Jay’s Lesson

Continued from Consider The Possibilities

Sometimes life doesn’t want to give you something that you want. It’s not because you don’t deserve it, but because you deserve more.  ~ Unknown

A few days ago I talked about dating again and mentioned meeting a great guy on an arranged ‘lunch date’. His name was Jay and we had a second date, and then a third. We met for lunch a few times as it was a better in both of our schedules. He had four girls but they were mostly grown or almost there. He talked about them like they were amazing, making me believe that he was an amazing dad and that excited me.

There’s always a question when dating after divorce about when to introduce the person to your children – if ever. I wasn’t especially excited to have the girls meet Jay but they were curious and so I didn’t wait long… they knew we were seeing each other and they knew I liked him. I told them the basics, what he did for a living, how many children he had and what I knew about them, and I shared the general details of how we spent time together. It seemed to be going pretty well and so I invited him to come out for dinner. Awkward!! There we sat, at the dinner table that we used to share with their dad. I don’t know exactly what they were thinking but I thought it was weird… to have a different guy sitting there having a conversation with my children, someone other than the man with whom I had been sharing them with for twelve years.

He was pretty cool though… as the father of girls, he knew all the right shows – had seen and could talk about – The Gilmore Girls. He was friendly and conversational, knowing just how to fit in and when to sit back. They thought he as ‘weird’ – as any teen / preteen would typically think and perhaps he was – a little.

We continued to spend stolen pockets of time together, each of us taking turns driving the fifty-minute span that separated us. We took a weekend and spent it on a boat that he shared with another family member and I learned that he took fish oil supplements. Good for him – bad for anyone that got close enough to kiss him. I’m not one hundred percent that it was the fish oil, perhaps it was another issue, but that man’s perspiration was one of the most unpleasant smells I’ve ever experienced. I’m not convinced he wore deodorant and even if he did, I’m not sure there was a perfume strong enough to mask his personal scent. I don’t mean at all – to be unkind, simply descriptive of an attribute that was marginally manageable.

I struggled as to whether or not it would be a deal breaker for me. How do you tell someone … they smell and not be rude? How can they not know? Is it highly intolerant or critical of me to ‘not’ date someone because of an odor? I realized it wasn’t all of the time and hadn’t spent enough time with him to decipher what prompted or initiated it.

When I graduated with my undergrad, he slipped into the mix of celebrants – in fact, he was front and center… something that I was really questioning at the time but didn’t know how to ask him to ‘sit back’. Sadly, I don’t have any photographs of that day without him in it. He escorted me home that day to my surprise party and consequently, met many family members and friends… in retrospect – it was Way. Too. Soon.

Jay was unapologetically himself and I loved that about him. I envied his ability to be authentic regardless of the circumstances and I made a note to investigate that quality / feature about myself. It was a new and exciting proposition for me – to just be me. He didn’t apologize for his peculiarities or idiosyncrasies – he accepted himself – completely and I noticed. I liked that about him. I wanted to be like that.

Jay wasn’t divorced yet and since – at that time – neither was I, it seemed to be a bond between us … our ‘almost’ ex-spouses were somewhat thorns in our environment. We had each been ‘separated’ for over a year but the divorce piece was complicated. He began introducing me to a couple of his daughters as ‘a friend’ and then braced for the backlash from their mom. We had custody of our children on the same weekends so that worked, but there is SO MUCH to navigate when you are forced to maneuver through a dozen different personalities just to spend time together. We were attempting to finalize our plans for the upcoming July 4th weekend – whether or not to take all the girls someplace, my kids, or his, and it was just too complicated. He was firmly planted in his community – and I in mine. To that extent, we were either unable to unwilling to compromise. We were on the phone one afternoon and he was unambiguous with his words “I can’t date you anymore, it’s too hard”.

He tried to explain that there were just too many complications with his wife, his girls, my kids, the distance… I recall being somewhat stunned as there was no warning. I had never realized that his skin was that thin – or perhaps (giving him the benefit of the doubt) there was much more under the surface that I had not been privy to. In either case, I could feel myself shut down instantaneously … here it was again – rejection. Oh well… at least I hadn’t let my heart out – had I? Nope… it didn’t hurt, not really – I was just surprised. I hadn’t loved Jay. I realized that I hadn’t even let myself consider loving him. It was fun to be liked, to be wanted – for a while.

I walked out of my bedroom after that phone call and into Sara’s room. “Jay just broke up with me”, I told her. She looked at me with big eyes, wondering and waiting for more… “are you ok?” she asked. “Surprisingly… I’m good – it’s all good”, I say.

