Uncoupled: The wedding anniversary

Note: My 10th wedding anniversary was last week. It was a hard, strange day. And a beautiful milestone.

You’re 36 years old staring at the speaker in a conference room with two other people. Your client has just changed everything and the timeline holds firm. You haven’t slept a full night all week and you’re not sure why it’s hitting you so hard today, but the content of this conversation makes your cheeks hot. Your colleagues (you think that’s what you call them?) smile and nod reassuringly at you. You’re trying to stay peaceful and professional. But you want to throw a chair through the window.

You’re tired.

You’re 26 years old and think you’re fat. The estilista has just used hot glue to secure a fresh fichus leaf to the bobby pin holding dark waves behind one ear and you’re doing your makeup. You’re snapping at your sister, your mom, your friends. It’s already been a long day and the judge hasn’t even arrived. Your dress is lace. You designed it yourself. Almost everyone you love is donning sunburns, guayaberas and fancy party dresses in your favorite restaurant, where Chef Francis is serving your favorite meal. Your favorite Cuban orchestra will play your favorite music and girls in skimpy dresses will teach you all how to samba. Your friends are on vacation for this. You’ve been playing host to them—in a place you live—for three days of parties, beach outings and excursions. You’re minutes away from getting married.

You’re exhausted.

Both boys independently crawled into bed with you last night, one waking you up an hour after you shut your laptop because of his growing pains, spawning your mole-like journey through the dark hallway into the shocking light of the bathroom, fumbling around for the kids Motrin with squinting eyes at 1:30 am; and the next kid waking you at 5 am to ask you to scoot over so he wouldn’t fall off the bed. You should’ve gotten up then but, as happens to the mind in the wee hours, a now-vanished dream sequence convinced you of another hour of sleep, so you turned off your alarm and, warmed by the two small bodies snuggled panini-style against you, drifted back to sleep for nearly two more.

You oversleep. Dry shampoo. Yoga tights. A long, wool cardigan. Necklace. Ponytail holder. Riding boots and some makeup. It’s the best you can do. You yell at your kids when they refuse to wear pants. No luxurious bath drawn by your little sister on the terrace of the oceanfront Presidential Suite. No team helping you zip your dress, curl your hair, put on your shoes, hug you and bless you. No freshly plucked leaves glued into your hair. (because Mexico.) No bouquets. No orchestra. No bridesmaids. No judge. No shaman. No white bikini for the honeymoon at One&Only. No groom.

Ten years ago you cried as you left your wedding reception, groom’s hand in yours. You were glad it was over. You were tired from all the festivities, all the care you took in planning a fabulous getaway for out-of-town guests. You were ready to get on with life as a married woman. You were ready to check into a resort for three days and not do anything but rest and be with an incredible man who adored you. Some people tell you it was the most beautiful wedding they’ve ever attended. They may just be saying that. They’re probably just saying that. It mattered to you then, this calculated perfection. It doesn’t matter to you now. Objectively, though, it was one hell of a party.

Today, the day flies by—so fast, so furious, so busy—and eventually you can’t ignore the rising feelings even one more minute. You text Brian, your groom of this day 10 years ago:

“Really working the compartmentalizing over here today. About at my breaking point with work, plus the emotion of today. How’re you holding up?”

He writes back:

“I am in a good space. All is as it should be… And I just don’t see it as an end. We are still there for each other but just in different ways. The last 10 years have been exactly how it should be.”

You read this text while sitting on the office couch with Jeff, who has children your age and used to be a trauma counselor. You’re making last-minute revisions to a presentation. When you’re not working together, you have highly engaging conversations, at least you think so, about all manner of topics. You heart is warmed by Brian’s text, and you get teary.

“Today is my anniversary,” you tell him, wanting to share, thinking you can handle it. But you can’t. Tears well. “It would be 10 years.” He looks you dead in the eyes for a long second and says something to the effect of Oh, dear. Why didn’t you tell me sooner? No wonder!

He reveals that, even though he divorced from his first wife when his 40-year-old son was an infant and he deeply adores his present-day wife of 30+ years, he still prefers quiet on the day of his first wedding anniversary. It’s too much. He still feels it. He gets it.

