The Honeymoon (From Hell) is Over. Now What?
Jun 24th, 2010 by Christina

It’s been almost exactly two years since R moved out. I honestly can’t believe it has been that long–even though we middle-aged folks are constantly bemoaning the brisk passage of time. My goodness, wasn’t I just writing the post about surviving the first year? Where has the time gone?

Many of the (many) books I’ve turned to for guidance during this difficult period mention the two-year mark as a milestone. Apparently, if you’re the me in the scenario, by then you are officially back on your feet, successfully re-routed toward your glorious post-divorce future. I remember reading about it while still in my raw, skinless state and thinking I could not possibly survive two whole years. I hoped someone would hit the fast-forward button so I didn’t have to be awake for the duration. Or hit me with a bus.

And now suddenly I’m here, 24 months later. I am, in fact, re-routed and less raw, just like the books promised. Yet, oddly enough, I’m also feeling a little sentimental about that hellish phase, if only because it gave me an automatic excuse for being unable to cope with anything. Just like when you have a baby and chalk up the extra weight, the slovenly attire, the exhaustion, to the fact that, well, you just had a baby–until one day you wake up and notice that your kids are in elementary school and you can’t fall back on that anymore.

When I couldn’t handle certain household tasks (and I couldn’t), I forgave myself because, after all, I was a recently-separated, marginally-employed, suddenly-single mom. If my temper was too short with the girls (and it was) or I cried in the bathroom (and I did), well, wasn’t I off the hook, given that I was going through an awfully hard time? If I needed a reason to turn a man down for a second date (which I did), I played the confused newbie: “I’m sorry. I’m so new at this. I’m not ready. I think I started dating too soon. Maybe in a few months…”

Abigail Trafford aptly describes those years as Crazy Time in her book by the same name: “It starts when you separate and usually lasts about two years. It’s a time when your emotions take on a life of their own and you swing back and forth between wild euphoria and violent anger, ambivalence and deep depression, extreme timidity and rash actions. You can’t believe…how terrible you feel, how overwhelming daily tasks become, how frightened you are; about money, your health, your sanity.”

Now I’m so jaded that when I read other women’s divorce sagas, I think, “Oh, boo hoo, honey. Pick yourself up off the floor and get on with it. Pump the gas, kill the mice, fix the toilet, change the occasional light bulb, join the dating site. Because–guess what–you have no choice.”

But, as crappy as I felt during that stage, it also came with the thrill of the new and unknown. I had my work cut out for me, a fierce sense of purpose. Every day felt like a challenge, an occasion that required rising to, an endless loop of first-days-of-the-rest-of-my-life. It was often agonizing and exhausting, but there was so much intensity and drama, so much adrenalin. It was an adventure.

And now things have leveled off. I have a job; a guy. Much still remains unknown, unhealed and unclear–but Crazy Time has officially ended. It’s not exactly a let-down, it’s just so weirdly calm and orderly all of a sudden that I’m a little disoriented. I wonder what will be the source of my next adventure and what will provide meaning. Or maybe I should just embrace the stillness for a while.

(Note to the universe: I said adventure, not heartache. Meaning, not misery. Got that?)

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It’s Not About the Bok Choy
Apr 30th, 2010 by Christina

Of all the challenges that working full time has thrown my way, I am most plagued by the getting of groceries—where to get them, when to get them, and how to get them into my home from wherever they originate.

For almost a decade, I’ve been a member of a fabulous food co-op. The prices are amazing, the produce is amazing–but the amount of time, effort and psychic distress involved in membership is also, well, amazing. In order to reap the financial and health rewards the co-op offers, you pay in other ways. You have to work there for 2 hours and 45 minutes every four weeks; if you’re me, you have to figure out how to get there now that you rarely have use of a car, because the co-op is over a mile away. And the process of shopping can take hours, especially if the checkout person is new and doesn’t know her celeriac from her lacinato kale.

When I was a freelancer, I shopped at off-hours and it was manageable, but now that I work full time, it’s impossible to continue as a co-op member. Letting go is not easy. There’s a cult-like quality to belonging that makes it hard to leave the fold. I feel like an Amish teenager in rumspringa. But it had to happen. I had to leave, to experience food shopping as most of the country does.

