The politics of divorce and death

English: Still shot from 1914 silent film, Sho...

Still shot from 1914 silent film, “Should A Woman Divorce? ” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Mom, you should talk to dad.”

This is Girl from the West — a young woman made tall by high heels, and made to look in charge with hair pulled into a tight knot atop her head — greeting me as I arrived. After a few minutes of small talk, she nudges me toward a man I barely see or speak to since our parting nearly 15 years ago.

So I inhale, exhale, square my shoulders and walk to the front of the room, wrapped in a little more insecurity than I would like. I feel a bit like a child summoned to the front of the class for tardiness.

In the hour I spend there, with my current spouse and Girl from the East nearby, I am not able to snare my ex-husband, because that is what it feels like, a hunting expedition. I try to part the sea of people between us. He keeps himself inside tight circles, enclosed in embraces and engaged in intimate conversation. It’s been our dance for years. Was he avoiding me? I don’t know.

While siblings, aunts, uncles and neighbors greet me, his longtime partner ignores me. I leave feeling a little confused.

It’s all so confusing. My ex-husband’s mother died this week. The woman who once was my other mother, who served as one of Girl from the West’s main caretakers through those precious and needy years, which also were in some part the divorce and single parenting years, the remarriage and second child years, and the polite wave and small talk at school concert years.  She did more for all of us than we probably deserved. I don’t think I ever thanked her.

What are the rules in a situation like this anyway? What are the boundaries?

Only twice in the last decade have I had this much contact. Six months ago we gathered under a park pavilion on a sticky summer afternoon to celebrate Girl from the West’s high school graduation. It seemed on that bright day that all had been forgiven. Six months before the party, I’d had coffee with her, when we came as close as we ever would to closure.

In the black hours before dawn when Girl from the West received the call, when she could not process the sudden death of her grandmother, who’d been ill but recovering, and between fretting about her making the long drive across the cold, dark city, I wondered about my role in all this. It seemed like a selfish, but necessary, thought.

In the end, I let my daughter write the role for me.

At the funeral, I sat in the back with the other ex-spouses. We attended all the rites, but kept to the sidelines. Silently, I thanked my first mother-in-law for her selfless duty. I asked for forgiveness.  After all, she cared deeply for my child and did so much to give her a good life. My ex-husband, for whatever I think of him and how distant we are, is now a man without living parents.  I acknowledged the gravity and inevitability of that, too.

At the end,  I finally connected with my former spouse. I stopped trying and it came naturally. We had eye contact, we embraced. He wept. I felt his pain. I felt a compassion buried for almost two decades. I discovered my own grief.

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Natural order is in disorder.
Problems crack open like chicks from eggs.
Gardens wither in the shadow of neglect.

I cast the problems to the wind
thinking nature takes care,
who am I to interfere?

I flee west to dance on mountains,
where the gods’ gardens grow without my help.
Sun bleaches clean, rain rinses despair.

At home on the flat land,
vines choke delicate blooms,
weeds squat in empty beds
of nutrient-starved soil.

Stooped in defeat, the plants curl into themselves
and break my heart.

As payment to sun and rain
the healed becomes healer,
tending with tools, rich compost, and the sweat of debt.

Heal me, nature,
so that I may heal my garden of neglect.

Thirty days’ penance: dig, pull, yank, trim, turn, prune, nudge, drench, wait

Stalks and vines, heavy with fruit, offer thanksgiving and reward.
Leaves reach upward to caress the sun and cup the rain.
I collect the offerings in gratitude.
I thank the sun and wind and rain for nourishment and restored health.



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Pulled apart

Are these the end days of this blog?

I’m not sure what to do. I don’t even like the name. I regret ever putting “mom” into the URL. It’s a deal killer for some people, you know?

I do not regret blogging. I’m proud of what I’ve written here. I’ve met a few of you and it’s been a gratifying experience connecting a human being to powerful words. When I jumped in five years ago after trading my career for stay-at-home motherhood, I did so because I missed writing, being part of a creative team, being with grown-up people who collected paychecks.