_____

On the drive home from the mountain I thought about Jay – what purpose did Joe have in my life? Why did we meet? I loved his authenticity. I needed to consider why it was such a strong element for me and how could I embody more authentic-ness? (um… duh – in every way!) I realized that Jay demonstrated that I could still get butterflies. Good to know. I also noted that I could be found attractive to a man. As crazy as it sounds, for someone with low self-esteem, coming out of a marriage to a man who preferred the company of other (many) women – this was somewhat of a revelation for me. I was desirable – at least to a guy who smelled like fish oil. I considered Jay practice but also acknowledged that dating sucked. There were so many expectations, hopes, disappointments, and the potential for rejection that it took more courage than I thought I might have for now.

I filed away the introspection about dating and organized my life. It was time to start grad school. I was excited with the idea of learning more.

All About Trust

“Being a family means you are a part of something very wonderful. It means you will love and be loved for the rest of your life.” ~Lisa Weedn

I woke each morning to the sound of children. It was either an infant cry or a toddler’s chatter, or a young boy’s question. Francis would leave for school each morning with an energy that I coveted while I began a day of caring for baby girls only sixteen months apart. The joy they brought into my life cannot be exaggerated. Sara loved her baby sister and was gentle and caring, as if infant Erin was a thin piece of glass. She attempted to share everything she loved with this new sibling and would express frustration from time to time as baby just sat and smiled. Sara wanted to play.

Francis was the most amazing big brother and completely cherished by his little sisters. Sara would sit at the window and wait for him to appear on the sidewalk as he returned from school. I was also anxiously awaiting his return but for a completely different reason – I needed the help. By four in the afternoon I was in serious need of a break. As unfair as it may have been, Francis was my relief. Day after day, he accepted the responsibility of helping to care for his sisters, and ultimately, his mom. I always said he would grow up to be the most amazing father ever or a monk – having emptied all of his paternalistic caring resources before the age of twelve.

Our life was tremendously full. Each hour of the day was filled to the brim either working, raising children, little league, household responsibilities, or another of the seemingly million things that make a family function. I felt overwhelmed with a lack of time and emotional resources on a fairly regular basis. Hubby was a good provider and we had enough. Although he was a loving father, he had little patience for the chaos that existed in our evenings. Rarely was I able to get a break. My emotional tolerance was generally low by that time of night. Most of the time, by evenings end, my energy reserves were depleted completely; not Hubby’s.

During this time in our lives, conflicts were generally around the subject of how much vitality and vigor I had failed to reserve for him. It’s true that I was not educated, versed, or practiced in balancing my emotional stamina. I gave everything I had to give to my children and family life from six a.m. to eight p.m. and then, what I needed was sleep. I instinctively knew that I had an obligation, a responsibility to my relationship, to offer myself – not just sexually – but intellectually and emotionally, to my husband. I did the best I could. I would say yes to sex and try to appear motivated. It wasn’t honest. In fact, it was during this time that I trusted Meg Ryan’s famous example in the movie Harry Met Sally and just portrayed my best version of an orgasmic apex. I just didn’t have any more of myself to share. As it would in any relationship, my inability to divide my personal resources more effectively left my husband feeling unloved and unappreciated. I was unable to understand. In my mind, I needed him to be supportive, helpful, and understanding. I didn’t experience any of those things and quite the contrary, I just felt as though one more person was making demands on my day. I did what I had to do in order to have peace at the end of the night.

Stress was taking a toll on our relationship. Hubby dealt with it by drinking and smoking, I just got mad and ugly. Since he was unable (or unwilling) to stop smoking, I became passive aggressive and stopped telling him I loved him. He would say it to me and my reply was mostly “thank you”. It wasn’t one of my best decisions. The distance between us grew until we decided to try marriage counseling.

Faith was still very dominant in our life and so we opted for a Christian therapist. I recall the church, the room, and vaguely, the man. He held a bible on his lap and let us know that God believed in our union. He heard each of our perspectives and offered some bible passages that spoke to the sanctity of marriage. I felt shame. There, in that church office, a Christian environment, without substantial feedback, all I remember feeling is how much at fault I was for withholding love from the man I committed to cherish. I didn’t wait until we got to the car before I turned to Hubby with tears and extreme humility to say how sorry I was. I was sorry for not being a better wife, for withholding words of affection, for not being stronger. I pledged to try harder and to find a way to bring more balance into my life so that I could be there for him. I’m not sure if we ever went back.

