Life is a roller coaster.  Nothing is ever the same.  One moment, you’re enjoying vacations with your family, the next, your divorced, then you learn to love yourself and be completely content with living life with your family and friends and knowing you are not alone, even without a significant other.  And then, you meet someone, unexpectedly.  Life is filled with twists and turns, and sometimes even a loop-de-loop.  I have learned to raise my hands high and enjoy the roller coaster. 

So let’s chat about blended families.  Most of my girlfriends have younger kids.  The decision to introduce someone to the kids is huge, and you want to be careful with the kiddos of who you introduce.   With older kids, it’s a bit different.  My kids are only home during college breaks and the summer.  I really didn’t have to worry too much about introductions for a while.  But, one day, my daughter met him on accident.  He was trying to get out the door before she got home, but we were just enjoying chatting and lost track of time.  They met briefly.  It took a long time for me to really let him in and have her join us for dinner.  But once the meetings were intentional, I knew I had really let my walls down. 

I met his son too.  When he allowed us to meet, I knew he was letting his walls down too.  The intention of introductions to your kids feels huge.  There is the idea that you are that important that they want to share you with the most important people in their life.  Eventually, he met my son and I met his daughter.  Let the blending begin. 

When he moved in, he gave me phone numbers for his kids and his sisters, for emergencies.  I did the same for him.  I was really careful to not use them.  Blending and introducing young kids, I’m sure is super scary and challenging.  You have questions such is discipline and when to have sleep overs and leaving kids alone with the significant other and telling the other parent.  But, it’s difficult with adult children also.  Our kids have been so accepting.  That has not been a challenge at all.  We are both so fortunate to have children that want nothing more than to see their parents happy.  I love that about my kids and I love that about his kids.  But, my kids have a step mom (I have written about steps before), and she has never stepped on my toes as a mom.  Our kids are adults and they all have both their parents.  His kids have a mom.  My kids have a dad.  The challenge is to make sure the kids know you are not there to replace anyone.

I am someone who is in their lives because I love their dad to bits.  The three of us have a common desire, and that is to see their dad happy and smiling.  For that, I am so grateful to them.  I have no intentions of stepping on their toes.  I don’t need to be a mother to them.  They have a mom.  I would never want to replace that.  Just as I would never want someone to step in and replace me as a mom.  I will be there for them and be excited for their successes and want to support them through challenges, but when it comes to advice, I am here if they want it, but will never push anything on them. 

Meeting family has been amazing also.  My family has welcomed him with open arms.  They had been dying to meet the man that has put a smile on my face and allowed me to be completely myself.  It’s always scary introducing someone to the family.  But they love that he makes me happy. 

A month ago I went with him and his daughter and grandson to meet his sisters.  They were so completely welcoming.  They loved seeing their brother happy.  And to hear him talk about me, about the little notes I hide for him every morning, they could see his face light up.  His sisters and their families are amazing.  I loved hearing about their parents and growing up.  They pulled out family albums.  I just felt like I belonged.  We went to celebrate their father’s birthday.  The first birthday since he passed away.  I wanted to make sure I was respectful of that.  I stepped back from family pictures, so they could have their family moments.  They pulled me right in anyway. Blending…

Our families have not met, but we continue to grow together as a family unit. We continue to blend and I am loving every moment of it. I look forward to building relationships with his family and watching him build relationships with mine.

Steps…Hard Work but Beautiful Views

Have you ever climbed the steps to the top of a lighthouse? It is really tough climbing those steps. But when you get to the top, the views are beautiful. But those are not the steps I am writing about today.

Most of my girlfriends are divorced. The idea of their exes bringing a new woman into the lives of their children is scary. Every experience is different, but I can share mine…

I can remember when I came to terms with the fact that this new person was in my ex’s life, and would be in my kids’ lives. I can’t lie. I was angry, hurt, scared. How is it fair that some stranger gets to spend half of my kids’ lives with them? I am their mom. It is unfair that I only see them half the time. I was hurt that my kids accepted her into their lives. I was scared they would love her more, and forget I was their mom. Reality has a way of slapping you in the face.

I can also remember when she first started coming to watch my kids play sports. It was the hardest thing in the world. I would sit in the bleachers, quietly, with tears in my eyes. When my daughter would look up to her, in the stands, my heart sank. I felt like I was losing her. Like my fears were becoming reality.

My daughter started coming to the house with cute new clothes. Was she taking her shopping? It broke my heart to think another woman was taking on a maternal role for my kids. It was probably the scariest thing I have ever faced.

