Please Judge My Book by Its Cover

It is time to prepare my book proposal for Happily Divorced.  All along as I’ve been writing and self-editing my book, I’ve tried to apply one of the many valuable lessons I took from my time as a “student” of Wayne Dyer.  That is the notion that we must act as if.  We must visualize what it is we want to manifest in our lives.  Then we must live as if we already have it.  And in doing so, we will see it when we believe it.

In keeping with that thinking, one of the first things I did earlier this year as I started on the path of building an audience and preparing my writing to be submitted as a book proposal, was to print out the entire manuscript and place it in one of those 3-clip folders.  You know… the ones that cost about fifty sense and allow for the pages to be awkwardly turned?  The idea of this exercise being that it resembled a finished book.  It became real to me in the most literal sense at that moment.  No longer was writing a book just a theory.  It was a real thing sitting on the table right there in front of me.  I was no longer just thinking about writing a book or becoming an author.  I was one.  I am one.  And even if the book never gets published or if I have to publish it myself, no one can ever tell me I did not write a book because I have the physical proof that says otherwise.

Of course, no book is complete without a cover.  So about six months ago I did a very rudimentary sketch of what I envisioned for my cover.  Now, I may be a creative sort.  I write of course.  And I had my moment as a local musician fronting an incredibly talented group of musicians in a cover band. I even dabbled with some song writing back in the day.  But an artist in the sense of one who draws, paints, or sculpts, I am not!  Having said that, the image that came to me that day really felt authentic and perfect in its imperfection.  Given the fact I grew up in my mom’s bridal shop, it quite frankly seemed to fit like a glove – or should I say dress?  And with my rough sketch as complete as I was ever going to make it, I placed it at the front of my three-tab folder to give my book a cover.

Now that I am nearing the deadline by which I must submit my proposal to Hay House as part of an online writers’ workshop, I’d like to get your reaction to my book cover image to see what you think.  Of course, I’ll hire a professional book cover artist to fine tune this image for the final product and make sure it hits the mark in terms of not looking weird or out of place within my chosen genre.

So, will you indulge me and share your reaction to my third-grade-level sketch as a possible book cover for Happily Divorced? I’d be very grateful for your feedback whether it is good or bad.  Just don’t critique my technique because I absolutely don’t have any.  🙂

Thanks for your time and consideration!

Teresa

Happily Divorced: Single Life

Some of the frankly weirdest conversations Bob and I have had as a divorced couple revolved around our adventures as single people.  It’s probably hard for a lot of you to understand how we could discuss our evolving single-ness including sharing of some rather intimate escapades.  It’s probably making you a little squirmy right now in fact.  Like where the hell is this going?  No worries. It’s really not creepy.  At least not to me.

Perhaps it will make more sense to you if you consider that neither Bob nor I had spent any real time as adult singles before the point at which we divorced from each other.  We were both mid-30s and single for the first times in our adult lives.  

Bob had begun dating a woman right out of high school who he eventually married and then divorced within a year.  I had pretty much paralleled this pattern.  I met a guy two weeks before my high school senior prom and proceeded to date him for three and half years.  I eventually married him when I was 21 and promptly separated from him six months later.  About 8 months after that, I met Bob and the rest is history so to speak.

So I guess for us, our union developed rather prematurely, before we were done experiencing single life.  Once the shock and sadness of our failed marriage had run a reasonable course and we had committed ourselves to remain friends, it was sort of natural for us to share about our single-life escapades.  I think this was mostly helpful since it allowed our friendship to continue to evolve to a natural state of post-marital bliss and remove all the awkward overtones of sexual jealousy and disappointment that I think other couples harbor against one another long after the possibility of ever having sex again with each other has evaporated.  It also helped us to truly learn from our experience together.  Basically, if you are sharing as friends do about relationships with others of the opposite sex, it becomes natural to offer opinions on what might work or not work.  It also offers a weirdly safe audience since no one knows your dating habits and style better than one who actually experienced it.

Of course, these conversations weren’t possible in the early days of our separation or divorce.  But Bob and I both accepted the fact we were happier not cohabiting pretty quickly, probably by the time a year had passed, and began to cheer for the happily-ever-after ending that we each felt the other truly deserved in spite of our failure with one another.

Of course, I didn’t approve of all of Bob’s dating choices and he downright opposed at least my first choice – someone who I met the weekend before I announced my intention to separate from him.  I have to say, given this circumstance, Bob put forth an amazing effort to be cordial to this man for the proceeding three years during which I continued to date him. Thinking back on it, I really don’t know if I could have done the same.  But I truly do thank Bob for doing this in spite of the pain he must have felt every time he had to look at the man he considered the “other guy”.  By the time I had moved on from this first new someone, Bob had remarried and seemed to want me to find someone too.  We even got to a point where Brandi, his new wife, and I talked about my dating situations.  Not in vivid detail mind you.  But rather on a more general “found anyone special?” level.

