a different new normal

Random side note: I started to just call this post “the new normal,” then realized I already had a post with that title, written a few months after my separation, and about a month after moving into the rental house I currently live in. Even though that was less than two years ago, it’s a bit surreal to go back and read blog posts from that point in my life.

It’s strange how quickly life can shift and you can fall into a new routine. Over the past few months, Chris has become such a part of my daily life, and the transition has felt completely natural.

On the evenings he comes over, he walks in the door and the girls run to give him hugs. Lucy is particularly attached to him. She can’t say his name quite right – she calls him Tiss instead of Chris – but she wants him to carry her everywhere, she’ll snuggle up to him with her face in his neck, and she’ll put her hands on his face and say, “You MY Tiss.” (She does the same with me – “you MY mama,” and my dad gets a, “you MY Pop-Pop,” etc. It’s basically her way of saying “I love you” in Lucy-speak.)

He keeps Lucy distracted for me while I help Catie with her homework, and he does the dishes and cleans up while I give the girls their bath. Lucy always wants me to snuggle with her at bedtime, so Catie will ask Chris to come snuggle with her, and I’ll hear them across the room in her bed, whispering about video games or dinosaurs or whatever as I get Lucy settled to sleep.

When he sleeps over, he helps me get the kids ready in the morning by getting Lucy dressed, brushing out her hair, and getting her shoes on.

A lot of times on the weekends (like this past Sunday), we take the girls to IHOP for breakfast.

IHOP on Sunday. I like these little traditions.

We even have our little IHOP routine down: Catie gets her create-a-face pancake (no bananas, extra strawberries), Chris gets a chicken fajita omelet, and I order too much for myself and share with Lucy because she can’t eat a whole kid’s entree by herself. I take Lucy to use the potty before the food comes, because it keeps her distracted so she doesn’t get grumpy in the restaurant. It’s like a drill that we have down pat.

Both kids hid from my camera at the same time
(No reason for this picture, I just think it’s funny – Catie was hiding from my iPhone camera, so Lucy decided she would hide from my camera too.)

And it’s totally easy and everything just sort of falls into place. People see us and just assume that we’re a normal couple with 2 kids. Unless they check our left ring fingers, I suppose.

Having Chris around so much makes my life easier in so many ways, and for that, I am so incredibly grateful.

It’s also incredibly scary, because it makes me feel so much more invested in our relationship. Before, my only concern was about my own heart getting broken if things didn’t work out with us. But now, I also have to worry about Catie and Lucy too. They really have gotten attached to Chris, and I love that they love him. But they’ve already lost one father figure (ok, Dave is still around, but he’s 3000 miles away, so… yeah), and while Chris is not their dad or even a step-dad (and won’t be, since I’m still firmly in the I-will-never-get-remarried** camp), I love that he’s a positive male influence in their lives, and I don’t want them to lose that.

But then, maybe it’s a good thing that it scares me. Maybe it’s a good motivator to do the work to make sure our relationship stays healthy and strong, to make sure we keep communicating well, and that we don’t take each other for granted.

Because honestly? I really love where we are right now, and I don’t want it to change.

And then Lucy clocked me in the eye right as I took a pic.

Even when Lucy clocks me in the eye right as I take a picture.


** About the not-getting-remarried-ever thing: a lot of people have mentioned this to me, because it seems like a lot of y’all want me to get remarried. And I kind of get that. But there are a couple of factors here: one, that my own personal experience with marriage is that it pretty much sucks. And two, I have to consider how something like that would affect my kids. My rule for now is that marriage is not for me, but I reserve the right to change my mind when I’m 53 years old. Which is how old I’ll be when Lucy turns 18. So for all of y’all who want to see me get married again: ask me about it in 2029. Until then, no thanks.

learning how to get mad

A few months ago, when I started seeing a psychiatrist about my anxiety issues, she tried changing my meds. It didn’t really help, and the new medications had some really awful side effects. There were a few other factors in this decision-making process, but working with my doctor, we decided to try weaning me off of all medications to see how I’d do.