Slowly, I began to trust. I trusted that this was my destiny; that all of the events leading to this point were divinely driven and therefore, worthy of my commitment. I looked at my family each evening and saw that I was blessed; that life was full. I was beginning to understand the concept of submission in a way that I had been unable to this point. I was submitting not to Hubby directly, but to life, to God’s will. I was embracing where I was and the people with whom I was sharing life.

In the summer of 1994 Hubby went out west with his brothers to participate in a Scouting event near and dear to their hearts. He arranged to make a couple of side trips to the Colorado mountains and was excited about them. I arranged to make a hearty road trip with my mother and three children through the New England area. We were going to be camping at KOA camps (in cabins) for most of the journey and being as organized and particular as I was – it was mapped out in detail as if I was preparing to perform a surgical procedure on a mass of spider veins. We drove the highway all the way up to Skowhegan, Maine but never again – over the course of two weeks – hit a main freeway. Without going into explicit detail of each day, let’s just say that it was an amazing journey with people I love. It offered my children and me an opportunity to spend marvelous time with my mother. Not only did we see beautiful and amazing parts of our country, but we had the opportunity to have quality time together that has yet to be replicated.

During this time away, I took the opportunity to write to Hubby each night, sharing our day’s journey and the highlights along the way. My intention was to embody the spirit of participation in our experiences similar to the letters I wrote Rocky when he was overseas when Francis was an infant. I also used those letters to express my love and support for our family, for our marriage. It was an excellent time of reflection and it offered me time to seriously evaluate the life I wanted to live; the life I wanted for our family; the dreams we hoped to manifest.

Both Hubby and I had rolls and rolls of photographs to develop (back in the day we actually had to turn in film) and we turned them in for processing together. After picking them up, it was fun for us to sit down and share our travels, to swap stories about our time apart. One by one, we flipped through the photographs and laughed or ohh’ed and ahh’ed over the incredible scenery each of us had seen. One photo in particular caught my attention. It was of him, alone – in a time WAY before selfies were possible or a ‘thing’ – it was a full body photograph of Hubby against a backdrop of mountains. He explained how he had gone back to that trail without his brothers for a couple of days, to fully experience the intensity of nature in that part of the world. He continued to tell me that his time there on the first part of the trip hadn’t been complete and here was this photo, taken by another traveler on the trail. He looked happy.

Something about his picture disturbed me.

 

Family of Four

“Many men can make a fortune but very few can build a family.”  – J.S. Bryan

We were sitting at the dinner table one evening discussing baby names; girl names, boy names, first names, middle names … we said the name and added the last name. One by one, we drifted through a selection trying in on for size. Suddenly, Francis looked up and asked with a very serious and sobering voice “Why does my last name have to be different?” Hubby and I looked at each other – oh boy. I didn’t see this coming. My heart leaped and hurt at the same time. What is the right answer here? What can I say to this precious boy about his name, about his new brother or sister and their name… What?

Hubby and I talked and talked about how to answer his question and facilitate a sense of belonging. I struggled. By now, Francis was calling Hubby ‘daddy’ and he had no memory of his father. Rocky’s parents lived in the Midwest and many of his siblings were in the Northwest; I only saw them the first few years after Rock’s death. In fact, after meeting Hubby, I hadn’t gone at all. I was terribly conflicted about having residual feelings for my dead husband and wanting a relationship with his family versus keeping my attention on the man in my current life and his family. It always felt as if I was being disrespectful to one of them if I was thinking of the other… I chose not to think. I focused on what was in front of me. Hubby was in front of me. I focused on him.

Francis went to visit every summer however, at least until Rocky’s parent’s health failed to the point where they required a caregiver. I recall the one time they came to visit us, Hubby wasn’t around at all. I’m not sure if it was because it was awkward or if he was simply giving us some space. I never felt he was very accepting of my prior life. He had never been married and therefore didn’t have a reference point from which to allow for me having feelings for or a relationship with another whole family. Rocky’s siblings were great people yet I hadn’t been ‘in’ the family for long and we never lived close. We were all raising our children, building careers, leading busy lives and while we did exchange Christmas Cards each year, it was generally the extent of our connection. Furthermore, I’m not sure that having meaningful relationships with them would even have been acceptable to Hubby, my perception was that he resented my enduring feelings toward the family-at-large. Although I don’t recall a confrontation, I distinctly remember feeling like I had to choose. It’s entirely possible that I was just too immature to process being a part of two families; the absence of connection wasn’t anyone’s fault.