As with any loss, the first phase was denial–which manifested itself in me as an inability to shop anywhere. I found it hard to buy food, period. I felt dirty shopping at a regular supermarket, with its clogging trans fats, its cheap-whore-like red delicious apples, its plethora of plastic bags. Where was the bok choy—the beautiful bouncing baby bok choy like they have at the co-op?  Even worse, the supermarket has the exact same feta cheese we got at the co-op, only it costs two dollars more. Two. Dollars. More.

I decided that the girls and I would forego food completely. I mean, really, it’s such a time suck—the shopping, the cooking, the endless chewing and digesting. Couldn’t we just consume very nutritious shakes and vitamins and leave it at that? I was annoyed every time the girls asked me for a snack. “Well, there’s that sprouting potato on the counter, or–hello–what about the mulberry tree out back? Anyway, do you really need to keep eating, again and again and again? It’s so common. Get over it.”

Supported by takeout, I moved through that phase and, for a few weeks, I was able to shop at the supermarket, though only in an aggressive co-op backlash mode. When I came home with Reese’s Puffs cereal and Tostitos, the girls were thrilled, though clearly worried about me. Eventually, even they confessed to missing the healthy, wheaty, crunchy stuff.

During this difficult time, ads for Fresh Direct seemed to lurk everywhere, promising to deliver freakishly photogenic foodstuffs right to my door. Naturally, I was suspicious. It seemed too good to be true.

And then, last week, it all came to a head. The potato on the countertop was growing branches worthy of a treehouse. The ancient capers in the side of the fridge door seemed like viable dinner fixins. Finally, I caved and placed an order online with FD. And it was a revelation–no lines, no car, no store to think about!  If I have to live on supermarket food, this is the way to do it. I can shop online whenever I want and the food is brought to my door–in 100% recycled boxes, no less, which almost makes up for the lack of exotic vegetables.

Yesterday, our second Fresh Direct order arrived, just as we were finishing up a legitimate dinner whipped up with ingredients from the first one. When I saw the delivery guy at the door, it was as though Prince Charming had arrived on his horse (or in this case, a white refrigerated truck).

My daughter, noticing my glee, said, “ChillMom. It’s not Santa Claus.”

Oh, but for a single mother who works full time, it is. It is!

(Fyi, I was not paid by Fresh Direct or anyone else to write this.)

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Random Musings of a Blocked Blogger
Mar 3rd, 2010 by Christina

This week I am officially blog blocked (blogcked?). It’s never that easy to come up with ideas for posts, but usually something strikes me in time for my Monday deadline.

And here it is, Wednesday already, and I’m still sadly sans inspiration.

Here’s why I think I’m having a harder-than-usual time forming a post this week:

  • My whole life has been re-arranged since I started my full-time job two weeks ago and I’m a little discombobulated. In one way, it has made everything more orderly and calm. I have clear, defined, manageable responsibilities for which I receive a bi-monthly paycheck. I spend a prescribed number of hours in a relatively pleasant cubicle working amongst a nice group of people. Plus, there is an H&M across the street, where I go almost every day during lunch and giddily buy cheap clothing.
  • On the other hand, I am now officially a single working mother who happens to live in a slightly 1950s-ish world (which makes no sense, given that I reside in the hippest, Heather-has-two-mommies part of Brooklyn, NY). It’s hard not to feel like a caricature of a divorcee when you’re the only female on the block out there shoveling her own snow.
  • I just finished reading Mary Karr’s new memoir, Lit. She is such a gifted writer that it feels pointless to crank out another sentence.
  • The main problem, though, is that I’m a little confused about which way to go with this blog, having gotten mixed messages from my readers lately. Some tell me that the honesty and openness in my posts is disarming and brave. (One person said reading my blog made him “more than a little uncomfortable, in a good way,” which made me more than a little uncomfortable in a not-so-good way.) Others tell me I skim the surface and should dig deeper. I struggle enormously with this myself. I want to reveal more about certain aspects of my life and separation, but then, just as I’m on the verge of oversharing, I am paralyzed by the thought of certain people reading certain things. It’s vexing.

Thanks for letting me ramble (not that you had a choice). I’d love some thoughtful feedback on that last dilemma. If you write about personal stuff, how do you decide where to draw the line?

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To Sleep, Perchance to…Sleep?
Feb 23rd, 2010 by Christina

I had occasionally experienced the nightmare of insomnia prior to that upsetting, unsettling Fall of 2007 (when the gods of marriage decided to wreak havoc), but that was child’s play compared to what lay ahead.