I thought this blog was the start of “something.” I had hours to fill. I was lonely. I needed a focus outside of diapering, feeding, and housewifery. I thought writing about my life would be enough. It took a long time to make connections and earn readers. Sometimes I wanted to give up.

But, I persevered. Luckily some folks noticed, made me feel I had a reason to keep posting. I learned that blogging is like dating. Sometimes you’re hot. Sometimes you’re not. How many times have I developed a crush on one of you only to wake one morning next to a cold pillow?

Five years later, as I prepare to send my baby to kindergarten, as my oldest daughter spins farther out of the family orbit, as my husband and I figure out what to do with our 2012 plan to move to Colorado that will have to wait a few more years, my blog sits in the corner begging for attention and pressure builds to find something to do with myself.

I’m split. My head yearns for new projects, challenges, stimulation. My heart is heavy with the knowledge that my baby will be in the hands of the education system, leaving behind a silence in the spaces we occupied for a thousand or so days. My hands and feet itch to move about freely during the day without concerns of child care, feeding schedules, nap time, and never-ending messes. My nerves jangle with the upcoming projects and commitments to which I’ve already said yes.

Will I go back to work? To what? My industry imploded a few years ago. What remains are shards reflecting very little of what I knew, what I learned. I’m outdated. The debris of its ruin are fashioned into something new, something I’m not sure I really want to take part in anymore. I’ll need retraining, schooling, updating.

I’m torn. I’ve gotten to know my community and not just live in it. I volunteer. I’m thinking of joining the community farm. I’m part of a network of families and friends who hold each other up.  In spite of all my efforts to keep a safe distance — since we knew we were relocating thousand of miles west of here — I’ve opened my heart to this town and its people. My heart is no longer safe. Yet, another part of me stirs with longing to move on.

Right now my Girl from the East is playing dress up. She twirls on the hardwoods in her purple tutu and sparkling shoes, a magic wand keeping time to Sonic Youth. She’s enjoying her last days of spontaneity. I’m enjoying my last days of winging it as I please, too.

My heart all at once aches for the impending changes and flutters with excitement of the unknown.

Reading the various posts from BlogHer ’11, one of the barometers of this medium,  I feel I’ve steadily become irrelevant in a blogging world I never really fit into. I’ve yet to  brand myself (I did burn my forearm on the iron last week. Does that count?) I’m just writing, and anonymously at that, not selling, promoting, marketing or collaborating. Maybe I’ll come out of the closet.  In six months it won’t matter.  My custodial agreement expires. I can fuck the universe if I please and I won’t have to worry about answering to an officer of the court.

If nothing else, this blogging experiment, whether I keep it as it is, reinvent it, or put it away with the baby things, was part of my stay-at-home motherhood. I’ve created a historical record. And a few people actually took the time to read it. Thank you. That’s still amazing to me.  I didn’t find fame or fortune. I didn’t become a household name. Does it matter, really?

I’m torn. I’m split. I’m going in all the directions.

Thankfully, I know how to sew.


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The sweetest thing

During a much-needed mom’s night out with wine, food, and good conversation I learned that the A word and my Girl from the East came up with one of the families from our school.

Adoption arose as part of a much larger context, one encircling the areas of family resemblance, dominant traits, and individual uniqueness. It seems too complex for the preschool set, but now is the time when our children’s eyes open even wider to notice such things as tallness, blondeness, bigness, and differentness.

Specifically, the question of what makes boys different from girls, and how African-American kids in the class look different from the Caucasian kids led to how some families are tall and thin and some are short and wide and how some kids have two daddies or two mommies or some other defining trait.

“Like your friend, (Girl from the East),” the mother explained to my daughter’s playmate. “You’ve noticed she looks different from her mother. That’s because she’s adopted.”

“She doesn’t look different from her mom,” my daughter’s friend insisted.

“Well, yes, she was born in China. She is Chinese,” the mom continued.

“Noooo,” the young friend asserted, shaking her head. “She looks just like her mom.”

My heart warmed as I listened to this story.

That is the sweetest thing.

It never occurred to me that we could be regarded in that way, even if it is through the rose-colored lens of youth.

