Re-entry

I’ve been away from this diary for almost 4 years. And so much has changed and so much is the same… it’s hard to figure out where to start.


Today I met with one of my oldest friends at a Starbucks to talk about writing. We ended up spending a good deal of time just processing our lives – which is sometimes just so necessary, you know? My life is so different from the first entry I made here in 2007, The Reluctant Mother, a virtual draining of my heartache over my hesitation about being a mother. Turns out I am a great mother, by the way. My daughter is now 6 and thriving beyond my greatest dreams. She is compassionate and empathetic. She is lovely and loves art and music. She is good at Math and adores science experiments…. and fairy wings and magic. I take a lot of credit for this. So I turned out to be a great mother. In fact, it turns out after a LOT of therapy that it wasn’t being a mother I was afraid of… it was bringing a child into an already broken relationship. Here I am 4 years later having just this week, the day after Valentine’s Day, finalized the terms of a dissolution from her father. It was not pretty – the end of the relationship – not in the slightest. But after a year of “negotiating in good faith” it is over. That is kind of funny, really… “negotiating in good faith” sounds so calm and easy. Really that is so ridiculous. The truth is after years of being devalued by my spouse’s addiction to pornography and a selfish streak a mile wide… I had to make a decision. Stay and fake it so my daughter could have a 2 parent household and a “normal” life OR ask for a divorce. After some not so great decisions – that I do not regret… this is how we learn  - I decided. He moved out a year ago in December. And honestly, it was as if a black cloud lifted off my house. My goal now… work on loving myself unconditionally. And that little girl? She has an incredible family. She is surrounded by love and support… and two parents who are able to love her above everything else. I hope to visit here more often now. Perhaps this new journey… did I mention I also turned 40… is only the beginning.

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The Big D

My husband and I have started talking very seriously about getting a divorce. Not the way I pictured it happening–I always dreamed he’d wake up and realize what he’s losing–but it seems rational and inevitable now. Just don’t tell my mother yet.


And oh my god, how would we tell the kids? My dear sweet son, especially. It made us both cry thinking about that. So we decided to punt–nobody’s moving out or serving papers for a year, so we can slooowly introduce the idea to the kids, so we can get our finances into good shape–but it’s out there and it will likely happen.

This probably surprises none of you.

It only surprises me sometimes, like, is this really my life? And sometimes I can actually feel my heart breaking. But I’m not dead yet, so yes, it is my life and it appears it won’t kill me.

I think we were immature when we got married, and even though my husband’s parents are still married, they are dysfunctional, so neither of us had a good model for what a marriage should be, and we made a royal fucking mess of it.

I can honestly say I tried everything to work on and save my marriage. I don’t think my husband can say the same thing, but he is who he is. I can’t control what he does, only my reaction to it. And I see so many examples of marriages that should be over and aren’t. I see the argument for both ways–staying in a broken relationship because of other considerations, as well as leaving something that seems damaged beyond repair–but if he feels this is the only way he can be happy, I am not trapping him. And I don’t want to be trapped either, constantly settling. Not that I want to replace this relationship with a better one–I think I am very happy on my own, and that is the truth. I am honestly a naturally happy person, and the only unhappy spot in my life was my marriage, which is a pretty big thing to overlook. I wasn’t able to outrun it.

We seem to be, as with so many big things in our life, like parenting and home ownership, totally on the same page here. He vows never to let me or the kids suffer financially, and I believe him. He is a generous provider and a good father. I think the idea to wait and get on firmer financial ground also gives me a sense of peace about this I would not have otherwise. Also a year to give my sweet son another year of maturity to deal with it. So yeah, we kind of kicked this down the road a bit, but no one’s in denial and we are committed to staying friendly and kind.

This is hard to write and hard to believe and hard to bear. But in my heart I know we will be happier apart. I hope our kids forgive us.

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Interesting ‘Dear Prudence’ Letters

Here are a couple of topics we have touched on at MotherTalkers, courtesy of Dear Prudence:

HELLO BABY
My ex-husband’s new wife will give birth to their first child any day. My daughters are so excited they can barely sleep. Much to my surprise, I’m excited too. My ex-husband and his new wife want our daughters to come to the hospital as soon as possible after the birth. I will probably drive my daughters to the hospital, and the assumption so far has been that their grandparents will meet them and take them to the maternity ward. I would love to take my daughters to the maternity ward myself and meet the new baby, but my sister, whom I’ve discussed this with, thinks I might be infringing on the new family’s privacy. She also thinks wanting to meet my ex-husband’s new baby with another woman is weird. Should I ask, and is it?

EMILY YOFFE:
Your ex’s new wife — and you — sound wonderful.  She wants her baby’s sisters to meet the baby right away. You want your daughters to be excited about their new sibling.  This is how blended families should behave.  All of you are going to be in and out of each other’s lives, and since your daughters have been invited to come to the hospital to see the baby, obviously you would accompany them.  It will set a lovely tone for you to show up with a gift and coo over this new addition to your children’s family.  As a mother yourself you know to keep the visit short.  But there’s nothing weird about expanding the circle of good feelings.

That was the feel-good letter. Here is a tougher nut to crack:

DAD-RELATED DILEMMA
My mom left my dad for another man ten years ago, when my brother and I were in grade school. She took us with her, and the loss of his family turned my father into a bitter man. He now considers himself a men’s rights activist. From what I can tell, the men’s rights movement my dad belongs to believes that American law and society has institutionalized misandry. One website my dad frequents warns men not to date single mothers because their children might accuse the boyfriend of molesting them to reap the benefits of victimhood. My dad speaks often about the men’s rights movement, and when my brother and I don’t want to listen, he accuses us of being brainwashed by feminists. His behavior doesn’t come across as crazy so much as it does misogynistic. Now I’m eighteen and could stop seeing him if I wanted to. But my brother is younger and still has to see him. My mom doesn’t know the full story because we don’t want her to overreact. What should we do?

