Monday, March 20, 2017

Compartmentalizing: Worst Days, Better Days

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Over the years, I’ve handed out advice, more to myself than anyone else, to do my best in maintaining firm boundaries.  Like:

When you get a demand-y, barely civil (or outright rude and jerky) email or text, do not rise to the bait.  Decipher if there’s anything in the demand-y, barely civil (or outright rude and jerky) communication that has to do with the children’s healthcare, education, childcare, visitation logistics/scheduling.  If none of those things are within the communication, ignore it. 

If there are items that have to be addressed regarding healthcare, education, childcare, visitation logistics/scheduling, then do your best to keep your answers civil, succinct, and to the point. 

Everything else is smoke and mirrors.  To be ignored.  Like white noise on the old TV screens, in the “olden days” when if you didn’t get a channel, salt and pepper dots covered the screen and generated noise like a high speed fan.

Over the years, I’ve honed this skill, and because of it, the outright rude and jerky emails and texts have lessened.  Instead, I get thinly veiled accusatory emails, gaslighting ones that are meant to record that he’s advising me to think about “what’s in the best interests of the children.”  Some cite genuinely mistaken facts; facts that unfortunately need to be corrected, even though he will insist on having the last word.  I know better than to let “alternative facts” hang out in the written word unaddressed, even if he comes back with a “response.”  Whenever the “last word” comes, it can usually be ignored.  

I say "honed," but I am far from perfect, and even with my best effort, I fail at keeping the stress, worry, and nastiness of dealing with Exie at bay.  

On my better days, I feel sympathy for my ex.  That he is mired so deeply in unhappiness and suspicion that he can’t recognize compromise or good faith efforts for what they are.  I realize it is merely confirmation that it is a good thing I’m not married to him anymore, and it doesn’t matter if he charms the tennis parents or the girl scout parents or whomever.  What matters is that I know, and will always persevere to create a safe and positive space for my kids.

On my worst days, I fear he’ll brainwash the kids somehow, especially when they come back to me about how daddy doesn’t have any money (he has a truck, he lives in a nicer house than we do, an iphone, etc.), how poor daddy doesn’t get to see us (visitation just increased), how poor daddy wants to go get his own house instead of sharing the family home, and can’t I give him some money to buy a house?

On my worst days, when arguing with my tween about how the rules are different in my house, I want to hang my head in my hands.  Why do I have to wake up so early for YOUR work, mommy?  Why do I have to clean the bathroom at YOUR house, mommy?  What do you mean I have to pick up my socks, get water for the dog, do the dishes after dinner, do my homework, [fill in the blank].  You’re so MEAN. 

Inside I’m crying, outwardly, I remain firm.  Inside, I stress that somehow my job of being firm with rules for the girls and helping them grow up to be responsible tweens, teens, and adults (hopefully), feeds into his manipulation of how it’s easier at his house, even though there’s arguing and yelling at his mom, and constant strife with his brother.  That they will lean into the “poor daddy” and lean away from firm mommy rules, and in the end, somehow I’ll lose them.

On my worst days, I worry that the other parents will fall for his charms and like him and sympathize with him.  And yes, in my 6 year old way, that they will like him more than me.  I wake up in the middle of the night, worried that when explaining that we are a divorced family to a new parent in our solar system of extracurricular activities/school events, somehow I came across as unfeeling or uncaring, when actually, as this blog can attest, this is more difficult than I could have ever imagined.

Better, though, a life better than what I had imagined, but so difficult.

On my better days, I’m able to take deep breaths and realize that the best that I can do, is all I can do.

On my better days, I realize that it doesn’t matter what other people think of our situation, it only matters how I approach it and try to improve it every day.

On my better days, I understand that my tweenster does not have the capacity to regulate her emotions like an adult, and it’s my job to teach her with patience and empathy.  Sometimes the best I can do is love them, hug them, kiss them, even if the tween is enraged at some injustice (like picking up her dirty laundry from the floor).