I added in a magnesium supplement and a couple of other herbal remedies that are supposed to naturally help with anxiety. And for the most part, I’ve been doing really well.

One weird thing, though: not being on an SSRI means that I’m suddenly feeling ALL of my feelings. I’m happier, yes absolutely, but I also cry more easily and I get frustrated more often. These are not bad things, mind you, just part of the basic human experience which I more-or-less medicated myself out of, for the past two years.

But I have a very hard time dealing with anger. When I’m in a relationship with someone, I don’t know how to fight. It basically scares me to death.

Growing up, my parents argued a lot (they still do, really) – and I remember going to my room and turning my music up so I wouldn’t hear them. They fought dirty, and they were mean to each other. I never wanted a relationship like that.

When I was married, I thought it was great that Dave and I never fought – how perfect is our relationship? We never even argue about anything! Turns out, that’s actually not a good thing, it just leads to years of anger and resentment build-up. And we all saw how well that ended, right?

I don’t really know where the in-between is, but I’m trying to find it with Chris. For the most part, we’re still in the shmoopy lovey-dovey phase where everything is all passion and sex, but we’ve talked about how this is something I struggle with, and I don’t want it to become a problem in our relationship.

And last night, I got angry. Well, specifically, he made me angry. I’m not even going to get into the whole backstory because it’s just way too long and drawn out to even start, but it happened. And I said the words out loud, “I’m really mad at you right now.” And the world didn’t end. He didn’t dismiss my feelings, or emotionally shut down and withdraw from me, or say something nasty and hateful in return. He hugged me and tried to make me talk about it. Which I couldn’t really do (there was a lot of “why do you think [whatever]?” questions which I could only answer with an “I don’t know”), but we tried.

Whenever we hit some new emotional raw nerve, I always feel sort of shaky and needy the next day. This was no exception. He spent the night last night (something he’s been doing a lot lately, which makes me happy), and before he left for work, I hugged him as hard as I could and buried my face in his chest.

He asked if I was ok.

I said, “Promise me you’ll still come back tonight.”

He said yes.

I said, “Then I’m ok.”

I don’t know if this is normal, I feel like I should be doing a better job at keeping my shit together emotionally than I do. But I appreciate that he’s trying to help make me stronger and more articulate about my feelings.

That whole personal growth thing, though. Man, that’s tough.

the first boyfriend sleepover

I’ve mentioned before that Chris and I have been taking things pretty slowly and carefully with our kids and what they’re exposed to, as far as our relationship. And I think it’s gone really well – our kids get along well together, and his kids seem to like me, and my girls adore him.

One of the things that he and I have talked about many times, but hadn’t actually done yet, is having a sleepover when the kids are in the house. On the nights when Chris doesn’t have his kids, sometimes he’ll come over for dinner and hang out until after the girls go to bed, but typically he’ll come over around 9 p.m., after the girls are already asleep, and he leaves to go home long before they wake up in the morning.

Saturday was a little different. We met up with our kids at Pullen Park and let them play together. Chris’s mom was also there, which made me a little nervous, but this is the second time I’ve met her, and she seems to like me as far as I can tell. (Older Southern women can be hard to read. They’re going to act like they like you, no matter what, because that whole Southern Hospitality Gene is fully ingrained in their personalities.)

The kids had a great time, although it was ridiculously hot and sweaty at the park. After a couple of hours, we split up – he took his kids to their mom’s house, and I picked up Jasmine (my girls’ favorite baby-sitter) on our way home.

The plan had been that we’d go back to our respective homes and clean up, and then Chris would pick me up for a date night on Saturday night. I showered and got dressed while the girls hung out with Jasmine (seriously, teenagers are the BEST), and I ordered pizza for them to have while I was out. It was getting kind of late, and Chris hadn’t gotten to my house yet, which was odd.