EMILY YOFFE:
Your mother leaving him may have caused your father’s personality change — it may also be that his personality was in place and your mother couldn’t take it anymore. Both you and your brother are old enough to have some direct discussions with your father about your relationship with him.  Talk to your brother and see if he wants to join in such a conversation, and if he doesn’t make some time alone with your father.  He needs to be told that he activism is his business, but you don’t want to be his audience anymore.  Say that you both understand he has strong feelings about women and the legal system, but being lectured to is poisoning your relationship.  Reassure him that you love him and want to spend time with him, but you want to talk about things that are less painful and volatile. If he won’t curb his enthusiam, then you can start peeling off from yourvisits.  Now that you’re 18, spending less time with your father would bound to happen anyway.  But if you do that, be a sounding board for your brother on how to deal with Dad’s ugly obsession.

Ayayay! What say you?

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Carolyn Hax on Strategizing Divorce

This letter caught my eye as I do know couples who have waited for their kids to graduate high school or say they are waiting for the kids to leave the house to divorce.

This letter-writer at Carolyn Hax stirred up quite a reaction:

I was a high school teacher for many years and saw several couples wait until the kids went off to college to split up. This was actually rather cruel: The child is having difficulty enough leaving home and parents, and to realize that there isn’t even going to be any home there any more just adds to the pain.

-Retired teacher

Some commenters said that divorce is painful for a child no matter the age. They, too, saw no point in waiting. Then there was this writer:

At the risk of being accused of having the heart and soul of a bean-counter rather than a romantic…

Perhaps waiting to divorce till the kids leave home is as much an economic decision as an emotional one for the parents. If the family owned or rented a larger home they might not need something so big any longer, instead two much-smaller places with just enough space for the kid(s) to crash in a guest bedroom or on the couch during school vacation or military leave. With any luck, the parents will have been contributing to savings plans that were calculated to mature with the departure of the youngest child for college or the working world.

Sad tangent: I personally know two cases of couples who out of dire financial necessity were stuck living in the same home with their estranged spouses while the divorce was proceeding. In one case it was a veritable war zone, in the other there were long tense silences, but each was awful in its own way.

Do you know of couples who waited for their children to leave home to spilt up? What were their reasons for waiting?

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Messy Divorces over the Holidays

Ay ay ay. This Carolyn Hax column hit too close to home as I received some disturbing texts from a family member and his new girlfriend last week. They are feuding, and this family member doesn’t get along with his ex-wife who I adore and still keep in touch with.

What to do, MotherTalkers? Here’s what Hax says:

Q: My husband’s brother is in the middle of a very nasty divorce, and my husband and are grieving the loss of a wonderful friendship with our ex-sister-in-law. Husband’s brother has been adamant about our cutting ties with her. We are not so sure we can do this, and have been thinking of including her in our holiday plans. Would you agree that it’s okay to make an exception at Christmastime, especially for someone who doesn’t really have other family in the area?

Carolyn Hax: This is another one that is wholly dependent on context. The simplistic answer is to say that your BIL has no right to tell you that you can’t stay in touch with his ex. And, he doesn’t. But: That doesn’t account for one of the most important elements of a decision like this: Who wronged whom in the marriage? I’ve read too many accounts of an abuse victim whose family insists on staying in touch with the abuser s/he just divorced. And that, to me, is a huge betrayal by that family.

On the other hand, if your BIL mistreated his soon-to-be ex, then the family has more standing to say,”You want nothing to do with her, and that’s your right, but she was good to us and we grew to see her as a sister over these  7/17/27 years.” You can even ask for justification, along the lines of, “If she mistreated you, then please say so, because we don’t want to be the unwitting providers of shelter to someone who did you harm. But if this is just about your not loving her any more, then I feel I have a right to stay in touch with her, just based on my own relationship with her that we built over the years.”

I realize the nastiness of the divorce can make even an alienation-of-affection divorce into one of enemies and purposeful harm, but it’s stil possible, I believe, to tease out the threads of responsibility and decide accordingly whether you’re betraying family by staying in touch with an ex.

Just make sure you base your decisions on what you think is right, since any choice in these circumstances is likely to alienate someone. If you’re not willing to lose your relationship with your BIL, for example, or if your husband isn’t, then that has to factor in to your allegiances. If instead you want to do what you think is right, and are ready to accept any consequences of that, then you maintain ties as you deem appropriate and let others decide how to respond.

What would you do in the letter writer’s position? Have you been in this position before?

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Martine: Proof That You’re Never Too Old to Try Something New

Editor’s Note: I had heard of Martine some years back when she dated a former co-worker of Kristen and I. She always looked incredibly young for her age, and our co-worker was 12 years younger than her. Recently, Kristen told me what she was up to and my jaw about dropped. Read on and enjoy! -Elisa

Last month I had been making a big deal about Bob Dylan’s birthday on my blog Stylenik, but it was also the birthday of my fabulous friend and Pilates guru Martine Curtis. She turned 59 on May 24 — and yes that is her in the photograph (on a recent visit to San Francisco). I know, she looks amazing. And she is amazing and I was really excited to profile her.

Here are the basics of her story: Martine grew up Mormon in California, went to college in Utah, and married a guy of the same religion when she was 21. Over the next four years, she had three children. In 1978 when the youngest was 5 months old, she had had it with the Mormon lifestyle and left, three children in tow. 