On my better days, I know that despite his words and actions that color his perspective of me with the kids, I am their mother from the beginning until the end, and I’ll do everything I can to nurture our relationship.  And part of that is being supportive about their relationship with their father, whether they share their happiness, confusion, or concern. 

On my better days, I know that I have to be there to do the mundane things, like teach them how to pick up after themselves, fold laundry, as well as celebrate the big things, their school award for literacy or their dance recital.  Or shlepp them to field trips and girl scout events and tennis or gymnastics practice.  To invite their friends over or send them over to their friends for sleepovers even though I’ll miss them, because it’s easier if they go on mom days rather than dad ones.

On my best days, I know that I am not in control, but that I can lead with love and light and hope that they will grow up feeling supported, protected, and safe.

Please, dear god, please let this be true, that it will be enough.  Please let love win.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Skirts, shmirts

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Well...I kind of screwed up.  I usually keep the high road, but I failed the other morning. 

Background:  Exie put up an expensive attorney fight to not have to pay for the girls' private school, even when I said I'd pay the whole thing and he'd never be on the hook for expenditures (and which i'm very thankful that i'm able to do so now--years ago, this wouldn't have been possible).  DD2 has uniforms, and I was able to get them through the school, gently used.  She has to wear skorts, but some of the skorts came undone underneath the skirt.  So I got her little boy shorts from old navy to wear underneath them and we've been fine all year.  Except Exie has been complaining that i have to "solve" the skirt issue, because of the "huge holes" underneath the skirts--he brought it up a month or so after school started; then again a few months ago.  I kept responding that "the solution" is DD2 wearing shorts underneath her skirts.  Honestly, she could give a rip, since they're playing all the time on the playground (she's in first grade).        

Well...this week he pulled the "i pay child support so you can afford to get new skirts."  I tried to take the high road and not respond.  But in the end, I couldn't help myself and wrote back:  I do not share your concern re: the skirts, I think her uniforms are adequate.  You repeatedly made clear you did not want to contribute to the expenditures/requirements for private school.  However given that this is a concern for you, I'll look into the uniform store and have them mail you a skirt directly, so you will feel more comfortable.     

UGH, I totally got drawn in.   Just trying to get him off my back.  Such a waste of time!!  :( :( :(  

Well, to no one's surprise, he responded that he was going to take pictures of the skirts and send them to me.  Please keep in mind that the skirts come from my house.  Because he didn't want to be on the hook for contributing to any expenditures.  This is now becoming a comedy.  And by then I had calmed down some, noticed the skirts were 50% off at the uniform store (lucky me), school is ending in a couple of months, so decided to have them sent to my house.

So...I wrote back a cheerful two liner:  There's no need to send pictures, as I know what the skirts looks like; DD2 is fine wearing her shorts and she has told me it does not bother her.  However, I'm fine with putting new skirts into circulation.


Le sigh.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Passive-Aggressive does not Suprise

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Dear World,

I need some advice.  I’m traveling for work in a couple of months, so I’ve asked the Exie if I could switch week ends, so that I could have Mother’s Day week end with the girls instead of the week end that I’m traveling.  I’ve emailed him once a week for three weeks now.

Response in Week 1:  ….

Response in Week 2:  I’ll double check my schedule and get back to you by the end of the week.

Response in Week 3:   I’m confused, I thought the week end you’re traveling is my week end, and Mother’s Day week end is yours.

To which I responded, because the visitation schedule has changed a bit due to DD2 turning 7, that is not the case, can you please let me know if you’ll swap.

And here we are.  By the way, the turnaround time for communication was recommended to be 24 hours.  And of course if I don’t respond within the 24 hour mark I usually hear about it.

And…because, it takes 3-4 weeks to get something like this handled. 

And I guess I have to let go and carry on, because there’s nothing I can do about this.  Unless you have other ideas? 

Le Sigh. 