My first step to acceptance, being grateful that she was coming to support my kids in their sports. She must like my kids to bring her very young daughter out, close to bed time, to support my kids. My daughter, looking at her in the stands, means my daughter feels loved. It was a step forward.

But then my daughter said it…she called her her stepmom (they weren’t even married yet), and she called her daughter, her sister. Honestly speaking, those words were so hard to hear. The fear started sinking in again. I mean, the word mom is in stepmom, so I was being replaced, right? My insecurities said yes. It was time to regroup.

I had to step back and realize, I was in rough shape. I wasn’t capbable of having a meaningful relationship. It was clear in my insecurites when dating. All my baggage was stopping me from opening up to anyone. It was the same with my kids. My insecurity was toxic. I cried a lot. My kids had a hard time seeing me so unhappy. It was never supposed to be their job to make me happy. That was something only I could do.

At the time, I relied so much on my parents and my sister and her family. I really didn’t have anyone else. I had friends at work who I could talk with openly, but when I did talk, I would cry, and that was not condusive for working. So, I found some girlfriends…nope, a tribe. A group of other divorced women who were going through or had been through this. These friendships were so fulfilling. They brought happiness to my life. I had to step out of my comfort zone to meet them and I had to open my heart to trust them. But the reward was true happiness. I became a different person….

I became a person my kids felt comfortable to be around again. I become fun. I smiled, I laughed. By this time, my kids were both in college. But I could look back and see, I never lost them. They never replaced me. What I learned was that they did not have to replace me. Someone new was brought into their lives who respected me, as their mother. I can remember my daughter’s graduation party. Her little sister was so excited to meet her mom. Kids are funny. They can’t pretend. So, when she was so excited to meet me, and gave me an adoring look, my heart melted. All this fear of being replaced was silly. Not only was I not being replaced, but I was very much a part of my daughter’s life and the life of her sister. Not because she knew who I was, but because I was a special place where her big sister would go for a few nights. And the look she gave me, told me she felt it was a happy place. It felt pretty special.

When my daughter was struggling, emotionally, with her Lyme, it was her stepmom that had connections in State College to get her the help she needed. The reality was, my kids didn’t just have someone new around them. They had her, her daughter and family and friends around them. More people to love my kids. More people to look out for them. And I am so grateful to her for what she has given to them.

I have had friends that are in the same boat as I am. Thrilled for the kids to have someone new in their lives that loves them. Others are still coming to terms with it and still frightened. The climb up those steps is a long hard climb, but if the steps are right and you can figure out how to get to the top, believe me, those Steps can lead to something beautiful.

Just When You Get a Handle on Things

I have been through the separation and divorce process. It’s a roller coaster. But one thing I remember, is that just when you feel as though you have a handle on things, you realize how close you are to the actual divorce being final and BOOM! You have to find a place to live. Leaving the place you have lived and not knowing where you are going can be so scary.

I lived in my home for 11 years. My kids were raised in that home. We had family gatherings, birthdays, nerf wars, pool parties, lots of first days of schools, lots of movie nights… Sophia learned to cook in that kitchen. Our amazing dog, Shiloh, is buried there. The thought of leaving all that was heartbreaking. How could I leave all those memories? Not to mention, where was I going to go. Do I rent? Do I buy? What can I afford with my salary. It became very real that I might have to move in with my parents. I love my parents so much, but at 43, and dating again, I really did not like that option. I needed and wanted my independence. I can’t tell you how much I cried about not knowing what was next for me.

I realized the only option for me was to buy. I couldn’t afford rent in Loudoun County. I also knew I no longer wanted to live in the same town. Quite frankly, it was too small and I really had no friends keeping me there. Everyone was too busy with their lives and I certainly didn’t belong in any group.

So, the house hunting began. It’s very difficult to not just jump at the first place you see, due to sheer panic. But, with a lot of help from my mom, I had the patience to wait for the perfect home.

But this isn’t about my perfect home and loving where I am now. It’s about realizing that sometimes, we feel like we have everything under control, only to find another hurdle in our path. A big hurdle. It’s the idea that when you get divorced, if you have children or something else that keeps you connected with your ex, you will always be going through the divorce. Things happen that can knock the wind right out of you. Things you were never expecting. I still continue to have the wind knocked out of me, but I have learned that I am in control of how much power I give someone. And I am done giving someone else power over me. Not in a way that brings me down.

A couple of years ago, when my ex knocked the wind out of me, I couldn’t breathe for days. I would get so down. Now, when the wind gets knocked out of me, I step back and wonder why this person still has power over me. This is someone who I would never choose to be friends with, if given a chance. I can be nice, and get along very well, and I will mean it. But, I really don’t care what he feels about me, so there is no reason I cannot hold strong to my boundaries. So, that’s what I do. I stick with my values, with my boundaries. If my kids get mad, it’s okay. Some day they will understand where I am coming from. If their dad gets mad…well, I really don’t care.

