While we were busy celebrating the nuances of our Christmas traditions and decking the halls of the cozy craftsman Mi Hombre’s ex was stewing over the new found holiday changes. Instead of writing letters to Santa from Super-girl I suspect that she was writing him her own Christmas wish letter and I bet that it read something like this:
Although I have been very naughty and nice isn’t something all people would equate with me…I am hoping that you will overlook these things and answer my one simple request… All I want for Christmas is a child support check from my ex husband. You see, It pains me that my ex husband is happy, that he has moved on, and most of all I cannot bear the sight of my daughter being so happy with having another woman in her life. I want to make him suffer and make his life miserable-because I am suffering and my life is miserable. Please dear Santa, can you make sure that the child support will happen?
Yep, That is right-the proud to be feminist who proclaimed during our first meeting that she would never ask Mi Hombre for child support because she ended the marriage changed her tune when we changed our holiday traditions. Not long after our delightful European Christmas a letter from the ex arrived addressed to Mi Hombre…C.O.D.
On January 1st we wound up in Mediation with a biased pro-mom advocate negotiating-not about Super-girl, but instead about the pragmatics of where I would fit in Super-girl’s life. Talk about a step into something out of the twilight zone…I literally thought I had walked into Kangaroo court and I was the defendant. I remember thinking is this legal? Can the mediator really ask me these questions, am I under oath to answer? I remember feeling so unbearably uncomfortable. It was pure mock justice and in retrospect I think that it would have been perfectly legal for Mi Hombre and I to have stood up and walked right out of that mediators office. She was that unprofessional.
During the Spanish/Canadian inquisition Mi Hombre and I sat hands clutched and I am sure with our mouths agape in bewilderment and disbelief. The Ex went off on tangent after emotional tangent, sometimes raising her voice and at one point standing up pointing her finger and spouting profanity like we were scorn criminals. She was so convinced that I was defaming her as a mother. Unbeknownst to me every time I painted Super-girls nails, braided her hair, trimmed her bangs or put notes in her lunch I was taking away the her right to motherhood. According to her, since I am not a mother I know nothing about children, what they need or anything about what it means to be a mother. Ironically, by being myself I was not only disrespecting her, I was showing Super-girl that I was trying to become her mother and that I was a better mother by engaging in such activities. The whole session (might I add, that we had to pay for) crucified me for loving and treating Super-girl with kindness and respect, Mi Hombre for allowing it, and in the end slapped us with a big fat monthly check paid to the ex for her pain and suffering.
The fallout of this farce had me clicking my heels chanting take me back to Canada, my husband regretting having said he had an amicable relationship with his ex, and Super-girl losing out on things we once could afford because her mother broke our already burdened financial state. It was a grim time to say the least, and a very high source of scorn in our marriage. It is the law in our state that even if you have joint physical and joint legal custody of a minor the person with the higher income must supplement the other home to bring each home to the same standard of living. As unjust as it may be-it is the law, and we abide by it to the letter. I will admit even though I understand it, to this day writing that check feels like acid on my hand each time I have to do it.
Mi Hombre and I come from very different cultural backgrounds. He is a Colombian/Latin American and I am a French/Polish Canadian. Because of this and the vast difference of geographical location of our families, we possess very different traditions for celebrating the Christmas season. Our first Christmas together as a family was a toss up. Which he won because the majority of his Spanish brood is here in our home town-mine remains North of the friendly boarder. The family arrangements were easily made, but Mi Hombre and I could not decide upon which way we would be decking the halls of his, now our, cozy craftsman.
In the past, Mi Hombre’s Christmas’ were spent placating his ex by celebrating together Christmas morning-for the sake of Super-girl. I sigh in relief that this was the first tradition that we bid farewell to. My Christmas’ were spent under the tree with my 4 legged kids, and at the hospital with the only semblance of family I had-my co-workers. This was the second tradition farewell of the season, and one that strangely I miss more than I had anticipated. Although, I am sure that it would not be hard to imagine the joy that Mi Hombre and I both felt to be spending the holidays together, in love, surrounded by our new family and those who we actually wanted to be with.
