I’m pointing headfirst toward the bottom of a 45-degree incline. In other months, this is our local sledding hill, but today the slope is lush with grass and warm earth, which is getting stuck beneath my fingernails.
Six small hands grip my ankles, hoisting my legs in the air behind me. “Go, wheelbarrow! Faster!” a pack of kids cheers. And, so, I go. Down the hill, one hand at a time, giggling while maintaining a feeble plank pose as three kids, one of whom is Charlie, gleefully wheelbarrow me toward the bottom. Just for kicks.
Soon, I’m laughing so hard I’ve lost my breath. “C’mon, Mommy!” my own kids yell. I feel Kip remove my shoes and tear away with them, laughing ecstatically, saying, “I’ve got your shooooooooes, Mommy. Twy to catch meeeee!” As I laugh and clumsily traverse my hands down the sledding hill at their egging, I note that every aspect of my being is in deep, deep joy.
It’s been a long time since I’ve felt this way.
For the past year, at least, I’ve been climbing a hill so steep, so craggy and so fraught that despite my best affirmations for clarity, joy and lightness of being, I just couldn’t get there. (Click here for veiled references to this. And here, and especially here. ) My joy was half-joy at best. And my lightness of being? Nonexistent.
So the euphoria of wheel barrowing down a hill on the last day of school, which I took off work to spend at a park with the boys and a ton of their classmates, is not fleeting or trivial. It is a milestone. It is pure. It is real. It is relief. It is a new beginning. It is a miracle.
New way of being
I’ve felt inclined to keep it off the internets till now, but there is a reason why the hill has been so steep. Why it feels so good to be moving downhill again, why I went back to work full-time, why I haven’t posted in months and why this moment of unadulterated joy feels so significant…
My husband and I separated this past spring. As we explained it to the kids nearly three months ago, we love each other and we love them, but we decided to get “unmarried.” (sounds less harsh than “divorce.”)
This decision was not plucked. It took many, many months, perhaps even years. We ultimately underwent Katherine Woodward Thomas’ Conscious Uncoupling process (like Gwyneth), and today, after treading through much anguish, grief, reconciliation and redemption, all of which still surfaces in waves, we live in separate homes, share equal time with the kids, have family dinners, take vacations together and openly discuss surreal things like Tinder dates and financial strategy.
There’s no easy way or finger to point to explain why we decided to end our marriage. Most days, there’s no blame, wrongdoing or bitterness. Both of us feel devastated in our own ways at times, but no one feels wronged. As marriage and uncoupling are too complicated to untangle publicly, I won’t. The hard truth is that I love this man with my purest heart, and he holds me in a similar regard but, quite simply, it became clear that our souls were calling us to begin our relationship anew. We emerged from the pain, suffering and hard, hard work of discernment with a new, very intentional way of being: devoted soul-friends and co-parents.
The phoenix process
“During times of transition, amid everyday stress, and even when we face seemingly insurmountable adversity, life offers us a choice: to turn away from change or to embrace it; to shut down or to be broken open and transformed.”
– Elizabeth Lesser
In her book Broken Open, Elizabeth Lesser reveals the theory that to evolve and transform, we sometimes must be broken open and endure what she calls the “phoenix process,” which involves the fire of transformation from which we rise completely changed and somehow more opulent than before.
It took one hell of a journey through the fires of transformation to get to where we are now. Apart from the emotional discovery aspect, Brian and I had to get a lot of things in place before we moved into this new way of being—my securing gainful employment that felt good to my soul and met my material needs, the solidfying of our financial strategy and his finding a new place to live nearby, all in ways that honored our own spirits, the love that is our foundation and the wellbeing of our boys.
Uncoupling can be a long, slow, intentional, excruciating process, one I would not wish upon anyone, and yet the transformational magnitude of which I would hope for everyone. It involves much crying and gnashing of teeth, but from the fire rises a phoenix. In our case, two of them, and hopefully four, once the kids complete their own phoenix processes, through which we are committed to assuring them of our steadfast love and God’s.
Vacationing in my old life
I’m not a stay-at-home mom anymore. I work full-time for strong, caring, inspired people I’m growing to adore, doing work I love. It’s a totally new life and it can be as demanding as it is gratifying. I have no idea how to cook for myself or my kids or find my way through the dog hair on my living room floor on some days, and yet sometimes, I feel guilty that I enjoy this new working-girl life as much as I do. Which is why taking advantage of a slow week to immerse myself in the kids’ last day of school felt like a vacation into old, comfy, familiar grooves of my recent former life.
After I fall out of wheelbarrow and we all land in the grass like puppies, the kids end up together in a grove of pine trees and I rest in the shade. Other moms mill around or plop in the grass near me, little girls stop by to throw their arms around my neck for quick hugs, there are scraped knees and makeshift rope swings.
“What are you guys working on?” I ask the kids, who are collaborating like bees, with great purpose.
“Oh, we’re collecting sap to make glue,” Max says. “We’re going to sell it to the glue factory.”
“And we’re gonna be rich!” Charlie adds. “Oh! Guys! I found a ton of sap up here! Quick! Somebody pass me a pinecone!”
Six first graders and one five-year-old Kip bustle around collecting pinecones and coating them in sap from the upper branches of the pine tree. There’s tapping of twigs against tree trunks, faux drilling and branch bending. It reminds me of the kind of play we did as kids—totally unstructured and improvisational, full of outrageous ideas that seem totally feasible and promise ultimate triumph. Play with a vision.
“We’re going to sell all the sap to the glue factory, use the money to buy a couple other companies that make us even more money and we’ll become so rich that we all go live in a mansion!” Charlie tells me superfast on the drive home.
“What will you guys have at your mansion, buddy?” I ask.
“Machine guns! And a pool.”
I laugh. The audacity of it all! The innocence! The joy. It’s back again. I text Brian: “So happy I’m with the boys today. I hope you’re having a great morning!”
With any luck, at least until my next adventures in being broken open again, because it’s rarely just a once-in-a-lifetime thing, after all, the joy will stick around for a while. At the very least, it’s deeper than it ever was before. At long last.