To clarify, sharing your dating experiences with your ex isn’t advisable for everyone.  And you certainly should not do it if it is even a remote possibility that it may inflict pain on the former spouse.  That will only do harm to your efforts as a happily divorced couple.  In my case, I didn’t consider sharing these types of things with my ex until he did it first.  Now of course, this assumes that I was in a position to handle it.  And I really couldn’t tell you if Bob considered that or not.  Either way, I was.  So it worked out.

If you are on the receiving end of this scenario – your ex is sharing his or her dating experiences with you – try not to assume it’s an attempt to hurt you but rather may be an effort to normalize your relationship as friends and remove the awkwardness.  Look, the fact is you’re not likely going back there.  Some people do this.  But I guess what I’m saying is if it is over for the two of you, why not move on to a place of comfortable non-awkward friendship which includes sharing our successes and failures in dating.  And if you’re lucky enough to have an ex-spouse who is as funny as Bob when telling a story, you might even derive a bit of entertainment out of it.

Happily Divorced – Helping Each Other

So I guess I could have started with this topic because really this is at the core of it all.  Bob and I have consistently and willingly helped each other through big life events and the little things.  At first, I think Bob would have probably rather not helped me.  He was very angry with me, which is to be expected.  But he was the bigger person, putting his feelings aside to make sure his son had a comfortable home to live in with his mom.  He gave me a basic set of tools so that I could pound in a nail or screw together a piece of furniture.  He bought and installed a high-end bathroom shower door from his business in Ian’s bathroom.  And he was consistently there to pick Ian up, drop him off, and spend time with him on a regular schedule without fail or complaining.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked Bob to borrow a tool or small appliance, costume, or really anything else I might need but didn’t have.  If I needed a referral for anything – and I mean anything – Bob would always know a guy.  In fact I’m pretty sure Bob is the consummate “I know a guy” guy.  Whether it is a painter, plumber, mechanic, or limo driver, Bob knows a guy.  And he always invited me to use his name.  “Tell them I sent you and you’ll get a good deal,” he would say.  There was never any hesitation or trepidation.  Every request was readily accommodated without ever making me feel like I owed him something or that he had something over me. Probably a good thing since I seem to have fewer things he needs or maybe it’s just because he has everything and knows everyone.  But if there was something, I too gladly shared my stuff and my referrals – need a musician or a psychic? I know some of those – and felt good doing it.

Of course, besides being there with the “things” and the referrals, we were there to help each other through life’s ups and downs.  I’ll admit I didn’t help him move.  But I did help move a lot of sound gear and music instruments between our homes.  I babysat his daughter when he and Brandi had somewhere to go.  I’ve went to every viewing of every relative of Bob’s who I knew that has passed since we split – even one that I didn’t know very well.  I’ve offered help to his parents emotionally and would gladly do so physically if called upon.

And when Bob got in a very bad motorcycle accident in the spring of 2016, I got up as soon as I received the text and never went back to bed.  I went to the hospital to see him twice.  I consoled his worried mom and sister and ate with them (or actually watched them eat) in the hospital cafeteria.  I talked to his stepdad the day after and let him talk me through a play-by-play of the accident which obviously he wanted to tell someone.  It only took about 45 minutes. I went to Bob’s house to visit him after he got home just to let him know I cared and was there for him.  I told Brandi I’d cover whatever she needed – let out the dogs, bring them dinner, take Gracie, or whatever. That’s how you treat friends.  You don’t judge them.  Ok, you might.  But you put that shit aside to take care of them and realize it could just as easily have been you in the situation.  You are there for them and their family and offer your support.

Finally and probably most germane to the topic of this book, we helped each other to be better parents.  We talked about the issues parents deal with. The difficulties our son might be going through and how best to deal with them and help him.  How to cover the Christmas list?  How to pay for an expensive gift?  How to help him get along better with neighbor kids?  What sports should Ian try?  How do we best support our aspiring musician? Who will go to curriculum night?  Who’s going to talk to the coach?  And of course, we could gush all day long to each other about how wonderful our son is without annoying the other person.  You really can’t do that with a non-parent.  Not even a step-parent past a certain point.

If you’re reading this blog because you are recently divorced or because you are not having a “happily divorced” experience, you may find all of this to be a lot to take on in your particular situation.  All I can offer is to remember the golden rule.  You know the one our parents taught us.  Treat others as you want to be treated.  I promise you even if it feels uncomfortable, the dividends of a positive relationship and moreover positive parenting experience for you and happy childhood for your offspring is SO worth a bit of discomfort now and then.  After all, it will certainly be less uncomfortable than when you lived in the same house.

Conflicting Dreams – Motorcycles and Boats

If I had to pick a pivotal topic within our marriage that changed the course of our future, I would pin it to decisions that evolved around  motorcycles and boats.  Maybe this sounds lame to some people – that our marriage hinged on what happened relevant to two inanimate objects.  Well first, I must inform you that there is nothing inanimate about boating or for that matter, motorcycling.  Both in fact add animation to life.  Or at least I’d say they add “living” to life.