Since Super-girl was 3 Mi Hombre had taught her his heritage and familial traditions. Each year for Christmas he and Super-girl would decorate a Chamiso together (a bundle of dried sticks or branches, spray painted silver or gold, placed in a large pot and decorated with tiny ornaments and white lights). Being new to the family and culturally a lot different, I thought it would be fun to introduce both Mi Hombre and Super-girl to another way of experiencing Christmas.
I was shocked when I found out that neither of Super-girl’s parents believed in Santa Claus or celebrated his traditions. Who doesn’t believe in the jolly-fat man in the red suit and everything inspiring that he brings to a child’s heart? My first thought was, this has got to change! With eggnog in hand-yes spiked with rum…I set out to introduce both my new loves to a European Traditional Christmas-filled with everything Claus!
Super-girl said that she had never cut down and decorated a real Christmas tree, written Santa Claus a letter or even sat on his knee. As judgmental as I am I found this ghastly. I was determined that this must change. After all, she was 5 and still had enough innocence in her to flood her imagination with all things Christmas. Beginning with the birth of Christ, to Saint Nicholas, to Kris Kringle’s workshop in the Great North pole, I covered all the folklore and stories-several times over. I can still envision the wild amazement in her eyes and feel the excitement that erupted within her. As a child I have such fond memories of these things and since I still believe in Santa Claus, we opted to change things up a little for our first Christmas together.
After Thanksgiving I introduced her to the “Elf on the Shelf” and his story. It is a delightful tradition that ignites the festive spirit and helps to keep children on their best behaviour throughout the Christmas season. It was pure delight to find Super-girl each morning eagerly jumping from her bed to find Santa’s little elf hidden throughout the house. She would tell him her secret Christmas wishes and everything she wanted to convey to Santa…It was priceless, and a tradition that we still practice now 3 years later.
We went to the local tree farmer and picked out our choice in evergreen, placed it in our living room and began to decorate with the many carols of Christmas playing in the background. I can remember it clear as day. When Super-girl mounted her first angel atop of a tree while sitting on Mi Hombre’s shoulders-both of them were sporting a Cheshire cat grin. I remember saying to myself, this moment is for the vault! Afterward we lit her up and lay underneath her admiring all her sparkles and beauty-boy that evergreen shone bright.
We three with the four-legged beasts lounged together around that shining tree for a really long time. We sipped on our Colombian chocolate and told Super-girl the stories of our childhood Christmas’. As cliche as it is to say, it really was a Hallmark moment. It was one of those moments the will remain forever etched in my heart. It was so reminiscent of my childhood Christmas’ in the Great white North and admittedly, I finally felt like I was home.
Looking out the window I can see that the autumn leaves are falling fast. They are accumulating in random colourful patterns across my “in desperate need of a mow” lawn. For me this is a sure sign that the holidays are quickly approaching. It never fails that once they arrive I feel like I am constantly pressed for time. I can never seem to get all that I would like done accomplished. Come to think of it, that sounds like my life’s story the remaining days of the year too! Regardless of my obvious poor time management, I do love the holiday season and the hustle and bustle that it brings.
This Thanksgiving I am going to be ready. Today I sit and plan the dishes for the day; I salivate as I leaf through my favorite recipes. I think this years Ella Mental menu will include Herb Roasted Brined Turkey, Cranberry and Sausage Cornbread Stuffing, Garlic-Parmesan Mashed Potatoes, Roasted Autumn Vegetables, Savory Turkey Gravy with Yorkshire Pudding, Cranberry Chutney, Pumpkin Cheesecake, and a crisp bottle (or two) of Pinot Noir to aide in tackling the preparation of this delectable feast.