In other exciting news, there was an award ceremony for the schools in our district on Saturday, DD1 was one of the many students being recognized with her school; I attended with some fellow moms, since it was his week end, didn’t want to rock the boat and try and sit with him, plus there were at least 500-600 people crowded around the mall stage.  Afterwards, when we went to congratulate the kids and take pictures, I said hello, to which he did not acknowledge me.  When I said goodbye, he still did not acknowledge me.  But I was able to give the girls a congratulatory present and take a group picture of DD1 with her BFFs.  I sent it to the moms and included him on the text, because why not be a kind person in the face of...whatever. 

The girls have sold all their girl scout cookies, DD1 won a tennis match over the week end, and I managed to not kill DD2’s guppies that she brought home from school last week.  (I can do a dog, but I get insecure about guppies, lol, especially when changing the water).

So…all in all…life goes on, and I have to figure out how to let go of anxiety around the Ex.

I’m looking forward to some quality time with the girls when they come home tonight, and for this coming week end.  Breathe in peace. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Oh Tween, My Tween!

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I’m thinking this whole blending family situation is ratcheting up a level with the tween factor now in my house.  I’ve been a bit slow in accepting the reality that big sister is moving out of childhood and heading into puberty. 

So, my sweetheart, cuddly, hilarious, funny little girl is also moody, angry, mad, surly, and practicing her attitude, with generous helpings of sassy commentary and disrespectful tones along the way.

And yet, the same girl who has a hissy fit supreme court argument about whether or not she needs put away her toys or books that she left scattered all over the floor, or whether she has to clear the table or stack the dishwasher, will the next hour demand hugs and cuddles and tell me about her hopes and fears.

Add in a dose of Exie making the world all about him via his words, phrases, attitude, etc,, it’s enough to drive me bananas.

For some really helpful advice, I went here--found from a simple google search for some help with my tween.

I resonated with a lot of what they said—and I think having the back and forth and dealing with a visitation schedule with a cranky Ex escalates some of my struggles.  Here’s a little about what I’m trying to learn and apply:

Regarding #2 (Focus on the relationship, not discipline): Choose my battles.  It’s like the toddler years all over again, except she can make logical (to her anyway) arguments that have me running in verbal circles.   Is proving my point, or being “right” worth the sacrifice of a moment where I can choose to be close to her?  It depends, is she endangering herself, me, her sister, the dog?  If not…think about how to choose wisely.

Regarding #3/#4 (Tween independence; quality time): Hmmm…I think I’ll give myself a B+.  I think both the Ex and I are protective of our time with our daughters, but from the beginning I’ve been more willing to forego “my week end” time so she can do normal growing-up-girl things, like sleepover slumber parties with friends, or inviting her friends along, so she can cultivate her identity separate from mom (and/or dad)—so she can be more independent. 

I can also think about how to bring about more quality time with her (in between school, activities, visitation away from us—, somehow, somewhere.  I can get so wrapped up in the moment about getting homework, dinner, bath time done, that I don’t stop when she wants to joke and play with me—I just tell her to get moving, get in the bath, etc., and just a few weeks ago I realized that I needed to stop and smell the roses, be a little silly and let go.  Enjoy those playful silly moments when she actually wants to be silly with me.  That’s her way of reaching out.

And, while I’m normally the one who takes her to her events, who helps her teach her girl scouts, who helps her fundraise, who helps her bring goody bags and snacks to school for her teammates and/or friends—I definitely see that she craves one on one time with me, and I need to get better at that.  She’s expressed interest in making earrings for craft fairs, I need to up my game and help her. 