Bob and I are passionate people with strong opinions and a commitment to living life to the fullest.  Some people may be okay just cruising through life on autopilot.  Not us.  We want to experience life.  It is fleeting after all.  Our strong passions for life could have been a great asset to our marriage and I’d say early on it was as we shared many common interests.  But as time marched on, the strength of our desires evolved with different emphasis.

Bob loves motorcycles and I like them ok.  I love boating and Bob likes boating well enough.  But both of these things were catalysts for each of us to make decisions that were self-centered at the time.  Although, looking back over the past 18 years, I can conclude that it was inevitable.  You see, Bob had to become a Harley rider.  And I had to become a boat owner.  We just had to.  But each got in the way of the other and this is when the trouble started.

When Ian was about 2 years old, I got a substantial raise at my job.  I wanted to buy a boat that we could all enjoy together as Ian got older. Bob thought it was a good time to buy his first Harley.  We could have finally afforded either, albeit a modest selection of whichever one we chose.  But we certainly couldn’t afford both.  I don’t really know what the market is for Harley’s now but back then, there was a waiting list for the most basic Harley you could get.  And the type of boats we both liked was Mastercraft brand.  They are what our friends had and what I felt most comfortable in.  Bottom line, neither of these items is cheap!

So a few months into my new job and income, Bob didn’t so much ask me as much as he announced to me that he had put himself on the wait list for a bike.  What?  I was pissed.  How were we going to enjoy this investment with a two year old?  Three people do not fit on a motorcycle!  Bob’s response was that we would get his mom to watch Ian when we went on the bike.  I just saw this as a completely selfish move and one that took money we could use for so many things (eh hem… a boat!) and divert it to this extravagance that only Bob could truly enjoy.  Still “we” proceeded with the purchase of Bob’s first Harley.

Conversely, a few years before Ian was born, we had developed a circuit of friends who owned and/or enjoyed boating and waterskiing. I fell in love with the sport and everything about being on the water.  Waterskiing was really the first sport I felt reasonably good at.  It was freeing and boating itself was simultaneously energizing and relaxing.  Bob was actually a much better skier than me back in the day.  So it motivated me to get better, to keep up.  But I wanted more rope time.  So we went with friends as often as we could.  We started going on houseboat trips to Lake Cumberland where one could get in several opportunities to ski each day.  I looked forward all year every year to these houseboat trips and being back on the lake.  As soon as we got in our cars to leave the lake each year, I looked fondly upon my return.  Then in the fall of ‘97, our friends who we’ll call Bill and Crystal and who also happened to be both boaters and Harley riders, bought a house on the Scioto River in Columbus.  … in the ski zone!  It was awesome because we enjoyed each other’s company and they were very gracious in sharing their amenities with us.

Happily Divorced Houseboating Norris Lake
Houseboating on Norris Lake in Tennesse

As spring ’98 approached, it was time to plan the houseboat trip which usually took place in June.  Instead, Bob announced to me that he and Bill had been talking and that they wanted for the four of us to forego the houseboat trip this one year and instead go to Milwaukee for the Harley Davidson 95th Anniversary celebration.  Well it wasn’t a houseboat trip but it was only one year we’d miss it and this would be a different type of memorable experience.  So I agreed.  Just this one year.

The next spring, again it was time to plan the houseboat trip and I had heard no talk of it. So I asked Bob and he announced to me that this year, he and Bill were instead going to go to Sturgis for another Harley thing.  I suggested I may not be interested in doing that and Bob informed me that it was going to be an all guys trip anyway.  No women allowed.  Really?  When confronted with my displeasure of this situation, Bob said, “What’s the big deal?  We can ski on the river anytime we want with Bill and Crystal.” What?  That is NOT THE SAME!  That’s not the lake NOR a houseboat trip!!!

So faced with missing a second year in a row at my beloved lake, I asked Bob if he minded if I tried to find another houseboat trip to go on.  He said he didn’t care, a decision he would live to regret for quite a while.  I knew of at least one other friend who was going on a trip and promptly made a call to ask her if there was room for me.  Of course there was.  So both out of spite and desire, I packed my bags and was on a houseboat on Lake Cumberland in about three weeks.

I was so giddy the morning of the trip I couldn’t contain myself.  It was like I was overwhelmed with a sense of freedom.  I was deciding how to live my life rather than someone else dictating it to me.  I ended up riding down with a friend of the friend who planned the trip along with a few others.  None of which I knew all that well.  All the way there I felt a connection developing to this person – not as a love interest.  Not at all at that point. He was just someone who shared my passion for boating, philosophy about life, and who was excessively easy to talk to.  He got me!  Bob used to get me but somewhere along the way, he stopped getting me and just became critical of me.  Why wasn’t I more this or less that?