She moved back to California, raised the three kids on her own, became a master Pilates instructor, book author and award-winning journalist. Ten years ago, she opened the second Pilates studio in all of Paris, and now runs the most renowned center and teacher training school in the city (I was lucky enough to do my teacher training there!).


Martine now has nine grandchildren. After ending a 17-year relationship three (ish) years ago, she recently became engaged to a Tunisian twenty-something (he might be 30, but his birth certificate was destroyed in the revolution so they’re not sure). We do know that he’s a handsome and strapping young man (I’ve seen pictures!). Oh, and three years ago, she started playing the cello.

Stylenik: What are the top three challenges you’ve faced in your life, and how did you get through them?

Martine Curtis: My toughest challenge is succeeding in business in France. As anyone who’s ever opened a business in France can tell you, if you can succeed in France, you can succeed anywhere! Success is an ongoing process and you have to enjoy the small victories when the French state allows you to have one. You just feel like you’re succeeding and the government levies another tax or puts up some kind of lame ass bureaucratic roadblock. So, I guess I haven’t gotten though this one yet.

Raising three kids on my own was particularly tough, but it’s tougher in retrospect I think. When I was in the thick of it, I was too busy to worry about how hard it was. I got through it because there was just no choice — and, because my kids grew up.

I can’t actually talk about the very biggest challenge in my life (it’s too personal), so I’ll stick to the vague and frivolous, but still a huge challenge: finding time for all of the things that I want to do. I think I’m ambitious in a laid back kind of way and I have a lot of interests and love getting involved in new and exciting things. There are periods when I’m very productive and feel really accomplished, and then there are just the opposite when I run around in circles. I’m a big fan of “Getting Things Done” and Merlin Mann, and whenever I commit myself to sticking with the program, I have a sense of control over my life and find I get much more accomplished.

Sn: What are the top three happiest moments in your life so far?

MC: I should say that the birth of at least one of my children is in the top three, but that would be a lie. However, seeing one of my grandchildren born (my one grandson) was a truly emotional high point. I ended up writing about the experience as an introduction to an article and I’m sure that’s why the piece won a Peninsula Press Award.

There are actually so many of them that I can’t choose. What I can say is that they are all moments when I was totally involved, not self-conscious, and not worrying about the future. There’s a lot of talk about “being present,“ but I think it’s true, and all of my happiest moments, no matter how trivial or important, have been when I’ve been “right there.“ When I’ve pulled my cello bow across a string and really felt the vibration of the sound, when I’ve been walking down Rue des Archives and just feeling the pleasure of moving, or when I’m eating a blueberry (my favorite fruit) and not thinking about popping the next one in my mouth. Silly, but true.    

Sn: Who are the people in your life who most inspire you?

MC: I would have to put my three kids at the top of that list. I look at them and think, “where the hell did you come from and how are you so “together?” I was a single mother, and was always so busy working to support them that I felt like I neglected them in a lot of other areas. Somehow, they turned out great in spite of me. My daughters actually seem more like my mothers sometimes — much more common sense than I ever intend to have, and all three are people I would definitely want to know even if I hadn’t spawned them.

Also my friend Lynsey Peisinger, a dancer, totally brilliant, totally neurotic, and probably the funniest person I’ve ever known. We can laugh for hours — especially in the face of our own personal disasters and screw-ups (which we both seem to greet with open arms).

Other than that, anyone who can speak more than three languages fluently!  

Sn: When did you get involved with dance? Same for writing and Pilates?

MC: Like most girls, I got started ballet lessons when I was young because it was what you did. I had the body and the ability to go a lot further with it, but I was way too lazy, and don’t like pain all that much. At one point, I realized that I just liked music, and moving to music more than I liked cramming my feet in toe shoes and suffering, so I quit pursuing it, but did kept teaching some children’s classes.

With Pilates, someone gave me a Pilates book in the ’70s and I started doing some of the mat exercises, but I didn’t get into it in a big way until I had a dance injury and, like a lot of dancers, started doing rehabilitation with Pilates in San Francisco at the St. Francis hospital. It was one of those things that wasn’t in my three-job, three-kid budget, so I decided to train to teach it.

I majored in English in college, but writing is something I’ve done from an early age, and it’s one of those things that gives me the most satisfaction for several reasons. My real goal in life is to be a full time student, and I found that researching articles was a way to study and get paid for it — although not much, but it was educational. I also write just for the catharsis of it. If I’m having a crisis, writing about it helps put it in perspective. I tend to be much funnier on paper than in real life, so it can really improve my outlook if I’m just the commentator pointing out the ridiculous in the situation. I know this is vain, but I love pulling out an old article after several years, rereading it, and thinking, “this is damned good.“ Of course, that’s not always the case, but it’s exciting when it is.
   
Sn: How did you become a glamorous Pilates instructor in Paris? Tell us about some of your most notable clients (if you’re free to share!)

MC: Hmmm, “glamorous?“ Maybe “best known“ would be more appropriate, and that came about because I was one of the very first teachers in France and I happened to write the first Pilates book (Perfect Pilates) for the French market. I also ended up getting a lot of press early on and that, of course, builds your reputation/mystique.

I’ll only name the ones that I’ve been really impressed with and really like personally. The others will just go unnamed — although they would probably be more fun to write about.