Never-the-less, without his family in the picture on a regular basis, Francis didn’t have a compass from which he could experience his Rockefeller identity. Of course, a healthy child needs to feel as though he/she is a part of something larger than themselves and Hubby had a large family close in proximity. They were big on birthday’s and Holidays. There were a lot of them actually and it seemed as we were always celebrating something. They would be good surrogates.

The tug-of-war was constant – or seemed so at least. I sometimes dreamt of Rock. He was here – in real life, telling me it had been a huge mistake, that he hadn’t died – he had amnesia. (Remember, I never saw him in death … it makes one wonder.) It had taken him a long time to figure out who he was and to find us. He wasn’t the same as I remembered him. He was distant, happy that I had moved on and acting aloof with me. This dream would happen on and off for years and always I felt torn and devastated – wanting to go back to my life with him but realizing that I had a different one now, with someone else, and had committed to it. I always woke disappointed and emotionally exhausted.

Ultimately, we agreed on adoption – it seemed to be the only reasonable option. Francis and all of his siblings would have the same last name. I sat down to write the most difficult letter of my life. I wrote to Rocky’s parents to tell them that I was expecting and that my hope was to create a family for Francis – a mom, dad, and now a sibling…. And I explained how important it was for Francis to have a sense of belonging – to know that he was part of something big and special, part of this family. I shared that Hubby had a large and loving family also. I poured my heart out to them, told them how much I missed their son but that I was trying to move on – to live. I wished that we had lived closer and that we could somehow have established a more concrete sense of inclusion for Francis but I felt it was in his best interest to allow Hubby to adopt him. I promised to keep Rocky’s memory alive for him, to share stories, and photographs. I promised that they would always be a part of our lives, and that they could see Francis whenever it was possible. I cried through the entire process but I believed I was doing the right thing. They reached out in love and support – as they always did. It didn’t feel good, but I did feel settled. We set the wheels in motion.

My due date came and went – I walked and walked. (Someone told me walking would help with labor). Finally, on April 28th, I went to the hospital with some mild contractions and we agreed with the doctor that it was time to induce labor. In just under three hours our baby girl was born. Hubby was a trooper during the labor even though I didn’t know which end was up and Francis was able to hold her within the first hour. We named her after my childhood baby doll – the name I had always dreamed of for my daughter – Sara Elizabeth. Her big brother wouldn’t leave her side even when he was given the chance. I allowed the vision of our family to swell into something picturesque and I hoped.

The adoption had been approved and finalized just weeks before Sara’s birth and we celebrated both children on the day of Sara’s baptism. We were a family of four.

God Bless Best Friends

“Everything that has happened in your life has happened perfectly in order for you—and all the souls involved with you—to grow in exactly the way you’ve needed and wanted to grow” -Neale Donald Walsch

Eventually I was promoted and scheduled to open a branch office in Fredericksburg, VA for the Investment Company I worked for. I took my son and a neighbor girl up there, lived in a hotel for a month while I attempted to make things happen, and focused on making a life for us. It did take root slowly so we moved. I got an apartment and Francis started Kindergarten. We were a team – he and I. We settled in to our routine as a mother/son pair. I was 28 and began making peace with life.

It was an interesting time. For me – being 28 was like a neon light flashing “30’s Coming” over and over inciting me to ‘hurry up’. My mental timeline for being married and completing my family was ending at 30. While I had had an epiphany some time back about reaching my goals in a different way, it was becoming more difficult to trust that process by the day with the absence of evidence that it may change. I became aware of my body aging. I was getting laugh lines around my eyes and more chin hair. I recall spending a solid weekend giving myself a facial and steam bath, caking on the moisturizer and then going to buy a bottle of wine; they carded me. YES!! It worked I thought. Whereas today -I find this memory quite hysterical – it was difficult to feel then. Not rationale given perspective but we don’t have future perspective – we don’t know what we don’t know!

Francis was my light. He was so incredibly gentle and innocent. A special memory for me is a day when I came home tired and perhaps a bit frustrated with work. I must have sighed really deeply because he asked me “what’s wrong mamma?”  “I had a bad day honey, it’ll be ok” I replied. “I’m sorry mom.” His little voice was gentle. “Oh honey, it’s not your fault”. I picked him up to sit in my lap. “Yes, it is” he says in a small voice. “I forgot to tell you to have a good day”.  I cried.

