Thursday, 28 November 2013

Little Things

The children have a particular phone that I keep for them – ‘the Nigerian phone,’ we call it. Their Dad bought it in Nigeria (along with a Nigerian SIM card) in order for him to be able to make cheap phone calls to them whenever he wants, or whenever they want to speak to him.

For the first few months after we got it, I just handed it over to them and told them what it was for. That didn’t work very well, though. No one could ever remember where it was. No one ever remembered to charge it, either. And so that would mean no phone calls.

Their Dad expressed frustration about this a few times. So I decided to keep the phone in my room. It’s usually on my bedroom mantel piece, somewhere behind my head when I’m in bed. I also took on the responsibility of keeping it charged this year, and of rushing to hand it over to one of the children when it rings, reminding them to pass it on to their sibling for some talking time, too, when they’re done.

Still, we haven’t gotten it down to a science. He still complains periodically that he’s been calling and can’t get through, and is convinced the phone has been off. I still insist it’s been on and no calls have come in. We conclude that maybe there are some network problems that we aren’t aware of.

Or, the last child that was on the phone forgets to bring it back to my room and it lays somewhere – maybe hidden under a couch cushion, until the battery dies and no one has any idea where it is.

Sometimes, he calls when I’m at work to point out that the phone isn’t on (like today). Again, I say the phone is on, as I charged it and turned it on myself. I point out that although the children are at home today, maybe they’re just not in my room and so can’t hear it ringing. I suggest that he keep trying. Other times, ask why he doesn’t simply call our son on his ‘real’ phone (his Kenyan phone), and ask him to charge or turn on the Nigerian phone so they can chat. Or that he send his son an email or FB message. He doesn’t seem to like these options, as I noticed he never tries them out.

These are some of the teeny incidents that are part of the divorced life when you have kids, and if you’re not opposed to having your ex involved in his children’s lives.

Sounds pretty simple and banal. But there are undercurrents of apprehension – at least in my situation/on my part. I feel like I did a lot of the ‘heavy lifting’ in the relationship when we were married, and this is a pattern that I do not want to repeat, particularly not now that we’re divorced. I know that marriage is ‘work,’ and I understand why this is the case; I mean, any relationship that you want to preserve is ‘work,’ really. But I don’t want my divorce to be characterized by the same kind of labor.

It’s a challenge, though, because my former husband and I, while not being ‘friends,’ are not ‘enemies,’ either. We’re more like casual acquaintances that don’t know each other too well, as a childhood friend of mine observed recently. After having an opportunity to watch us interact for a while, she marveled at this fact. She said something to the effect of: ‘If I were in your situation, I would either still be in love with the person, or really hate them. But you guys are just totally neutral. You’re just like acquaintances. I was looking for some sort of emotion between you guys – anything – and there was absolutely nothing!’

I laughed and remarked that maybe we were both just really good actors.

She was right, though, in sensing that there is neither romantic love between us, nor great anger or hatred. I mean, I do get angry when certain things occur or when certain memories come back to me. I just don’t get angry ‘enough,’ nor often enough for anger to make its mark as a major emotion. Maybe my emotions would be more volatile if we had more contact. We actually have very little interaction.

I’ve just remembered that an older, father-figure person I used to know in my 20s once asked me what the opposite of love was.

‘Hatred?’ I offered.

‘No,’ he replied. ‘The opposite of love is indifference.’

Whoa! I thought.

But I can’t honestly say that what I, personally, feel is indifference. I don’t know what to call it, really. All I know is that there is this underlying sense of apprehension on the rare occasion when we do have to interact; a constant feeling that I need to have my guard up, or watch my back. A feeling that I need to have all my senses in a heightened state and be prepared for anything. An ‘unsafe’ and unrelaxed sort of feeling (I don’t think ‘unrelaxed’ is a word, but …).

There are other minor things that I sometimes contend with. Well, maybe they’re not minor after all. I guess I’m just treating them as minor for now because I’m not sure how to classify them. Like, on the rare occasion when I take pictures of the children, I wonder if I should send their Dad some copies.

The last time I did so was a month before we appeared in divorce court. Our daughter’s school pictures had just come home and, without giving it a second thought, I packed copies for her father since I knew I’d be seeing him. I remember now that he was touched to receive them.

Since then, however, I have always stopped short of doing that again. I think it’s more because the only way to do that right now would be via email, and an email from me would be so unexpected that I fear it might be mistaken for a sign that I want to open up some sort of conversation. Of course, I could be totally wrong, but I’m not ready to take that chance yet.

Same thing goes for report cards. Do I offer to send the children’s report cards to him, or at least tell him about them, when he doesn’t ask? I ask myself that question sometimes, but have always concluded that there’s no point. I have no reason to withhold the information if he asks for it, but I also feel like I have no reason to provide the information if he doesn’t.

What would be the point? Except perhaps to encourage him to be as involved as he can, and to make him feel like they’re still his kids – because they are. But again, this is not a job that I want. I suppose I would feel obligated, though, if he contributed toward their schooling in some way. I mean, it would be really bad of me to overlook sharing this sort of info in that case, whether he asks for the report cards or not.

This internal struggle came up again when one of the children needed to have a procedure done. Fortunately, my children are pretty healthy. My son never seems to get sick. My daughter is really sensitive to weather changes, but never really gets anything more than periodic colds, coughs, and mild fevers, which are easily handled. But there was this one time when she had to have a procedure done. The procedure was investigative – nothing scary; but she had to go under a general anesthetic, and that unnerved me a bit. For some reason, I still wasn’t sure if I should let her father know. I eventually did, a couple of days before the procedure date.

