It Takes a Village to Survive Divorce

The kids and I moved last weekend. Halfway, anyway. Our mattresses are here, the couch, the dining table, 99% of the kitchen items. The bunk bed in Miles and Grant’s bedroom has not been put together and won’t be assembled until I can sweet talk a girlfriend or brother into coming over to help me. Isla’s bed frame turned out to be broken (bed jumping injury from the old house) so I’m going to have to beg a brother to come over and fix it for me.

There’s nothing pleasant about a divorce, but in my case I’m putting up with the trauma, delays, financial pitfalls and hassles knowing that having it finalized will mean much less stress and anxiety and negativity in my life than during my marriage. But without my friends and family, I’m not sure I’d be doing as well as I (think I) am.

My friends, my sister, my aunt, my uncle and his wife – they’ve all listened to me as I struggled with the decision, made the decision and moved on with the decision to file for divorce from my husband of 10 years. When Zachary called the police on me because he believed I was in violation of our custody agreement by moving back into our house temporarily after I realized the roommate I was renting space from was crazy (I was not arrested; I had a letter from my lawyer ready to show the police officer stating I had a legal right to be in the house), a friend and her husband offered their home to me so I could have a safe place to stay when I was not with the kids. Even though they have two children of their own and busy lives, they were generous enough to let me have a room to myself for six weeks (two more than we’d initially agreed upon) and didn’t charge me a cent in rent. Another friend with an unfinished basement let me store some of the belongings I’d had in my car the night of the police debacle in her home. In addition to the sympathetic ears of married or single friends or family members, I have friends who’ve gone through divorces of their own who give me advice and show me that life will go on after this is all over.

There have been too many acts of kindness to list here, and if I try I will forget someone and feel bad. Like Hilary Swank or Sandra Bullock at the Oscars.

My dad and brothers helped me move heavy furniture up two flights of stairs into the new townhouse I rented. I should add that my dad, who is about to be 64, has moved me about 1,342 times in my life. To college 300 miles away and back home, to apartments, to and from another state, and now this. As he finished putting the dining table together in my new place, the dining table that once belonged to him and my mom, I thanked him for helping me and said that if I ever had to move again I’d hire movers. “Yeah,” he said, his eyebrows raised. But even though he was exasperated, he still helped me. That’s a good dad.

There’s nothing pleasant about a divorce, but the support I’ve received has made it more bearable. My new home is much, much smaller than the old one and we have no yard. I’m worried about how I will afford everything I need to afford. I don’t know for sure when the rest of my furniture and boxes will make it here. I don’t know who I’ll get to help me assemble and fix the beds because even though I know my friends will help me I’m afraid to keep asking, to keep needing their assistance and so I hesitate when a need arises and first try to figure out if I can do it on my own. Maybe Miles is big enough to hold the pieces of the bunk bed. If I buy a drill, maybe I can figure out how to fix Isla’s bed.

I don’t wish a divorce on anyone, so I can’t say that I hope I can return the favor one day. But I can find ways to pay the kindness forward until the days my friends may need me for something. I offer profuse thanks and am trying to be more gracious in accepting help. Like compliments, I’m sometimes too quick to brush off offers because my independent streak wishes I didn’t need help.

Thank you, dear friends and dear family – the listeners and the entertainers and the supporters and the reality-checkers and all.


Stay at Home Moms – Is it Too Risky to Leave the Workforce?

I just got a job. I think. I filled out official tax paperwork and had orientation but I haven’t heard about my training schedule and so I keep fearing that they’re going to rescind the offer and I’ll have just my self-employed job again. I didn’t even know how to fill out my tax forms – the withholdings confounded me and I had to text Zachary, my almost ex-husband, for clarification. Was I supposed to check married? How many dependents did I need to claim?

Thirteen. That’s the number of applications and resumes I submitted to various employers before I had an offer. The position is very part time and pays $10 an hour. The guy who had orientation at the same time is fifteen years younger than me.

My college degree from my expensive private university doesn’t seem terribly relevant or useful right now, and I wonder what the job market is like for those who haven’t graduated from college or even high school.

You see, ten years ago, I exited the official realm of paychecks and bosses to await the arrival of my first child. Then three more came. In between the parenting I volunteered and started my own business which has doubled its sales every year, but that experience was hardly enough to even get me a second look from employers. In their minds, they must think I’m as inexperienced as a recent graduate, yet not quite as fresh or eager.