As adorable and endearing as he was, he gave me a really hard time staying with a sitter. I couldn’t blame him really. For most of his life he had been cared for by my mom or his sitter since infancy. There in Fredericksburg everyone was a stranger. Aside from that, I worked a ton. I would drop him off at school in the morning and then he would be bused to daycare afterwards. I was almost always one of the last to pick him up. One day he asked me “When am I going to get a new daddy?”

I had to explain that in order for me to find a new dad, I’d have to date people and get to know them and find out if they would work out which meant he would have to stay with a sitter. He starred off into space for a bit and then looked at me with very serious eyes and said with a resigned tone. “OK, I will.”

I tried dating again. Dating in 1988 wasn’t any easier than it is today. Let’s face it – dating kind of sucks. There is so much uncertainty; intense vulnerability. It highlights our insecurities. I met a guy who worked at a gas station I went to almost every day; not for gas but lunch or bread, milk, etc…. He worked there. He asked me out and then asked me if I liked seafood – I said yes to both questions and gave him my address. He picked me up on a Friday night and took me to Long John Silvers.

I used all of my good manners and worked really hard to be open and non-judgmental. It didn’t work. I was overwhelmed with the failed expectation. I swelled with aggravation that my life was panning out like this. That even though Prince Charming had found me, I was relegated to being there – with a gas station attendant – on a date at a fast food restaurant. No second date and I changed gas stations. And then, I felt guilty and snobby. I’m sure he was a good guy really. It wasn’t all about WHAT he was. It was so much more about who he wasn’t. I missed Rocky.

I remembered a dogma of the SAGE movement I had attended almost a decade earlier based on what many of us know now as ‘the Law of Attraction’, which postulated our ability to attract into our life those things we focus on. I created a list of my ‘perfect’ man. He would be tall, Catholic, unmarried, attractive, financially secure, etc… those were the key points. I read the list daily with an emphasis on believing that this person I was visualizing would appear in my life. The technique had worked for me years ago when I was searching for an apartment, why not try it again?

I was fortunate enough to have fantastic friends. That group of people who had become a surrogate family. The only problem was that after I moved they lived a solid 3 hours away. My bestie and I created a ‘schedule’ of events so that we always had something to look forward to. She was also a single mom and our children were buddies, which made it easier. They were Nintendo buds. Her daughter was a bit older and therefore much more practiced than my 5-year-old who didn’t have a system yet. He would sit crossed legged on the floor next to her with his lips slightly parted, intently watching the screen while she played. I always wondered what was happening in his mind as he watched her manipulate Mario and Luigi around the screen. It turns out that he got really, really good at playing video games.

In any regard, she was my ‘other’ for those months. We created a bucket list and then planned weekends to fulfill the items there. We went camping with the kids and created memories that we still talk about. We visited amusement parks that challenged our patience and equilibrium. We cooked, baked, and threw parties. We drank a lot. It was truly one of the happiest periods of my life. If I were a Lesbian, I could have married that girl!

Our lives mirrored one another’s in almost every way and we relished in our friendship because it made the commitment to abstinence we had made, bearable. We both had such negative experiences with men in recent history so many months before, we had committed to abstain from casual encounters of any form. We thought it would surely be the healthiest way to gather our wits, our strength, and our courage for an eventual relationship. She was responsible for bringing my spirit back to life. As it happens, we share a birthday – although I am the younger one ; ) – and the combination of shared experiences, love for one another, and deep, deep respect have fed our friendship for almost 30 years now.

Our company held an annual conference to educate us and reward us for the successes achieved throughout the year. It happened that this year, we both qualified to go and it was to occur over our birthday weekend in 1989 so she drove up to me and we traveled to Lancaster, PA together. Lancaster is a good sized town in the heart of Amish country in Southwestern Pennsylvania. It was familiar to us since the company arranged to have the same location year after year. It was a relaxing, beautiful drive on country roads. We were looking forward to sitting by the pool and seeing old friends who lived in other parts of the country. We always looked forward to this event.

Many of the people who attended the conference were young. Working for pure commission weeds out the weak really quickly. Lots of young people try so the population at these conferences was weighted with twenty-somethings. There was a nightclub at the conference center and as is typical at these things, it was packed after the dinner/speaker session ended. We were all dancing and drinking; having a great time with new and old friends. During one of my dance floor appearances I locked eyes with another guy across the dance floor. They were piercing. He smiled. I smiled back. He winked. I winked back.

And then my heart fluttered.

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