No matter how long you have been divorced, if you have children, the ex will always be in your life. Figure out what you are willing to compromise and what you are not. For me, I have learned that sticking to our Property Settlement Agreement is a much better way to handle things, because it’s binding and easier to set my boundaries that way. Know what works for you and stick with it. Don’t let someone rule your life and your emotions, even if you can’t get them out of your life for a long time.

Finding a New Tribe

When I first got separated, I suddenly found out all my friends were mutual friends…and most were married. And, I realized how much I had neglected my friendships. I had a wonderful group of women who used to invite me to wineries and to go glamping with them. I always found excuses because I didn’t want to leave my family for a weekend, or even an evening. I regret that decision of giving up some amazing friendships. I still consider these women my friends and love them, but I isolated myself. So, separated and isolated, I was on a journey to reconnect with old friends and make new ones. I started with old friends. I was able to reconnect with a few and go out with them some. But I still felt like I didn’t have a tribe, like I really didn’t belong. I joined MeetUp, but never went to anything. I realized I had anxiety about going somewhere with a lot of strangers.

What I really wanted, no needed, was a group of women with whom I could share my feelings, and they would just get it. Women who have understood the roller coaster ride of separation and divorce. Women who know what it’s like to put a smile on your face for your kids, so they don’t see all the tears you shed, and so they never see you as less than the strong woman you want them to know. Women who have to learn how to date again and trust again after a loss of a marriage. But how do you find a group of women like this, and seriously, they would have so much crap going on…how would they get along.

So, on a whim, I thought I would try social media. I didn’t feel like I had any other outlet for meeting people. I happened to find a group for women who were either separated or divorced. It was a nice group and every day the administrator would post very positive messages. Many times,these messages were spot on to how I was feeling. the administrator and I reached out to each other and met up for dinner. I was so excited at the possibilty of a new friend. I never imagined where this would lead.

Not long after meeting this woman, we decided to have a meetup at a local coffee shop. There were only a few of us there, but I could feel something changing. The group of us ranged from someone having been divorced many many years to someone who had only been separated for a matter of a few weeks. I made a couple new friends.

The group continued online and served as a place for great resources and even better support. sometimes, on really bad days, I felt comfortable sharing with the group. I always got support. I didn’t always like what someone said, but I took the advice and used it to better my situation. Eventually, there were more meetups, with a bigger group. Many were the same women, with a few new women to meet each time. It was amazing! We all had very different experiences, yet we all just knew what to say to each other, how to comfort each other. This last year, connecting with these women, has been one of the best experiences. We meet up regularly, as a group. But some of us get together outside the group.

Some of us have been in the dating scene. We all support each other in our endeavors and share our horror stories. There have been times I have laughed so hard I almost peed…okay, maybe I peed a little. But the adventures of dating will be another post.

Christmas, well, we got each other through the holiday. Those of us who did not have our kids on Christmas Day met up for a movie and dinner. We gave each other something to look forward to. We are working on a girls weekend. Something very inexpensive because, well, we are all rebuilding and pinching pennies. But, I cant think of a better group of ladies to spend the weekend with.

So, to my Tribe, thank you all for being so supportive. For lifting me up on days I struggle. Thank you for allowing me to help you through bad days. Thank you for listening to my adventures and sharing yours with me. Thank you for your honesty. But mostly, thank you to all of you for being the type of women to straighten each others’ crowns. Your friendship has been life changing.

Faith, Trust and Pixie Dust

I always try to go through life with a pretty positive outlook, but sometimes, life can get the best of me. Hey, I can’t be Wonder Woman all the time. But seriously, I just wrote about predicting, preparing and planning for those moments through which we know we are going to struggle. But how do we deal with those slap you in the face moments? What I’ve learned, is that those moments hit me when I am pretty exhausted. As my therapist has told me, I tend to attack life and try to make the most of it, but then I get so tired I crash and burn. So here I am. I’ve spent the last week or so worried about medical test results, working a lot of extra hours, trying to be super excited about dating in a dating world of men who really seem to only want one thing, and trying to figure out when in the heck I’m going to get my Christmas shopping done. Did I mention I haven’t been to the grocery store in 2 weeks. Yep, even a Wonder Woman goes through struggles.

I always say I never want anyone to dull my shine. I try to spread pixie dust wherever I go, however, sometimes I lose all faith and trust, and…well, we know what happens next. No more pixie dust. What next?