This new friend and I proceeded to spend endless hours talking about everything from family to our academic backgrounds, our professional backgrounds, to our mutual dream of living on a body of ski-able water.  Oh and did I mention he had a Mastercraft ski boat?!?!  We also ventured into the turbulent waters, quite literally, of discussing my current marital strife. As we talked, I felt this urgency building inside of me that if I didn’t choose to start living my life my way now, I was going to be one of those people lying on their death bed suffocated by regret.  It weighed on me like a ton of bricks.  And I was so pissed that Bob, so caught up in his own desires, couldn’t see I was missing out on my life.  So, while I gave a lot of thought during that trip as to what my life could be as someone choosing my own path, I gave little thought to what it wouldn’t be… what it could no longer be.

I returned from the houseboat trip to announce to Bob three days later that I wanted a divorce.  And that was that.  Bob and I split up over motorcycles and boats.

Of course, this isn’t true.  We didn’t split up over things.  We split up because we both stopped treating each other as we wanted to be treated.  We stopped honoring each other’s desires and wanting each other to be happy.  We had both become consumed with our individual dreams and forgot to listen to each other.  We forgot about our little dream family we had created.  Bob wanted his boyish freedom to roam the country with his buddies.  I wanted the freedom of skiing behind a boat any time I chose.  Although I also wanted to introduce my son to the boating experience as I’m sure Bob wanted to indoctrinate Ian on the ways of the Harley rider.  In the end though, it was really about each of us wanting the right to live the life we wanted to live, not one that was thrust upon us.

Teresa's first boat - a Mastercraft TriStar
Teresa’s first boat – a Mastercraft TriStar 190

After our divorce, Bob got his Harley and free time with the guys.  I got my boat, more rope time, and a whole new group of friends.  Friends that liked me for me, not because I was Bob’s wife.  Friends that shared my love of boating and the lake.  I don’t think either of us regrets having these things in our lives now.  They are the fabric of who we each have become.  But it’s unfortunate we couldn’t figure out how to make room for both of these things in our family.

dscf2559-e1498926985513.jpgIan liked, but I wouldn’t say loved, boating when he was very young.  He tolerated it and liked the swimming but didn’t really get into watersports until middle school at which point, he started wakeboarding and grew to like that a lot.  As soon as Ian was old enough to hang on to his dad securely, he road with him on the back of his bike.  I’m sure he enjoyed that just as I did as a child with my dad riding on his Honda with him.  I’m glad Ian has gotten to experience both of our passions just as we’ve shared in his passion for music.  And maybe our divorce was the only way that was ever all going to happen.

If you are struggling in your relationship with conflicting dreams, I think it is key to understand your partner’s passions and support them.  Nothing will kill a relationship more quickly than denying someone their dream.  If you don’t know what they are, you had better ask.  If you think you know her dreams, you better make sure you’re right and are paying attention.  If those dreams conflict with yours, you must work through it.  Don’t leave it to chance and don’t make assumptions.  We know what that does.

Happily Divorced Teresa Skiing
Yep… I’m having fun!

This doesn’t mean you should allow your partner’s dreams to keep you from living yours.  If someone loves you and wants to be with you enough, make sure they know what your dreams are.  You can’t be pissed that they killed your dreams if they don’t know what they are.  And for God’s sake, make sure they’re listening.  If your partner doesn’t work with you to help you achieve your dreams or worse, stands in your way of them, you’re probably headed for trouble or already in it.  Likewise, if you can’t come to terms with the dreams your partner holds and find room for compromise, you’re going to struggle.  Best to move on from the relationship because one or both of you will always be haunted by your unlived dreams.

norris-lake-boating

Michigan dock

Happily Divorced – Celebrating Graduation

Ah, graduation.  Parents of many children probably celebrate this quite differently in their minds and hearts than those of us who have only one child.  And married parents too look to this as an opportunity to transition their relationship back to what it was pre-child.  For me, it represented the end of so many things I love about being a mom and co-parent never to be revisited again.

First there was high school graduation.  I started dreading that about halfway through Ian’s junior year when he started visiting colleges and taking college entrance exams.  He was going to leave home.  I wouldn’t be able to be there for him when he finished his day.  I wouldn’t be able to make a healthy dinner for him.  There would be no more high school football games or parades to see him perform at (not that there wouldn’t be more performances in his case of course).  The high school experience which I once loathed for myself but now looked back on fondly was coming to an end for him.  As for my relationship with Bob, there would be far fewer reasons for us to talk.  Would this mean our friendship would fade?  Would I never have the pleasure of hearing his funny tales or get to spend time with Bob’s family.  Quite frankly, I was overwhelmed with sadness for about 18 months.  I felt my worth and usefulness as a mom was fast diminishing.  My identity was coming to an end.  This may all sound overly dramatic but it really is what I felt.

ian-grad-entranceThankfully, Ian chose to attend college close to home.  So by the time his second semester of his senior year of high school rolled around, I no longer had to consider what I might do if he chose to head off to Southern California or Florida.  He would be able to drive 20 minutes or so from campus to home and I could do the same.  What a relief!

