Even at the Orthodontist’s Office…

Yes, it’s official… I started writing my first novel last week.  I had no idea just how much fun writing a novel could be!

Ever since I was a child, I felt the calling to write.  It is especially fun to write this blog because I am so passionate about the blending of families.  Because of that passion, I have always just assumed that I would write a non-fiction book about getting divorced “the right way.”  I did not think that I would be writing a seductive thriller… but here I am!

Instead of writing about how NOT to screw up your kids through the divorce process, I am writing a novel of intrigue and temptation and murder.  I would have never believed it…

Writing a novel has given me an escape when things are tough around our sometimes chaotic house.  I have found that rather than worrying about the drama of the day on my way home from work, I am calculating the next chapter in my book.  I’m asking questions of the characters and trying to truly understand their motives and their beliefs.  What is it that my main character is passionate about and to what lengths will she go to achieve her goals?

Interestingly enough, those same questions come up when I am talking to people about divorce and co-parenting.

This morning I took my handsome son to the orthodontist to get his braces put on.  When they were done, Warren went to the car and I texted with his dad regarding the bill.   Since we split the orthodontist bills 50/50, I wanted to make sure we agreed on the downpayment and monthly payment before I committed to anything.  He was on a call, so I sat there chatting with the receptionist.

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All smiles before the pain kicked in…

My phone rang and I answered and we discussed the money specifics and decided which way we wanted to go.  We laughed about Warren’s metal mouth and I promised to send a picture when I got out to the car.  When I hung up the phone, the receptionist was staring at me with a funny look.  She said, “It is really great that you two can work together like that for your kids.  That seemed easy and pleasant.  How do you do it?”

As I always do, I quickly told her that we had nine years of water under our bridge, so THAT made it easy.  I then proceeded to tell her that we are great business partners when it comes to raising our kids and that as long as the kids are always the priority, then everything else seems to fall into place.

She told me that she had seen a lot of people who were just not capable of that.  I agreed and we then spent a few minutes telling our own horror stories.  And interestingly enough, the same kinds of questions I ask of my characters in my novel I found myself asking about an angry ex.  What are her motives in being so difficult?  To what length will he go to get the kids to believe his vindictive agenda?  She and I both agreed (yes, standing in the orthodontist’s office) that too many parents are driven by their own needs, wants and boundary issues, so they fail to see what damage they are doing to their own children.

The receptionist seemed fascinated with the depth of knowledge I had from both sides, so I told her about my blog and how this is such a passion of mine.  She had a look that kind of said, “Boy, I could use some help…”  I wished her luck and headed out with my mind spinning a million miles per hour.

That little happenstance conversation made me realize that I still need to spend the time to write my blended family book as well.  There are people EVERYWHERE who need guidance on how to “divorce well.”  The humorous part of that is I barely have time to even breathe with four kids at home and a husband.  So I have no idea how I could write a non-fiction and a novel at the same time.  One will most likely have to wait, but the fires are burning inside me to write, so who am I to put them out??????

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Three Simple Words…

I work in a large office building in downtown Raleigh that has a café on the first floor. I was starving this morning, so I couldn’t stop thinking about what I would feed myself for lunch.  I happily realized that I had a customer appreciation card for the café downstairs.  When I pulled it out of my purse, I was even happier to see that it was fully stamped.  So I rode the elevator to the first floor and got in line to order my free yummy sandwich.

I already had a little hop in my step because I was getting a free sandwich, so when they asked me if I would buy a cookie to benefit the Special Olympics and the Over the Edge campaign, I gladly agreed… and got an AMAZING looking cookie for a good cause.

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When the man who works behind the counter called my name, I walked up to get my food.  He handed me the bag and said, “Have a nice day.” I turned to walk away and he uttered three more simple words:

“We appreciate you.”

I walked back to the elevator thinking about those three little words that may not pack too much of a punch when used in other contexts, but together they create a sentence that can go straight to the heart.  I started thinking about how often I SHOULD say that to people and do not.  Three simple words that can make a big difference in someone’s day!