How do you hold onto your faith? I grew up going to church on Easter. I didn’t focus too much on my faith in God. I believed, but never questioned, never understood. To be able to see through the eyes of a child again. It wasn’t until after my children were born that I really wanted to explore my faith. Turns out my mom, my sister and I all decided, apart from each other, to start reading through the Bible, at the same time. I started taking Bible studies and going to church. I had a strong faith, stronger than I knew. I suffered from anxiety and learned to turn to God. Faith helped me through some very anxious moments. I felt like I was faithful and strong in that faith. When infidelity rocked my trust to the core, I turned to my pastor and I turned to God. What was wrong with me that I wasn’t good enough for my husband? I had two young children, no job, and no idea how to be on my own. I always said cheating was a deal breaker, but was I strong enough to call it off when faced with it? I wasn’t. I felt trapped, like I had no way out. So, my husband and I went to counseling and worked through everything and worked hard to make our marriage work. I felt like I made it through that dark period in my life with faith. I questioned it, I yelled at God, I was angry. But I was comforted, I was given strength and hope, and I was able to move forward.

After my trust was completely shattered I realized how strong my faith was. I continued with church. I was presented with an amazing job opportunity. Quite frankly, I felt as if the ground work was being laid for me to become a much stronger, more independent woman, should I ever be faced with having to go through life alone.

9 years later, my faith was still strong and it still continued to help me through anxiety. But then it happened. That silly trust thing…again. I had told my husband we would not survive another breach in trust like that. We didn’t. I saw it coming a mile away and I fought it and fought it. My self esteem was already in the shitter (sorry for the language). But let me tell you what infidelity does. It takes that self esteem out of the toilet and sends it all the way to Middle Earth somewhere. The feelings of unimportance, insiginificance, hatred for yourself; they all come to the surface. What was wrong with me? What did I do wrong? And the comparisons, oh the comparisons to the other person. I totally went there for a little while. I cried…I cried until I could barely see because my eyes were so swollen. I would get sick because my nose was so stuffed. My dog, he learned to run when I sobbed. I can remember what my prayers were. I used to pray that God would just take me out of the world and end my suffering. I was tired. I had no fight in me. I felt pathetic. And I felt like I had lost everything.

So, through all this, despite my very glum prayers, I tried to hang on to my faith. My church family was amazing. I continued to go to church, but my in-laws were there. I went for months and sat through services and couldn’t hear a word the pastor was saying, as I spent the entire hour fighting back tears and, yes, sometimes having to walk out in the middle of the service. My friends and my faith were here but I began feeling so abandoned by God. If my faith was so strong, why was he presenting me with challenges that I could not handle? Every week, I thought it would be better. I could be having a great day, but the moment I stepped into the church, I felt empty…even lost. I stopped going. I just couldn’t do it anymore.

It’s been over three years and I have gone back to church. My daughter plays her flute there on occasion and I always love to hear her. When I go back, sometimes it feels like I’m going home. Everyone is so wonderful and so welcoming. But I have yet to feel the comfort of God’s arms wrapped around me. I still talk to God, but I don’t have the confidence that my prayers are heard. I don’t know that my faith in God will ever be restored. At this point, I try to solely rely on my faith in myself. To know that I am strong and kind and that I’m not unimportant or insignificant. I try to go through life seeing the glass half full.

So, this brings us to trust. My trust in people has been completely rocked to the core. When I first started dating I didn’t trust that anything was real. It took a long time for me to find someone with whom I let those walls down. It was amazing! I could be me and I could let myself be vulnerable. Maybe life didn’t have to be so hard. Boy was I wrong. The silliest of arguments and he called it all off. Not only did he call it off, but he attacked my character and said some pretty awful things. So, at this point, I not only lost trust in another human being. I lost trust in my judgment. My red flags were up on our first date, and I let him convince me otherwise. My trust in myself is completely shattered.

But through this, I have some amazing family and friends that have seen me through pretty rough times. They have my back and I do know that. They are my cheering section and during those rough days, I can hear them all clapping their hands and yelling, “I believe, I believe, I believe!” So, I may never fully gain my faith in God, and I may always struggle with trusting myself and my judgment, but my family and friends will ALWAYS make sure I have my pixie dust so that I never, ever lose my sparkle.