This is, of course, the portrait of our love for each other; we are blind to our differences. I think Girl from the East has my husband’s eyes and disposition. I know she has my penchant for perfection.  I don’t know where she ends and I begin.

When I look at my girl’s smooth cheeks, inky black eyes, and cupid’s bow mouth, I see our history reaching all the way back to that smoky, crowded government office in Nanchang, China, when I first accepted her slight form into my arms. Her long limbs, elegant fingers,  and thick, silky hair remind me of her birth family as none of us possess those traits.

It occurred to me that it has been years — years! — since anyone has asked any of us if we belong together. In the beginning, it was a constant affront.

And now, the court of opinion has grown to include  one very astute five-year-old.

That is the sweetest thing.

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Pie in the sky

“Have you seen a pie anywhere? I can’t find the pie.

The pie? What pie? I did not bake a pie. I did not buy a pie.  We had one-half of a leftover lemon meringue on the counter. This was some other pie that arrived from some other place for some unknown reason and then was lost. No further information offered and none sought.

Through my haze of cold meds and cough syrup and fever, my husband could have been asking me anything: Have you seen a bag of ball bearings floating over the house? Any polka-dotted elephants curled up under the bed lat night? Thoughts inside my head did not make it out of my mouth with any coordination of words and logic. Likewise, statements floating on the current filtered through my brain as nonsensical fragments.

“Have you found that pie yet?”

Twice in the last week I ventured out of my house. Once to go to the doctor’s office and pharmacy. A second time to Target to get “something or other.” Really, it was a test to see if I could be upright and among the living. After 30 minutes I felt the pinpricks in my chest and watched as the buzzing haze descended upon my head. Time to go home.

On the way home, roaring down the expressway at 70 mph, I round a curve and see in my mirror a brownish-yellowish disc rise up in my wake. The object soars above the traffic before it plummets to the pavement in a spray of dough and goop. A plastic container bounces and rolls along the shoulder

What the ….?

It looked like a pizza! Some asshole put a pizza on my car. What kind of jerk would put a pizza on a car? No, wait. That’s weird. Not a pizza. Hmm, what did I buy at Target? Nothing large or round or goopy.   Hey, wait a minute ….

I grab my cell phone and punch in my husband’s number.  “Honey?”

“Yes?” my husband replies slowly, taking a cue from the rarely used endearment.

“Were you looking for a pie recently?”

“Yeah, did you find it?”

“I think so.”

“Where was it?”

“It was on the roof of my freakin’ car! And now, it’s all over the expressway. Oh, my god. What if it had landed on someone’s windshield? A pie! I’ve been driving around for days with a pie on my car. Oh, great. I went to the doctor’s office, the pharmacy, I pumped gas. No one said to me: ‘Hey lady, you got a pie on your car’. No one. What the hell! How does your pie end up on top of my car?”

We think about this together. How does a sweet potato pie go from a loving grandmother’s hands to a car roof? It has something to do with multi-tasking and impatient 5-year-olds and probably a sick, drug-induced wife who did not go to the family Christmas party. It has to do with short-term memory and distraction.

And there it is. For three days this pie rested uncut, uneaten, and unappreciated. It must have jostled about quite a bit up there, while held in check by the roof-rack rails. Or maybe it was frozen to the metal. All we know is that it was no match for 70 mph.

May your new year be free of projectiles.

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I'm old school and I'm OK

Photo by Suedehead via Creative Commons

“I’ll wash some of your dishes for you,” I said.

I made the offer because I was standing in a beautiful but currently disheveled kitchen strewn with pots, pans, serving trays and a growing pool of water on the floor. I offered to help because this was where the beautiful host cooked and prepped all the beautiful food and desserts for the amazing barbecue still in progress in the yard. I made the offer because during the course of this festive event, resplendent with crackling wood fire, ambient music, flickering candles and free-flowing wine, some kitchen pipes decided to belch and fart all over her shiny wood floors, rendering her sink and dishwasher useless. With each soggy plunge and futile turn of the wrench, it seemed the night’s work was expanding exponentially. I could see a look growing in her eyes.

“I’ll help you,” I offered. “I’ll take some of it home.”

“You don’t even have a dishwasher!” she exclaimed.