So I am going to do a SHOUTOUT FRIDAY post today to show my appreciation for people in my life who I may not say to enough, “I appreciate you.”

1) MY AMAZING PARENTS – I know that they probably KNOW how much I appreciate them, but I probably don’t say it enough…

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My brother, my mother, me and my daddy at my wedding. My mom and dad did all of the flowers for us!

My mother and I talk a few times a day most days.  She is truly one of my very best friends and I know that I can count on her for absolutely anything.  Nothing is ever based on conditions with her and she expects nothing in return.  If I call and I say, “I need…” then she will answer with, “I will do my best to…”  Never have I heard her with the “What have you done for ME lately?” attitude that we see all too often in selfish parents these days.  If my sitter is unavailable, then she will head to Raleigh to pick the kids up after school.  When I fainted and couldn’t go to work for a week, she was there to drive me to the doctor and take care of me (even though she will admit that she is not a nurse in any sense of the word!).

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My gorgeous mother

And my father… I cannot say enough about him either.  He has always been my litmus test of what a true husband and man should be like and I am so thankful that he has taught me to have those high standards.  Watching the way people respond to him and respect him has always made me know that I want to be like him.  He has always treated EVERYONE like they are SOMEONE, no matter who they are.  I am thankful for all of the lessons I have learned from him over the years.

So to my mother and father, “I APPRECIATE YOU.”

2) MY BABYSITTER – Of course I thank her and I pay her, but I do not tell her enough just how much I appreciate how much she improves my life just by being in it.

She is so wonderful with the kids and is so dependable.  When you are a full-time working mom, it is such a comfort to know that someone is taking good care of your kids.  Someone is there to get them safely home from school, feed them a snack and help them with their homework.  It’s tough being a mom and not being able to be there to do those things yourself, so it puts your mind at ease to know that the kids love the person you have hired to be there.

So to Kara, “I APPRECIATE YOU.”

3) MY CHILDREN’S STEP-MOTHER – I am quickly learning that being a step-mother can sometimes put you in a precarious position.  You love your step-kids with every ounce of your being, while knowing and appreciating that you are not their true parent.  Then you face resistance from the other parent sometimes for showing too much love or for being too active in the lives of the step-kids… because you are “just their step-mother.”

My children’s step-mother is always there for my kids.  She often picks them up after a full day of work to take them back home with her so they can go to a practice or spend the night.  She takes fundraiser information to her office and tries to sell as much as she can.  She throws birthday parties if they want to have them there.  She has dealt with stomach viruses and lice and everything else… some of it even before she had a child of her own.

Essentially, she is their mother when they are with her… and I am thankful for someone who loves my kids as much as I do.  We may not ALWAYS see eye to eye about everything, but no matter what I am thankful for the role that she plays in the lives of my children – OUR children.

So to Amy, “I APPRECIATE YOU.”

4) I also want to do a blanket appreciation to my kids, my family, my in-laws, my ex-in-laws, my ex-husband, my friends, my minister, the music ministry, my boss and my co-workers.  These are all people who make my life a little easier every day in one way or another.  Even the random folks on Facebook who I haven’t seen in twenty years but who make me smile and encourage me through the internet.  I am thankful for every single one of you.

To all of you, “I APPRECIATE YOU.”

5) And most importantly, MY HUSBAND – I try to tell him how very much I appreciate him every single day.  He goes above and beyond in absolutely everything he does – as a husband, a father, a Christian.  Just like my father, he is kind to everyone and it is obviously well-noted by everyone because no matter where we go, people are quick to tell me how much they love Joe.  I hear on Facebook constantly how he is “the nicest guy” and how lucky I am.

I am SO LUCKY to have him in my life

I am SO LUCKY to have him in my life

And I KNOW how lucky I am… because I have been in the dating world and I know without a doubt that there are no men like Joe out there.  He loves my children as his own and he goes out of his way to be friendly to my children’s father.  Yesterday he took my daughter to school and realized after he signed her in that she had not talked to her dad before school like she does every morning.  Joe went back into the school, took her back out front and called her dad.  Her dad appreciated it so much.  That’s just the way Joe is… he knows how it feels to be a dad in a divorced situation and he couldn’t live with himself if he had even unknowingly not let her talk to her dad.  Just like that, he amazes me daily with how wonderful his heart is…

So I plan to do everything in my power to make sure that he knows every single day how appreciated he is.  Because I never intend to live a day without him in my life ever again.