He gives you permission to be out of sorts, permission to be a mess. He’s got this. He tells you something like, it’s a wonder you’re as sharp as you are today. This is a really big deal. And this is just your first one. Huge.

It is a really big deal. You nestle into a vulnerability in which you’re grateful to feel safe and warm—it’s miraculous, really—and you keep working side by side till the presentation is done.

It’s almost 4 pm and you’ve held it together long enough for this day. So when Lindsey checks in to see if you’re doing ok amidst the client craziness, you tell her what’s up. She immediately stands and wraps her arms tightly, warmly around you because she knows, too, that it’s a really big deal. You almost let rip with a sob, but decide to stuff it down because you are, after all, on a tight deadline, and that’s what the car is for on your drive home from the train.

The point is, you know you could cry if you wanted to. People would see you, and it would be ok. It actually would be. You make a mental note of the revelation that, eight months into your new job, you have safe spaces there. Thank God.

Later, one of your favorite guy pals messages you to vent some of his pain over a recent, devastating breakup. You also briefly share what you’re going through. He immediately sends you a Dropbox of the new Adele album. And he writes: “I wonder who else is on the verge of tears here today, let’s band together.”

You suggest reserving a conference room for a group cry. You both laugh at the idea. He thinks it sounds like a scene from a romcom. Sometimes it helps to pretend you’re in a movie…

Now it’s night. Instead of writing the presentation you absolutely must write tonight if you want to have a weekend, you sit on the couch remembering every detail you can from 10 years ago, crying till your mascara pools into your already dark under-eye circles. (You hope you’ll wrap it up soon, for the love of all that’s good, so you can get on with the presentation and get to bed, but you know you can’t rush this.)

As you sit there remembering and crying, when you really remember that day, and those 10 years of marriage gone by, you recall all the things Brian showed you, perhaps the very best of which was to trust the flow of life.

“All will unfold as it’s supposed to,” he often told you, starting the evening of your very first date 12+ years ago, when you told him how impractical this all was. You didn’t know he would end up being one of the best decisions of your lifetime, even if it didn’t work out how either of you anticipated.

“All is as it should be,” he wrote to you on the 10-year anniversary of your marriage. “And I just don’t see it as an end.”

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Mama does Lolla

photo 2

Daytime crowds.

You’ve never seen crowds like this. This is all new.

You’re trying to make yourself as narrow as possible to sneak through a converging labyrinth of girls in high-waisted denim shorts and crop tops or sheer bodysuits, and shirtless guys sipping from CamelBaks. You don’t even bother to say “excuse me” because, at this point in the day, the teens are well into their molly, their cocaine, their smoke and no one cares. But they’re also not moving. Because, like you, they’re here to see The Weeknd, and they won’t budge.

You first started listening to The Weeknd three years ago, when one of your friends said he thought you should. So you did. To all his mixtapes, almost every day, but only when the kids were in bed and you were alone because he sings about sex and drugs and pain in a way so real and so raw that it feels private, like a secret you’re keeping for him.

This guy sings words and ideas you can’t believe one would admit so openly. He comes out with darkness—society’s and his own—in a way that slays you. You’re mesmerized and a little bit floored. The boldness! His music becomes your escape to a totally different life, not one you want, but one you want to understand. You’re intrigued by the “XO” (ecstasy + oxycodone) devil-may-care sensibility that The Weeknd embodies. It’s a middle finger to everything judgey and a thumbs up to recklessness. Essentially, a complete departure from your entire existence.

The intrigue is not about recklessness for you—it’s that you want to be that open. Wide open. Without a thought to who might care, and without a care of what they might think of you.

At the time, the only people you know who love him as much as you do are your friend in LA, the radiant chick rapper you met at the resale shop (Loretta Mars. Check her out.) and the rival gangbangers who showed up to your block party that one summer and scrolled through your iPod like, “Damn, mami!”

This night, though, thousands of kids are holding up XOs with their hands and talking about how much they hope he does “I can’t feel my face.”

First Aid Kit in the grove with your girls.

First Aid Kit in the grove with your girls, just before Sylvan Esso and, later, The Weeknd.

Bye-bye, buddy system.