Vanessa Bruno would probably be tops on my list. She might not be a household name because she’s a designer and not a film personality, but I assume your readers know who she is. She’s just a lot of fun and very genuine and will listen to my whining.
Dita Von Teese would be way up there too. Very funny, down-to-earth, and somebody you can talk to about anything.
Sofia Coppola, although I only taught her when she was in Paris filming Marie Antoinette, and she probably wouldn’t remember me, I was really impressed by her intelligence (although she didn’t take my advice when doing the casting for the Axel Ferson character) and easy nature.
Charlotte Gainsbourg, again, very intelligent and classy, and…
Catherine Deneuve, whose comportment and kindness always impressed me. Incredibly down-to-earth. So down-to-earth in fact that when she forgot her workout pants she borrowed mine — even after I warned her that they hadn’t been washed in weeks (more likely, months).  

And, my dear friends, pianists Marielle and Katia Labeque, sisters who are so different, but both incredibly talented, caring and two of the most interesting people I’ve ever known.

Sn: You are hands down the most gorgeous, hippest, and youthful grandmother I’ve ever encountered. Please tell us your secret(s) to looking so amazing and keeping such a young outlook on life!

MC: Wow, that’s kind, and if it’s anywhere close to true, I guess it’s because I just don’t think about my age. I’m the “adult“ in the family who can roll around with the kids on the floor —  it’s pretty much what I do at work anyway. I think I take care of myself pretty well. I walk everywhere and workout a few times a week. I guess I’m always shocked when someone says, “oh, I’m too old to start doing ____ (fill in the blank). I’ve never thought of myself as being too old to do ANYTHING or take up something new. I started cello lessons three years ago, and am starting to learn arabic.

I think having grandchildren makes some people feel old, but it makes me feel younger for some reason. I wish I could spend more time with them and am happy now that several of them are old enough to spend extended time with me in Paris.  

Sn: What are your thoughts on plastic surgery, and how have they changed over the years?

MC: Well, when you’re 20 it’s easy to say it’s ridiculous. I’d never say that now. When I see women in their 20s getting Brazilian butt lifts, I think WTF, why are they doing that, and isn’t that’s kind of “cheating.“ My next thought is, WTF, why am I NOT doing that.

I’ll admit that when I look in the mirror now, I put my index fingers at my temples and my thumbs on my jawline under my ears and pull up and back, and I think, “just a tiny lift, yeah, that’s all I want, just a little.“ And, I then turn to get as much of a profile as I can and I see that the small wattle that I’ve developed in the past three years has disappeared. So, I guess if I had the time, the money, and the guts to do it, I might, but I guess I’m just chicken and keep hoping for a non-surgical miracle to come popping up in a random Internet search.

Sn: I know you don’t buy a lot of clothes, but I also know you appreciate well made pieces. What does it take for you to break out your credit card? And how would you describe your style?

MC: I read an article years ago about a couple who had a punishment system that involved the guilty partner (guilty of what offense, I don’t remember) being forced to wear the same clothes the next day. I remember thinking, “that’s like a reward system!“ I hate to admit it, but I’m really comfortable just throwing on the same jeans and shirt that I wore the day before and the day before, and possibly even the day before until family or friends make a comment about a particular item of clothing getting a “really long run.“

That I don’t buy a lot of clothes is an understatement. And, you’re right, I hate crappy stuff, but am also not willing to spend money on the really well made stuff. Fortunately, I teach designers, so I sometimes get things for free or really cheap. And, I’ve always felt like the clothes were secondary to what’s underneath them — your body. So, if you keep in shape and feel good about yourself, I feel like what you cover yourself with isn’t as important. Wow, can I take all the fun out of life!  

I guess I’m not very good for capitalism, but, that said, I will spring for a nice pair of boots. I always wait until the big Paris half price sales and then I might even buy two pairs. And I never get rid of them. I’ve got one pair that I’ve had resoled four times. I’ve worn holes in the uppers now, but fortunately, the “street urchin“ look comes around often enough so that they never sit idle for long.

Sn: What’s next for you? Big plans for the future?

MC: I’m looking to start a business in Tunisia because I think the future is NOT in the U.S., not in France or Europe, but in countries like Tunisia where possibilities are wide open. Of course, one of the reasons that I’m interested in Tunisia specifically is that my fiancé is Tunisian. We’re both in the health and fitness industry and we’re talking to people now about opening not a Pilates center like I have in Paris (although we may start with that), but something much more expansive incorporating more aspects of fitness and anti-aging. Pilates will be a part of it, but also exercise modalities that increase HGH levels, improve balance and flexibility. Of course, in order to be complete, nutrition needs to be part of the program, as well as stress reduction, and anti-aging therapies. It would be a much more inclusive project than I’ve ever tackled, but that’s the ultimate goal.  

Concurrent plans are to finish the books I’m working on: a new Pilates book and, “Edgar Ate my Panties,” a book about petsitting in Paris that I’ve been working on forever.

Happy Birthday Martine!

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I Divorce You, I Divorce You, I Divorce You: A Divorce in Three Parts

On a recent Thursday afternoon, I divorced my ex-husband for the third time.  As a fierce thunderstorm broke out driving rain in thick sheets, I drove out of the city, past a Catholic university, to a synagogue, walked through the halls, past the pre-schoolers screaming in after-lunch play time to a door. I knocked.  The door opened. I had arrived at the mikveh. For my mikveh.

A mikveh is a ritual immersion in special pool created and maintained specifically for this purpose. Traditionally when Jews form a new community, the mikveh, along with a burial society, is one of the first communal institutions they established.  Mikveh has a long religious, traditional history in Judaism. Traditionally both men and women are required to use themikveh on a regular basis, but in fact what many people, Jews and non-Jews, know about themikveh is that Jewish women traditionally go to the mikveh for immersion after their menstrual cycle has completed so that they can resume sexual relations with their husbands. Yes, patriarchal. Yes heterosexual-focused. Few non-religious Jews use mikveh today.