Personally, I feel that great food is one of the key elements that contribute to the foundation of a happy and healthy home. So, it is a good thing that I love to cook! Cooking is one of those instantly gratifying pleasures I like to indulge in daily and it has become my art form-or as my waist would say, “body form!” I confess, I am Ella Mental, and I am a food-oholic! I am guilty of loving all of the delightful pleasures that it brings-and there is nothing better than when my kitchen is filled with mouth-watering aromas, the laughter of Super-girl as she dances in and out for taste tests and samples, the too many cooks (my family) stumbling around each other to help. Yes, in our home it would seem that food has become the tie that binds. I look forward to this Thanksgiving, the gathering of us quirky and authentic souls surrounded by a scrumptious abundance. It feeds my heart, my belly, and my soul, and I am so very grateful!
Of course, it wasn’t always this way; I can remember a time that the holidays brought with it platefuls of rotten emotions and a heaping of distasteful things. That first Thanksgiving with Mi hombre and his Spanish brood did not resemble anything pleasant or grateful. Instead, with it came enough mounds of insecurities, irrational emotions and resentment that would have flattened even the finest of chef’s soufflés. It was a series of disasters; not the typical Thanksgiving disasters one would normally encounter like an accidental charbroiled bird or the family dog eating the stuffing off the counter. No, it was nothing of that sort. Lets just say that when Thanksgiving arrived that year I was ready to stuff more than a turkey, I was ready to stuff my whole relationship.
I can still recall myself sitting on the kitchen floor crying between my charred parmesan potatoes and a pumpkin cheesecake that had split right down the middle (the dish I was to bring to my future in-laws.) The sadness and disappointment that I felt with the absence of a congratulatory “Welcome to the Family!” I had expected from Mi Hombre’s parents and siblings. (It was our first get-together since the announcement of our engagement.) The anger and resentment that I felt when the ex wife threatened Mi Hombre, “don’t you forget I gave you your daughter!” (Over disliking the holiday boundaries he had set.) I remember being distraught and dumbfounded over how much turmoil family, exes, and the holidays could bring, questioning whether that was what I wanted for my life and feeling so sad that I couldn’t muster up even an ounce of gratitude.
Since that Thanksgiving I am happy to say, things have come full circle. Well, some things have-and other things (the ex wife), they may never change. But, C’est la vive! I have grown to love Mi Hombre’s Spanish brood-their kindness, their values, their culture, mmm, and their food…They have become my family and an integral part of my life. For this, and many reasons I am excited for the holiday, this year more than ever!
Thanksgiving is the time people gather to share food and companionship with those they love. Coincidentally, for me it is time for the harvest… No, I am not a mid-western farm girl getting ready to reap the last crop of the season. I am mid-30’s stepmom and mid-cycle of my second IVF treatment. At sunrise they will harvest and prepare my eggs (not the deviled kind if ya know what I mean!) and hopefully by Christmas I will literally be with a bun in the oven. Although, it has been a rough 3 years of adjustments and unsuccessful fertility treatments, I have no doubt that this year we are in a much better place. I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, and when and how it should. It is Thanksgiving, and with all that it represents I feel it in my soul that we are surely in good alignment for a successful harvest.
Pray with me if you will: 2009 is the year and the season for wonderful things; a life filled with love, happiness, good food and great eggs–Happy Thanksgiving!
Have you ever sat and watched children get to know one another? Have you heard the types of conversations that come about while they innocently engage in play? Do you remember just how easy it was to make friends when you were little? It was as simple as asking another child of choice, “will you be my new best friend?” If only it were that easy now-at 35.
When Super-girl and I were in our play dating phase I had an eye opening opportunity to witness the natural development of a childhood relationship involving her and a local neighbourhood boy. It was interesting, while simultaneously both admirable and alarming just how candid, bold, and uninhibited children really are. To me it was a painful revelation of how it must feel to be a child of a divorce. Although, how the encounter panned out it would seem I was the only one feeling this way. Children truly are fascinating souls, mature beyond what we give them credit for and perhaps even a model we should consider learning from.
