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Divorce: The 7-Letter Word I Never Want to Hear Again—or Want My Kids to Hear

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When marital bliss fades into divorce

By the end of 2014, I will officially be divorced for a second time, a fact that has left me deeply heartbroken and carrying a profound sense of failure, and to a degree, shame. These last two sentiments, the byproduct of being a parent and feeling responsible for my children’s perception of marriage as they evolve from teens and young adults into husbands and wives. I don’t have to tell anyone who’s been through it. Divorce is a gut-wrenching experience. 

As I told my three youngest on a very sad Friday afternoon after their stepfather had come over to talk about his decision to divorce, my respect and appreciation for marriage—and the belief that a happy, life-long relationship is possible—has not wavered. I was clear that marriage is hard work and that there are ebbs and flows of great times, good times, just OK times and pretty sucky times—much like the dynamics of sibling relationships. 

We talked about some marriages needing to end because of alcoholism, drug addiction, abuse, mental illness and other reasons more nebulous, such as one spouse wanting freedom or more personal time to pursue a non-traditional career. But my message remained the same: Marriage is not easy under perfect conditions and there are rarely perfect conditions. My advice was to prepare themselves not for the ideal times, but for the challenging times, so that they have the tools and mindset to stay the course (or right an already sinking ship) when the fireworks die down, responsibilities multiply, money dwindles and tensions and miscommunications rise.

I assured them that many of these things will happen, but also that they’re not valid reasons to head toward the door and away from the serious commitment that they’ve made to themselves and to another person. I didn’t need to tell them that divorce brings with it a lot of pain and loss; they’ve already been there. Going through it a second time has been incredibly debilitating to me. They may be processing it differently, but they’ve not been immune and are old enough to form their own opinions and to put up emotional walls.

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If I didn’t say it earlier, I am not proud of being divorced.

Not once, and certainly not twice. I worry about what it conveys to those who don’t know me, who I will meet in professional settings. Inevitably the personal questions come up, and to me, I feel that “twice-divorced” reflects something negative about my character that could be misjudged by someone wanting to do business with or hire me. I don’t know if others have thought about this in similar fashion. I certainly did not “opt in” for this second divorce, yet I can’t shake the notion that it makes me look tarnished in some way. This is not a judgement on anyone out there who has been in my shoes; I know many people for whom the third time really was the charm. Then again, I know many, including my father, for whom that was not true. But where he was unlucky, and occasionally foolish in love, he was rich in parenting skills and has been a devoted father to his own brood of five.

My mother, though separated and divorced from him when I was still a baby, did go on to have a very long and generally happy and satisfying second marriage. However, divorce is a part of my genetics. I wasn’t happy about it as a kid, and I am less so today. Because no matter how much of a modern woman that I am, I still believe in marriage. I believe in the beauty of a longterm relationship where a couple can look back at the roller coaster ride they’ve been on and say, “Despite the odds, the disconnected times, the outside distractions to romance and coupledom, financial straits and mismatched schedules, we made it.” 

My first marriage lasted 16 years. This new marriage, 20 months. A damn shame, because many couples therapists will say that the first year of marriage is often the hardest. And in fact, this turned out to be true more at the start of Year Two when the pressure of finances, slow-growing entrepreneurships, job hunts, sports schedules and teenage angst and antics crept in to our sacred space. We both knew what we were dealing with, having been under the same roof for two years prior to our getting hitched, but our expectations and commitment were different. 

I can only speak for myself, as that is the fair and courteous thing to do, but after making mistakes and not trying hard enough to save my first marriage, I was determined to do the in-depth analysis, use the tools and make the lifestyle adjustments to take this second one to the next level. That doesn’t mean I didn’t make mistakes along the way, but I said “I do” at the altar with 120% intent to stay married. 

Which is why, along with the heartbreak and sense of betrayal in our disparate commitment, I feel vast disappointment in both myself and my husband. And, the need to express my stance against divorce as the mature way to correct relationship issues and personal shortcomings. Doing the work, as a couple and individually, when you really don’t want to, is where maturity and growth flourish. And who among us does not need a dose of both now and again? 

Divorce a second time around

When my first husband and I separated then divorced, there were very specific reasons, and I openly claim a lion’s share of responsibility. I remember the therapist telling us during one session, that repair takes a lot of time, years even, and that staying in a marriage when there are difficulties and hurts is so much harder than walking away, but that the definition of marriage is “commitment to doing the work.”  