The first senior event Bob and I jointly participated in was senior night during football season.  Senior football players, cheerleaders, and band members were all honored by being given an opportunity to walk across the field with their parents, have their pictures taken at the other side, and be introduced over the PA to the audience.  Bob and I never considered doing it any other way.  In fact, I might even go as far as to say that other parents of Ian’s friends who had divorced later than us chose to follow our lead and do the same having been subjected to our example for Ian’s entire academic career.  I like to think we inspired others anyway.  So we proudly took the field together and have another snapshot of the three of us to take forward through our lifetime of memories.

OOHS Ian Harlow Snare DrummerNext on the list was to create a memorable graduation experience for Ian – one that both of our families could join in together.  I wanted Ian to have a graduation party.  I had not had one and honestly at the time didn’t miss it.  But realized not only did I miss out on marking this occasion in a special way, but I also missed out on gathering some much needed funding for what comes next in life through presents offered by those in attendance.

In our case, the last thing I wanted was to make Ian split time between families during his celebration.  And since we were all on such good terms and genuinely enjoyed each other’s company, why shouldn’t we hold one big joint celebration?  Bob suggested we hold the party at his house since the backyard was better positioned to set up the tents and tables for guests.  Since we were only a quarter mile apart as the crow flies, it would be easy enough for everyone to find it that may not know where Ian’s “other home” was.  We split the costs of food and decorations.  And I was free to invite my friends and family to Bob’s house, which I did without concern.  Bob’s wife Brandi helped with a lot of the details and making sure we got our guest list together and invitations made out in time.  I created an invitation using several pictures arranged into a collage and we jointly addressed and mailed them.  I created a couple of picture posters with snapshots throughout Ian’s life.  I was extra-careful to make sure that family members and friends from both sides were represented so that everyone would feel like they were included in this great celebration and were recognized for their significance in Ian’s life.  I would have not dreamed of doing it any other way.

Contrast this with the experience of my divorced friend when his daughter graduated.  Her mom created a board that had not one picture of the father represented.  This is unfortunately the path too many take when they divorce… simply forgetting to consider the feelings of not only the other person but of the child to whom that other parent is definitely important.

When the big day arrived, we sat together at the graduation ceremony and took pictures together afterward.  Then we set out to create our everlasting memories of the graduation party.  Bob’s large local family contingent was there.  And while my parents and other family members weren’t there, I did invite Brian’s family and several close friends and neighbors.  So there was a reasonable balance representing both sides.

During the party, I and Bob were both careful to make sure we intermingled the groups introducing those who didn’t know each other and encouraging cross-over conversations, if you will.  It was nice to see Ian so relaxed being able to enjoy himself and not worrying about having to leave to go to the other parent’s celebration.  He could do what all the other kids did and leave his own party to attend the party of friends while the parent celebration continued. Ha!

 

Co-Parenting and Discipline – A United Front

Of all the parenting topics I cover, this one is central to why we needed to get this co-parenting thing right.  I refused to let Ian be a casualty of my choices.  And I have to say, I think both Bob and I tackled the subjects of limits, responsibility, and discipline beautifully.

One of the saddest things I’ve witnessed in observing other divorce situations is the inability of divorced couples to effectively discipline their children and teach them how to make good life choices.  The divorced parent becomes so fearful of the possibility that their child will reject them that they choose not to engage in any conversations that might jeopardize their relationship.  I have seen it so many times.  Fathers with limited visitation who cannot fathom making even one precious moment unhappy with their children during the short hours they spend to have it taken up by confrontations of any kind.  Mothers who buy their kids everything they ask for so that the children don’t consider whether they may have more material rewards if they lived with Dad.  On and on it goes.  The child isn’t given any responsibilities and is never told no.  They are constantly showered with compliments on how great and beautiful they are and never denied anything.  From having no household chores to never living without something because “mom said so”, the kids of divorced parents are running the show.  No wonder we now have the “me” generation.

You may be thinking, “So what if everyone’s happy all the time?”  Is it so bad to have only positive interactions with your child?  Frankly, YES!  First of all, if you don’t teach your children about things like washing the dishes and doing laundry, who do you think is going to do that?  Or are you planning to supply your child with a staff of household servants after they move out?  Or maybe you’re ok with them wallowing in filth later on because they never learn the value of basic home cleanliness and how it can affect their physical and mental health.  Could you be unwittingly raising a future hoarder to be featured on the cable series Hoarders, Buried Alive?  Maybe you too were raised without being expected to help around the house and think this is just fine.  Afterall, look at you.  You turned out fine.  But I bet if you think about it, you had more responsibilities than you are willing to admit since it challenges your current course of action.