Then he called and said, “Sooooo, I think we’re having dinner at Bonefish Grill.”

Me: “Ok, that’s fine with me, but why there?”

Him: “Because my car just broke down next to it.”

Yikes. So, instead of him picking me up, I hopped in my car and took off to pick him up. He had managed to get his car into a parking space by coasting downhill into a shopping center. He called his mechanic (who happens to be a friend of his), and he said he’d come out to meet him the next morning to look at the car. But basically he was stranded with me from Saturday night until around 11:00 a.m. on Sunday morning.

And that’s the backstory on how we had our first official sleepover with the kids in the house. He couldn’t leave before they woke up, because his car was dead in a parking lot five miles from my house.

Around 6 a.m. on Sunday morning, Lucy came to get in bed with me, the way she always does. I let her climb in, but I said, “Look, baby, Chris is here too, see?” I didn’t want her to be scared, and she wasn’t, she just looked kind of confused. I scooted into the middle of the bed and pulled her up next to me, and she kept craning her head up to look over me at Chris, like, “Huh. Well this isn’t part of our routine.” Then finally she lay back down and went to sleep for a while.

(Side note just because some people may read this and wonder: everyone was sleeping fully clothed. T-shirts and pajama pants all around. Just in case anyone was worried.)

By 8:30, Catie came into my room too, which woke us all up. She saw Chris was there and was totally unfazed. Lucy was happy by then too, and I turned on the TV in my bedroom for the kids to watch cartoons for a while. They climbed all over us and tickled each other and laughed, and it was a really great little moment there.

Finally, we got out of bed and got dressed, then went out for pancakes, before taking Chris to his car to meet up with his mechanic friend. (It turned out to be a dead alternator. It’s fixed now.)

I love that my girls love him and are totally at ease with him. In fact, on Sunday morning, I fussed at Lucy for something (I don’t even remember what, it just got a, “no ma’am, we don’t do that” from me), and she ran to Chris and buried her face in his neck for comfort. And Catie gives him hugs and kisses whenever she can.

Lucy watches Bubble Guppies on The Guy's lap while Catie shows him her iPad game. #love

Watching how easily their relationship has developed makes me really happy. He’s great with his own kids, I should’ve known that he’d be equally great with mine.

Later on Sunday, I had this conversation in the car with Catie:

Me: “Hey, Bug, I need a favor. How about we don’t tell Pop-Pop that Chris spent the night?”

Catie: “Ok, but why?”

Me: “Well, Pop-Pop thinks that boys & girls shouldn’t spend the night together unless they’re married.”

Catie: “Why does he think that?”

Me: “You know, babe, Pop-Pop is just old, and there were certain things people believed when he was young that we don’t believe anymore, but he still does, even though it’s stuff that doesn’t matter anymore. Does that make sense?”

Catie: “Is this like how he sometimes says bad things about black people?”

Me: “Yes, exactly like that. We know that’s wrong, and we don’t believe that anymore, but that’s how things were when Pop-Pop was growing up, so he still thinks that way.”

Catie: “That’s silly.”

Me: “Yep, it sure is.”

And then she dropped it, and she hasn’t said a word about the sleepover since then. I know my dad will eventually find out, and I’m sure he’ll flip his lid, because even after two kids, he can’t handle the idea that maybe I’m not a virgin anymore. But as much as I love my dad, he doesn’t get to dictate the rules of my relationship. So, if/when he finds out and gets upset, we’ll deal with it. That’s just life.

But right now? Life is really, really good.

divorced mom rules

I suppose it’s universally known that divorce sucks, right? I mean, that’s no secret. And it’s worse when there are little kids involved. Again: not a secret.

But I’ve always had this rule, that I will do everything in my power to limit what the kids are exposed to. Dave and I go through phases where we get along, and phases where we don’t, but the kids don’t hear about it when we’re fighting. I never want them to feel like they’re being put in the middle, or forced to pick sides.