We thought a lot about what she said, but ultimately, we didn’t know where to pick up the pieces and were too wounded to try. So when he asked me one day, if we thought we could put things back together—a few months after we had both started new romantic relationships—I told him I thought it would be too hard because of there now being other people entangled in our hearts and bodies, and he agreed. Deep down, what I felt most at that moment, and why the pain side is so deep for me in this second divorce, was that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life wondering what might have been with this new man in my life. 

(Cue Alanis Morrisette…)

10120882-1002Fast-forward 10 years and here I am again. Though my signature is still needed, the future has been sealed: Another retainer fee, another round of furniture and clothing and tools and bikes and stereo systems and jewelry and lingerie and photographs and memories to pack into boxes; passwords to be changed and dates to be forgotten, friends to be lost, and now, Facebook to fret over… Another broken-home experience for my children and another reason for them to be very anxious about how their own marriages will turn out. Or if they’ll ever trust themselves or their own family history enough to take that step at all. They may be older this time around, but I know from my parents’ history that reluctantly adjusting to stepparents and then having to undo that relationship and the associated emotions, particularly trust, still has impact, even for high school and college-aged “kids.”

All of the above is why I am daring to share these words, and why I will continue to write about this in some form for months to come. I want my children to believe that they can have a happy marriage. Whether they become parents or not is irrelevant. Kids are not the only stressors to a romantic relationship. Thus far, I have not been a very good teacher in the marriage department. So for them, I want to start a conversation, with myself and with others, to help them understand the work needed individually and as a couple to make a marriage last. 

I am too old to have a chance at a life-long marriage, and with a heart as heavy as mine, I don’t know that I have the courage to risk a third marriage (let alone a date). But that doesn’t quell my desire to be in a relationship where I can reflect back a few decades and say, just like all those wonderful couples whom I admire, including my dear grandparents, “Look at what we’ve endured; we made it.”  

For now, it’s back to being a single mom and doing what I can to help these five beautiful creatures rewrite their family history in a way that I could not.

picstitch me and kids

Ticket Giveaway: The Franklin Institute and Opera Philadelphia

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opera phila logoDEADLINE EXTENDED: A chance to nab two tickets to tomorrow’sTODAY’s “sold out” free simulcast performance of Death and the Powers, a collaborative and interactive opera experience hosted by Opera Philadelphia and The Franklin Institute. This unique opportunity is part of a global experiment that gives audiences in ten locations in Europe and the U.S. access to acclaimed American composer/inventor Tod Machover’s sci-fi drama developed at the MIT Media Lab as it is performed live at The Dallas OperaContinue reading

Social Good Summit 2013

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In just a few days, I will be making my way up to New York City to immerse myself in the fourth annual Social Good Summit 2013—a truly awesome (as in the real definition of the word) gathering that has one major, collaborative goal: to meet global challenges (aka make the world a better place) using new media.

As a newcomer to the event, I have been binge reading my way across the web, cataloging links and notes, preparing my ears, eyes and typing fingers for the virtual reams of information that will surely pour out of this mass think (out loud) tank. 

Over the next few days, I’ll be sharing a handful of details that I am most excited about, along with ways for you to keep pace with the conversation during the event (Meetups are planned around the world).

You can get a feel for at least one of the speakers, Matt Wallaert (BING/Microsoft), right here, as I recently interviewed him regarding Bing for Schools. Increasing digital literacy across technology-deficient schools across the country, is just one way this social do-gooder is trying to make a positive impact. I am eager to hear what he has to say about “The Struggle for the Future of Attention.” 

There is plenty of scoop online, so I don’t expect to outshine the savvy writers already “expert” on the Summit. However, for the green peeps in the (cyber) house, I hope to pique and satisfy your curiosity.

If you’re into making the world a better place, you’ll want to pull up a seat to the Internet Sept. 22-24. Together we can be the #2030NOW change.

Rockport, MA: Worth the Visit

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I’ve always found that the best cure for the end of summer blues is to plan a fall getaway. Living on the East Coast provides ample options in every direction, but year after year, my mind wanders toward New England where ever-changing seascapes, vibrant foliage, and soothing eats deliver unrivaled comfort. (Hudson Valley’s Mohonk Mountain House also fills my fall-getaway fantasies, however it’s a bit less budget friendly than cozying up in an off-season, off the beaten path bed and breakfast.) And now that I’ve discovered Rockport, Massachusetts, I have a new destination to add to my great escape daydreaming.