Joe…. “I APPRECIATE YOU… MORE”

We Got This…

I think most people can agree that I am an annoyingly optimistic and happy person.  I recently saw a picture of myself without a full tooth smile and I had to look at it twice because I didn’t recognize myself.  My kids know that it is rare to see me without my smile, but admittedly, it happens.  And it apparently happened last week.

Last Thursday was just a bad day for me.  Work was fine, but there was some other ridiculous drama going on that caused me to spend a lot of time talking to my dad (a retired judge), others in the legal field, and just friends who are familiar with the situation.  By the time I got home from work I was emotionally exhausted.  I drove up my driveway and just sat in my car for a few minutes talking to myself.

“You can do this.  Put your smile on and convince the kids you are fine.  You got this.  You got this….”  I slapped the smile on my face and walked into the house.  As soon as I walked into the kitchen, I could see my stepdaughter sitting on the floor with the Monopoly board in front of her.   She was smiling broadly and said excitedly, “Valerie, come here, quick!”  So I walked quickly into the living room and my daughter jumped out from behind the door, arms flailing and screaming.  Yes, it was a childish attempt to scare me, but guess what I did?  Yep, broke down in tears.  I mean, fell ALL TO PIECES.

It was rather embarrassing to see the looks on the faces of my daughter, my stepdaughter and my babysitter.  I walked back into the kitchen with tears streaming down my face.  Both girls followed me back in the kitchen and were looking at me with a mixture of confusion and concern on their faces.  I told them, “I’ve just had a really bad day and you just really scared me…”

They both hugged me and hugged me and were visibly upset over my reaction.  By the time Joe walked downstairs we were all laughing about my craziness.   I was fine after that, but I have a feeling the girls will think twice before they scare anyone anymore.

Although I may have upset the kids by my reaction, maybe it is good for our kids to see us as human from time to time.  Because Joe and I are such happy people, I don’t want the kids to grow up thinking that we are some sort of freaks of nature, because it’s just not possible to be perfectly happy every single day of your life.  Things are going to upset us.  I also don’t want them to think we are hiding our feelings.  We want to focus on good communication in our home rather than living in fear of what someone may or may not be thinking or feeling.

A few weeks ago while we were on vacation, my son was giving me a difficult time, so rather than fly off the handle or ignore him, I asked him to walk outside with me.  I looked him straight in the eyes and said, “Look, I love you.  I have been so excited about this trip and being here with you, but the way you are acting is hurtful.  It is making me feel sad to see you act like this.  I know you don’t mean to upset me, but this behavior is making you feel bad and it is making me sad.  Do you want that?”  He quickly apologized, promised to do better and said he did not want me to be upset.

We want the kids to know that we are humans and we have feelings.  We want them to see our imperfections and to know that although we are newlyweds and everything is beyond perfect NOW, it may not always be that way and that is okay.  It is how we handle the problems we may face that will define us.

The other day both girls were in our room and Joe and I were joking around with each other and one of the girls said, “Uh oh!  You better not say that! She may divorce you!” and Joe put both arms around me and hugged me and said, “No way.  Divorce is not an option.”  I said, “Nope. Not even an option.”  And one of them said, “Obviously it IS an option or we all wouldn’t be here right now.”  And Joe said, “It’s not an option for US.”  You could see how comforting that was to both of the girls.  They have had plenty of change, so it’s good for them to know that WE will not change.

We admit to our children that we are not perfect and we have made mistakes… we won’t always be happy and we may not always get along… but they can take comfort in knowing that we will fight for us.  We will fight for our family.  And that anything is possible through God.

So next time I have had a bad day, I won’t hide it from my kids.  I won’t linger in the driveway trying to pull myself together.  I will just say, “I’ve had a bad day and I am trying to deal with it.  Thanks for loving me in spite of it and I promise I will be back to myself in no time.”  I will hug them all a little tighter and through their love my smile will eventually return.  We are a family.  There is no reason to hide my feelings from those I love most in the world.