Since Dave lives in Seattle and we’re in North Carolina, I do whatever I can to try to facilitate the girls’ relationship with their dad. If they ask to have a FaceTime chat with him, unless it’s in the middle of the night, I always text him to see if he can talk to them. I try to make sure they get as much time with him as possible when he’s in town. Sometimes it’s inconvenient or hard for me personally, but I put my own feelings aside for their benefit. What am I going to say, “no I won’t text Daddy to see if he can chat, because I’m really annoyed with him right now”? He’s their dad, they have a right to a relationship with him, and the way I see it, it’s my job to help that along however I can.

I thought this was just a common sense rule of divorce. It seems so basic, doesn’t it?

It’s interesting, dating someone who is also divorced with kids, and seeing how other people handle the same life situations. And I have learned a lot about the kind of ex-wife I will never, ever be.

Chris told me ages ago when we first started dating that his ex-wife had some “anger issues” (phrasing it nicely), and I knew some stories of things that had happened between the two of them (and I’ve seen the court papers myself), but I naively thought that the kids weren’t exposed to any obvious hostility between the two of them.

I was wrong.

Based on his ex-wife’s behavior, I’m now coming up with a list of things that I vow to never do as a divorced mom. For example:

* I will never tell my kids that their dad doesn’t love them.
* I will never tell my kids that their dad didn’t want them.
* I will never call my ex-husband names in front of my kids.
* I will never tell them that they aren’t allowed to hug their dad.
* I will never tell my kids that if Daddy gets mad at them, they should call 911 and say that he’s trying to kill them. (No, really. I’m not making that up.)

This list could go on and on. There are also things that don’t involve the kids that I will never do. I mean, just as an example? I will never randomly text my ex-husband in the middle of a workday to call him a c*cksucker, for no apparent reason. Which has very little to do with my relationship with Dave, and more to do with the fact that I would never text anyone in the middle of a workday (or any other time, for that matter), just for the purpose of calling them a c*cksucker. I mean, honestly. That’s just rude. What would Miss Manners say?

Up until recently, I didn’t think that I had some superior moral compass or anything, I just thought that I was doing what all grown adults try to do when faced with a divorce while their kids are young. Now I’m wondering if her “do everything possible to alienate the kids from the other parent” scenario is more common. I really and truly hope that’s not the case, though. Because I cannot imagine how much that sucks for those two sweet kids.

the meeting of the kids

Chris has two kids that are somewhat close in age to mine. His daughter is 8 and his son is nearly 6 (and is also a kindergartener-going-on-first-grader like Catie). Since he has the kids half the time, we decided a while back that if we wanted to try to spend any substantial amount of time together, eventually our kids were going to have to meet.

The thing is, neither of us wanted it to be some formal introduction of, “….and this is Mommy’s boyfriend,” or anything like that. We figured the best way to handle it was to keep it as low key as possible.

So, a few weeks ago, we met up at a McDonald’s PlayPlace. We sat at tables next to each other, and just chatted casually while the kids played. The idea was that if they wanted to play together, great, but there were also other kids there for them to play with and nobody would feel pressured. And it actually worked out REALLY well, everyone seemed to hit it off.

Since then, we’ve gone on a few other outings together with the kids. We’ve met up at playgrounds and gone to a local street carnival, that kind of thing. Chris and I have (so far) made a point of not having any physical contact with each other when the kids are around (no hugging, kissing, holding hands, etc.). For a while there, I wasn’t sure that the kids had any idea that we were dating, or if they thought we were just friends.

That has changed, recently: I accidentally referred to him as my boyfriend while talking to someone else when Catie was within earshot, but I don’t know if that word really means anything to her yet. On Chris’s end, his 8 year-old daughter has been asking questions about me that indicate she knows that I’m his girlfriend. But fortunately, all of the kids seem to be ok with it.

Last weekend, we decided at the last minute to meet up at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, but unfortunately we got there at 4:30 p.m., not realizing that the museum closes at 5 p.m. (Oops?) So instead we went for some Goodberry’s frozen custard.

