Archive for the ‘divorce’ Category

This week while planting tomatoes and digging in the dirt, I’ve also been digging up old feelings, dreams, and disappointments.

Tomatoes are a running theme in my life.

And I don’t even like tomatoes.

I hate the texture. They taste tart and plain. And to swallow one, gross.

But I love to grow them. At least I think I do. I grow them every year, so I must, right?

For the last 6 years I’ve grown colorful heirloom tomatoes from seed.

There are some bittersweet memories that my new friends and family don’t yet know.   Let’s back up this story.

On June 1, 2005, my thirty-first birthday, my ex-husband and I purchased 22 acres of farm land at an auction. The place was further out from our jobs than we had been looking, but the land was absolutely beautiful. It had rolling hills, some trees, lots of room for pastures and gardens, a nice spot for building a house, and a wetland full of frogs across the road.

I dreamed of being a farmer.

In second grade, I surprised myself with a drawing of a farmer, to the age-old question of “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Since then, it’s been a dream of mine.

Immediately after the auction. I set out to plan how I could make enough money to live off the land and stay home with my daughter full-time.

I planned the crops that I could grow, and where to market my produce.

I had a goal of setting up a CSA (customer supported agriculture) where customers would come out to the farm to pick up produce once a week. I planned for sheep that we would put on the land, and I started making contacts.

The first year, as our new house was being built, I started about 500 tomato plants in the windows of my downtown house. I rotated the plants several times a day so they would all get enough light. About 300 of the plants made it into the field. By the end of July, I was going to the farmer’s markets with 50 varieties of tomatoes.

On a good day at the market, I would make about $100-$150. That seems pretty good, until you figure the actual time that goes into the whole process. Between weeding, tying up plants, tilling, picking, sorting, sitting at the market, and paying for supplies and market fees, I probably made about $3.50-$5.00 per hour.

The next year, I began selling tomato plants.

The tomatoes grew in little pots, which required lots more time, space, and energy. It’s not easy to fill little plastic pots with dirt and shove a plant in each one. (Okay, so it’s kind of easy, it just takes a lot of time).

It extended my season, and I probably increased my income by about $300 for the year.

While I transplanted baby tomatoes, my daughter played Polly Pockets.

When I weeded in the garden, she made dolls from weeds, and played Marco Polo in the corn. She hated waiting for me to finish my work. And I was too tired and busy to play.

Finally one day I woke up and realized that this dream of mine wasn’t working.

If it was just me, it would be okay to keep trying.

But it wasn’t just me. The main goal of trying to get this farm off the ground and running was so I could spend more time with my daughter. Except that I was spending less time.

My dream isn”t just to be a farmer anymore. My new dream is to be the best mom I can be.

So that final summer before my divorce I let the tomatoes rot in the field.

I planted them.

But I didn’t weed them

I didn’t try to sell any.

The plants just withered away.

The tomatoes rotted, but I didn’t care.

I didn’t care, because the relationship with my daughter didn’t rot.

I dug into finding a job that paid well enough to support her, giving up on my dream of being home with her full-time. A few hours a day with her was better than no time with her.   Any of the farm stuff would be hobby only, and I would only do the parts of it that we liked to do together.

The dream of spending more time with her is still alive.

In fact, I can see myself on the other side of busyness, being able work for myself inside the home, and maybe part-time for others.

The problem is that to get to that point, I have to spend extra energy and time away from her after work to make it happen. It’s really a catch 22.

There are business ideas rattling around in my head and dreamer’s heart.

But I still have a really hard time trusting my judgment. I feel like I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way.  Some of them have felt like bad decisions. But without those mistakes, I suppose I wouldn’t be who I am today.

Being distrustful of my judgement,  doesn’t make the decision process any easier.

I grew tomatoes again this year. I lazily planted them in trays, and kind of neglected them.   I never transplanted them (transplanted plants become sturdier from the stress- another metaphor I suppose.) Some of this year’s tomato plants are wimpy. Some of the didn’t get hardened off enough. I didn’t plant all of my favorite varieties.   To grow tomatoes properly would have required missing out on The Muppet Show with Ellie, or playing that game of Othello, drawing fairies together, or helping her clean her room.

If any of those wimpy tomatoes grow, we’ll take a Saturday to make Salsa as a family.

This summer is shaping up to be a crazy one. If the going gets too tough, I am not opposed to letting the tomatoes rot.