God, Love, Communication and Trust – the foundation of our home.

As I told myself in the car… “WE GOT THIS.”

Match.com on crack…

My relationship with Joe has revolved a great deal around music.  We both love to always have music playing and we have always sent each other songs and playlists throughout our time together.  It would only make sense that we would take the kids to see live music since it means so much to us.

Every Thursday night throughout the summer there is a concert up at North Hills mall, which is exactly a mile from our house.  We love to take the kids up there to dance and have dinner. It is a great event with people of all ages from all over NC and it is a fun family event.  If you live nearby and have not been, you need to check out the band schedule because it’s worth the time to try to find a parking spot!  Bring chairs…

ImageIt’s tough for us to make it each week because both of my kids have basketball on Thursday nights (the insane schedule of AAU basketball is another blog topic entirely), so our time is usually cut short and my daughter has even been seen on stage with her basketball jersey still on.

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The girls having a big time dancing with Ken Knox… this was right before they got on stage!

Last night we decided to try a different concert series that is also close to our home – the Music in the Valley.  It is a Wednesday night concert series outside at Crabtree Valley Mall.  A friend of ours is in the band that was playing, so we loaded the kids up (plus an extra 13 year old boy) and headed to the mall to meet some of our friends and their kids.

Immediately upon going up the escalator to where the band was set up, there was a totally different vibe than at North Hills.  A heavy mix of smoke and perfume was lingering in the air and there were a lot of women who were dressed in dresses that would have been best served left on the hanger or maybe worn 10 years earlier.  As we were walking through the crowd I heard a man talking to his friends yelling, “That’s bullshit” loudly.  Everyone around us seemed like they had been drinking for a while.

It was only 7pm.

I had a flashback to my single days and it was not a pretty memory.  The days when I proclaimed my independence and told anyone who would listen that “I don’t need a man.”  When I went to places like that and talked to people that I didn’t want to talk to, but I was just lonely enough that their interest in me made me feel a little better about myself.  And it was better than sitting at home alone with my cat.

And the single scene has DEFINITELY changed since I entered it back in 2004.  At that time, I had just turned 30 and was living in Greenville.  There were NO eligible single men.  All of the men were much younger than I and living like college kids or they were married.  I always felt like the oldest person anywhere I went. 

The scene last night proved that the divorce numbers have increased exponentially in the 40’s and 50’s age group.  And from what I could surmise, the increase in numbers of single folks certainly did not increase the quality.  It made me sad because I know how it felt to be single in my 30’s, but I cannot imagine the feeling of being single in my 50’s (and yes, I have reminded Joe quite a few times that he better not mess things up since I don’t want to know how it feels!!!!).

My friend Leslie and I said, “I feel like I’ve walked into the internet.  This is like Match.com on crack.”   And now I understand WHY it felt that way… I googled it today and found this advertisement on the internet:

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Soooooooooooo, technically we took our kids to a single’s party…. nice.

It was worth a try, but we decided that we will not be going back to the Music in the Valley – with or without kids.  Apparently having a ring on your finger doesn’t keep men from violating you with their eyes. Plus, I definitely don’t want our daughters to think that women in their late 40’s dancing with an imaginary stripper pole on the dance floor is ladylike.

As we walked to the car, I slipped my hand into Joe’s.  I am so thankful for him. 

ImageI had to go through many years of the misery of that scene, but now I can go home with my handsome husband and snuggle up for the night.  He is proof that good things DO come to those who wait.  I think God knew what he was doing all those years… all that unhappiness makes me appreciate Joe even more.  Maybe we’ll even turn the music up and dance at home tonight… because we can. 

And I am sure when we are old and rocking in our rockers looking out over the water we will say, “Remember that time when we were first married that we took our kids to that singles party?”  Yeah, that happened.

 

 

We’re Not Broken… Just Different

My children are so blessed. Cynics may say, “How in the world are they blessed when they come from a broken home? How is THAT a blessing?”