My neighbourhood was a little low on kids Super-girl’s age. There was one local child, he was an older boy of 8 years-whom I have known since he was about four. Initially I was a little leery about whether or not Super-girl would want to play-because he was a boy. Then after about 3 seconds I realized that with kids it doesn’t matter whether they are boy or girl, to them it is just someone to play with. Being a single gal at the time I was not privy to such schoolyard etiquette. My job allows me to see and work with children but it is more about medicine time than play time. So I was quite surprised by how much children are like mini-adults. They met, I introduced them (they even shook hands), they sized each other up, offered up what they would like to do, then compromised on a game of tag and off they went to play-We had a great time. When we were all exhausted from running around the yard playing; a simple conversation began over lemonade.
The boy from next-door inquired when he would be able to play with Super-girl again. When she explained that it would be on the next week that she with her father the boy said quite frankly, “Oh, your one of those divorced kids!” Super-girl placed her hands on her hips, and if looks could kill-from a 5 year old, that boy would have burned up before my eyes. My initial instinct was to intervene and say the boy was out of line; I didn’t. I let the chips fall where they may, so to speak, and the fall out was truly amazing.
In the blink of an eye the boy from next-door realized that he had said something wrong and hurtful, he immediately said that he was sorry. He elaborated that he didn’t mean anything by it, he knew because of a divorce he would only get to see her every couple of weeks. Super-girl said, “Yeah you are right. Next week I am with my Mom and then the week after that I will be with my Papa and Ella again-I will see you then!” We said our goodbyes and went home. As we were walking she said to me, “I don’t usually play with boys but he was nice, and I can’t wait to play tag with him again!”
If only as adults we could learn not to take things personally and notice when something said needed compassion, clarification or an apology. If only as adults we weren’t so jaded and quick to pull from sour memories with our reactions to the things people say or do. In that precise moment I felt like Super-girl and the boy next-door were mature beyond their years, more mature than many of the people I encounter on a daily basis, more mature than I have been in similar situations-I have held on to this, because I strive to learn from it.
There is a phenomenal book I read about six years ago by Miguel Ruiz called The Four Agreements. It speaks of how we should learn to live and love from the best of our souls. “Everything we do is based on agreements we have made – agreements with ourselves, with other people, with God, with life. But the most important agreements are the ones we make with ourselves. In these agreements we tell ourselves who we are, how to behave, what is possible, what is impossible.” I think that many of us can benefit by setting our ego’s aside and learning from this exposé. I believe that if we listen to the innocence of childhood friendships, learn from the way children handle conflict, process and deal with hurt feelings, and make decisions with unwavering confidence we will have better success with our adult relationships and the relationships we have with our children.
For me, I hope that by adopting these principles I will struggle less with the adults in my life which I have conflicts, I will stay on the (not always pleasant) higher road, be more cognizant of my words, more genuine with my actions and maintain a clearer perception of my reality. You never know, these kids may have already figured it all out. I should learn by their example, grab some courage and make an attempt at finding a friend in my new world-Hey you! Will you be my new best friend?
The first few weeks after moving in with Mi hombre I spent quite a bit of time unpacking my things and de-bachelorizing the cozy craftsman. Blending possessions from both of our pasts proved to be a tricky adventure. It had us overwhelmed with a mountain of duplicity and unwanted things. For one reason or another most of it just simply had to go. Not because we had no use for it or that either of us had tastes that were so far apart- mostly because it became apparent that we had no use for bad Juju, We realized that many of the possessions we had were just that–tainted with bad Karma. Something neither of us wanted in our home. So together we decided, out with the old! And in with the new!