But feminist Jews re-interpreted mikveh for women to use in new ways. That celebrates a girl becoming a young woman joyfully rather than dreading the onset of her menstrual cycle, a life event – such as infertility, divorce, coming out – those events not recognized in traditional Judaism. And so, the idea of a mikveh came to me this past winter, in between shoveling the piles of snow, blowing noses and fretting about the air breezing through my tightly sealed windows. After 3 long years, 5 attorneys, and thousands of dollars, the first divorce, the legal and financial end to my marriage closed in. I wish I could tell you why it took 3 years but it did. As the primary breadwinner, by necessity, not choice, I was in the position more and more women find themselves in: the financial settlement came from my savings (we didn’t have joint bank accounts) and my retirement savings (he didn’t have any).  At last, though, through our attorneys, we agreed to exchange money, give up property, pay off debts.  We agreed, we signed, the attorneys filed. On a cold but not snowy December afternoon, we met in his attorney’s office and we signed the many copies of the agreement. The signing generated a little good will; with the kids between us, we shared a last coffee in the Starbucks below the office. The civil divorce was done. But I was not done with divorce.


Next, I asked the rabbi of my synagogue to arrange a get, a Jewish divorce.  There’s also a long traditional, religious history of the gett. But that was not my intent. I was after spiritual freedom. My Jewish life, my spiritual life, had been too long, too intricately bound up, with my ex-husband. He had been a member of the Jewish clergy throughout half of our marriage. I thrilled when I heard him chant certain prayers; I couldn’t bear to hear them now. I grew angry when I dropped my son off for religious school at the synagogue we joined together, where my friends attended services, where my ex-husband now attended services & participated in holidays and other events. Yet, it became a place I could not bring myself to go, to make new friends. When I took the kids religious school, adults, whom I did not know, greeted my kids by name. They knew the kids from their attendance with their father. I greeted no one.  I felt alone, invisible and angry. I spoke several times with Rabbi L, the rabbi of this synagogue. She comforted me during the separation and divorce process, listened to me talk about my anger towards God, my lack of place at the synagogue. As a way to ease my inability to attend services and events, she offered to broker an agreement for us laying out when each of us would attend events and services at the synagogue. I demurred; such an agreement didn’t seem right.

Finally, I knew what I had to do.  I wanted another divorce.

Last Spring and Summer I researched new synagogues. I am picky and dislike most of what suburban American Judaism has to offer. I don’t like “temples“ and those theater-like seats and impersonal spaces named after the biggest donors. I don’t like remote rabbis who talk only to those big donors and preach – but don’t live – lives of integrity. I like progressive Judaism (duh!) where women and men are equal in status and participation. Where the liturgy would reflect that egalitarian approach, where I wouldn’t feel out of place wearing a tallit and yarmulke, where my kids would not feel like freaks because they are Latino Jews. Where people questioned God and Israel and did not worship the Holocaust. Where I would not feel like a leper as a single parent amongst the majority of married couples. Like the synagogue my ex-husband and I joined. I found another synagogue that meet my criteria. Housed in a century-old historical building, on the edge of my city, it was 15 minutes and light years away from the other synagogue. From my first Friday night visit, the people and rabbi were welcoming. I felt the warmth of the congregants, not the old anger and invisibility. The only compromise was that there were few internationally or obviously adopted kids. But, I immediately felt happy driving my son to religious school, taking both kids to services. I volunteered.  I talked with other parents. I have felt at home. My son looked forward to going to religious school.

In early January, I made an appointment with my rabbi, who happens to be the sabbatical rabbi, filling in for the rabbi who is spending a year in Israel. I sat in front of her and said “I want a get.“

Jewish women must have a Jewish divorce, or get, to remarry, to have another Jewish wedding. Traditionally, the man has to “grant“ the get. Sometimes Jewish men have used this power to extract something (like custody, money) from their wives. Women who are legally divorced but do not have a get hang in a hang limbo called agunah. In a traditional religious community this is worse than being single.
This was not the get I was after. I wanted to sever our Jewish connection. It was this connection that brought us together at first, so fiercely, so passionately.  This connection was beautifully captured in our egalitarian ketubah (wedding contract) that still hung in my bedroom. It was the connection that now stifled my ability to move forward in a Jewish life that I wanted to lead – whatever that looked like. I had no idea. Two and a half years ago I gave up keeping kosher. I stopped believing in the god I had believed in for the last 15 years.  In retrospect, I was starting over Jewishly, spiritually. I needed a clean Jewish slate.  

“I want you to contact Rabbi L at my old synagogue where my ex-husband still goes, and set it up,“ I said to Rabbi R.

“Okay,“ she said, “Do you want to do any special rituals or prayers or readings when you go to sign the get?“

“No. I want as little ceremony as required,“ I answered.  I knew this sounded harsh and cold. “This get is my idea and on my terms.“ I added. My wedding was a big drama driven by my ex-husband who never missed an opportunity for performance, the bigger the better. I cringed at the memory of all the talking and programming and people involved in creating that wedding.  I wanted the get to be what I wanted.

“Okay,“ she said, “I will call Rabbi L and start the process. “

A few emails about dates for get-signing fluttered through my inbox. I proposed dates and times I was available. When my ex-husband proposed we write new get liturgy writing, I nixed it. My get, my way.