All heads turned to stare. The looks ranged from shock to confusion to almost pity.

It was as if someone had shouted and pointed: “She has sex with Labrador retrievers!”

Um. Yeah. I don’t have a dishwasher. I also don’t have a snow blower or countless other gizmos and gadgets that seem to be “mandatory” for suburban living in the 21st century.

I know she didn’t mean to make me feel inadequate and nearly naked in front of a kitchen full of suburban women. She only meant: I wouldn’t ask that of you since you don’t have a dishwashing machine.

But that is precisely why I offered to box up at least half of the mess and clean it in my kitchen. It’s what I do. Every day. Multiple times a day. It’s not that bad. Besides, I’ve dealt with kitchen disasters, too.  I know how much it sucks to clean the remains of dinner in your bath tub at 1 a.m.

I haven’t had a dishwasher in my kitchen since 1998. It’s not that I wouldn’t want one again. The configuration of our kitchen does not allow for one: picture a walk-in closet with a stove and refrigerator. Long ago I accepted the rubber-gloved, scrubber sponge and Brill-O pad experience.

I don’t have a snow blower because I love to shovel snow. Really. My husband and I disagree on it but I think our lot is not really big enough to justify the price tag for something that largely sits collecting dust in the garage for eight months of the year.  I’m also personally opposed to fouling the air and peace with gas-belching, buzzing machinery.

I’m low-tech in most ways. Rather than dream of a big home with all the latest and greatest stuff, I fantasize about a life lived in a small, simple cottage on the edge of a forest. Don’t get me wrong. I love the Internet and my computer. So the cottage better have Wi-Fi. But I also like to balance things out by raking leaves and pulling weeds and shoveling snow and washing dishes by hand.

Call me crazy, but don’t look at me that way.

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Dancing in my bones

Photo by Sakeeb via Creative Commons

It’s hot around here. Not only do we have the heat, but also we have the humidity. I hate humidity.

Oh, sure, the curly-haired people love the humidity. It makes their hair all fluffy and fabulous. The baldies bask in it. But me? Not so much. Humidity for me means limp, frizzy hair, excessive sweating, sticky floors, tacky-feeling furniture, damp bedding and moldy bathrooms.
Humidity makes me mean.
As a child I used to fantasize that I could peel off my skin and go dancing in my bones.
While all you winter haters bitch and moan when the arctic winds howl and the mercury dips low in the bulb, I’m dancing the happy dance. You can layer clothing in the cold, people. You can turn up the furnace, build a fire, sip tea or hot cocoa. When it gets this hot, there are only so many layers to peel. Iced drinks last maybe five minutes. Forget ice cream. It’s liquified before you can finish the first scoop.   Degree Clinical Protection Anti-Perspirant and hair clips are my best friends right now.

We do not have central air-conditioning. We have window units. They work really well if you grab them in a love embrace.

Heat and humidity make me lazy. I’ve spent the last week sitting on the couch making out with the air conditioner. When I get up, after the head-rush dissipates, I accomplish maybe 25 percent of any given task before retreating to the couch again to cool off. Don’t even ask about cooking in the kitchen.

My girls do not sleep well in this heat. Both of them awaken cranky and sweaty, complaining that the AC isn’t cold enough, that the ceiling fans are only blowing hot air around.
Today I jumped from the chilled shadows of the coffee shop to the cool canyons of the public library, avoiding my house until the sun began its slide toward the horizon. In between stops, I laid on the AC vents in my car and guzzled bottled water. I’m trying to avoid feeling guilty. So much awaits at home: mildewy laundry, a virtually empty refrigerator, a yard of mulch at the foot of our driveway, a weedy garden, and a pile of paperwork big enough to scare away a tax accountant. It will all have to wait for a cold front to pass through this area.

Meanwhile, I’m still trying to figure out how to bare my bones.

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Post Father's Day post

Photo from MZ archives

Yesterday was Father’s Day. It’s an easy day for us as there is only one father on which to heap all the attention. (Father-in-law lives out of town; father is deceased.) My husband is a lucky man, getting yesterday all to himself. Mother’s Day is tougher, what with all those mothers elbowing for the spotlight. I need to claim a super-secret Mother’s Day all to myself.