When you marry, you don’t expect to get divorced. Women don’t exit the workforce to stay home with their children thinking their marriages will fail. It’s a leap of faith, my sister explained to me one day as I was on the verge of regretting ever thinking it was wise to halt my professional life entirely. Before we even married, I followed Zachary to two states as he pursued his career, stunting my own in the process. But I did it for us and I stayed home with the kids because I felt it was right for our family. I just didn’t know that Zachary and I wouldn’t see eye to eye on the length of that agreement. I assumed it was something we’d revisit, that someday he’d support my goals for a career the way I’d supported his, but it turned out he thought a mother’s place was in the home and no where else.

So now I am free to work on a career, yet that freedom comes at a very high price. I’m entering the workforce as a recently retired stay at home mom (my self-employment not withstanding), yes, but most other women in my position do so with their husbands’ support, both emotional and financial, as they ease back into earning a life-sustaining income.

I spoke with a very good friend on the phone yesterday who has been a stay at home mom for a short while, due mostly to a relocation. She has two adorable boys and did enjoy some nice time off before going back to work after their births, but otherwise has been earning her own paychecks pretty much from college to this point, almost fourteen years (I really cannot believe it’s been that long since we graduated from college, pardon me while I take a brief moment to cry). And even she said she’s worried about the effect staying home with her children for a while will have on her career when it comes time to go back to the working world.

Ten years away. Ten years since I had a boss, since I had a paycheck that arrived with regularity and not written from my own bank account. As I told my friend, I know that I was so fortunate to stay home with my children, and it was the right choice for our family at the time, emotionally speaking, but I hate feeling now that it was the wrong choice for me, professionally. Zachary benefited from me staying home because I could do more laundry, do all the grocery shopping, buy all the kids’ clothes and take them to play dates and preschool and plan parties, make most of the meals. My role was House Manager, and because I kept the mental list going every day of what needed to be done, Zachary could go to work and focus on that and not worry about the long list of tasks relating to the running of our home.

The kids benefited because they had a consistent caretaker who loved them more than the Earth itself and I could hug them when they cried and take them to the doctor and the zoo and to visit friends and they could be home in their pajamas all day if they wanted. We made cookies and watched movies and went to parks and they got to go to half day preschool programs. I benefited because I got to spend time with the four most important people in my life and watch them grow and not have to miss then when I was away at an office. But now I’m suffering the consequences of departing the workforce before I had a chance to build up an actual career.

So who is safe to stay home? No one is safe from divorce, I’ve learned – you can enter your marriage thinking nothing will break those bonds but then they break and you’re left staring at the pieces, wondering when the first crack occurred.

In this economy, I think I can say that as an English major who took ten years off to be with my children, things don’t look so hot for my prospects. Thirteen applications to get one part time job that I don’t even need a high school diploma to work. Would finding a job be easier for me if I’d worked in the same industry for three years before becoming a stay at home mom? Five years? Ten years? If I had a degree in marketing or an MBA? Who can afford the sacrifice to stay home with the kids, when there’s this unexpected chance the family breadwinner will one day not be in the picture?

I look at young, new moms now and hear they stay home and instead of being happy for them I worry for them. They will love the time they spend with their children but what if their husbands die or leave them or they simply want to go back to work because, yes, some mothers want to work even if they don’t need the money. I was one of them. I wanted a career I could take pride in and work hard at, I wanted a career to set an example for my children, to make sure my daughter would know that if she has children someday, she doesn’t have to stay home with her kids if that’s not the right choice for her. That she’d have options. Now I wonder if I should ever encourage her to stay home with her kids. I’ll support any choice she eventually makes, but I think I’d have to caution her about the risks associated with being unemployed, by choice, for so long.

Though I think most of us can agree that it’s wonderful women have the choice to stay home with their kids or go back to work, I don’t know that it always really works out to be a choice. After a certain number of kids, I almost had to stay home because of daycare costs. Some women feel their careers would suffer too much and don’t feel secure enough to leave for more than their 6 weeks of maternity leave. It’s sad that something that should be so positive and rewarding for a family – having a mother who is happy to stay home with her children – can result in a feeling of regret when that mother realizes she’s nearly unemployable years later.