But this is about so much more than learning how to clean the house.  What happens to a person who is never told no, denied anything, or challenged on their thinking?  You got it!  They grow up to be spoiled, self-serving narcissist.  Even if they somehow escape their values descending into complete self-absorption, they will be ill equipped to deal with the real world where they will most certainly be told no by someone.  There will eventually be someone who disagrees with them or denies them something they desperately want.  And you have failed to prepare them for this event.  They will be devastated and have no idea how to respond appropriately and productively to failure, going without, or having to think of others first.

So if you think the above is a lot of preaching from me without a lot of evidence that it doesn’t have to be this way, I’ll share with you our experience.  You might recall in my earlier blog posts I mentioned that it will be much easier to effectively co-parent if both parents share foundational values.  This is probably more important in the areas of discipline, setting limits, and teaching responsibility than any other.

Remember when you first learned you were going to be a parent?  If you’re like me, you probably were profoundly struck simultaneously with fear and excitement at the prospect that you would be raising a human being that with God’s grace would someday positively influence humanity.  Sure you may have dreamed of them growing up to be famous or rich or beautiful.  But I doubt anyone hopes their child grows up to be a self-absorbed asshole.  So we must be careful not to raise one.  In fact we need to live in fear that we may very well do that if we don’t take responsibility ourselves for ensuring that doesn’t happen.  Again, if you don’t do it, are you expecting someone else will?  Why the hell are they going to do your job for you?  This is the cornerstone of parenting.  Beyond the contribution of your DNA, this is your next most important responsibility.  And I take it VERY SERIOUSLY.

When Bob and I divorced, I was fortunate enough to know that we shared very similar core values.  Of course there are nuances.  Otherwise, we might have never gotten divorced at all.  But we both took and still take the responsibility of parenting very seriously and personally.  We both realize that while we want our child to like us, liking us is not more likely because we give him everything he wants.  We accept that it is our responsibility to teach Ian kindness, generosity, and responsibility as well as providing him opportunities to succeed in life.  However, I have known many people who were seemingly given every opportunity to succeed by way of paid college tuition and financial assistance of all sorts who still fell flat on their face precisely because it was given to them.  I know multimillionaires whose children seem to have no idea what it means to be responsible or make good life choices.

I grew up in a home where my dad had a convenient excuse to give me when he and mom didn’t want me to have something.  “We can’t afford it,” he’d say.  It’s a perfect alibi.  Growing up I always said to myself that when I had kids, I didn’t want to have to tell them they couldn’t have something because “we couldn’t afford it”.  So I set out to make sure that wasn’t going to be the case only to find out that it is much easier to say, We can’t afford it” than it is to teach some more difficult life lesson to our child such as you can’t have it because it is bad for you.  If you simply say you can’t afford it, that pretty much shuts down all debate.  So in one sense, it’s brilliant because the end is the same and maybe the child is less distressed than if you tell them they can’t have something because you think it is too extravagant.  Aren’t they important enough for you to part with your precious money over?  Let the parental guilt trip begin.  Stop with the need to explain.  Revert to what our parents did or our grandparents before them.  They said, “No.”  The end.  If you dared to ask why, you got the ever popular “because I said so”.  And if you dared challenge this reasoning, you might well have ended up grounded or worse yet slapped, spanked, or even beaten.  What is this obsessive compulsion to over-explain our parental logic to our children?  Give it up.  Because they ARE children, they cannot be expected to understand.

Now that I’ve laid down the hardline, I will dial back a bit to the reality of my personal approach which I think in the majority of situations worked.  I said no when I thought something was not in my child’s best interest AND I offered my reasoning for this in simple matter-of-fact terms.  While I didn’t allow Ian to debate me on my decision, I did listen to what he had to say in response as an opportunity to confirm whether or not he understood my rationale – even if he didn’t agree with it.  And therein lies the difference.  I was NOT focused on whether or not my child agreed with me.  I was most concerned with his wellbeing and conveying to him that regardless of anything else, my priority had to be to protect him from harm of any kind.  That was my #1 job even when it made me unpopular with him.  It’s the risk I had to take.  And I knew it’s what Ian both wanted and expected from me too.  All our kids us to protect them.  And this requires setting limits.  So I sat limits and stuck to them and I shared those limits with Bob.  We would sometime negotiate on the finer details such as video game ratings or curfews.  And we didn’t agree on all these details either.  But our foundation was the same.  First priority – protect Ian from harm – physical, mental, and emotional.

Here’s another problem I see with the idea of never having a negative experience with your child.  What happens when they eventually have that imperfect day?  Are they going to be equipped to handle it or are they going to shatter into a million pieces and be unable to recover or learn from the experience?  We must teach our kids how to deal with disappointment and rejection or it will be a shock that will potentially devastate them when you are not around to catch them as they fall back to Earth from the high perch above the rest of the universe.  Ian and I most certainly had our negative days.  Some because he pushed it and some because maybe I had a bad day to work, was too exhausted to think straight or was PMSing.  But these were invaluable exercises in communication, problem-solving, self-control and compromise for Ian.  Sure they also offered these benefits to me as well.  But this was his first rodeo and I was the clown protecting him from being trampled by the bull.