Finally, as winter struggled to come to a close, we gathered at a local rabbinical school to sign the get documents. Me, my rabbi, my ex-husband, Rabbi L, and Rabbi Y who would witness the process. The 3 rabbis formed the “bet din“ who wrote the get documents and witnessed the divorce. We sat in a small book-lined room where, in the early days of our marriage, I had once taken a class in Talmud.  I smiled as I remembered how much fun I had learning how to interpret the religious texts. As she wrote up the get documents, Rabbi L asked us for our Hebrew names, our parents’ names and dates of our marriage and civil divorce.  Then, finally, she asked us to repeat some words that dissolved our marriage under Jewish law.  Another signed piece of paper. I was happy and grateful and a bit sad. As we left the room where I learned Talmud, I knew where the sadness came from: my ex-husband and I had many happy  time studying the weekly Jewish Torah portions, discussing what they meant, exchanging ideas, celebrating holidays – many of which I celebrated for the first time with him.  But I was free again. My second divorce was completed.

Finally, I made another appointment with my rabbi. This time we spoke about a mikveh. I had done an informal mikveh the day of my marriage.  I enjoyed the ritual surrounded by my women friends in the hotel pool.  I hadn’t thought much aboutmikveh since. Not when I went through years of infertility and medical interventions and then the adoption process.  Now, though, the mikveh popped into my consciousness. I wanted a mikveh. I wanted  a mikveh because I was divorced — but not because of the divorce per se or my anger or other feelings towards my ex-husband or even my marriage. I wanted a mikveh for me.  For the journey I had been on that led me to realize my marriage was over. Since the official separation 3 years ago, I had changed so many things in my life – from the food I cooked to the car I drove to the friends I associated with.  I had removed my ex-husband from my legal, financial, daily and spiritual life. I had started a new life, a life that was completely me and mine. I told all of this to the rabbi. I told her how I got through the worst of the early divorce process by swimming as much as I could. Now I wanted more Judaism back in my life but I didn’t know how and I felt such resistance to it.

Rabbi R listened and then spoke about mikveh  and told me that there was not much ritual required outside of the traditional preparation, 3 complete immersions, and a blessing or two. I was free to use the mikveh to mark this point in my life and I could incorporate almost anything – poetry, prose, song, art into the ritual. I could use rituals other women had written, rewrite them or write my own.  She said she would be happy to participate in the mikveh ritual in any way that I wanted her to, as little or as much.  We set my appointment at the local mikveh for the week after Passover.

I was filled with all kinds of ideas to explore.

I went home and dug out books from boxes I had not opened in years. Poetry by Adrienne Rich, Marge Piercy, Robin Morgan, Dickinson, Jane Kenyon, Elizabeth Bishop, Geraldine Connolly, Donald Hall. Poems and poets I love well and others I hadn’t read much of.  I revisited poems I loved.  I dipped into books I hadn’t taken out of boxes in years. I left them out on my bedside table, the coffee table. I was happy to see them. But no reading, no poem seemed right.  I tried to write poems, but none came. I was not writing a lot these days. I fell asleep as soon as my kids were in their beds, sometimes while talking to my sister in New Mexico or while reading Vogue, my head falling into a couture gown.

Rabbi R and I scheduled another meeting in early April to go over my plans for the mikveh ritual. Empty-handed I returned to her office with a clear idea: I did not want to do any readings by other writers. I did not want a performance, to write new ritual liturgy and I didn’t want my mikveh to become an assignment, another deadline I didn’t want and didn’t need.  As we talked, I decided to come up with 7 kavvanot, or intentions, to mirror the 7 blessings said during a traditional Jewish wedding.  These intentions would have personal meaning to me.

Over the next 3 weeks, I thought about what my intentions would be. At first, I was focused on those things I wanted to shed. These were all negative and bound to my past – I don’t want to be a victim, I didn’t want to hold on to anger, I don’t want that kind of relationship, I wanted to let go of certain views of myself that I had held on to for a very long time.  As I collected these intentions, I realized that I didn’t have to focus on pain and all my “negative“ characteristics.  I could use positive intentions, intentions that reflected the life I wanted to lead, the person I wanted to become.  Now, these intentions came rapidly.  I picked 2 intentions to reflect what I most wanted to let go of to move forward in my life. “Bravery“ was my bridge transition from the negative to positive. It’s my pseudonym here on Mothertalkers. Although I have not always acknowledged my bravery, I realized now that I needed to be brave for so much of my life, and brave to summon the courage to separate myself from my marriage, my ex-husband.  I scribbled 7 intentions on the back of an envelope and kept it on my nightstand. Over the next couple of weeks I clarified some intentions and replaced others. I planned to write a clean copy of the list on a proper sheet of paper.

On the Thursday after Passover, the rabbi and the woman who ran the mikveh greeted me at the door. I went into the changing room and completed my preparations. I showered, washed my hair, scrubbed my elbows and heels, brushed and flossed my teeth. Every obscure place where dirt could hide.  Of course all this cleaning is specified in the traditional rules for mikveh preparation.  I wasn’t focused so much on religious compliance as with the spiritual and physical for the mikveh and my intentions. I wrapped myself in a robe, pulled the envelope with my list of intentions, and pressed the buzzer. Rabbi R came to the door and walked with me to the mikveh. It is in a small room with low lighting. The mikveh itself is a 5 foot deep pool filled with rain water. Blue tiles lined the pool and the wall around it. Seven steps led into the mikveh. Rabbi R held the robe and I walked onto the steps. I slowed down. Usually I rush up and down the stairs to daycare, to the kids’ bedroom. Not now. One step, then another, and another, took me closer to my immersions. The water was very warm, around 90 degrees. It felt luxurious. I remembered what Rabbi R had talked about: how the moment of mikveh itself wasn’t a thunderbolt from god so much as a part of the process of spiritual growth, that I might feel the repercussions in my life for a while afterwards.  I said the prayer “Shehechianu“ to mark my “arrival“ at the moment of the mikveh immersions. Then I began. I read the first intention on my list next to the pool and let myself go completely under the water. I floated underwater for several seconds. I popped up to the surface. The rabbi confirmed that I had immersed myself completely, head to toe.  Seven times for seven intentions. The 7 Jewish wedding blessings commit the couple to their community, their families, to each other.  At my mikveh I recited 7 intentions with only Rabbi  R to witness. Seven commitments to myself.  