One hour earlier, you were watching Sylvan Esso finish her set in the grove with two girlfriends. “I don’t care at ALL about The Weeknd,” one of them says and the other one just smiles. “You’re on your own for that show. See you at 11 at the Givers after show.” Your girls go to Paul McCartney to hang out with dad jeans, high fives and pyrotechnics. You plan to meet at a bar in Wicker Park to see a show at 11 p.m. You head a different direction.

You push through crowds of very young people until the density is such that you are in some way touching another human being on at least three sides of your body. You stay there.

You text this pic to your friends, who are at the Paul McCartney stage, with the words

You text this pic to your friends, who are at the Paul McCartney stage, with the words “Everyone is 20.” If you look closely, you’ll notice a shirtless male wearing a CamelBak. Take note. You’re about to meet him.

“Hey, um, why are you so dressed up?” a voice asks over your left shoulder. You look up to see a tall, shirtless guy wearing a CamelBak.

“Oh, am I dressed up?” you ask.

“Like, yeah. I mean all the other girls here are in like, bras with their asses hanging out of their shorts, and you’re in a full-on dress.”

“Oh, yeah. Looks like you’re right,” you say. “Maybe cuz I’m not 20?”

“Oh, ok,” he says, smiling. “Cool.” He’s adorable in his strapping, blond, youthful glory. And he seems nice. So you ask a question.

“So, hey, is The Weeknd, like, hugely popular with all the 20-year-olds? I mean, when did that happen?” You decide it’s best to go all in with the Old Lady bit. “I thought I might be able to get up closer 30 minutes out of his show. But this is crazy!”

You really had no idea. You just figured he got popular when he did that 50 Shades of Gray song. “I dunno. I’ve been listening to The Weeknd for about three years,” the guy says. “His music helps me focus. I love it.”

The young guy introduces himself, asks you why you’re there. How did you first hear about The Weeknd? What are your favorite songs? What do you hope he plays? Do you live in the city? What do you do for work? What do you write? How old are your kids? He’s just turned 21. He tells you that you don’t look “old.”

“Definitely not 35, not that that’s old at ALL. C’mon, you’re only 14 years older than me. That’s nothing. I mean, you’re really pretty, too. That’s why I first talked to you. I would NEVER have guessed you were as old as you are. Which isn’t old, for the record.” Two girls centimeters in front of your face turn around to survey you and smile-scowl. You think maybe they would like to be talking with him, so you smile at them and turn your body away from him to give them an in.

He moves in closer to you, says it’s so nice to have a conversation with a girl who’s not like all the other girls there. You tell him to keep an open mind to the younger girls. You’re sure there are young women his age who are devastatingly lovely, but sometimes being 20 is not about knowing or showing it. But 20 is good and fun and important.

You wonder if you should move, because you’re not there to get your swerve on with a 21 year old, but this guy and his friends are so cute and warm and good, so you stay put and chat casually until the sky goes dark.

Waiting for the show to start.

Waiting for the show to start.

The Weeknd comes out and opens with one of your favorites from “House of Balloons.” It’s almost exhilarating. You wish you were up closer, but the energy is still buzzing. Arms are up, everyone is dancing. You know all the words.

“Can you see ok?” the guy asks right in your ear.

“Yeah! I can. It’s great!” you say, still watching the stage.

“No, really. Can you see ok?” he’s yelling in your ear. “You love this guy. Don’t you want to see him better?”

“Ummmm? I think this is good,” you call back to him, eyes on the stage.

The guy leans down and his face drops in front of yours. “I’m asking if you want to get on my shoulders.”

What the hell? Those are words no one has EVER asked you. You burst out laughing.

“Oh, no way! You’re sweet to offer, but I’m a big girl and I’d probably hurt you. There’s no way. But thanks!”

He gives you a discerning look and steps back. You notice he’s ridiculously cut. (because he’s shirtless and wearing only a CamelBak. Right. How had you missed this till now?) “As long as you’re not more than 500 pounds, which is what I bench, I’ll be fine. And you’re nowhere close to that, so don’t worry about me. C’mon, Emily. It’ll be fun!”

You giggle nervously and fear streaks through you. Would it be fun? You wonder for a split second. No! The answer is no! Wait. It’s NOT appropriate for a woman your age to do such things. What would people say? No!

