Last night

I was supposed to go to a write-in. A place where writers come together, are given a prompt, they write for 15 minutes, and then are (positively) critiqued. I’ve been before and its ok, but last night I said I was going and I didn’t. I lied. I mean, I didn’t LIE LIE. I left on time, got on the bus, got off near Port Authority, walked to the building, and then just kept walking. The problem is that I knew that was going to happen. It was my plan all along. I’m embarrassed and ashamed, of course, but honestly I liked that no one knew where I was. I love the anonymity of NYC. I love that I can be at 42nd and 8th and its a hell hole, wall to wall people, and no one notices me. I loved that I didn’t have to be with my stepdaughters and our little family last night because I can only handle them in spurts, especially if the older one is having a tough time aka being a raging, irresponsible, bratty bitch.

So, I went to the one decent place for food (which I will not disclose here in case you all frequent it and then it will no longer be a safe haven for me,) and then caught a movie. I’ve actually done this before, just once. Maybe this makes it a habit now, I don’t know. Because I desire it. Not the lying part, just the being alone part. It would be hurtful to my man if he knew I didn’t want to be with them. Actually, him either. We have plenty of time without the girls, but we use that time to be together or travel or sometimes with my son. It strikes when it strikes, the need to escape.

I saw a police officer riding a horse the wrong way down a one way street. I heard bits and pieces of bizarre conversations. I smelled smells that made me hold my breath and cover my face with my scarf. I bumped into many shoulders and said many ‘Pardon me, excuse me’s. Best of all, I forgot everything I was worried about, everything I was thinking about, before I got there. I felt anger (at the throngs of slow moving people,) sadness (at the homeless, drug-addicted, and destitute strangers,) blinded (by the lights,) and a strange sense of calm that only comes from being still in the center of chaos. I wish I could achieve this at home, when the storms come, but I am too reactive, too emotional, too personal. It matters to me, and I need to take care of myself so that I do not explode, say all of the wrong things, have a negative impact on those kids.

So, since I can’t go much further than NYC because 1. we don’t have a car and 2. I need to be home at a reasonable hour, Times Square on a Friday night it is.

Progress not perfection.

The only way to know there has been progress is to look back and see how far we’ve come. Or not.

When I met my man, Jennifer had just turned five and Dylan was eight and a half. One of the first things I noticed about them was how ridiculously cute they were. I had a boy, so girls were something new. They seemed sweet as pie, loved having me around. Of course, that was when we were dating and I was a novelty. Even then, though, I noticed some things about Dylan – anxiety and OCD behaviors. I recognized them because I had a mild level growing up, and I’d seen it in my own son briefly around the same age. At the time, I sent him to a psychiatrist friend who said, he’s just now processing your separation and that with some conditioning and assurance, he’d likely grow out of it. He did. (He does, however, still have a nasty habit of biting his fingernails.) Anyhow, there were things Dylan did… needing the same exact towel, the same nightgown, hopping three times before getting into bed, always asking if everything was safe to eat but then not eating it even if we said its fine. Dylan has trust issues and needs to feel safe, in control, always – as we all do on some level – but never vulnerable, or connected to her emotion. Bedtime was a nightmare, a lot of screaming and crying – every. single. night. I suggested to my man that he break out that Super Nanny book he had on the bookshelf and start implementing some structure. The girls were flailing. And he was exhausted. No one was being accountable for the situation. Those things have changed somewhat since my man really stepped up as a Dad, and also when Dylan began taking Prozac about a year ago. I was never a fan of medicating children. That is, until I was up with her at 3am while she was having a panic attack, punching herself in the face, biting her fingers until they bled, and screaming “Someone please help me!” Prozac works. And the girls have structure now around bedtime. Yes, we still need to get Jennifer to fall asleep on her own, but at least Dylan isn’t losing her shit anymore at bedtime. She does, however, need both the fan and the book-light on to fall asleep to, as well as actually reading to fall asleep. What do they say, progress not perfection?

I realize that I sound heartless sometimes when I speak about the divorced child. I’m not. Far from it. My son experienced being a child of separated parents. Maybe he’s ‘easier’, its all relative. My point is, though, that like it or not, this is the reality of many, many households for numerous reasons. We can have empathy for the children that they don’t have both parents under one roof but we can also set up a life that has love and boundaries. Just because someone is upset, or ill, or a victim (especially in their own mind,) doesn’t mean they get to be an asshole. And allowing that behavior does no one any favors, least of all the child who will grow into an adult, believing a.) the world is out to get them b.) the world owes them c.) everyone will feel sorry for them d.) they won’t have to be accountable for anything because poor them, their parents got divorced.

I had a friend who blamed her parents for her unhappiness well into her 40’s because they divorced 20 years earlier. She had a weird marriage of her own, more of a business arrangement. And her own mother had never remarried. She hated her stepmother, yada yada. Its so cliche. I say this also as someone whose child has had a stepmother (and two other women in his life who were stepmother models until his dad traded them in.)

I was raised in the school of hard knocks. Do I wish that my mother had been a little more present while I was growing up? TOTALLY. But she was grieving the death of her little boy. Do I wish that my father wasn’t a traveling salesman while I was growing up? TOTALLY. But learning how to verbally spar and push boundaries with my father compelled me to take action in my life, both then and now. In my 20’s, I know I went through a phase of forgiving them, maybe not to their faces but for myself. They did the best they could with what they had. But they didn’t know better. WE DO. We are educated, affluent, white people with every resource available to us. It seems irresponsible to me for us not to use those resources, and get our houses in order. Those kids will become adults (mine is already 17) and I want to be proud of the parenting we did that allows them to be in the world without us.