After I completed the 7 intentions and immersions, Rabbi R reminded me that I could do additional immersions. Again, I reminded myself that this was not just another errand to be completed. I stayed in the mikveh water and immersed myself again.  Under the water I opened my eyes and saw my hair floating out in front of me. Just me in this mikveh water.  At that moment I realized I was free of my ex-husband. Really free.  I was ready to leave the pool. I climbed the stairs again. Rabbi R helped me put the robe back on. She said a few words about my journey to my true self and talked about the Hasidic interpretation of “gevurah“ ( bravery).  She hadn’t seen my list of intentions before the mikveh ritual. Coincidence? I don’t think so.  As she spoke, more emotion, from the depth of the mikveh pool rose from my heart to my eyes and I cried. A single witness. That was all I needed this time.

I was divorced for the third time.

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Tuesday Open Thread

It’s Tuesday…

And I’ve got the Terminator on my mind. Actually, it’s the termination of his marriage that has me a little gobsmacked. In case you haven’t heard, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver are calling it quits after 25 years of marriage.

“This has been a time of great personal and professional transition for each of us,” the statement read. “After a great deal of thought, reflection, discussion and prayer, we came to this decision together. At this time, we are living apart while we work on the future of our relationship.

“We are continuing to parent our four children together. They are the light and the center of both of our lives. We consider this a private matter and neither we nor any of our friends or family will have further comment. We ask for compassion and respect from the media and the public.”

I lived and worked in Sacramento during Arnold’s election and re-election, and had many friends who worked for both the Governor and First Lady. From all accounts, theirs was a solid if unlikely union. I’m long since out of the political gossip loop, so this news seemed out of left field to me.

But 25 years… that is a LONG time. The surprise I felt upon hearing the news (on facebook, natch) was nothing compared to my utter shock at Al and Tipper Gore’s decision in 2010 to separate after 40 years of marriage.

Forty years.

Hasn’t the finish line been crossed by the time you reach 40 years together?

Seems like this ought to be the time for an Alaskan cruise victory lap, not a move to separate residences.

And, statistically, that should be the case. No more than 1 percent of all divorces occur after 40 years of marriage. Half of them take place within the first seven years of marriage.

So this doesn’t just make us sad. It makes us scared.

It means that maybe marriage isn’t something we can conquer. That you can have all the necessary ingredients — romance, good morals, mutual respect and a healthy family — and still see this precious thing, built over decades, crumble in the end.

Have you or anyone you know separated or divorced after decades of marriage? What do you make of these splits?

What else is on your mind today? Chat away!

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How a Broken Marriage and Garbage Led To Happiness and Success for This Artist and Mother of Two

Editor’s Note: In an attempt to bring you more original content, I asked a friend and former co-worker, Kristen Philipkoski, to cross-post this profile about a talented artist mom with an inspirational story to tell. Kristen is a talented artist (writer) herself with a fashion blog called Stylenik. Enjoy! -Elisa

(All photos by Trisha Ventker.)

Sondra Ferrari Parker recently placed her artwork in a gallery for the first time. It was one more milestone that added to her unexpectedly happy and satisfying 40th year of life.

Unexpected because just a few years earlier, she found herself alone with two kids and a missing husband who had walked out on the family leaving no financial support. She resorted to salvaging scraps of wood to paint on because she couldn’t afford to buy canvas.

But the hardships turned out to be fortuitous events in both her life and her art. She began experimenting with covering the wood with shapes, painting over the barrier, then removing it to reveal the wood grain. It launched a whole new direction for her work, and has led to interest from galleries, Sotheby’s staging agents, and private clients.



And after accepting that her marriage was over, she met the love of her life, Greg, two years ago on Match.com.

I’ve known Sondra since we were kids growing up in a very small, rural town in Pennsylvania. I graduated from high school with her older sister Dottie, and always knew her as the “kid sister” (albeit a stylish and creative one). When I recently saw her amazing paintings and she told me her story of difficulty and ultimate success and happiness, Sondra suddenly came into focus as an amazing mother and artist who is setting an admirable example for all of us.

This is how things went down.

Sondra and her husband had been making annual trips from Pittsburgh to visit her sister in Colorado with their son and daughter for years. But in 2008, a couple months before the trip, her husband left the family and never came back. She took the kids to Colorado anyway, and when she couldn’t get a response from her husband, decided not to go back to Pennsylvania.

“Every day I would just cry. He didn’t have any interest in us coming back, he wasn’t returning the kids’ calls,” Sondra said.

Her sister Dottie, who has a husband and three kids of her own, took Sondra and the kids in, and eventually Sondra found a house to rent. But she needed to find work. She also needed a way to channel her grief and frustration.

She had painted in high school and majored in art and art therapy in college. Breaking out the brushes again seemed like a great way to deal with her turmoil, but canvas was expensive for the large pieces she liked to paint. So when she found some scraps of wood in the basement of her rented house, she figured she’d paint on them. She is loving the unpredictable results.

“You never really know what the painting will be until the last minute,” she said. “I’ve been doing the technique for over a year but there’s still a lot of experiementing and discovery.”

This creative spurt of new work led to her first gallery exhibit at Bittersweet Gallery in Louisville, Colorado. (If you’re in the area, join Sondra for the gallery’s April opening night). The location is a natural market for her paintings — the wood grains appeal to outdoorsy Coloradans, and the large size of her pieces, as big as 4′ by 8′, look great in large mountain homes.