You emphatically decline again and you keep dancing. Nervously. You notice several girls on shoulders around you. But they’re 20. You are embarrassed and terrified that you even considered the invitation for a second, but he won’t leave you alone about it and deep down inside you really, really want to say yes.

“Emily. Everyone else is up, so you might as well get up, too. Come on. You’ll have fun.” He takes your hands in his and squats down in front of you.

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

As if out of body, you watch yourself agreeing to this nonsense before you can stop it. Because you’ve wanted to go to Lollapalooza since Pearl Jam was there in 1992 and you’re fucking there and you are free to do as you please and you don’t know a soul in the crowd and as you place your thighs on either side of the back of his neck, you panic because you are just way too sweaty, way too heavy, way too sober, way too amazon, way too scandalous, way too old to actually do this and the next second you’re in the air, wobbling precariously—it’s seriously kinda scary for a couple ticks—till you find your balance on the shoulders of a 21-year-old body builder and the girls in front of you are looking up at you with absolute glee (must be the molly) and you know you look shameful perched above the crowd in your blue dress and 35-year-old-ness and you had your 7-year-old son there with you earlier in the day for goodness’ sake and it all feels obscene and deplorable and Absolutely. Fucking. Amaaaaazing.

For reference, see 7-year-old. (this is just before leaving for the show. he's pissed you did not get him a pack of gum at the store on your way to pick him up.)

For reference, see 7-year-old. (this is just before leaving for the show. he’s pissed you did not get him a pack of gum at the store on your way to pick him up.)

You cannot stop smiling. At first it’s out of embarrassment, but then you realize you are literally in the clouds, high above a sea of people all rocking to an artist you love. You note that The Weeknd would probably be extra proud of you for not caring what the people think. You laugh and relax slightly as the guy dances beneath you and you can’t help but think of the Guns & Roses concerts you watched when you were a kid and MTV still played videos, and when you confess this tale to your sister the next day she asks you if you flashed your boobs because that’s what you do on shoulders at concerts, right? (No. Der. It’s not 1985.) Up there on this adorable kid’s shoulders, it’s just you, arms outstretched, bathed by stage lights in front and a blue moon behind. A literal blue moon. You look up at the sky, at the stage and throw your head back in laughter. Then a couple euphoric minutes later, you ask the guy to kindly bring you back down. He doesn’t hear you, so you have to touch his face and repeat your request. Your cheeks MUST be as flushed as the hot pink lipstick you’re wearing. And you don’t even care.

The girls in front reach their hands out to help you land safely. “Why so soon? I could’ve held you for so much longer,” the guy says with a huge smile. “Did you have fun?!”

You had SO much fun.

“Any time you want to get back up, just let me know,” he grins.

You know you won’t ask him—or anyone—to hoist you up again. It was sort of like crowd surfing…it was awesome that one time in college, but you don’t need to do it again. The ground is fine for concert viewing, thank you. You feel strangely grateful to this guy and you wonder where he came from and why that just happened. And you’re still smiling. And you dance. And the night is young. And The Weeknd plays on.

###

Just because, here are pics that tell a different story from the day…

Emilee, her little man, Charlie and me taking in Cold War Kids.

Emilee, her little man, Charlie and me taking in Cold War Kids.

Rappin'

Just some cats rappin’

Mamas and boys

Mamas and boys

Drummin

Lil drummer boy

We actually had the best day ever together.

Silly faces.

Up front. Charlie's first rock concert. First Lolla for us both.

Up front for Cold War Kids. Charlie’s first rock show. First Lolla for us both.

Excavating

“Oh my gosh, I love Sarah McLachlan!” you hear your 19-year-old self say from somewhere deep within your 35-year-old body. “I’d love to be your date! Thanks for inviting me.”

Fast forward. The house lights are dimmed. You’re seated close enough to Sarah McLachlan that the definition in her triceps as she plays the piano is making you think about doing planks when you get home. You’re expecting this show, which she’s performing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Center, to be a night of throwback nineties nostalgia. (Silence, haters. I see “cool” shows sometimes, too.)

Hold on. Hold on to yourself. This is gonna hurt like hell.

All things considered, you’re doing well and feeling pretty light and airy these days. But, to your surprise, what looked to be a fun date on the surface becomes, three songs in, a private excavation of buried grief.