I wasn’t terribly thrilled about the response I got. There was nothing ‘bad’ about it. I do believe he was concerned and that he loves his children. But I felt like there was a tinge (okay, more than a tinge) of smugness, and this made me recoil. A sort of you-see-I-told-you-you-can’t-do-without-me air in what he said initially and how he said it. I wanted to say out loud: ‘This isn’t about you and me right now. This is about our daughter.’

Fortunately, she hasn’t had to go through anything like that again since then.

Today, when he called to find out what was happening with ‘the Nigerian phone,’ he started out by asking how things were going. Specifically, he asked: ‘How is the house?’

I hesitated. “By ‘the house,’ what do you mean exactly?’

‘I mean, how is everything?’

‘Oh … well … everything is fine.’

In my mind, I was thinking: What if everything weren’t fine? What would you do about it?

And then I caught myself and chided myself for over-thinking a simple greeting. It’s not uncommon to ask people how they are in a bid to be polite, without really expecting/wanting to hear exactly how they are. So I decided not to sweat the small stuff in this case.

Now, I just need to keep practicing this. 

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Wishful Thinking

I still get the odd phone call.

Phone calls of shock and disbelief from people who had heard years ago, but are still coming to terms with it – or who are just struck by the finality of it after bumping into one of us.

I got one such call yesterday and found myself negotiating what has become a familiar, dual role. I’ve had a lot of time to get accustomed to my new reality. In less than three months, it will be a whopping six years since the separation, and two years since the divorce.

Six years is a long time, and for me, this amount of time has been more than adequate for me to make sense of the past and get over it to the extent possible. We were separated for so long that I don’t feel ‘newly-divorced.’ But it’s different for others who haven’t seen either of us in a while.  Still a lot to absorb and try and get over, I mean. And so when I do get those traumatized phone calls, I find myself playing the role of consoler, while trying to avoid getting swallowed up by the trauma myself. I feel obligated to mourn with those who mourn, over something that I’m personally done mourning about. And so I listen politely and make all the right noises, and genuinely feel bad that they’re feeling bad, and feel bad along with them that the marriage had to come to this awful, screeching halt. But I do so as someone who has already mourned. There’s a difference, you know, between someone that ‘just heard’ and someone that heard long ago.

In situations like this, I always tend to use my father’s death as a reference point, but I guess that’s because it’s the one death that has had the greatest impact on me. Even though next month will make it seven years since he died, I still get phone calls from people who have just heard, or who heard long ago but never quite had a chance to reach out – or wanted to, but didn’t quite know how. At such times, I comfort the distraught caller, fully understanding the rush of emotions, having experienced them myself time and again. I honor their grief by giving them time to express their shock and disbelief. It would be easy enough to hurry them along, comforting them with the assurance that all is well and that my mother, siblings, and I are doing well despite the circumstances. But that’s the last thing I want to do. I allow them to pay their respects to that which is honorable. (And marriage is no less honorable.) But as I do this, I’m careful not to transport myself back to where I was seven years ago when I first got the news of my father’s death. I mean, it’s never really over. But it’s over. I will always mourn that horrible incident. But I’m a mourner who has already mourned.

The same thing applies to the marriage I once had. As I comfort those who mourn, I don’t want this practice to take me steps backward. Oftentimes, in people’s well-meaning minds, there is this deep hope for a turn-around in the present state of affairs, and this hope is usually expressed very clearly.  And so, I have to negotiate these conversations very carefully, not wanting to upset the mourner further, but wanting to care for myself, too. I see not dealing with and living in reality as particularly bad for my health.

The analogy between these two important deaths in my life (the death of my father and the death of my marriage) is something that I can go on and on about. There is a major point that sets them apart, though: No one expects my Dad to miraculously rise from the dead. 

Holding Back

Holding back is something that I think I’ve managed to do quite well over the course of my life. I make it sound like if this is some sort of achievement. Well, it is in some ways, and in others, it’s not necessarily.  I had a Skype chat with a good friend of mine about a month ago – one of those good friends that are constantly scheming or threatening to set me up romantically with someone, worried that my current life is too boring. Anyway, the conversation made me quickly go over the list of people I’d dated in the past and think about what those relationships were like. We talked about the two things that stood out for me as a result of conjuring up this list: 1) the list was short, and 2) all the relationships (except for one, which lasted two years) were short. With the one exception, they all lasted no more than a couple of months. It occurred to me that it was all about holding back, even then. Holding back from exploring each relationship further, from waiting to see how things would develop, from giving the relationship time, because it seemed clear (either before the relationship ever began, or a few weeks into it) that it couldn’t possibly last. So, why bother? I would wonder, and that would be the beginning of the end for me. Even in the two-year relationship, there was evidence of holding back (which eventually led to it dying a natural death).

This isn’t an account of regret, though. Merely a new observation. I spent much of my life holding back and holding out. Holding out for what I thought would be the real thing. I never saw the point of investing time and energy in relationships that clearly couldn’t be more than temporary.

This inclination kept me out of a lot of unnecessary trouble (thank goodness!), but it did little to enhance my level of wisdom.  As I’ve alluded to before in many previous blog posts, ‘getting wisdom’ is a whole other process.

There’s a young person in my life who has a slightly different approach to her relationships: some holding back, but without necessarily holding out.  Because why hold out for the unknown (my words, not hers – just my personal analysis of her approach)? In other words, why not enjoy the process of getting to know the person that’s in your life right now, regardless of where it’s meant to lead? Why not take interest in a person simply because they’re a person, whether a relationship with that person will lead you to the altar or not? Sounds quite reasonable, actually, but it’s a completely new thought for me.

Hmmm … I have no personal answers right now; I need to think about this some more. These are just some fresh thoughts for further consideration. In all your ‘getting,’ though, get wisdom – whatever your stance on the issue.