Thursday, October 30, 2014

Breaking the Silence

A few weeks ago, My Other Ex released. I was incredibly proud to have my writing in this anthology, which is getting amazing reviews and has sparked some great conversations about the power of female friendship, the pain of that loss, and what happens next.

This is about what happened next for me.

If you haven't read the book yet, you really should. This will make so much more sense if you. Go ahead, Amazon is but a click away. And even if you don't have a Kindle, you can download the Kindle app for free and read it right on your phone or iPad or whatever else people use these days.

Anyway, hopefully you read it, and you know a bit about Janie* and Lucy* and me. How I lost two women I was incredibly close to - one by her choosing and one by mine. Trust me, I was in no way the innocent party in either of these stories. And neither were the other women. This is not a good guy/bad guy story. This was a story about how the way we ended these friendships - abruptly and with silence - shaped me and how I grieve both losses.

I have not spoken with Janie in over ten years. I have not spoken with Lucy in eight.

The day after the book released I received a Facebook message from Janie.

I'm going to be completely honest here. I saw her name in my Facebook message list and I panicked. Of course she read it. What else could it be? Oh my God, she was furious. She had to be. We weren't in touch, so I hadn't run anything by her. She hadn't been asked about sharing the story. But there was no relationship to risk, and I was just telling my tale. And let's be honest, it wasn't like she could reach through the computer and physically harm me. Still, I wouldn't open the message. I was too afraid to read it. And I didn't want to read it, have Facebook tell her I read it, if I didn't know what to say.

I posted in my Facebook writing groups. I opened up my buried insecurities to my online friends. They all encouraged me to read the message, that chances are it would be a good experience for me, and that they were there for me. And if it wasn't good, it wasn't like it was damaging an intact friendship. They were there for me.

That message sat for over a day while I fixated on it - staring at the first line that I could see without officially opening the message. I wasn't feeling like a confident writer who didn't care what people thought. I was feeling like a girl who'd lost her best friend and didn't want to live that loss again.

Finally, I made Adam open in and skim it to let me know if I should prepare myself for a verbal onslaught. He thought I was being a little paranoid, but luckily, he gets me. So he did.

Adam: You need to read it.

Me: Is it bad? Is it good?

Adam: Stop. This isn't for me. You need to read it.

So I read it.

Turns out that ten years was enough time for both of us to look back with some detached clarity. Through our mutual Facebook friends, she knew that I was going to be in this book and had a hunch that my contribution may have something to do with her. So the day that the book was available, she bought it, and she read it.

I won't share every detail, but the message was overall one of maturity, reflection, and apology. She told me that her story would have been different had she told it, but she understood that is always the way stories are told. She admitted to doing some crappy things, for what felt like really good reasons at the time, but that the further we got from the break up, the less possible it seemed to be to say "hey, remember me, who did a crappy thing to you? My bad". It was a note that helped me realize that telling any story requires real bravery. Bravery in sharing the story, bravery in responding. She said plenty of other things as well, but I'll not violate her privacy any further, at least not now.

Because the silence has been broken.

The door, slammed and locked with such finality ten years ago has cracked open.

Neither of us seems sure that we want to walk completely through the door. We've grown a lot in ten years and we've moved on. We're both comfortable with the people we've become. Damaged relationships can indeed be resurrected, but everyone who has experienced a relationship that had a severe wound knows that, even if the wound wasn't fatal, there will be a scar left. It's not the same relationship. Even once forgiveness has been granted, completely, there will be marks.

Our conversation that started with that message has slowed to a trickle, because we're still being careful with each other. We're taking time to exchange messages, making sure that we say what we truly want to say, feeling each other out to see how we want to proceed. I'm not sure where things will go from here. I'm not sure where I want them to go.

I do know that breaking the silence is what cracked the door back open again. Writing my story - our story - was the first knock. Her response let me know there was still someone there.

And now that the silence is broken, we figure out where to go from here.