You’d neglected to remember that Sarah McLachlan writes about lost love laced with gratitude, acceptance and well wishes, which are themes that parallel the path of you and your former husband. Sure, some aspect of this music once spoke to you as a teen, but it hits you dead-on at 35.

Nevertheless, there’s a hand on your knee. It belongs to a smart, handsome man you’ve been seeing.* He’s fun. He’s clever, generous and chivalrous. A bespoke investment banker with higher ed street cred that both inspires and kinda annoys you. He’s one of those people with an insane bandwidth for both doing the demanding work he does and finding spare time to write screenplays, cook like a chef and do improv. Which makes you feel kinda dumb because you know you’ve never had that kind of bandwidth. He obviously doesn’t have kids, though. Duh. Your friends know him by the moniker “Gucci Loafers.”

“Are you sure he’s not a lesbian?” your co-worker asks the day of the show.

Not likely. But he’s complex. And maybe worthy of your attention. However, a few bars into “I Will Remember You,” you’re zooming to the center of your heart and staring at the ceiling to stop the tears from coming. You know all the words and yet it is as if you’re hearing them for the very first time.

You elect not to create a detailed grid of all the lyrics and the emotional response they trigger (you’re welcome, haters) but let’s just say you spend some time eyeballing the ceiling to ward off tears, holding your sniffles till the applause, laughing inappropriately and turning your head to the side to hide your far-flung facial expressions from Gucci Loafers. You basically look like a crazy person.

This is not at all what I expected out of the evening, you think, accepting the situation and chuckling to yourself as tears pool in your eyes, I guess I needed to feel a few things?

Sidebar: What becoming a single, working mom really looks like sometimes

Moving through a transition as massive as this one is odd. You know it’s big, and yet you just keep putting one foot in front of the other—sometimes walking, but mostly running, eyes up—because it seems like that’s what you have to do. It’s harder to slow down and breathe deep than it is to keep a fast pace.

You go to work at your new job, you probably try too hard, you attempt to build co-worker relationships and navigate office dynamics, you hold it together, you hold it in, you dive into time with the kids when you have it, you try your darnedest to cook and do housework when you don’t, you scrounge for time to exercise, you try to keep up with dog walks and dog hair, you call your lifelines in heavy tears when you fail at all of it. You use your newfound kid-free weekends to make up for lost time with girlfriends and you date around, you work your ass off to stay grounded and keep it all together. Even when you pause to meditate at night, it doesn’t matter how long you sit in physical stillness because you barely ever slow your mind down enough to actually check in and ask yourself, “Sweetheart, what are you feeling?”

So when Sarah McLachlan is singing your precise story, and you can’t turn the station, it gets real.

You suddenly know what Roberta Flack was talking about

After the show, you write a long email to your former husband:

“It was like she was singing about all my own heartache and grief and love for you as we part ways as husband and wife. I literally found myself streaming secret tears during certain songs. Could not get my abiding appreciation for you, nor the deeper sense of loss, though it’s the right path, out of my heart. It hit a deep, deep nerve in a really cool, if not hilariously inappropriate, place (on a date with someone who probably didn’t pick up on the fact that I was totally engrossed in my grieving rather than the fact he was treating me to a nice concert.)

…On listening…tonight…it reminded me so much of how deep and sad and pure and beautiful this all is. And how, even in sadness and grief, we are both so supported by God, the masters, our guides, angels and each other.”

This email opens up an exchange between you and your former partner that you previously couldn’t have imagined. You show him your true vulnerability, the sense of loss you feel and the hope you have for the future. You let him know it’s not all rainbows for you right now, even though you made it look like it was. You honor the love that was always there and still is and always will be. You both exchange the equivalent of a monumentally awesome e-hug.

The next day your eyes are swollen from all the feeling of things and crying, so you work from home. Feeling this stuff is hard work in and of itself. And, for whatever reason, it was Sarah McLachlan who made you do it. It wasn’t a cool show by hip-guy standards, but it was one of the most important shows you’ll see this year. When you do go back to work the following day, the haters make fun of you. And you laugh really hard. Because it’s funny. Really. It is.

*Epilogue:

It’s been over a month since the concert. It was a legit turning point for you in your grieving process, and you still have a way to go, but you’re soaring higher than you were when you originally drafted this blog post, which was the day after the concert. (it takes you longer to actually post stuff now that you’re a working girl.)