Several truckloads to Good Will had Mi Hombre and I discussing visions for our future. Since the holidays were quickly approaching, Christmas etiquette became one of our first major riffs. As we shared our thoughts on the spirit of gift giving, holiday traditions and what we would like to adopt for our new family unit; it was revealed that Mi Hombre had been sharing the holidays with his ex. Instinctively, in that moment I wanted to scream, Hold up! Put on the brakes! I am going back to Good Will to buy back my stuff! In my disbelief I muttered about 20 questions at him while he was driving. Things like: Seriously? Are you kidding me? Why did you get divorced in the first place if you want to pretend that you are still a quasi-family? Do you still want to be married to her? Are you still in love with her? If you think that I am going to support this…think again! Once I finished blow torching Mi Hombre for the idiocy that I felt the whole situation was, I shut my mouth and listened to what really had been happening.
When Mi Hombre was told by his ex that the marriage was over he was not only in shock but was overwhelmed with the heartbreak that Super-girl was going to endure. He himself had gone through divorce as a child. The flash back of his life experience motivated him to do things differently for Super-girl. He wanted her transition through divorce to be easier than his had been. So naturally, he did not question when the ex suggested that they continue doing things together-as Super-girl’s parents. Things like: back to school shopping, school picnics, weekly meetings at the coffee shop, celebrating birthdays and holidays etc. For Christmas in particular, they had agreed that they would jointly purchase the gifts for Super-girl and on Christmas morning when Mi Hombre was dropping her off they would open their presents; together.
My first and foremost concern was for Super-girl. What effect is this having on her? Does it falsely keep the illusion of their “family” alive? In the spirit of Christmas-do you buy gifts with and for the ex? Is this something that I can agree to? What if Mi Hombre and I have a child of our own; are we all going to go over to the ex’s house on Christmas morning to open our gifts? Would my name be included on the shared gifts for Super-girl or would it remain from “ Papa and Mama?” My thoughts were rampant; the questions endless-I was shocked, annoyed, and suspicious of unresolved emotional attachments. Not to mention that I couldn’t ever fathom spending one of the most festive and enjoyable holidays with Mi Hombre’s ex-for the rest of my life. Nor was there enough alcohol to help me endure it. I thought this situation to not only be absurd, but I felt that it was confusing Super-girl. Surely, in her little mind it must seem that her Papa and Mama were still married…only they lived in separate houses.
After many hours and a lot of wine, Mi Hombre and I explored all of our feelings as it pertained to holidays and gift giving. I was relieved, exuberant even, when Mi Hombre confided that he detested sharing any time or any thing with his ex, and with certainty there were no unresolved emotional attachments on his part. He admitted that from the minute he had agreed to participate in shared holidays and gift-giving something inside of him felt sick, like his decision was completely wrong. Still, he convinced himself that if Super-girl was happy then that was all that mattered. Of course she would be happy, she had her parents together! I felt sadness over the whole thing. That is, until Super-girl was sent to a child psychologist at her mother’s request-our relationship was causing Super-girl to want a boyfriend in Kindergarten. Really-no joke!
Mi Hombre and I seized the opportunity to ask a professional about sharing birthdays and holidays. Karma came a knocking! Instead of telling us that Super-girl was boy-crazy because of our relationship, the psychologist felt she was a normal child mimicking normal things in life. She agreed whole-heartedly that divorced parents who are too friendly send mixed messages and confuse the child. Children need a clear understanding of what divorce means, concrete boundaries of having two homes, and that sharing birthdays and holidays has not proved to be beneficial for children of divorce. In her experience as a child psychologist, she felt that those friendly co-mingling behaviours only perpetuate the illusion that the parents are still together/living apart or foster the child’s wish that they will rekindle their relationship. At this point imagine me jumping for joy inside…and childishly flipping the bird at the ex!