My options are limited in the immediate future. I will work my $10 an hour job and also work harder and longer to build my business because a low-paying job is better than no job at all. At some point I may have to give up that dream but I’m not ready yet. I’d be trading the uncertainty of self-employment for an entry level position that will likely pay less than $30,000 a year. One statistic from the US Census Bureau puts the poverty threshold for a family of five in the US at $27,251. Rent for a three bedroom home will be at least $1500 a month. That’s if I squeeze all three boys in one room. Four bedrooms, I’m finding, are going to be almost impossible for me to afford. This doesn’t even begin to get into the expenses related to raising four kids, albeit 50% of the time. I can’t live in a smaller house half the time. I can’t drive a smaller car half the time. Children don’t wear less clothing because they have two homes. I won’t be buying any fewer birthday presents or holiday gifts.  My first job started at $30,000 a year and had benefits. I paid $400 a month for a studio apartment, gas was sometimes still under $1 a gallon and I lived about six blocks from where I worked. I had to feed only myself.

Where would I be now if I’d never left that job? I’d never in six million years choose to change my past if it meant I wouldn’t have my children, but what if I’d worked outside of the home all those years instead of devoting all my time to the family? By what amount would my earning potential be greater?

Brave Review and Giveaway Winner

As I wrote about earlier, I received a copy of Disney•Pixar’s Brave to review and also a copy to give away to one lucky commenter!

I’d let the kids know the movie was coming, so when the kids got off the bus Friday afternoon the first thing Isla asked was, “Are we watching Brave tonight?” Why, yes, we were! She and Miles are curious children and had plenty of questions for me. What was the movie about? Where did it take place? And, most importantly, what were we going to eat while we watched the movie?

“What are people who live in Scotland called?” Isla asked.

“Scots,” I replied.

“What do Scots eat?” she asked again.

“Hmmm,” I answered. “Good question.”

Google to the rescue, I looked up some Scottish recipes. Landed on one with only three ingredients and – even though it involved BAKING – thought I probably could manage three ingredients. Here is the recipe I followed for Scottish shortbread. Hello, four sticks of butter. Mine were not so gorgeous, I may have let the butter soften a bit too long because they spread a little, but when cropped closely they don’t look so bad!

Definitely give it a try – they are flaky and delicious! And if I can make them, anyone can. Seriously.

I also made a recipe called Scotch Collops. Only not really. Because I didn’t even bother to try to find veal, I didn’t have seasoned flour (though I made a half-hearted attempt to make some) and I didn’t use nearly as much butter as called for since the shortbread was already going to give our tickers a workout. So not really the same at all, but don’t tell the kids. Grant asked me to make it again tonight, but without the sauce, which meant he wanted breaded chicken.

On to the movie – hooray, exciting! We’ve been watching a lot of movies over and over (and over) again, so a new film was much appreciated.

First, I will say that the animation is stunning. I could not get over Merida’s hair. I marveled, I oohed, I ahhed. Isla was amazed by a scene in a river. Brave is a seriously beautiful movie.

Second, the kids found some parts exceptionally funny. There is a fight scene near the beginning that had my boys rolling, literally. Merida also has three younger brothers who provide much comic relief.

Third, as we got into the movie, I realized I’d been completely unaware of the movie’s general storyline. I won’t give anything away but will say the shape the story took to show Merida’s bravery was unexpected on my part.

I’m going to stop using numbers now. I think the kids most appreciated the action and laughs, whereas I appreciated the “follow your own desires, not anyone else’s” storyline, as well as the lessons on compromise and understanding. The kids have already requested we watch it again!

The funniest comment from one of the kids during the viewing? “That bear has a big butt!” Jonah exclaimed. He got such a strong reaction from his brothers that now he keeps repeating the phrase.

On to the winner – congratulations to Cheryl, who was the 18th commenter. Her number was selected at random using Cheryl has been contacted, and in the event she cannot be reached, a new winner will be selected.

Brave will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on November 13!

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this film from Walt Disney Studios to review, but all opinions are my own.


More Disney World Planning and a Brave Giveaway

I realize I’ve gone a little Disney crazy at the moment, but I can explain.

Life and work have been hectic – beyond hectic, even – and the kids and I are enjoying every last minute of the anticipation of this trip. We go this month! Our past few months have included a lot of stress and it’s been great to focus on a vacation where the whole goal is to spend time together and have fun. I won’t have to work, the kids won’t have school or sports practice, I will have a very valid excuse to not return calls and emails to clients and we will have six days to devote to nothing but entertainment.