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Peace, altered photo, Jenny Frech 2011

Yesterday I began writing about being a stepmom because it can be a lonely new world to navigate. I’m not looking for sympathy or revenge. I just want to share my story because it might help someone else.

In my town, I am friends with exactly zero stepmoms. In my whole life I’ve known four.  I have no role models, and obviously regular old mom advice doesn’t apply here, because I’m a regular old mom too.

Much of the advice online is from women negative and angry about their divorces.  They use the platform to spew venom. Ick. Other advice is for women without kids of their own; women that can get out of the house in the evening for kickboxing and manicures.  Not helpful.

Negativity rarely fixes a situation. I am looking for hope.

I am the grown up in these awkward step relationships.  I am the one that can change; so that’s where I start.

Yesterday, I shared my story of the moment I was knocked down and faced with expectations I didn’t even realize I had.  I had too many expectations, but not of the kids.   I don’t expect them to love or even like me. I do expect that they help out a little around the house, and they exceed those expectations beautifully.  They vacuum the yellow room, help with dishes, and do their laundry.  But I draw the line at going all evil Cinderella stepmother on them.  There is no chimney sweeping around here.

Nope, it was the expectations of myself. I had envisioned myself being able to cook all of the meals, keep everyone organized, assign chores, and run kids around town and have nice bonding conversations. I thought that I would always be fair and diplomatic, and that I would relate to my stepkids pretty well. I expected myself to help my husband with much of the childcare. I thought I would be able to jump in and discipline like I do at school. It was frustrating because the harder I tried, the more control I lost.

I was trying to control too much of the situation, which is kind of like trying to hold on to Jello.

I’m starting back at ground level, this time wiping the slate clean of expectations of being the superwoman figure in my house. I do have to be a mother.  My  biological daughter lives with me. I cannot step back completely because I do have a legitimate “mom” role to fulfill.

By clearing away expectations there is more room for everyone to be themselves.

Hopefully I’m leaving enough space for everyone to mourn their losses, but I’ll stay in view in case I’m needed or wanted. I am here, but I’ll let them come to me on their own terms.

I’m not angry. Confused, yes. Confuddled, yes. Frustrated, yep. Uncomfortable, sure thing.

But I can also say yes to strong, hopeful, consistent, loving, proud, and sometimes even a blubbering fool.

I am thankful for the opportunity for personal growth. I’ve always secretly wanted to be a more graceful person. The kind of person that is always welcoming even if they’re busy; has a smile, even if you’re rude; and is truly grateful to see you, even if you’re ambivalent.

I’ve been told never to pray for patience because you’ll have it tested.

Here’s a tip, don’t pray for grace either.

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Altered photo by Jenny Frech 2011

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

That’s how I feel about my remarriage lately.  Being a step mom is hard.  It is THE most difficult challenge that I have ever faced.  And that includes my year of transition to teaching at a school full of negativity in which teachers were quitting mid-day.  At times it’s even more difficult than my divorce.

Before anyone goes running to Jeremy to tell him that these are sometimes the worst of times, don’t bother, he knows.  He feels the same way.

Trying to blend together two families of preteens and a teenager can be tricky.  All of the kids are in different places of healing after the divorce.  All of the kids have different personalities and coping mechanisms.  They all have conflicting loyalties,  and ways of looking at and moving in the world.  All of us have different expectations of what our lives should look like, and what our time  together in the household will be.

I came into this family with no expectations of forming mother-child bonds.  They have a mother, they don’t need me to fill that role.  I have a daughter, I don’t need them to fill that role.  As a teacher, I work with kids about their age every day.  I love my students without being their mom, and the students love me too, in a respected adult kind of way.

That’s how I envisioned my relationship with my step kids.

It has been so much more difficult.

Over spring break, the first real day in fact, two of the kids told their dad that they hated me.

I fell apart, utterly and completely, wailing-on-the-bathroom-floor-apart.

But deep down I knew it already.

The honeymoon of our new family was over, and the shiny newness of dad’s wife had worn off.  The complaints about my choice of foods had been increasing, as had the ignoring and avoidance of me.

I know I shouldn’t take it personally.

I know it’s not about me.  It’s not about my cooking.  It’s not about the color I painted their rooms.  It’s not that my daughter is here too and gets special treatment.

It’s about what I represent to them.

I could be Mary Poppins, or Nanny McPhee, or the pretty girl their dad marries at the end of the movie.  It doesn’t matter.

It’s about the empty place in their home that I fill with a puzzle piece from an entirely different puzzle.