You haven’t seen Gucci Loafers since the show and, because you love tales of irony, here’s why: You’d suspected it for a while, but following the concert of Madame Lilith Fair Founder, conversations in the black car—it was always a black car—on the way home confirm his patriarchal (and potentially misogynistic?) leanings. Hilarious, right?

Fitting daintily within the patriarchy was fun for a minute, but it’s not really your scene, so you fade out. “Well, at least until Tori Amos goes on tour and he calls you with tickets,” your co-worker chides you over lunch, making you almost choke on your food.

You don’t hear from Gucci Loafers much after that, either, so you figure he saw something equally glaring and repulsive in you during that conversation. In other words, you probably won’t be crying about him at your next girl power concert. And he’s not crying over you.

You wish him general wellbeing and expansion, and you’re thankful to him. After all, he facilitated your all-important excavation and the subsequent connection with your former partner, freeing you to move to the next level of healing. Gucci Loafers also taught you, as dating does, a few things you know you want in a man at some point, and a few things you know you don’t. And, single lady friends, that is some valuable information…

New life

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.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtube_gdata_player&v=63QPunDIxqA

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!”

Pure joy.

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.

The looks of love

By the looks of things on social media, the love was flowing this Valentine’s Day. And, to my delight, Love (let’s capitalize it, shall we?) looked different for everyone.

It wasn’t just flowers, a hot date or a perfect marriage on display. As seen on Instagram and Facebook, which have been known to dampen one’s enthusiasm about one’s own life on occasion but valiantly took the high road yesterday, Love included kids, pets, lovers, friends, parents, grandparents, sports, self and more. I was struck by the outpouring of self-love, friend-love and love of what is, whatever that was. At least in my feeds, I didn’t see a single person lamenting Valentine’s Day, regardless of their lot in Love. But I saw a whole lot of nurturing of varying kinds.

I have more than a couple friends who kicked it alone, and relished it, more power to ‘em. Others partied. Others worked. Others traveled. Others cuddled up with partners, kids and/or dogs. One friend unexpectedly ended up apart from her loved ones and surmised that God was her Valentine this year. “If you want to come over for a glass of wine,” she invited. “God and I will be here just hanging out. We’d love to have you.”

I’m a girl who loves quirky twists as much as I love Love itself, so seeing my friends stake their own claims on a day filled with all kinds of weird expectations kinda ruled.

For me, Love included a yoga class and long shower, pretty flowers from Brian and pink buttercream, sincere conversations and hugs, Thai takeout and family snuggles. After dark, as I drifted to sleep way too early with my arms around two boys who dampened my chest with drool, I thought, This doesn’t look like a traditional mass-market, gender-normative Valentine’s Day, but it’s kinda perfect.

It was a major scene at the store Friday. Kip wanted to pick out some jewelry for me. Charlie wanted to as well. I politely refused. They raised hell. "I just want to get my mommy someping as beautiful as she is, ok?!" Kip cried. "Wet me just pick someping beautiful out for you!" It was loud. I almost cried, too. He selected this bedazzling bracelet and Charlie chose the earrings and necklace. "The two little owls are me and Kip," he said. "And the big owl is you. You can wear these and think of us, all together."

It was a major scene at the store Friday. Kip wanted to pick out some jewelry for me. Charlie wanted to as well. I politely refused. They raised hell. “I just want to get my mommy someping as beautiful as she is, ok?!” Kip cried. “Wet me just pick someping beautiful out for you!” It was loud. I almost cried, too. I pointed him to the clearance rack. He selected some glittery Halloween earrings and this bedazzling bracelet and Charlie chose the earrings and necklace. “The two little owls are me and Kip,” he said. “And the big owl is you. You can wear these and think of us, all together.”

The scene of the sweetest Valentine's Day party ever, at the home of my pal, Lyz, who has found favor in heaven for welcoming five extra boys and their mamas into her very pretty house and arming them with frosting and sprinkles.

The scene of the sweetest Valentine’s Day party ever, at the home of my pal, Lyz, who has found favor in heaven for welcoming five extra boys and their mamas into her very pretty house and arming them with frosting and sprinkles.