So what have I been doing lately to prepare for this trip in the brief moments between parenting and cleaning and working?

I ordered our new SafetyTats. These are ingenious, and we used them during our last trip to Walt Disney World as well as when we went to the Minnesota State Fair. Miles and Isla know my phone number, but Grant and Jonah do not. And if Miles or Isla were lost and panicked in a sea of strangers at a theme park, would they really be able to bring the phone number up from memory? These temporary tattoos are designed with up to two phone numbers printed directly on them. So each kid will sport one in a strategic place in the (pleasenodonotletthishappen) chance they get separated from me while we’re at Disney.

I also ordered some breakfast foods and snacks for our resort stay. We’re staying at Art of Animation, in a family suite, which includes a mini fridge and microwave. Since we are participating in the dining plan, we won’t have to feed ourselves too much, but quick breakfasts in the room before we take the bus to the parks will be faster and less expensive than grabbing something at a quick service counter and paying out of pocket. I’d read on a message board that some people had luck with ordering from Wal-Mart, but while the prices were good I didn’t find the delivery selections that extensive. So I went back to the service we used two years ago – Garden Grocer. Placed my order, and they will deliver it right to my resort’s front desk. Can’t beat that!

I’ve also started making a packing list, but I got overwhelmed about thirty items in and gave up for a while.

Please note, I don’t work for or receive any compensation from these services, I just get a lot of traffic to my blog about Disney planning and wanted to share some specifics about what I’ve found helpful.

Now, moving on to a part where I WAS compensated.

Win a Copy of the Disney•Pixar Movie Brave!

Another way we’ve been gearing up for our trip is by watching Disney movies. In particular – Cars, Finding Nemo, Wall-E and The Princess and the Frog. One movie we haven’t seen yet is Brave, so I was excited to get an offer in my inbox to give away a copy on my blog. I also received a copy to keep and the kids and I are having movie night tomorrow to watch it! Brave comes out on November 13 on a Blu-ray combo pack, digital and on-demand. I will be sharing a review and my kids’ thoughts about the movie on Saturday.

From the press release: “An original and thrilling journey set in the ancient and magical Highlands or Scotland, “Brave” follows the heroic journey of the headstrong, young adventurer Merida. Determined to carve her own path in life, Merida confronts tradition and defies an age-old custom that inadvertently unleashes chaos, and forces her to discover the true meaning of bravery.”

If you’d like to win a copy of Brave, leave a comment on this post telling me your favorite Disney movie. One commenter will be selected at random to receive a BRAVE Ultimate Collector’s Edition 5-Disc Set! Leave your comment by 10pm on November 9 to be entered, thanks! I will need the winner’s address by November 10, so if the first winner cannot be reached for confirmation in time, a new winner will be chosen.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this film from Walt Disney Studios to review, but all opinions are my own. Artwork used with permission.

Are We Talking Flippers or Scrapers Here?

Because it’s really not very clear. And maybe I’m more enthusiastic about rubber scrapers than I am about pancake turners. That would totally influence my decision about applying or not.


As I think I’ve mentioned, I’m looking for a new job. Something part time for now, because my  own business obligations are keeping me busy at least through November, but a full time job search will be on the horizon soon. Actually, I’ve sent in resumes for a handful of full time jobs, as well, just because my new economic and life situation is going to require more income than my business currently provides, but the pickings are slim out there, I tell ya. I’ve applied for five part time jobs so far – I interviewed twice for one, but ultimately was not offered the position (I would have had to decline, anyway, for a few reasons) and the other four, despite me being more than qualified, resulted in empty inboxes.

Yeah, the economy is tough for everyone. And might be especially so for this mom of four who received her last paycheck in 2003. I’m seriously considering waiting tables again, even though I had nightmares about being in the weeds or having a hostess quadruple-sit me for, oh, a good eight years after I quit my last waitressing job, know what I mean, homes? (Thumbs up to my fellow servers, past or present, who understand those references.) But waiting tables is a decent, temporary solution to what will hopefully be a temporary financial shortfall.

Or perhaps I will suddenly have an influx of clients who will throw zillions of dollars at me and I can keep the job I love. Or maybe the lottery ticket in my wallet from last month, still unchecked, is a multi-million dollar winner and I can use my gobs of cash to go back to school.

