  And I was free.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


The best way to find peace in conflict, especially in divorce, is to shift your own expectations.  It is a way of letting go.  You know bad things will happen.  You know there will be conflict.  You know there are things over which you have no control.  When you do not expect the other person to do the right thing or to make good decisions or even to make decision you would make, then you let go.  Then and only then do you regain control by controlling your own reaction.  You can have sad and angry reactions, and you have the right to your own feelings.  But you can calmly make decisions knowing that you will always try to do the right things.  Relieving yourself of the responsibility of trying to make someone else do the right thing is liberating. You are only responsible for how you live and what you teach your children.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

In the Spirit of "It Takes a Village"

Dear Village,

I voted for President Obama, and thought that today I would feel very happy about his re-election.  Instead, I woke up to see anger, sarcasm, resentment and disrespect for the president and those who voted for him being expressed all over my Facebook wall.  I am very disappointed that many of you choose to be filled with hate, derision and negativity and choose to express those feelings in such a public way.  I have five children and many of you are in our "village" influencing and setting examples for them.  Some of you are friends with them on Facebook.  Decisions like yours cause me inordinate distress because I believe that you are teaching them all of the wrong lessons.

I am raising my children to be be informed, to be open minded, to be tolerant of everyone alike or different, to question authority without disrespecting it. I am teaching them that they have the power to become informed and educated and by listening to others, make decisions on their own. Your decision goes against every single one of my goals.

By showing them hate and a closed mind, you are teaching them that by having an opinion different from yours, they will be greeted with hate thus making it more difficult for them to form their own opinions and express them without fear.  Open- mindedness is taught by exposing children to different people, cultures, and viewpoints. By expressing derision of their government, you are reinforcing the idea that it is not okay to be different from each other.

Tolerance is taught by example. By showing them that when your candidate doesn't win, it is okay to attack those who voted differently from you or to attack the president or the government, you are teaching them to turn their backs on those who are or believe differently, rather than encouraging open and respectful discussion.

Our country was founded by our questioning of an authority with which we disagreed. By allowing our children to see disrespectful attacks instead of respectful discussion you are teaching them to disrespect authority instead of giving them the tools to question or change their futures.

Providing children information from every perspective gives them the belief and the tools to change their futures and impact the world. By attacking one group's views and votes, you are teaching them that they have no power to make their own decisions or to change their futures without fear of retribution.

I would like my village to have the goals that I have listed above to produce educated, informed, tolerant, open-minded and powerful children who will grow to be adults with those same qualities.  I would like them armed with knowledge as they go through school and go out into the world.

This time, my candidate won.  I have experienced the same disappointment in other elections when my choice lost.  I did not attack my friends for their votes.  I did not, in dramatic fashion,  pray to God that he would save us from the "evil" that loomed.  I think the president needs prayers for wise and just decisions whether he is my choice or not.  I did not believe that the world would end because my choice didn't win.  And it won't now.

We live in a country that provides peaceful election and peaceful transfer of power when a new candidate wins.  We need to appreciate this and recognize that many risk much more when they vote.  We need to teach our children, by example, that we can win or lose gracefully.  That we can respect the office of the president and try to support each other and articulate our opinions in ways that teach our children to be the kind of adults we would like them to be..

I want my children to be politically aware.  I want them to learn to watch and think for themselves.  I do not want to feel compelled to warn them that talking about politics with friends may not be such a good idea for fear they will be attacked.  I believe that this culture of hate and fear can turn the young away from wanting to learn about and participate in the process.  I believe that those who express hate and vilify others run the risk of denying my children the experiencing of history by making them afraid.

It does not matter for whom you voted or what your political affiliation, children and adults (because every adult is a part of some child's village) should respect the office of President, even if you do not respect the man or the ideology.

I have written my political views on Facebook.  I have made every effort to be respectful, find facts and post articles that I find interesting and support my ideas.  I have never called someone (either a political figure or friend)  a name or attacked anyone personally.  Even I began to feel disillusioned with discussion as people are very angry when you disagree with them.  That is not the path I want my children to walk.

Change starts with the individual.  If we can come together and work together, it will be harder for those in power to remain so polarized.  If you do not like the way things are, instead of ranting in anger, why not do something about it using respectful and intelligent discussion.  Call your senator, write your congressman, attend meetings.  Take you children and teach them how it works.  At the very least, before you speak or post, pause to think if what you are about to say is something you would want your children to hear or see.

We live in an area with a great deal of diversity and however you believe, it is important for all children to know that anything is possible and barriers of all kinds can be conquered. Our president is an historical figure by sheer virtue of the fact that he is our first African-American president. We should at the very least respect that.  Maybe if we all pulled together for the greater good, he could actually accomplish something, and we could teach our children in the process.