First, we may have what some call a “broken home,” but we do not have a broken family. Their dad is remarried and they have a great stepmom and an adorable little sister.  Since I just got remarried, they now have a wonderful stepdad and a new brother and sister.  We are not broken… we are still a family.  ALL OF US – we just look different than other families.

And we DO look different than other families. We even look different than most divorced families. We don’t meet in the Kangaroo parking lot to “exchange” our children. Their dad is welcome in our home just as I am welcome in their home with their dad. My ex will walk right in the house and go up to see the kids in their rooms and I feel no need to follow him.  We don’t sit across the gym from each other at school functions… we often save seats for each other or sit near each other so that our children will only have to look in one direction. We have only one birthday party for each child and every member of the family (from both sides) is invited. We want our children to be well adjusted and know how loved they are by all of us. After football games we all go out to dinner together and it’s wonderful to see how happy the kids are when they have their mom, dad, stepmom and stepdad breaking bread together peacefully.

There have been plenty of times when I did not want to have to see my ex-husband.  I admit that.  There were times when things were so contentious that it was easier to just avoid him.  But for our kids we have always faked it.  Even if we had an email war all morning over something, we would still smile in front of the kids at the school play to reassure THEM.  We are the adults… we can handle the stress, but the kids should not have to know anything about it.

I am so thankful that my children have not allowed my divorce to define who they are. They have recognized from an early age how lucky they are to have so many people from both sides of their family who love them very much.  I’m not saying it is always easy and I’m definitely not saying it has always gone smoothly. Those who are in the midst of a heartbreaking divorce can at least have peace knowing that there IS light at the end of the tunnel. The problem is so many parents fail to see what they need to do to reach that light.

FOCUS ON THE KIDS. We are adults and we will get through all the drama and heartbreak. It’s not our first rodeo. We have been hurt before. The children are the ones who need us to step out of the dark and SHINE.  If parents focus inwardly on their own depression and bitterness, then the children suffer.  They are acutely aware of our weaknesses and depression and it immediately puts them in a caretaker position, which is not healthy for a child.  They feel like you NEED them and so they may have anxiety when they go to the other parent’s house or they may feel like they have to sit with you at events because you can’t “handle being alone.”  Our children do not need the extra pressures that come along with that!

This is the time when they should be chasing fireflies and fishing and dancing to their own music. They should NOT be put in the middle of a bitter fight between their parents. Even if you think they aren’t aware of what is going on because you don’t fight in front of them, THEY KNOW. They know that things are not ok. They know everything is different. They know they can’t talk about certain things because it would be too upsetting to you… And they internalize everything. If there is ever a time that they need their parents to work together it is when they are at their most vulnerable point. They have already lost enough, so why rob them of everything? After all, you cannot be a good parent and be selfish at the same time – whether you are divorced or not. Learn to let go and focus on the kids. One day they will thank you.

It is clear to my children that we may not have been able to make our marriage work, but we will do whatever it takes to work together for the benefit of our kids. I overheard my twelve year old talking to a friend one day about his friend’s parents getting divorced. The other child asked Warren if his dad and I were friends. Warren said, “I wouldn’t say they are friends, but they are always nice to each other.” That is exactly right. We may not be friends, but we are working hard together to make sure that our children are able to enjoy their childhoods.

It takes a while to reach the point where we are – if people are even able to reach that point.  I see Joe struggle with it daily because he wants so much to be in the same place – he recognizes how good it would be for his kids.  We can work toward it, but it cannot happen overnight.

The fact of the matter is this: How could it be bad for children to know non-stop, every day, no matter who they are with at that moment, that they are loved by everyone?  How could it be bad for a child to know that you encourage them to love their other parent and that it’s okay with you if they miss their other parent?  Why not encourage the kids to call the other parent… and pump the kids up to have a good time when they are with the other parent… and show the kids love by getting along with the other parent even if you don’t want to? THAT would be the true blessing for everyone involved.

And then you can proclaim that your family is not broken either… just different.

**** This is a reworked blog that I previously published on October 3, 2012****