But what do you do when you and your child simply can’t get to common ground?  When you’re still married to the other parent, you can call them in for reinforcement.  But what about when you’re divorced?  Can you still do that?  You can but you have to be very secure in your relationship with the ex.  Calling in the other parent for reinforcement isn’t a workable plan if they are going to use the event against you either to badmouth you to the child or to build a case that you are an unfit parent.  Unfortunately, I know for many divorced parents this is the reality.  But for others, its simply a fear, a personal insecurity.  If your spouse has not brought legal action against you seeking to reduce your parenting time or interaction with them, I implore to partner with them in matters of discipline.  After all, I’m pretty sure they don’t want to spend their days with an asshole of their own making either.  So herein lay an opportunity to find common ground – a precious commodity among divorced co-parents.

There was a time during Ian’s middleschool years where he and I had the most trouble communicating.  I think Ian was sure he was being judged by everyone including me all the time.  He, like any other pre-teen, lacked confidence and at the same time felt compelled to wield control over something, anything, even if that was a heated conversation with mom.  Now I’m going to say something I’m sure some of you will hate me for.  But it’s what I believe based on my own personal feelings and observations.  Children fear dad more than mom… at least in a physical harm sense that is.  Sure, mom can make you feel like a piece of shit in words, but you won’t bleed or lose a limb from it.  So the pain she can inflict just doesn’t carry the same fear factor as the potential damage dad can do with that extra weight and muscle to throw at you.  Even if dad has never touched you.  I know this because I felt this way.  My dad had never laid a finger on me but at one point during my teens, I pushed him too hard and he grabbed both of my arms and shook me.  It scared the hell out of me, not because it hurt but because it reminded me that he had the capacity to hurt me if he so chose to.  With that, my human survival instinct kicked in and forced me to shut my smart mouth.  I’m sure there are exceptions where the mom is more physically intimidating than the dad.  But I’d venture to say that with dad’s deeper voice and larger stature, most kids can’t battle the human instinct to protect themselves from physical harm by acquiescing to the one that is physically superior to them.

Anyway, after arguing with Ian for several hours about helping out around the house and him doing everything in his power to fight me on the point, I had had enough.  We were getting nowhere.  I don’t really remember the details of our actual argument.  But I do remember feeling like we had devolved into a circular conversation that was simply not going to resolve without a radical change in strategy.  So I called Bob and asked if he would talk to Ian.  Bob of course didn’t hesitate and came over to my house immediately.  He laid it on the line with Ian and told him he was not to talk to me in the tone and manner he was.  He reinforced my points telling Ian that mom was right and that he needed to do what I said.  In short, Bob was being a good father.  I don’t really get why this was so effective.  Maybe it had nothing to do with the male versus female presence at all.  Maybe it was simply the fact that bringing the other parent in tipped the opinion scale.  Once Ian saw that Bob and I were on the same side, he realized he was outnumbered and was not going to win this one.  So he conceded and life returned to normal for everyone.  Yea for us.  We didn’t raise an asshole!

Happily Divorced – Nurturing the Musician

From before the time when Ian entered this world, I fully expected to give birth to a musician, or at least a person that had a keen appreciation and aptitude for music. When I was four years old, I realized that I had a strong singing voice and was able to match pitch with great precision.  I dabbled in music over the years never setting aside my fear enough to really go after a career as a musician.

This dabbling persisted after Bob and I met when, one night out early in our relationship, we found ourselves at a Japanese karaoke bar.  Yeah, I know.  Very stereotypical.  Yet, nonetheless true.  After enduring renditions of various American pop standards crooned by old Japanese men, I decided to infuse something different.  So I asked the person running the karaoke to queue up Hopelessly Devoted to You, an Olivia Newton John song from the Grease movie soundtrack.

Until this point, Bob had only heard me sing a little in the car.  But when I hit the chorus and belted out the melody with all the power that came so easily to me, I leaned right over Bob’s shoulder to emphasis the shock he was about to get.  Belting the words “But now…” I glanced at Bob, who was both shocked and delighted to hear what had just emitted from my soul out into the room.  Bob and his friends were very impressed and I once again was reminded I had something special to share with this world in the way of music.  Over the next five years, with Bob’s encouragement, or one might even say insistence, I hopped up with friends’ bands and eventually became the lead singer in a couple local cover bands.  Still, the reward of anywhere from free drinks to $50 didn’t seem to meet with the expectations of my potential.