Continuing with the Mantra, “Out with the old! And in with the new!” Mi Hombre began setting boundaries with the ex. He and I chose to create and celebrate our own new holiday traditions. We adopted the practice my brother uses with his ex. Where he buys what he wants his daughter to have at his house, and his ex buys what she wants her to have at her house. There are no more gift list exchanges, no joint ventures to sit on Santa’s knee, no shared presents, no transporting of items to and fro, and certainly no celebrations of opening gifts at “mom’s” house on Christmas morning. From that moment forward, on Christmas mornings you can find us under the Chamiso, with Café con leché, celebrating a tradition that is completely and uniquely OURS!
Our engagement period was a short one before I chose to move my shoes, my dogs, and my life to Mi Hombre’s city. As much as I dreaded giving up my house with it’s Zen garden, it was the only way our relationship could work. Super-girl could not be relocated like a prized piece of furniture although; the thought had crossed my mind. I sadly boxed up my things, said goodbye to life as I once new it, and moved an hour south to a fresh and upcoming little city.
Yep, I was the new kid on the block. His tiny house was cute in a craftsman’s sort of way. It was completely urban central and located in the middle of a quaint little art district. At first, I thought that trading in my country escape for city central may not be so bad. There was no longer a need for delivery-you can walk, when you can’t sleep there is usually a local band playing on the corner or a show at the neighborhood theater. Gallery hops bring fresh faces, the pubs bring comical wandering drunks, and the transitioning of the area always houses its fair share of displaced hobos. I know all of this paints a wonderful and hip new beginning…great locale, good food, gallery hops, and of course new shoe stores…and it was…short lived.
With my announcement to the neighbourhood came the Welcome Wagon. Not the flower basket and apple pie that one may traditionally hope for, this Welcome Wagon consisted of the ex wife, the ex friends and the many remnants of the ex life. I felt like a display item, a circus show freak, like a complete outsider. As I explored the neighborhood shops and boutiques it was like everyone knew who I was before I ever had a chance to introduce myself. It never failed that everywhere I went I either ran into the ex or her friends surrounded me. It was strange, unsettling and very foreign to me. The stares, the insincere hand shakes, the silence, the gossip, it all felt very much like I had walked into the movie set of “Mean Girls.” I was in her territory, on her block and she wanted me to know it.
Well, I heard it loud and clear, and when the poisonous arrows began to fly from the little green house around the corner it was time that Mi Hombre and I listed the house for sale. You see it isn’t that we don’t enjoy a challenge-we have plenty. It is not like we were bowing down and being bullied out of the neighborhood, because she isn’t that powerful. It is because we both have a low threshold for toxicity, and toxic was what it was becoming. The frequent boundary violations, the incessant calls, the inappropriate emails, the unwelcome visits had me at my whit’s-end and Mi Hombre summoning the ex back into mediation. We want a happy and healthy future for our remarriage. This includes a sanctuary, a home that is ours to symbolize our new beginning, serve as a pillar of hope and inspiration-absolutely nothing remnant of the past.
…It has almost been two years, we are still living in the cute little craftsman-and around the corner from the ex. Granted, I have done what I can-I have made the best of it. Admittedly, some days my tolerance is better than others. Some days I curse it as a toxic hellhole and have a tantrum about the fact that we are still here. Friends? Sadly, it seems to be true that as you age they seem harder to find. There are many acquaintances though, and as a stepmother there are plenty of biomom’s to befriend-that is, if they welcome you to their clique, given that you aren’t a real “mom.” With all negativity aside, I have on several occasions been able to enjoy the hip little neighbourhood for what it is and without disruption. I have spent hours getting acquainted to this quickly growing fresh new city. Without any hesitation I can say, that I have come to enjoy it quite nicely.
And, on those days when I feel confined, unbalanced or stressed, I spend a lot of time back in my old stomping grounds where friends are bountiful, the atmosphere is sweet and the wine is fruitful. I hold tight on hope. I keep dreaming of that beginning when my life will have privacy and be uniquely ours. I believe, that one day, when the economic river begins to flow again. I will have my house, with a new Zen garden and sans the ex wife, the ex friends, and the ex life.