“All you need is FAITH, TRUST and a little PIXIE DUST.” – Peter Pan

Predict, Prepare, Plan

Let me share with you what Christmas looks like for me. Since I was little, my family has always celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve night. We have a wonderful dinner and open presents. It’s amazing family time. When I was little, on Christmas Day, we spent the day in our jammies, playing with our toys. We had leftovers for dinner and it was a day for relaxation. When I started dating my ex (I was still in high school), Chrismas Day was spent with his family. When I got separated, the division of Christmas was a no-brainer. The kids spent Christmas Eve with me and my family and they went to their dad’s on Christmas Day. But I had never been alone on Christmas Day.

July 4th is my son’s birthday. It used to be a huge celebration. When I was married, we had a huge party with the family and all our friends. In the evening we always had the big fireworks. It was a big family day for us. This has become a tough day for me. The kids come to my house in the morning and I make homemade chicken and waffles (my son’s favorite meal). Usually they bring a couple friends over also, and we do presents. But, for fireworks, the kids usually head to their dad’s for his birthday dinner. I have an amazing view of the fireworks from my house and I watch them with my neighbors. But I don’t have my kids with me to watch the show. It’s not just the divorce, but a part of kids growing up that creates this time, but it still happens.

I can remember how tough those first nights home alone were, when I first got separated. I hated not having the kids home with me. But, when I found out my kids had been staying with their dad, at his girlfriend’s house, for months, without tell me, well, that made me being alone in my house even tougher. This was more unbearable than Christmas and July 4th.

I think now is as good a time as any to talk about a strategy for defeating those moments that can bring you down. It may be a weekend alone, or going to event and knowing you have to see your ex, or, it may be the ex’s year for Christmas. These moments happen all the time. Some of them just smack us in the face, but there are some for which we can emotionally prepare. Why let the predictable moments smack us in the face when we can be ready for them and kick those moments in the ass. My counselor gave me great advice on handling these moments. So I would love to pass this advice along to you.

There are moments we dread. We just know they are going to stop us in our tracks. This is where the Predict comes in. Do inventory. Check your calendar. What difficult times are coming up? Make a list of those times.

Now that you’ve predicted those moments, it’s time to Prepare. How are you going to feel? What is going to make you feel better? Will being with friends help? Or how about a bubble bath or reading a book? Maybe an entire weekend away will help. Prepare yourself for how you will feel and what you will need in your life to get you through.

Make a Plan. Try to make them as early as possible. Call a friend and plan a night (or a weekend) out. Have something set up to do at home (maybe cook a gourmet meal, with dessert, and hit up Red Box and watch a good movie). Whatever the plan, make it as early as possible. Once you have a plan, you will look forward to the moment and kick that feeling of dread right in the ass. See, you’re Wonder Woman. You did it!!!

So, with the holidays coming up, some of us may be in the need to predict, prepare and plan. It’s a tough alone holiday. Stores are closed, restaurants are closed. But guess what, the movie theaters are open. There are some great movies coming out…Mary Poppins, Rocket Man… Whatever you plan, be excited about it!

Let’s Start at the Beginning

It’s really hard to decide where the beginning really is. I separated from my ex-husband 3 1/2 years ago. Our divorce was finalized 2 years ago. This August, my youngest joined her brother at Penn State University. They took my dog with them, as my daughter has Lyme and is using him as an emotional support dog. I can’t lie, I was looking forward to having my dog with me so I wasn’t alone in my home. So, what did I do? I rescued a dog. Marshall. He’s pretty amazing!!!

In the last few years, I’ve worked really hard to create a better relationship with my kids. I’ve gone through the dating world (it’s entertaining, but almost more stressful than it’s worth). I underwent 2 surgeries last year. I had back surgery, and I also had half my colon removed. Yep, I now have a semicolon. I just got out of a year long relationship. I thought I loved him, but turns out, I think I was way more in love with having someone. The moment he got drunk and started putting me down, I was out the door. I know I deserve better than that, and won’t stand to be treated that way.

One of the best things I did after my divorce…I joined a local Facebook group for women who are separated and divorced. When I got separated, I realized I did not have friends that were mine. They were all mine with my ex-husband. And, since they were all football friends, and the ex was one of the high school football coaches, the loyalty went to him so their kids’ could get playing time. So, back to the drawing board with friends. So, my new friends are amazing. We are all in similar places in life and can be completely ourselves with each other. I love these ladies. When I’m down, they are there. When I am excited about something, they are there. We come from all walks of life, but it works for us all.

So, that’s pretty much the cliffnotes of my last 3 years. The dating adventures have been fun, and I’m getting ready to get back in the saddle again. I’m looking forward to sharing lessons I’ve learned along the way, as long as some fun and entertaining experiences in my life. I’m sure not all things will be fun, because, after all, it’s life. And life has a way of throwing crazy curveballs at us.