* not their real names

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Necessity of Time Out

In one of the groups I'm in, something that's been hotly debated is the effectiveness of "time out". Does it really correct behavior? Is it damaging? Does "removal" work? Should we do a "time in" instead?

As is typical for me with most controversial parenting topics, I'm pretty neutral. Until you have parented every child in the world, you can't say that what works for one family works for another.

But sometimes time out is totally necessary....for me.

Last night was one of those times.

Adam has been working like crazy lately, trying to handle all the business stuff that keeps our family afloat. We've seen first hand what it is not to have a bread winner, we've seen what happens when you are employed, but the small company you have ownership in is struggling and there isn't much bread to be won. So Adam works hard to make sure that doesn't happen, and we all appreciate it.

Adam has also been golfing like crazy lately. In the fall he starts to envision a long, cold winter of hibernation, and he starts playing as much as possible, like he's storing up all his leisure time he know he won't get when the greens are covered in snow. I get this.

Yesterday he crammed a full day's worth of work into the morning, because he'd won a foursome at a fancy pants golf course that had already been rescheduled three times due to weather, and he was determined to play it. This means he got up early, closed himself in the office all morning, and even had a call scheduled for right after bedtime.

The girls don't have any Tuesday activities right now, so that's when I scheduled my once a week sitter. But we rescheduled this week because she had some appointments. So I had a full day with the girls, with nothing "official" to break up our day.

Adam came home a little after 6:00, right when I was expecting him, and dinner was ready to go on the table. As we all sat down, I confirmed that his call was at 7:30. Then I told him that after I finished my dinner, I was clocking out until 7:00. I was in a time out. I was not to be talked to. I was not to be disturbed. I was in a time out.

Adam agreed, because, you know, he gets me. But he spent the rest of dinner trying to ferret out from the girls what had gone so wrong that day. The toys were (mostly) picked up. The girls were (mostly) put together and pleasant. The kitchen wasn't (totally) a mess. They didn't have a reason for him. They had plenty of other stories for him, but no glaring misbehavior.

I couldn't put a finger on it either. The fact is, when I do the laundry list of the day, with all the minor annoyances, there isn't anything that should cause me to want or need a time out. The girls were fine - needy, volatile, occasionally disobedient, but typical two and four year olds - and I shouldn't have really had a reason for a time out.

But I needed one.

So I swallowed the last of my potato, put my plate in the dishwasher, and went upstairs at 6:30. I reminded Adam that I was not to be disturbed. If he had questions, he could figure them out himself.

And I went upstairs and stared into space for fifteen minutes.

By myself.

In time out.

I didn't clean. I didn't check Facebook. I didn't fold laundry. I didn't watch TV. I just went into that meditative zone and did nothing. 

Adam tried to call up the stairs once, I think to inquire about the dishwasher (which, admittedly, was half unloaded, but clean, which is a weird state) and I called back that I was still in time out. I would help when it was over.

After my space staring had been interrupted, I spent the remaining fifteen minutes hiding in Madison's room, watching Netflix on my phone (my room had laundry on the bed, and I was in a time out. Which includes laundry. Duh).

I went back downstairs at 7:00 to find the girls finishing up their dessert, with the remaining toy and kitchen cleaning complete. I brought them upstairs and Adam and I tag teamed the bedtime routine until his call at 7:30.

After my time out I was calm. I was pleasant. I was patient.

I dealt with Madison's new inability to raise her arms to brush her teeth. I negotiated with Reagan over the stack of books she now likes read to her every night. I snuggled with both girls, kissed them goodnight, and went back to the laundry.

I've written about needing "Mommy Time" before, but I usually focus on getting out of the house, pampering yourself, making sure I don't lose the "Meredith" person that is often overwhelmed by the "Mommy" of it all. But sometimes I don't need a big block of time to recenter. I just need a time out. A little bit of solitude (one minute per year of age, so I was actually a little short, but I'll take it) to quiet my mind, stop focusing on who is poking me or looking at me or bothering me or taking my toys. A break so that I don't have a meltdown over seemingly nothing. So I can get back to my regularly scheduled programming with new energy - the energy that comes with doing absolutely nothing for a while.