While we were having ice cream, the kids whined that they wanted to go play somewhere else. Chris noticed a Chick-Fil-A next door, and while I have tried for the past year or so to boycott them due to their anti-LGBT views… well. It was over 80 degrees outside and they had an indoor, climate-controlled play area. So, yeah, we went to Chick-Fil-A. (Apparently my morals are for sale when the price is air-conditioning.) They played for about two hours and had a blast.

Lucy is a little too young to join in with the older kids when they play, so she decided that the best game was to keep going in and out of the play area. Since we were at the table right next to the door, it meant that Chris had to keep jumping up to open the door for her. Lucy would come up to the door of the play area and lean on it until Chris opened it for her, then she’d run over to me, give me a kiss, then run back to the door and look over her shoulder at Chris until he opened the door for her to go back into the play area. I told him he could stop, he didn’t have to play along with her little game, but he was a good sport about it.

One of the times she came out, instead of running over to give me a kiss, she ran up to him and raised her arms up in the air, the universal toddler sign language for “pick me up!” He picked her up, and she hugged him and buried her face in his neck for a couple of minutes. Then she wriggled back down to the floor and got back to her game of running in and out of the play area. But it was such a sweet little moment, I wish I’d taken a picture.

I did get a picture of this a couple of weeks ago, though.

Watching my boyfriend push my kids & his kids on a tire swing on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon. Pretty awesome.

All four kids on a tire swing, and all four of them were yelling for Chris to push them higher and faster. That was a pretty great moment right there, too.

I made Chris promise a long time ago that he’ll never ask me to marry him, so it’s not like we’re going to have any kind of Brady Bunch thing happening here. But I have to admit, I do love that our kids seem to enjoy each other and all get along really well. It’s a pretty fun dynamic to watch as it evolves.

trying to get off the ledge

Things with Chris have been good. So, so amazingly good. And for some reason, I am completely terrified about this.

I don’t know where this stems from, and I’m trying to figure it out.
* Is it because we crashed and burned on Round One, and I’m afraid of history repeating itself? Could be.
* Is the problem that my new meds haven’t totally kicked in yet and I’m still dealing with a chemical imbalance that causes major anxiety? Entirely possible.
* Is it because one man who promised to love me forever did, in fact, leave me a little over 2 years ago? Probably at least partially.
* Is it rooted in self-worth issues that started when I was a kid and my dad told me I was fat when I was 5 years old? Maybe.
* Is it some mutated DNA strand handed down from my Puritan ancestors who believed that life was just hard work and misery and that nobody deserves to be happy? Hell if I know.

But it brings up this feeling that I call the Doom Cloud. It’s as if there’s a voice in the back of my head telling me that yes, things are good with Chris, but they’re TOO good. I’m too happy. This can’t possibly last, it has to end. At some point the proverbial clock is going to strike midnight and I’m going to turn back into a pumpkin.

So it’s like the anxiety is this weird self-defense mechanism that kicks in to prevent myself from being too happy. I guess my brain’s logic is that maybe then it won’t hurt as much when it all goes south. Which is stupid, because if it ever does come to that, it’s going to hurt like hell. I know that from past experience, and I imagine it’d be worse, because I feel even closer to him now.

The Doom Cloud is basically this black cloud on the horizon that you can’t avoid, you can’t *not* see it, you know it’s coming right at you, and it’s absolutely terrifying.

And the kicker is, he does everything right. He checks in with me every few hours with text messages. He goes out of his way to do nice things for me. On Tuesday night, I was having a hard time, but not really talking to him about it, I was just letting those little demons rattle around in my head. He seemed to somehow know, and he came over after the girls were asleep. We sat on the couch and he held me in his arms and petted my hair and talked to me for over two hours. Or rather, he made me talk about my feelings. Which is something I am still really terrible at doing, but he’s good at dragging it out of me. I didn’t know how much I really and truly needed that time with him until he was actually there.