Or maybe you’ll find me at the Mall of America next month hawking Spatulas.


Written to participate in Just Write, inspired by the Craigslist ad and its capitalization of Spatulas.

Shopping with a Crazed Toddler – The Home Improvement Store

I’m not terribly superstitious, but I totally believe in jinxing. I should keep track of these occurrences because I’m pretty sure I can prove that jinxing exists.

My definition of jinxing: If you say aloud that something is going well in your life, you have just doomed yourself to that very thing going wrong.

Take yesterday, for example. At a moms’ group meeting a local author read to us from her book about surviving and navigation stay at home momhood, and in the ensuing conversation we talked about ways we carve out time to not just be mom.

I piped up and said that while I used to cherish solo trips to Target and the grocery store, I now try to bring the kids with me on errands like that because they like to be with me and they (generally) keep their hands to themselves and their voices below a dull roar. I didn’t go so far as to say my outings will all the kids go smoothly 100% of the time, because that would have made me a big, fat liar, but the implication was that taking four kids shopping wasn’t so bad that I had to stop doing it altogether. Big mistake.

So. Today I had errands to run. After my moms’ group meeting Jonah and I dashed to the grocery store to buy the celery I forgot I needed for the soup I was supposed to make yesterday (we had mac n cheese instead). Wrestled with Jonah a bit to try to keep him in the cart but to little avail. Made it to the checkout only to realize I forgot to get an onion, which I’d also need to make the soup. But, on the bright side, at least I didn’t remember after I’d left the store, right?

Got the onion, paid (only had to chase Jonah once, as he made a dash for the automatic door while I was bagging), drove home, put away the cold food, then got to the bus stop just in time to pick up Grant.

Took Grant and Jonah to McDonald’s for lunch (no judging here – Grant’s teacher gave out vouchers for Happy Meals that the kids could redeem once they read five books), then off we went BACK to the grocery store because I realized I’d failed to look in the lost in found the first time for the mittens Jonah lost on a previous trip. Then trekked to Target so Grant could buy a little Lego set with his own money, which he carried around in a paper cup with his name on it. Jonah threw himself on the floor probably nine times, half of which were when he pretended to slip, and half of which were because he wanted chocolate/a toy/a trigger bottle of bleach and I wouldn’t let him have it.

I should have taken this as a sign that it was time to go home, but no, I really wanted to get to the home improvement store so I could buy some cabinet transforming paint kit I’d seen advertised. Bright one there, Mom! Arrived at the store and, hooray, discovered one cart with a little yellow car cab on the front. Sized for two kids Jonah’s age, but Grant wanted in, too. This meant much pushing and screaming, which I tried to shush during the tinting of my paint kit at my paint counter. Finally had to eject Grant from the car altogether.

At this point I lost all control. Jonah decided he wanted out of the cart, too. And then he decided he was in charge of the shopping mission. As I looked at paint brushes he picked up fragile piggy banks nearby. I wrested one out of his arms and he was off to the tape aisle where he chose eight rolls of duct tape to throw into the cart. I put them back on the shelf and Jonah took off down another aisle, climbing into display bathroom vanities. I followed as best I could, with my nearly six year old child still in the car cart. Jonah reached the check out lanes ahead of me and grabbed two bags of M&Ms which are oh-so-conveniently at toddler height. He threw himself on the floor again as I took them away.

The checkout lady was not amused. She looked down her nose at Jonah and said, “I don’t like whiny kids.” Jonah took that moment to let out a good, long scream, then made a dash for the customer service counter where he found, again at toddler height, stacks of rebate slips. Like a madman on drugs he reached in and grabbed a few, throwing them in my general direction with all his two year old might.

When I went to retrieve the slips Jonah took that as his sign to escape. He took off running down the rows of checkout lanes and then down the middle of the store. I chased as fast as I could, dragging the cart with Grant still inside and trying my hardest not to laugh loud enough for Jonah to hear me. Or any other customers, who might mistake the chuckling, running mom for a deranged person on the loose.

Jonah probably could have done ten laps around the store before I caught him but his curiosity tripped him up – he spied a toy and stopped to look and I grabbed his hood just as he realized I was closing in.

Carried him out to the car. Drove around long enough for him to fall asleep, but he woke up as soon as I took him out of the car.


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