We did a little family cupcake decorating.

We did a little family cupcake decorating on the big day. As you can see, Quinn men take their cupcakes very seriously.

No such thing as too many toppings.

No such thing as too many toppings.

Pat yourself on the back

It’s January, the month when everything that fell under the soft, twinkly haze of the holidays is cast in the glaring light of the New Year, and acting all prickly. I’ve spoken with more than a handful of friends who are having a tough week, mostly regarding work, specifically, so I think it’s time to unveil Charlie’s latest invention: The back-patting machine.

Maybe what we all need no matter our career lot is a little encouragement right now, so here goes… You’re awesome.  Don’t waste any more energy doubting yourself. Whatever it is, it doesn’t define you. Listen, learn and do your thing. Be you. Get some rest. Take good care of yourself. Because you’re darn good at providing care, and only the best will do for you. Have some fun today. Fun is good for you. You are good. So good. Everything is going to fall into place. You can do it, no matter what “it” is. You got it goin’ on. Love yourself. I love you. You’re awesome.

Now go ahead and pat yourself on the back, you magnificent thing, you.

This is a Boy Scout (note the neckerchief) wearing a helmet with a robotic arm, the sole purpose of which is to pat your back. Well done!

This is a Boy Scout (note the neckerchief) wearing a helmet with a robotic arm, the sole purpose of which is to pat your back. I say well done! (pencil sketch by Charlie.)

Part 3: Vancouver trip journal. The Chief.

I had the chance to get away in November. I’m still posting from my travel journal. Following is Part 3 in a series of  excerpts from the long weekend away. Let’s begin with the scene on the drive up into the mountains…

The Stawamus Chief

Almost to the top of the second peak of Stawamus Chief Mountain, the trail goes from rocky staircase to vertical granite. This mountain, which rises 700 meters (2,297 feet) above Howe Sound in Squamish, B.C., is known for its climber-dotted granite dome. Hikers, however, have the option of summiting three different peaks, which they reach by way of rugged trails, endless steps fashioned into the mountainside, metal ladders hammered upon rock faces and chains fastened along steep granite slabs.

The trailhead

The trailhead.

It’s been a long time since I scaled a mountain and, led full steam ahead by the aerobic god that is Gary, my breath is heavy and my heart beats hard. Gary has just returned from two weeks on business in India. I first see him the day before with Amin in the Granville Island Public Market, in between a spice stall and an Italian deli, where he appears with Amin out of nowhere and wraps his arms around me in a way you might embrace the person most, most dear to you after many moons apart. Despite extreme jet lag, he is exuberant with joy and warmth and I can feel his embrace throughout my heart. Anyone who’s ever been on the receiving end of Gary’s affection understands this feeling—it’s just who Gary is. His very cells are made of love and fortitude, sealed by soulfulness.

Homemade clamato and bacon as bloody mary garnish. Cuz, like, yum.

Homemade clamato and bacon as bloody mary garnish. Cuz, like, yum.

Sipping bloody marys laced with homemade clamato over brunch, I marvel at the beauty of what he and Amin share. They are delighted to be reunited after two weeks and I get to bask in their sweet reconnection. And also in their collective eye candy-ness.

Just try to tell me they're not delicious.

Just try to tell me they’re not delicious.

Gary is more aesthetically gorgeous than even the last time I saw him a couple months ago. He always is. His eyes are bright blue, his hair a lunar shade of silver and even after 24+ hours of travel, he looks fresh and full of energy as ever—it’s no wonder he was pulled over on the streets of New York to model for Esquire magazine. Gary is bright with the kind of good stuff that can change your mood, your mindset, your day, maybe your life.

And now he’s got me huffing and puffing my way up a mountain. It’s the kind of demanding physical work that banishes every thought from your mind except one: Keep going. I settle into a rhythmic pace of climbing, lifting myself up one foot placement at a time. My consciousness drifts from high-level self-analytics and fixes on the basics. I literally cannot think of anything but the pleasurable burning of my muscles; the breath going in and out of my lungs; the blood pumping in and out of my heart like magic and the earth, rock and wood beneath my feet with each step. I’m out of my head and reveling in my own life force.

Lotta granite, long way up.

Stopping to catch my breath, lotta granite, long way up.