It’s that mom and dad will never be back together.  It’s that they don’t like that I do things differently from their mom, but if I did them the same, then I would be trying to take her place.

It’s a no win scenario.  I’m the easiest target of their hurt, grief, and confusion. They cannot be mad at mom or dad.

It has nothing to do with me.

They can’t love me right now.  They would be disloyal to mom if they loved me.

It has nothing to do with me.

I’ve stepped back.  Instead I’ve let dad take over the running of the chores.

Jeremy does all of the cooking, most of the running around, and all of the tucking in at night.

I have nothing to do with his kid management, just the management of my own child (which is a biomom stepmom balancing act in itself.)

I’ve stepped back.

But, I am here for the kids.

They can absolutely count on me.

When I realized what they were struggling with, my heart began to break for them.  But I’ve stepped back.  I won’t push.  I won’t tell them what to eat.  I won’t tell them to clean the bathroom.  But I’m here.

I’m not going anywhere.

I’m here because I’m growing, learning, and falling deeper in love with my husband, my best friend, every day.

Our relationship grows through the messiness of our blended family.  Sometimes we are stretched so thin, it feels like we might break.

He listens,  we talk, and we both get grayer and grayer as we face these new challenges.

I’m here because I’ve committed myself to be my husband’s helpmate.  He loves his children deeply, so I am here.

It may be the worst of times.

But I’m not going anywhere because it’s also the best of times.

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photo from pack 101 flickr

Tonight I’m writing this post while I’m watching my daughter tear up the track at a pinewood derby race. She and her dad made a rockin’ pink car. So far, she’s won the first two rounds by several car lengths.

Last year, she was crushed when her matchbox car didn’t win. She and her dad tested dozens of cars to find the fastest one.  After all that testing, I’m sure there was no doubt in her mind that she would win.

There have been times in my life, that I knew I couldn’t lose,

like the time my friends and I traveled from Michigan State and spent the night in a University of Michigan quad. It was the Michigan State versus Michigan football game. I was sure that we would win. After all, we won the year before. I was cocky and did a whole lot of trash talking to my Wolverine friends. I left the stadium with my tail between my legs after eating a slice of humble pie.

There are things in my life that I feel like I could never lose, like my: family, career, middle class lifestyle, freedoms, and my rights as an American, a human, and a woman.

I need to stop taking what I have for granted.

My first marriage was difficult, but I took for granted getting to see my daughter everyday. Now that she splits time between two homes, I cherish my time with her all the more.

I am sure that were it not for my difficult first marriage, I wouldn’t appreciate the way my hubby and I communicate, and the way he shows he loves me. I don’t advocate for divorce, but I will use it as an opportunity of gratitude.

I used to complain about the difficulties of mainstreaming all children into the classroom, and now that the education of those students is threatened, I’m fighting for their right to be there.

I’ve struggled with working with at risk kids and how to best serve them, but now I worry that my high school kiddos (and their little sibs, and their own children) won’t have the educational opportunities that they need for their lives, not for the college prep mold we are trying to force all kids into.

I used to think that women in America had equal rights as men.   Now I’m not so sure.  In the news I hear of unions of predominantly women professionals being broken apart, laws that make women “prove” a miscarriage, and defunding of basic reproductive medical care for women (not the abortions, but basic care).  For goodness sake, we send money to third world nations to help them with their reproductive health.  What about American women?

I always thought that I would be able to grow my own food and buy directly from the farmer.

My world is being turned upside down as of late, and I don’t like it one bit.  But I have realized that I have gotten awfully comfy in my life.

This post is not meant to depress anyone.  Rather, I want to stop being cocky, and start being grateful for what we have, or there may be a slice of humble pie with our names on it.

And my daughter that went into her race a bit more humble this year, came away with the champion trophy for her derby car, “The Phoenix”.

Ellie and her champion car The Phoenix

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I am one that struggles with decision making.

One of my strengths is my ability to see the big picture.

Imagining possibilities is exhilarating.  Nothing gives me greater pleasure than sitting down and brainstorming all of the possibilities to solve a problem, either by myself, with my husband, or with others at work.

I can easily come up with a fistful of solutions to most of the problems that come my way in life.

But, one of my weaknesses is my ability to see the big picture.

Life is many shades of gray to me.

I seldom see black and white answers to problems.  I can see the positives and negatives in those solutions, but when trying to weigh my options, they all seem to carry the same weight to me.