In fact, what marked the decade prior to our separation was just the opposite–that is, my inability to stay awake. There were our baby girls, whose mission in life was to alternately delight us with their adorableness and kill us with their sleeplessness (how, how, how could both of them–so different in so many ways–insist on being identical in their aggressive nap-aversion??) Even when they finally slept through the night, the little darlings were exhausting–yes, just as young children are supposed to be, but still…

Maybe I was catching up from all that sleep deprivation–or maybe there just wasn’t enough can’t-miss TV to keep me conscious, but there was a stretch of time when I simply could not keep my eyes open much later than 9:20 pm–and that was after taking a little nap from 8:15-9:00 pm while lying with one of the girls as she went to sleep (R was even more prone to those than I, btw.)

Anyway, back to the fateful Fall of 2007, when I won a gold medal in insomnia. (Sorry, I can’t resist the corny Olympic allusion.) As life as I’d known it began to unravel, I craved sleep more than anything, desperate for relief from my  incessant ruminating over why this happened, how it happened, how it might be reversed, undone, what would become of us, of me, of our kids, who was to blame, what would we do on holidays, how could we tell our families, why, how, when, when, how, why, why, when, how?

One night I called one of my friends–a chronic insomniac–and asked her for some sleeping pills. I went to her house at around 11 pm to score one precious Lunesta, her next-to-last one. I split it in half so I’d have some for the following night, but the next evening, I couldn’t find the little shard of snooze and things got ugly. I rifled through my drawers and my bedside table like a junkie, then crawled around on the floor, on the verge of taking a crow bar to the floorboards in order to locate that fraction of a pill. I didn’t find it and spent the night tossing and ruminating next to my snoring soon-to-be-ex. The next morning I had my doctor write me a prescription for Ambien.

Once R finally moved out, I weaned myself off of Ambien and learned to sleep unaided once again. Since starting my job last week, I’ve developed a new sleep-related neurosis: I so hate the rude awakening of my alarm clock that I’ve started waking up at 3, 4, 5 am just so I can make sure to turn it off before it rings.

Come on, that scrap of Lunesta has to be somewhere.

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Farewell to Freelance
Feb 1st, 2010 by Christina

So it’s Monday afternoon and I’m at work, which means my laptop and I are cuddled up in bed together. I’m wearing jeans, a tank top and socks with Christmas trees on them; messy hair, no make-up. It is 2:43pm and I have not yet interacted with soap and water today.

This is the professional lifestyle I’ve been leading since before my 13-year-old was born. Way back when, I did the thing where you set an alarm clock, shower in the morning and head to an office, but then I snagged a breadwinner-type husband, became a mother, and settled into what, for a long time, was an ideal arrangement: I was part-time stay-at-home-mom, part-time freelance journalist–able to interview Gloria Steinem or research rheumatoid arthritis in the morning and spend the afternoon hosting playdates or going to the playground.

And then, as we know, my life changed a little. The relatively warm, fluffy loaf of bread that R provided for a family of four living under one roof became a thin smattering of crumbs when that family started living under two roofs. (Doesn’t it seem like it should be rooves?)  Add the fact that the recession has put many publications out of business or eliminated their freelance budgets, and my semi-luxurious work-from-home existence went poof. (If Gloria Steinem needs to be interviewed now, they’ll make her do it herself.)

So, big news here in the land of the midlife makeover: Two weeks from now, I am going back to work full time in an office, where I will write about health for a series of consumer-friendly booklets and–get this–be given a regular paycheck for doing so. Apparently that means I’ll get paid even if I don’t call the accounting department 7 or 8 times first, which boggles the mind in such a good way. (Fellow freelancers, I know you hear me.)

I. Am. So. Psyched.

True, there are trade-offs. I won’t be able to take my sweaty yoga class at noon or grocery shop anytime I feel like it, and my younger daughter, especially, will not see me as much, which makes me sad. I might have to dust off my Crock-Pot so that a nutritious dinner is ready when I get home. (Got recipes? I want them.) I won’t work lying in bed in a tank top anymore, and when I wear my Christmas-tree socks, no one will know, because, well, Mama needs a new pair of shoes, and now it looks like she might get them.

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