When the stairmaster of rock steps abates, Gary gives me the lead. I’m excited at the prospect of going first up the mountain, no visible human in front of me, as though I’m the first explorer to pass through this terrain. Soon, though, it goes from invigorating to daunting.

“You guys?” I call back to Amin and Gary, who must sense how much I’m relishing the space around me because they’ve dropped back a ways. “Um, I don’t see the trail. Where is the trail? From here it looks like the only way to go is to jump off this cliff…”

“No, no,” Gary assuages, chuckling. “Just keep going. You’ll see the trail. It’s there.”

This was probably not the safest photograph I've ever taken. Thankfully I didn't wipe out on ma bike.

This was probably not the safest photograph I’ve ever taken. Thankfully I didn’t wipe out on ma bike in Stanley Park.

The day before, Gary wordlessly led us off the paved oceanfront bike path and up a long, tall street—my quads begging for mercy—that led to God knows where, presumably somewhere in Stanley Park. Suddenly we came to a secret winter garden encircled by evergreen guardians, where we paused to rest. No humans in sight. Just a pond, some birds, frosty reeds, the surrounding forest and the three of us on our bikes. There was no sound but our breathing and the seaplane that flew overhead. Total stillness. I had no idea where we were, but Gary and Amin led us through darkening needle-strewn paths back to the sea wall just in time to watch the sunset over English Bay and continue our ride past a grown-up playground with rings on which we all had to stop and swing.

Good, clean fun.

Good, clean fun. (scroll down to see how one is supposed to look while swinging on rings.)

Back to the Chief, honest to goodness, it looks like there’s no place to go. The rock outcropping curves around, the chains end and dense trees wait on the other side of what looks to be a certain drop off. Where is the path? I look around for another way up, but there’s nothing. Surely no direction to go but backward.

“Yeah, that’s right,” Gary calls, watching me hoist myself atop the rock ledge and tread, so confused, a couple steps forward. “Do you see it now?”

I don’t see it. But I take a precarious step forward anyway. And another. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a flat plane of rock appears at the curve of the granite’s edge, a natural, though previously invisible, pathway just a couple steps from a trail marker and a short pine-needle path to more chains and a crevasse. My brain shifts back into a cerebral space just long enough for me to spot a metaphor.

Do you spot the metaphor here? (this is what happens when I stop moving and rest.)

Do you spot the metaphor in this picture? Almost to peak two of The Chief.

I can’t see the path. I fear it’s not there. I feel confused, despondent and worried about all the ways I’ve effed up to end up in this seeming dead end. All I want to do is turn around and not be so close to the edge of certain-death drop-off.

But I am here. I can’t turn back without being super disappointed. Others have gone this way before me and not crashed to their death, so I know it must be possible. There is a way forward. I just need to have faith. I just need to take another step.

At least on the trail to peak two of Stawamus Chief Mountain, not only does a path reveal itself, but it comes with chains to assist in the tricky ascent.

“Maybe life can be like that, too?” I say to myself, half-wondering, half-praying.

Almost there! Just don't throw rocks at the people, mmkay?

Almost there! Just please don’t throw rocks at the people…

I pull up through the smooth granite crevasse and hear the sounds of laughter and top-of-the-mountain chatter just ahead.

As we crest the summit, I’m flooded with the kind of reverence and wonder Mother Nature routinely gifts.

View from peak two.

View from peak two. Wonderment.

Gazing around at the vastness of this range, the sea and the sky, I sense new faith sprouting. “Thank you,” I say silently…to God, to Amin and Gary, to myself, to Brian, to my body and to Spirit in general. All is well. Everything is going to be ok. The path will show up. Just have faith and keep going.

Happy little hiker

Happy little hiker atop the second peak of the Stawamus Chief.

Amin and Gary make their descent.

Amin and Gary begin their descent.

I realize what I LOOKED like as I was getting ready to swing, but this is what I FELT like once I got going. This is my intrepid college friend, Kim, on the traveling rings in Santa Monica. In addition to being one of the most globally strong people I know, she has a new comedy series coming out. Would you help her out by liking her on FB and/or subscribing to her YouTube channel? https://www.facebook.com/foxandbing https://www.youtube.com/user/foxandbing