By saying “yes” to one possibility, I am saying “no” to another, and it feels like I am closing the door on that idea forever.  Indeed, sometimes the “yes” really is closing that possibility forever.

Sunday, my husband and I went to church for the first time in a long while.  The message was about listening for God’s call.  The man that spoke was a physicist, I’m guessing by his story that he was in his eighties.  He spoke of the times in his life when he had to make the tough decisions: take a fellowship; accept a job at a prestigious Ivy League school or a small religious college; complete his PhD or go overseas to serve in a religious ministry.

At some of his decision making times, the answer was clear, in other instances, it was difficult to separate the call from his own desire.

Sometimes it is difficult to sort out the best of two really good choices, or conversely two really bad choices.

He closed with,

“Whatever you do, make sure that you are living life intentionally.”

Those of you that read my blog regularly know that is the core of what I am personally working toward.

Another wise and experienced man, after the sermon said,

“If we are trying to live an intentional life, then we cannot let gravity guide us through the life of least resistance.”

I love that.

For so long, I was living the life of least resistance.  In many respects I still am.  Most of us let the gravity of life pull us through and make decisions for us.

Least resistance could mean staying in a job that is unsatisfying, staying in a major because you are almost done (guilty!), marrying someone just because you’ve been together so long, staying in an abusive marriage, giving up on a relationship because it take work to fix, watching too much television, letting our kids go with the cultural flow and grow up too soon, or buying the latest and greatest (fill-in-the-blank) just because that’s what everyone’s doing.

Sometimes least resistance is in the shape of putting off or avoiding decisions.  In which case, our decisions are made for us.

On ocassion, our ability to choose certain solutions is limited by our circumstances.  As a divorced and remarried person, my decisions and solutions must also consider the kids’ two other families.  Perhaps your decision making is limited by finances or a lack of support from your spouse.  Maybe your decision making is limited by location or education.  Maybe the solution you’ve envisioned, or feel called to has not presented itself yet.

What opportunities, calls, decisions will shape your life into what it is supposed to be?

For myself, I’m not sure what the next big decision will be.  In the meantime, I will continue working toward making small intentional decisions daily.  Hopefully that will help shape my life and prepare it for the next big decision making opportunity.

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but tossing and turning instead because my brain won’t turn off.

As I was lying in bed last night, I was thinking about yesterday’s post and how complicated my life really is. Today, on Facebook, three of my friends were lamenting Monday, and realizing that somewhere along the way, we have forgotten how to live.

The  joy has been sucked out of our lives with busyness: long commutes, needless paperwork, unpaid overtime, too many papers coming home from school, soccer games, and lawn mowing.  Even 13th Century peasants had 80 holidays per year, and slowed down in the winter long enough to mend their socks and make babies.

Some people are lucky enough to be in the financial situation to be able to do what they want, and others of us, are treading water, trying to get the bills paid. I know some will say, “follow your bliss”, “quit your job and do what makes you happy”, “sell your house and your car and everything will be okay”.

Some of us are just not in the financial position to do that.  I’ve been reading a lot of blogs about simplicity, and there are  a lot of hardcore, all or nothing types.  Either you sell your t.v. and your car, or you might as well give up your quest for a simpler life.  That’s just not possible for all everyone.  Some of us have child support to pay;  a significant other in school; are under or unemployed; have houses that won’t sell in this market; or are up to their eyeballs in student loans and credit card debt.  Maybe we live in places that have no public transportation and eight-year-olds that can’t ride their bikes 10 miles to town and back. What about us?  I am hopelessly optimistic.  I just think we will have to be ultra creative to figure this all out.

What do those of us that want a simpler life now do? In our minds we see how we want our lives to be, but aren’t sure how to get there.  Maybe we don’t even know how we want our lives to look yet, so we can’t even begin to make a change.

Eight years ago, I knew that something wasn’t quite right in my life. I really felt stale and stagnant.

So I took the following steps to make some changes. I…

  • learned to oil paint. I had always wanted to learn to paint, so when my daughter was just about a year old, I took an oil painting class.
  • threw pots on a wheel at a pottery studio. Let me tell you, pottery can be therapeutic. The other major and maybe the most life transforming thing that I learned was: Don’t be afraid to look like an idiot and ask questions. People want to help you.
  • came to terms with the thought that I wasn’t crazy, just creative. I saw a counselor for a while, but I think anyone could have filled the role of letting me know that I wasn’t crazy, just different from the mainstream. Who wants to be like everyone else anyway?
  • tried every thing I could think of to save my marriage. I didn’t bolt, and suffered for a while, but I wanted to make sure every step had been overturned before I left.
  • found people in my tribe. This included people from age 21-76. Age doesn’t matter, heart does.
  • made a plan. I went back and got my teaching certificate for High School science so I could find a job with a paycheck that could support myself.
  • finally learned how to use my camera which is by far the most fun I’ve had so far.
  • met a great friend that shares my lust for learning, so I married him.
  • really started evaluating what I eat, buy and otherwise consume, and have started making some difficult choices in my behaviors to match up with my values.