Sondra’s background in interior design fuels her interest in larger pieces. “A signature piece of art makes a big difference in a room,” she told me.

I was initially surprised to discover Sondra possessed so much creativity and skill. But it all makes sense when I remember her mother and grandmother, who lived with the family growing up. Sondra describes her grandmother’s sartorial style as “over the top.” When I think of her, the amazing women of Advanced Style come to mind. She had traveled around the world collecting gobs of jewelry and over the years amassed an impressive assortment of Miriam Haskell pieces, to which Sondra is now a beneficiary. Her mother was an art major who also had a directional sense of style and encouraged creativity among the four girls in the family. I’ll never forget the red velvet couch Mrs. Ferrari had placed in the Ferrari family room. I’d never seen anything like it.

With the influence of these creative women as a foundation, followed by her education in art, Sondra always had artistic tendencies, and was poised to make a lucky find in a Pittsburgh garbage can.

“In Pittsburgh I noticed a guy was carrying some chairs out to the garbage,” she told me. “They were Pagani mid-century modern with brass legs. I had just been shopping on 1st Dibs where the same chairs were featured and being sold by a gallery in San Francisco. I called the gallery and found they were selling them for $20,000 for the pair. I sold him mine for $9,500.” It was the perfect boost for a vintage chair revamping business she had started with a friend called Limited Seating.

Now, Sondra’s trajectory towards a successful, creative career is finally coming to fruition.

“I never thought I could leave everything I knew, leave my family and friends behind and find all of this. I finally get into a gallery and find a man who I adore. I find a stable, happy life. If someone would have told me this a few years ago I would have never believed them.”

Check out our photo gallery to see Sondra’s interior design, art work and fantastic fashion sense in action. Even back in high school, I remember being in awe of her ability to have a strong personal style in our tiny town where most of us tried our best to blend. When I asked about her style she said she favors plain t-shirts from H&M or the Gap festooned with her grandmother’s jewelry or her own vintage finds.

She has the same approach to both decorating and dressing.

“I mix a lot of styles,” she said. “I like an ultra conservative chest of drawers mixed with something mid-century modern. There’s no one style that I focus on with my design work.”

“I like to look around the room and see stuff sparkle.”

Us too!

The photos are by Trisha Ventker at Sondra’s home in Erie, Colorado, which she shares with her daughter Madeleine, 11, her son Trip, 6, and her Prince Charming, Greg. Here are all the details on what she wore and what she serves. We’re keeping our fingers crosses she invites us over for dinner soon!

Dinner party outfit:

Dress: Vintage Richard Frontman
Sweater: Banana Republic
Tights: Hue
Boots: Nine West’s Boutique 9, BTCHARISSA
Necklace: Vintage Miriam Haskell inherited from Sondra’s grandmother
Earrings: Saks
Ring: Banana Republic
Bracelets: Saks

The table and chairs are from HW Home. The sterling Vases are vintage. Place mats are from Z Gallerie. Dinner plates are Martha Stewart for Macys, salad plates are from Pier 1, dessert plates are vintage, napkins from Williams Sonoma and the glasses are vintage.

Flowers: Ranunculus, tulips, and mini cala lilies

Dinner menu:
Appetizers: Anti Pasta and flat breads: Caramelized Onion and Pancetta; Ricotta and Spinach: 3 Cheese
Salad: Arugula with blue cheese, apples, figs, walnuts and balsamic vinaigrette
Entree: Braised short ribs over campanelle with shaved parmigiano-reggiano
Dessert: Black berries, marcona almonds, nacaroon and mint chocolate chip cheese cake from Whole Foods
Cocktail: Lemoncello martini
Wine: 2007 Sausal Private Reserve Zinfandel
After Dinner: Absinthe

Kids table:
Appetizers: bowl of strawberries
Dinner: Campanelle with cheese sauce
Dessert: Whole Foods cupcakes: thousands of blue sprinkles Amish market Riverside, Pennsylvania.

The photos taken outside featuring the yellow necklace were before a black tie event at Sondra and Greg’s local clubhouse:

Yellow necklace: Anthropologie
Blue Earrings: Forever 21
Bracelets: Saks
Ring: Forever 21
Sweater: Nordstrom, Olivia Sky
Skirt: Tadashi

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Wednesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

Lately our Dana over at Mombian has published some great stories on the state of adoption by gay parents. I was especially blown away by the fact that gay parents are more common in the south than anywhere else in the United States.

Our Katy over at Non-Toxic Kids reviewed a book about raising children in the age of environmental guilt. She also doled out 7 practical tips on how to enhance your child’s school performance. Katy is a teacher and has written a book about teachers, by the way.

Blogging mommas are on fire this week. Laurie Puhn over at the Expecting Words blog had a couple good columns about the importance of not neglecting your marriage. She mentioned the importance of not-so-little things like thanking your mate for taking out the trash.

In related news, Carolyn Hax had the same to thing to say in a similar conversation. This is how she summed it up: “marriage + kids + work + housework = love-killing drudgery. I think you are dooming your marriage if you’re trying to have the kids and careers and the nice/clean house without setting aside any energy for or making a priority of your marriage and family life.”

In the same chat, Hax doled out advice to a single woman wondering whether she should adopt even though she has no partner.

Here is one trial I will be following: that of former Minutemen and anti-immigrant crusader Shawna Forde. According to the The Village Voice blog, Forde is accused of shooting 9-year-old Brisenia Flores and her father in a faux raid for drugs and money. Of course, there were no drugs and money, and sadly, this case has been underreported in the news.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?

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