I posted this on my Facebook page and, of course, had the people commenting that I was so lucky that I could do this. And I know. I am. I had people commenting that I didn't give myself enough of a time out. I get that...but this isn't about those long breaks. Those are great, but they aren't something I can do daily. And sure, I take time for myself after bedtime every night. I've even stooped to what the great Baby Sideburns refers to in her book, and locked myself in the bathroom with FIBS*.

But sometimes it's necessary to just remove yourself from an active house to prove that the world keeps spinning without you. That there are other ways to deal with questions without bugging Mom. That you can know that I'm in the house and still let me be still.That you can know I'm here but just let me be alone.

And when it's time to come out, there will be hugs and kisses and snuggles and messy family life again. No harm done.

Time out works.

*Fake Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Duh.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Relationship Chicken

Adam's traveling this week, which means my meal plan sort of takes a nosedive. Normally, I like to plan out each night, make sure we spread out chicken, beef, pork, fish, pasta, whatever. I make sure that our busy evenings are crock pot days and I plan my grocery shopping accordingly.

When Adam's not around, that sort of fizzles. Reagan is still in her "I don't eat dinner" phase, and it isn't quite worth it to make a full meal for one four year old and me - especially when Adam won't be around to eat leftovers for lunch.

So today, before I went out for my weekly babysitter time, I asked Madison what she wanted tonight, figuring that if we didn't have it, I could easily run into Stop and Shop. She requested "dinosaur nuggets" and mashed potato, and that's easy enough. Done.

While at Stop and Shop I ran into a guy who I couldn't help but stalk a little. Because he was clutching a list and calling (I assume) his wife while in every aisle.

Not exaggerating.

Hi Honey, just looking at the list. What kind of oranges should I get?

Hey, me again. Oven roasted turkey or smoked turkey?

Do you want regular cheddar or extra sharp?

Chicken thighs or breasts? Small pack or big pack? Purdue or store brand?

I am not exaggerating at all. In the small time I followed him from produce toward the deli and back along the meat and dairy, he called her six times. Six. And this was clearly the beginning of his trip.

I almost tapped him on the shoulder before I veered off to frozen food and suggested that he just keep her on the line. I mean, all this redialing was wasting valuable question time.

First I was pretty annoyed by him. I mean, seriously, are you really that helpless? Is this your first time handling food ever? Can you really not make it through a shopping list without needing validation for every item?

Then I was kind of annoyed by this phantom wife (or girlfriend, or mother, or fiancee, or whoever it was). I mean, seriously, are you that controlling? Would you really throw a fit if he came home with the sharp cheddar instead of the extra sharp cheddar? The roasted turkey instead of the smoked turkey? Why is this guy so terrified of making a decision?

And then...

I had a thought. They're playing relationship chicken.

Her: If you really want to help me out, you could do the shopping.

Him: Ok, but you'll need to give me a list.

And then he went to the store and these thoughts happened ....

Him: Ugh, this shopping is so freaking annoying. I hate grocery shopping. Hey....maybe if I call her and act totally clueless I'll annoy her enough where she won't ask me to do this again.

Her: OH. MY. GOD. STOP EFFING CALLING ME. You are a smart man, I know you can handle this. I don't care if you call me seventy-five times I am NOT letting you get out of this. 

Him: WHY IS SHE STILL BEING NICE??? Why isn't she telling me to just forget it? 


Him: I'm totally not using the coupons.

Her: If he doesn't use the damn coupons I'm sending him back. Even though I forget all the time too.

Relationship chicken.

Who will cave first? Who admits defeat?

And most importantly...

Who gets to do the shopping next time?

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