In honor of my late father, I composed the following list:

Things I learned from my father:

  • Know how to read a map.
  • Plan your route before you leave.
  • Have a back-up plan.
  • Deviate from the main road and enjoy.
  • Develop an intimate relationship with nature and respect its rules. (Dad regularly took us on vacation to a private cabin in northern Michigan where we lived a week or longer without electricity, running water or heating/cooling.)
  • Don’t be over-reliant on technology or modern conveniences. (See above. My father was a major technophobe. I don’t know how he would regard today’s 24/7 connectivity. He didn’t much like it when cordless phones came around.)
  • You can’t have too many good books or good records.
  • Don’t underestimate the healing power of a Sunday drive to somewhere interesting.
  • Fill idle hands with books, brooms, rakes, paint scrapers and brushes. My father had an amazing work ethic. The only time he rested was either to admire his work or to assess the damages. (He was suspicious of idle TV viewing, sunbathing and other mindless pursuits.)

Things I learned indirectly through my father:

  • Humor is an essential ingredient in almost every situation, but particularly in those that challenge your patience and sanity.
  • Humor has both healing and hurting power. Use with care.
  • Never part ways in anger.

Things I wish I’d taken the time to learn from my father:

  • Our family history
  • How to plant and maintain a perennial garden
  • How to grow organic fruits and vegetables
  • How to read the stars
  • Don’t believe everything your parents tell you.
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I don't know how to parent my teenager

Photo by Fran Ulloa via Creative Commons

After her dramatic entry into this world, I held my firstborn in my arms and felt her weight free of my body for the first time. This separation was the first step in a long walk toward total independence. As I inhaled her scent, ran my fingers across her velvet skin, and gazed at her scrunched-up little face, I asked: Who are you?  Who will you be some day? I sensed her individuality emerging even in those tender moments. She was her own person. Who she’d be someday was already determined by genetics. I was only there to provide food, clothing and shelter and to discourage her from choosing serial killer as a career.

While it took a number of years for her self to be fully realized, back then it was a far-off concept. Back then, she was pink and chubby. She cooed and gurgled and curled into me when I held her. Back then I thought we had an unbreakable bond. As I reveled in the reflexive squeeze of her tiny fist around my finger, I fantasized about a future with us lunching together, dancing barefoot in the rain and sharing secrets.

Never in those baby-powder scented days could I have imagined a person who’d recoil from my touch, who’d stuff ear buds in her ears to drown out my conversational chatter, who’d slam a door in my face before I could finish a sentence or who’d pull the plug so swiftly and surely on all lines of communication to render me unworthy.

I thought it would be different between us. I was going to be a different mother. She was going to be a different daughter.

I thought if I did exactly the opposite of what my mother did, those things that ripped a hole in our compatibility, that the opposite would result.

I thought wrong.

Maybe there is nothing anyone can do to prevent this inevitable phase. I have no idea how to parent my teenaged daughter. No clue. It’s gotten to the point where I dread the days she is at my house. Not because I don’t love her. I do with a fierce passion. I dread those days because they result in a tsunami of emotions that overwhelm the entire household. No matter how Zen I try to be with her, to just experience the frustration and ride with it, to avoid throwing fuel on the fire, to be the adult, the bigger person, it always ends up the same: one or both of us shouting or in tears. It always ends with me venting to my husband or one of my friends or the Internet.

Further complicating matters, she lives with me four days out of the week. So, the remaining days, she’s getting an entirely different message, living within an entirely different dynamic. It’s like a looping weather pattern, as our family travels in and out of the eye of the hurricane. Calm for a few days, and then an emotional onslaught so debilitating at times I question my strength to get through the day. And she’s a good kid, really. She’s not into drugs or drinking. She’s a solid student. I cannot fathom what I’d do if I had a juvenile delinquent on my hands.

I’ve been at the gym a lot lately. Sweating away my frustrations on the cardio equipment and weight machines. I’ve been meditating like a maniac, hoping the calm achieved might give me some added mileage.

I’ve been searching online for tickets to South America.

