Life Reclaimed


The first time I sat down with my therapist, about a week before I filed for a divorce, he asked me what I wanted. I wanted to build a new life for myself and my boys, away from the abuse, the constant anxiety, and the fear that we had lived with for so long. What that looked like, I didn’t know yet. So many people seemed to think that once the ink dried on the divorce agreement, life would magically start over fresh and new, full of promise and hope. If I had a dollar for every time someone told me I could meet someone new and do anything I wanted now, I could pay my way through school clear through to a doctorate.

That whole ‘clean slate’ thing? Hate to tell you this but it’s a myth. There is no clean slate; just a huge pile of junk from my imploded life. Some of it was useful and some wasn’t. Some of it needed to be repaired while some was too damaged to be salvaged. An awful lot of it was obliterated and pulverized into a thick dust that covered everything else. It has taken a number of years for that dust to settle and to be able to pick out what is salvageable.

Going back to college and working on rebuilding the outside aspects of my life may appear to be such a huge step. Actually, that has been the easiest thing I’ve ever done but I couldn’t do it until I knew what it was to feel safe in my own skin. It’s the inside stuff that has been brutally hard and only a few people have any real understanding of exactly how hard. That work is still ongoing and probably will be for quite some time. It took time to reestablish my own interior space and to learn who to let in, who to keep out, and most importantly that it is necessary to cut ties with toxic people and places.

My dating church adventures have been part of that cutting of ties. Learning to accept that it’s okay to sort through this pile of stuff that was handed to me as part of the religion I was raised with has been pretty much the same process as going through the divorce. It is a process that been further complicated by the fact that I am still bound by my promises to raise my boys as Catholic. My old parish was no longer a healthy place to be and bringing them to the Lutheran church is not an option as my questions are not their questions.

These last few weeks, as we’ve settled into a new Catholic parish, I’ve found a great deal of peace. I can continue to raise my boys in the faith away from the drama and toxicity I’d tolerated for too long. I met with the pastor there this past week and explained the back story of our exodus from the old parish. I was assured that this will be a safe place that will wrap around me and the boys. When I mentioned my issues with the Catholic Church and my Lutheran leanings, I was met with a shrug. “Eh, my best friend is a Lutheran. I figure God knows what He’s doing. Jesus told us in John 10:16 ‘I have other sheep not in this fold…they will all become one flock.’  So it’s all good and know that my door is always open for you.”

After I left his office, I did a little reading on the parish itself. (Confession: I’m a shameless history geek and the history of churches is especially interesting to me.) The church I have settled into was built with bricks reclaimed from the demolition of a slum. Those very bricks around me have their own history of a life imploded and rebuilt into something greater and more beautiful. What better place could there be for starting to build something new?

Being Mom

Can't you just sign on the line like a normal mom?!

Can’t you just sign on the line like a normal mom?!

Working seven years at a Hallmark shop with all its cleverly marketed, super sappy, everything-pink-and-roses sentimentality has colored my view of this day that started off as an anti-war protest and was somehow tamed into Mother’s Day. I could type a three-thousand word post on everything my mom has been and done for my family but I won’t out of respect. I get in enough trouble for the little anecdotes and photos I post on Facebook. My mom is awesome. Enough said.

But this is my Mother’s Day too. I’ve been joking the last couple days that one of the advantages of being divorced is that I plan my own Mother’s Day. What does that look like?  This year, it looks like The Avengers: Age of Ultron in 3D, pizza for dinner, and moratorium on the normal everyday brotherly fighting. Note the lack of all things pink-and-roses.

Seven years ago, I made my Cursillo retreat. My sponsor arranged for my sons to be at the closing. They were there when I ripped my prepared comments in half and gave witness completely off-the-cuff about what God had done for me that weekend. After the closing, we walked back up the hill to retrieve my bags from my room. Behind the convent where I’d been staying was a huge puddle, six feet across and four inches deep. It had rained for three days straight and it wasn’t until now, after the closing, that the rain had finally stopped. Once my bags were in the car, I took off my shoes and told the boys to do the same. I pulled them with me into this lake of a puddle and we kicked water all over each other until we were soaked. One of the nuns who had been on the retreat with me stopped on her way to her car and yelled over to me, “I have never in all my years seen a mom encourage that, much less participate in it. You really are something special.”

I’ll never be the mom with the perfectly dressed kids with impeccable manners. I’ll never be the mom with the immaculately kept home with a neatly set table and a great dinner on the table every night. I’ll never be the mom whose kids are in every organized sport, club, and activity. At one time, that bothered me but then I remembered that day at the end of my retreat. The boys don’t remember what I said in the chapel that day. They remember the puddle. That’s what being Mom is for me.

I was the mom on the playground who would send her boys down the slides when there was a big puddle at the bottom. So what if they get wet? They’ll dry. I was the one who gave them buckets of water to make mud at the campsite to drive their trucks in and when they got all muddy and disgusting, I turned the hose on them. If the weather was nice, we grabbed bats, gloves, and a big bucket of baseballs and went to the park for batting practice. The messy house would just have to wait. There was no kiddie music in my car. I rolled up to the school drop-off with AC DC blasting and came back at pick-up with Alice Cooper. That’s what being Mom is for me.

Being Mom has been playing punchbuggy, waging full-scale no-holds-barred rubberband wars, Wiffle ball games with a back-up batter and an outfielder with a butterfly net. It has been playing goose-goose-duck – our own twisted version of duck-duck-goose that involves tapping ‘goose, goose, goose’ until one gets to ‘duck’, at which point, I highly recommend you duck. It has been birthday skip days, practical joke wars, snow voodoo, and late-night stories about the pet dragon I keep in the dormer. It has been arguments, pencil snapping, door slamming, temper tantrums and late-night counseling sessions in my room. It has been the nights when they complain about how hard their homework is and I read some of Anselm’s Proslogion aloud until they concede that my homework is harder. It has been the nights I put my perfume on a beloved stuffed dog so one kid could sleep or the nights I get the holy water and bless their room (and douse them in the process) just because it makes them feel safe.

Being Mom has been messy, muddy, soggy, bruising, loud and crazy and all of that is okay, because life has been pretty much the same way for us. It will never be perfect.  It will never be Pinterest or the stuff of parenting magazines. It’s mine. And it’s theirs. And above all else, it’s real.

I don’t want much for Mother’s Day because what I want is bigger than one Hallmark-defined Sunday in May. What I want is for my boys to grow up knowing that being Mom is not about being perfect. It’s about them knowing that no matter what has gone down in any given week, come Sunday, when we’re standing shoulder-to-shoulder and pray the Lord’s Prayer, my hands will always be on their shoulders and I will always pray for them with everything I have in me, to my last breath. That’s what being Mom is for me. And it doesn’t get anymore real than that.