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Those familiar with Rockport, Maine, might attest to this renown spot as being more noteworthy than its southern counterpart, but take away Andre the Seal, and Rockport, MA stands tall as an equally charming harbor town. (It’s also closer to Philly; just an hour north of Boston.)

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Along with numerous art galleries, there’s a vibrant music and arts scene. Motif No. 1, pictured above, is apparently the most-painted and photographed building in the world, and the Shalin Liu Performance Center delivers a diverse soundtrack of jazz, folk, chamber, pop and world music to locals and tourists all summer long. The image below a hard image to capture, but hopefully you can get a feel for how pretty this seaside music venue is. 2013’s lineup included Judy Collins, Suzanne Vega, Branford Marsalis, Paula Cole (born and bred) and several other contemporary and legendary artists.

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On a trivia note, Rockport is the site of several feature films, including Mermaids (1990) and The Proposal (2009). One of the town’s kitschy shops, R3 Sons Fun Emporium, proudly sports an autographed photo of Sandra Bullock among its eclectic inventory (including this life-size Gumby).

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Visiting this picturesque coastal town with my 14-year-old son made for a different experience than I might have had with my husband or girlfriends, but we still managed to cover the most important details: seafood, candy, coffee, hot cocoa and a sweatshirt. The weather was perfect for indulging in comfort food (65 degrees and rainy), and because it was a weekday, parking near, and strolling along, the main drag was stress-free. Had we not been staying nearby at my niece’s seaside cottage—and her daughter not shown up with a bagful of candy from the Bearskin Neck Country Store—we might not have made the trek. This legendary tourist attraction gives new meaning to the expression, “Like a kid in the candy store.” Side note: The store also sells just about every kind of cookie cutter imaginable.

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A progressive aroma of handmade chocolate, strudel, and fresh, steamed and fried fish, trailed down Bearskin Neck (the main shopping area), setting our appetites on fire. My son wanted Italian, but the only acceptable meal to me was going to come from a fryer or a steamer. Luckily, the place he’d read about was no longer in business, so swaying him to my side of New England eats was only a half-battle.

Hitting the candy store beforehand also helped. If you’re traveling with kids and not against a little candy consumption, you’ll realize there’s no getting out of this place empty-handed.

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We’d luxuriously dined on local lobster (at a paltry $5.99/pound) the night before, so despite the display of crustaceans and other fish at The Roy Moore Lobster Company—the house special is just-plucked lobster cooked in seawater—I kept walking.

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As soon as we stepped inside Top Dog, recommended to us by one of the shopkeepers, my heart skipped a beat. The tiny eatery pleasantly reeked of taboo foods—French fries, onion rings, mac & cheese, chili, hot dogs and fried fish—a devilish fragrance only made possible by good quality frying oil, a light coating of corn meal or seasoned flour, and a perfectly calibrated temperature somewhere between 350 and 375.

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I didn’t waste any time ordering the most expensive item on the menu—the day’s catch of whole-belly longneck clams. Plumper and full of ocean flavor, these decadent morsels had a juicy pop that when mingled with the crunchy coating and creamy tartar sauce, sent my taste buds into sensory overload.

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Leaving any of these tasty tidbits in the cardboard container was out of the question (especially at $16.99), but my belly was no match for these bellies. If you do one thing in Rockport, stuffing yourself with full-belly clams at Top Dog is it.

Had I done more research about the town’s sightseeing offerings, I would have detoured into The Paper House (a house and furnishings made completely out of paper), but there’s enough to see without doing (or spending) too much. In our rainy day laze, we were happy as clams meandering up and down Bearskin Neck and Main Street, ducking down random stairways, sneaking peeks at hidden gardens, winding up and down the spiral staircase at Toad Hall Book Store, and ogling over the gourmet food items and cooking/entertaining gear at Lulu’s Pantry. (Don’t be fooled; my son only cared about the dried pasta selection.)

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Though we were just biding time till the clouds broke and we could get out onto the beach, our ill-researched, touristy adventure proved to be very satisfying. Now that I know more about Rockport, I have a hankering to go back for a few days and explore not just more of the main town, but also Halibut State Park, Thatcher’s Island and the many other attractions. More than anything, though, I’d love to take in a concert at Shalin Liu. What could be better than a live music performance set against the sea? (Well, maybe an opera at San Galgano, but that’s a whole other blog…)

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