No. Not really.

Some of it is normal teen angst, I’m sure.

Some of it is the particular suckiness that is parenting through joint custody.

Some of it is a middle-aged mother who realizes her oldest child is a mental gymnast. She is very much her father’s daughter: He is the master of debate, the fan of forensics, worshipper at the altar of logic. I hate conflict and endless debate. They live and breathe it. This personality clash led to the dissolution of my first marriage. What, then, do I do about a mother-daughter relationship built on the same shaky foundation?

I’m waving the white flag of resignation: I don’t know how to do this.

I don’t have answers. I welcome heartfelt suggestions.

I leave you with this link to a smart piece I heard on PRI’s “This American Life.” Listen to Act III: family dysfunction has a long and colorful history.

Home. Homey. Home-ish.

Thank you, Collette.

Home is on my mind.

This week marks 10 years of living in our house, which has become over time, experience, buckets of sweat equity if not actual financial equity (thank you, recession) a home. When we took possession of the property in April 2000, we were giddy soon-to-be-married lovers. Everything we did was a romantic moment. Our first meal in this house was Middle Eastern takeout.  We sat cross-legged on the scuffed hardwoods, scooping tabbouleh and hummus onto our plates. Between bites of stuffed grape leaves, we chatted and laughed and listened to our voices bounce around the bare walls.  We discussed changing the paint color, improvement projects, where my then 6-year-old daughter would sleep, where our *gasp* future children would have their bedrooms. This modest brick bungalow was the blank slate of our future.

After a wedding ceremony, a pregnancy and miscarriage, an adoption process that resulted in another girl child in our home, endless home projects, parties, illnesses, spilled paint and shattered dreams, a parade of Christmas trees, birthday party sleepovers,  financial heights and economic lows, power outages, infestations, and the first green sprouts of renewed hope, we are still here. Our marks add to the collective history of this little house built in 1941. While I may resent the moldy basement, the dingy siding, the windows that don’t open, I also have a deep gratitude for these sturdy walls, floors and the roof. The bones of this place have held up. They’ve  given us shelter from the heat, the cold, and the economic storms. During the darkest hours of our despair, I’ve  felt comfort in this house as it held me in its quiet embrace.

I’ve been thinking about  my hometown.

No, Detroit is not a travel destination. No one drools with envy when I announce I am from Detroit. However, I have the pleasure of knowing as friends and as acquaintances a number of people from all over the world who are happy to make Detroit their home.  These people  left behind their cosmopolitan cities, their colorful cultures, their mountain views and beachfront vistas to come here to this (insert latest media catch phrase). They like the cultural diversity, the music scene, the abundance of water, hunting for and discovering the hidden gems amid the ruins, and the niceness of the people. Despite our crime statistics and widely reported corruption, people here are nice. Really.

Do not believe everything you read and hear about Detroit. Read this transplant’s blog post to gain a fresh perspective on national and international reporting on Detroit.

I’ve been thinking about  local bloggers.

I was thrilled to open The Detroit Free Press today to find two of my favorite Detroit-area bloggers featured in a larger story about, well, blogging. I’ve met Melissa of Rock and Drool. She is a beautiful and dynamic woman who doesn’t hide behind a persona or false words. She dishes it out straight. I love that about her. I’ve not met the other Melissa who writes Suburban Bliss, but I’ve been reading her blog for years.  I found her by accident when I Googled “MOMS Clubs in my neighborhood.” It appears she saved me from the special hell of organized play groups.  At the time, I was a former career woman sitting alone in my house wondering how I was going to get through another day. How was I going to find other stay-at-home mothers who were like me? Suburban Bliss helped me realize I was not alone. Not only did I start blogging shortly after that, but I also formed my own play group.

I’ve been thinking about my home on the Web.

I have neither the numbers nor the controversy surrounding my site to gain any attention, so the media will not be knocking on my door anytime soon. Whew! Whatever it is I do, another fellow Detroit blogger, Collette of My Babcia’s Babushka, gave me a pat on the back and declared my blog all home-like, or homely, or home-ish or something like that. Thank you, Collette, for the props.

Home is on my mind.