Regarding #5/#6/#12/#13 (empathy/anxiety re: growing up/taking things personally/insist on civility from a calm place): I can do better about empathizing—and I can so improve on not taking it personally. Sure, she may have just come back from an extended stay with dad.  Sure I’m super excited to see her again and then can’t believe I’m arguing about how to teach the girl scouts a craft activity.  Maybe ten minutes after picking her up is not the best time to get into a war of wills, because now we’re both sitting in sullen silence while driving 30 minutes to tennis practice.  I have to remember if she’s getting testy or upset, there is a real reason under there, and usually after some time passes, she’ll tell me what it is.  I have to cultivate those moments when she trusts me to tell me the things that worry her, and not get so bogged down in details.  Which feeds into #14

Regarding #14 (strong feelings): Just because Ms. Tweenster is losing her SH*+ does not mean I have to.  (Waaaay easier said than done, but well worth remembering).  This is an opportunity to build a bridge, and go back to #13, civility and dignity, do not feed fire with fire.  The battle of wills is where everyone loses.  Ugh, and don’t I know it. 

Here’s where I can get into my own !@#$ and realize I’m getting triggered.  Why am I so upset she’s talking like this to me, is it because I’m afraid of something?  Is it my weird abandonment/anxiety issues coming into play, and if so, is it time for me to take a damn deep breath?  Likely, yes. (Thank god for therapy.  And wine.)

On the bright side, for #8, #10, #11, #15 (computer time/couch potato/getting sleep/talking about relationships and sex/physically close): I think we’re doing okay there but I’ll keep monitoring.  Both girls have a relatively early bed time, since our morning commute starts soo early.  And I’ve been open about our bodies and how we develop, we often have body talks together, along with the animated American Girls books about growing up—I definitely want both daughters to have the words and language for our skin, bodies, and yes, talking about sex and what it is, too (mostly DD1 who’s curious at the moment).  And I’m lucky that she’s still a snuggler and will cuddle at night at bed time (although no holding hands in the light of day, or if so, VERY RARELY, lol, le sigh).  She likes to go to the beach and swim and she plays tennis; they know they have to balance screen time with reading time, and they know they can’t sit around and watch TV all day.  In fact, it’s only when they get sick and are hopped up on Motrin or Tylenol, that they can have an Avatar marathon on Amazon prime, cuddled up with me and/or our dog on the couch—a rare treat.  So maybe in these areas, I’ll give myself an A-.

And to wrap it all up, I think I’m in the midst of #16 (course correcting), as of writing this.  I’ve been thinking a lot about how DD1 is changing and am wistful for her little girl days.  But she’s not a little girl any longer, she’s almost as tall as me, she can fit my shoes for goodness sake (!!!!), so it’s time to get it together and embrace #1—the part about being willing to change.

A small baby step forward:  the other night, we were holding hands saying our goodnight.  Suddenly, DD1 got a bee in her bonnet because I was helping DD2 too much with our goodnight routine, but expecting DD1 to go along as usual (like we have every night, for every bed time in the past five years since DD2 has been old enough to sleep in the top bunk; that’s at least 1100+ bed times if you subtract out dad days, so you can see where I might be a little surprised).  She decided she did NOT want to hold my hand and argued and bickered with me about what I should or shouldn’t do or help with DD2, and DD2 is SUCH a baby (at this time, DD2 was oblivious and was just happy she wasn’t arguing or in trouble, thank goodness I didn’t have TWO cranky girls at one time).

And while I’m about to start laughing now, in the moment, I could feel myself getting upset and angry.  However, instead of demanding that DD1 use a more respectful tone and to stop arguing, I took a deep breath and just embraced the moment.  I continued to tuck them in, starting with DD2.  And I said:  I love you so much girls, and I know you love me too, even if you’re mad at me. 

DD2: I love you too mom!
DD1: (unintelligible grunt)

And a few seconds later, as I walked out of the room and across the hallway into mine, DD1 said:  Don’t forget to check on me!!

Which is code for, come back and give me a hug in a little while.  Which she has said every night for the last year.  Which I realize is because her sister is asleep, and it’s our time to chat about whatever she’s thinking without being interrupted.  And so I did. 

Love wins.  I hope. 
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