So, that’s what I’ve done so far, not all at the same time mind you-over the course of the last eight years. I’m not there yet, far from it. I still feel like there is a lot more for me to learn.

The last ten years have beat me up in a lot of ways, but I wouldn’t trade them because I learned too much about myself. If I hadn’t have had troubles along the way, I would still be stupid 26 year-old Jenny, and not mildly jaded 36 year-old Jenny.

So friends, what are we going to do to find the simplicity and connectedness in our lives that we want?

Step One: We have to evaluate what our values truly are. What do we hold dearest to us in our lives?  How can we better show through our lives what is most important to us? And then, this is the kicker…we have to prioritize those values. Put them in 1,2,3 order with one being the most important to you.

I’m going to sleep on this one tonight, and post more about this tomorrow. If you are courageous, post your values in order in the comment section on the blog, and maybe we can help each other out.

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In my teens and early twenties, I dealt with depression like countless other young women.  Since then I’ve learned so much about myself.  I have learned to embrace my weirdness and use it to my advantage.  All-in-all, with just a few minor exceptions, I accept who I am.

In my late twenties and early thirties, anxiety set in.  Not the kind anxiety that was bad enough to stay home and bolt the doors.  It’s the kind that makes my arms itch and gives me the feeling that there is too much to do in too little time.  In my twenties, it started as anxiety toward money issues:  How will we pay the bills? Will we ever get out of debt?  When my daughter was two-and-a-half, it became: How will I find enough time for her if I go back to work?

Since then the passing of time makes me anxious.

It’s not that I mind working.  Really, I’ve always been happiest working a two or three part-time jobs at a time to keep life interesting.  It was that I would have to leave my daughter at home, and try to juggle the demands of work and the joys of being a mom.  I just never wanted anyone else to raise my kid but me.

As my daughter got older, and I was beginning to see that there was no way to save my marriage, I began to get anxious about missing out on time with her.  I made the choice to leave the marriage and have to sacrifice my time, when I realized that if she were in a unhealthy marriage like mine that I would cry for her.  And that’s what I was modeling, so that’s what she would get.

Me and my kid at the dunes

It’s very weird mommy-ing on some days, and not on others.  I’m always her mom, but when the kids aren’t here, it’s quiet and haunting.  There is no homework to help with, no violin to practice, and no sit-down dinners to be made.  Their stuff is usually on the coffee table, shoes in the hallway, dirty clothes on their floors, and it sits there until they return.

I hate feeling like a part-timer.

I love every minute that my daughter is with me, but it is filled with all kinds of guilt.  I feel guilty when I have to spend time grading papers.  I quit going to yoga because it took away time with my kid.  I feel guilty when I need to spend time cleaning or in the garden or doing one of the million things moms need to do to keep things going.  I feel guilty when I’ve told her “just a minute,” and it becomes twenty.

I feel so much pain for her because she has to split her heart and her time between the two people that mean the most to her.

About that time anxiety…

On Thursday night right before bed, I sang her lullaby.  As I was singing, I got all choked up because I hadn’t gotten to spend much time with her this week, and she was going to Dad’s the next day for the long weekend.  I couldn’t finish singing.  When she asked what was wrong, I said that I was thinking about how I was going to miss her.

“I’m not gone yet, Mom,” she said.

“You’re right.”  I apologized, and hugged her, and just kind of breathed her in.

Sacrificing my time rips my heart out.  I’m pretty sure I did the right thing.  I know that I am now modeling a healthy marriage for her.  Her dad has remarried, and it seems like it is a much healthier relationship for him too.  She now has a brother, and sisters, and new grandmas, grandpas, aunts, and uncles that think she is the cat’s meow.

I don’t think or maybe I don’t know if this will ever get easier.  I kind of feel like I am sending my kid off to college at age 8.  In the meantime, I will try to slow time by enjoying the time that I have with her and trying really hard to only miss her when she is really gone.

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