He tells me he loves me over and over, and I believe him. He says he’s with me because he chose to be with me and he wants to be with me, and I believe him.

Then he tells me that I deserve to be happy and feel loved, and… on some level, I know that’s true, but I just can’t seem to internalize it.

Once, when I was apologizing for all of my neuroses, I said, “You know, your girlfriend may be batshit crazy, but on the up side, she really loves the hell out of you.” He told me that he’s been with many iterations of batshit crazy women, and he can handle my particular brand of crazy since it won’t involve him ending up at the ER at any point. (That’s a long story for another time.)

I told him that I’m terrified that at some point he’s going to get tired of constantly talking me off the ledge, and he’s going to decide I’m not worth the effort anymore.

He said, “I don’t know. Once you come off the ledge, you’re pretty damn fun.”

I’m trying, y’all. I’m trying to ignore the Doom Cloud. I’m trying to spend more time off the ledge than on it. I’m trying to just relax and soak it all in and be happy. I just didn’t expect it to be this damn hard.

Mother’s Day 2013

It just happened that this past weekend, the weekend of Mother’s Day, was also the weekend that Dave left and went back to Seattle.

(Side note on that: Dave may actually be looking for an apartment here to be around more often, but I’m kind of afraid to say too much about that until everything is set in stone. But I think it would be a really good thing if it works out, both for the girls to have more time with their dad, and for me to get a break on a semi-regular basis.)

Catie always has a really hard time with it when Dave leaves, so we have a tradition of doing something really fun the next day. It’s just to help distract her and make the transition a little easier. So, on Saturday, my dad and I took the girls to Monkey Joe’s (a big indoor bounce house place). I didn’t take any pictures because I was too busy corralling Lucy. It’s funny to me how different they are: I couldn’t even get Catie to set foot in a bounce house until she was nearly 4 years old, and Lucy – at not even two – makes me climb the giant-ass ladder on the biggest slide in the entire place to slide down it with her. She’d probably go by herself if I let her, but I’m afraid of the bigger kids trampling her. (Thank GOD I had the foresight to wear leggings under my dress.)

I was thinking about my Mother’s Day post last year, and it’s funny to me how similar this year is to last.

My dad and I taking the kids on an outing where they had a blast, check.

Catie and my mom working in the garden together, check.

Leaving the girls with my parents for a while so I could spend some time with Chris. Who I now call by name instead of “my friend” or The Guy. He calls me his girlfriend. I kind of love it.

And he remembered from last year that tulips are my favorite.

Kids let me sleep in, and got tulips from both my girls & my boyfriend. Pretty spectacular Mother's Day overall. Feeling grateful.

The girls – or I guess I should say, technically my mom – also gave me tulips. I mixed them together, and I think it’s a pretty gorgeous arrangement on my kitchen counter right now.

No going out to eat this year because of my diet, so we grilled veggies and meats and had a delicious picnic on my parents’ deck instead.

And of course, topped it off by dancing around the house with my girls after their baths. No Adele this year, it’s all the Xanadu soundtrack.

One major difference between this year and last year? On Sunday morning, Catie came into my room and said, “Mommy, I’ll take Lucy downstairs and play with her.”

Catie turned on cartoons and they played nicely and quietly together for over two hours. I didn’t drag my lazy butt out of bed until after 10:30 a.m. That right there is basically Single Mom Heaven.

Plus, you know, there’s the whole point of the day. How thankful I am for my own mom (who is amazing and does things like buy flowers so the kids can pretend they’re giving them to me), and also for these two girls who both call me Mommy.

If you're looking for the happiest nerd child on the planet, that would be mine, when she found out Skylanders were the toy in her Happy Meal. ("I better hold onto Lucy's for her." Uh-huh.)

Sometimes Lucy makes a certain face (like this crooked smile) & I realize I basically gave birth to myself. Weird.

They’re pretty awesome, I gotta say.