Meanwhile, I toiled away in corporate America building a stable career so that we could enjoy a comfortable life while my soul languished dreaming of something greater.  At this point, Bob and I had turned our thoughts and efforts toward starting a family.  So after two long years, and nearly giving up on our fertility, I proceeded to do two nights of shows at a dump in the north end of Columbus called Whiskey Dicks – a bar I wouldn’t dream of going to had we not been playing.  It was my birthday that Saturday.  But I was in my mid-twenties and still had a relatively strong ability to recover quickly from over indulgence.

Completely exasperated by my inability to get pregnant, I conceded that it was probably never going to happen.  I was due to start my period and go through the disappointment yet again for a 25th straight month.  So instead of facing that, I got hammered Friday and then proceeded to take it up a notch on Saturday with several shots of Tequila, an episode of climbing up on a table and ripping off a drunken and very appropriate-to-the-moment rendition of Shelly West’s country music tune Jose Quervo, and doing who knows what else on stage after that in what could only be described as a blackout.

That Sunday, I lost a day of my life, so hung over that I don’t think I ever left the bed.  But this wasn’t my first rodeo.  I knew I’d feel better as soon as enough time had passed and my body had purged all the toxins and healed itself from the incredible pollution which I had inflicted.  Then Monday came and oddly, I was still hung over.  I thought this was really weird.  Sure I had drank too much but a two day hangover?  Come on!  I didn’t think it rose to that level of bodily destruction.  Then it dawned on me.  I was about 3 days late for my period.  I became both instantly panicked and cautiously excited as it occurred to me that I might have really done it this time.  I might be pregnant and I might have just poisoned my unborn child with a deluge of shitty tequila as well.

By about noon, I decided to do a home pregnancy test just to see if it was possible that I was carrying a hungover embryo.  The test was positive. Oh my God!  None of them had ever come back positive.  Better make a doctor’s appointment to see if this is for real.  I phoned my doctor, went in that afternoon and they confirmed my pregnancy.  I went home and unable to contain myself, decided I better detox anything alcoholic left in my system and cleanse my bloodstream as fast as possible.  So I went for a two-mile run and drank about a gallon of water.  Then when Bob got home, I shared the news with him that he was going to be a dad and from that moment on really, I always expected I would give birth to a son and probably a musician.

About 19 weeks later, the son was confirmed on ultrasound.  At that point, we began to contemplate names.  Bob requested that the first name be Robert as he and his father before him.  I was fine with this but proclaimed, “Ok, but I’d like to pick the middle name.  I’d like it to be Ian, and also, we have enough Bobs and Bobbies in this family.  So I’d like him to go by his middle name.  It is the name of a really attractive and cool guy I knew during high school.  Plus it’s a great rock and roll name, right?”  Bob, not convinced by my first argument was totally on board with the latter proceeding to rip off the names Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull), Ian Gillan (Deep Purple), and Ian Astbury (the Cult & The Doors) as supporting examples.  And so Ian’s musician fate was sealed with an appropriate name.

Bob and I went to five concerts together in that nine months during my pregnancy; more than I had in any other similar period of time in my life.  Nurturing my little musician had already begun.  Steely Dan, Dream Theater, and Lenny Kravitz were among Ian’s prenatal inspirations.

Ian’s earliest exposure to music of course came in the form of mommy’s serenades.  As it turned out, after I returned to work and Ian was about three months old, I had to sing the song Material Girl live at a work function.  So as I practiced singing the song, Ian heard it a lot as he lay on the changing table.  He really liked that Madonna tune back in the day.  Flash-forward to when Ian was about 9 months old, in the back of my Honda civic with him in the car seat and a new style of rock had taken America by storm – Grunge – the Seattle sound.  Stone Temple Pilots’ Interstate Love Song came over the radio and I glanced in the rear view mirror to catch Ian “air-drumming” in perfect time to the rhythm of the music.  Wait.  What?  Is he going to be drummer?  No way.  My most challenging relationships had always been those with my drummers.  I couldn’t have possibly given birth to one.  Of all band members, they were always the ones I had conflicts with.  So yeah, of course he would be a drummer because getting along with a drummer was apparently a life lesson for me.

And so it began.  First with a plastic baby drum kit from Grandma and Papaw on his first birthday, then upgraded to a metal kit with paper heads on birthday #2, proceeded by a junior size full drum kit with real hardware and heads at age 4.  Apparently Grandma and Papaw thought they were getting some kind of revenge on their son.  Little did they know that it was just was daddy wanted.  It didn’t bother mommy either since I had remained in local cover bands until about six months into my pregnancy and took it up more aggressively once Ian turned a year old.  At that point, I became the lead singer in a local band we called Random Order.  We always liked to snicker about the oxymoronic quality of the name.  Anyway, Ian had been subjected to listening to my band practices from the age of one.  So when he showed interest, it thrilled me.

I continued singing in local cover bands for several years past the point of our divorce.  And while this was a passion, it was a hard choice because there were many weekends where it was my weekend with Ian but I had a show and ended up asking Bob and Brandi to keep him, had Ian stay with a friend, or got a babysitter.  Now I wasn’t only missing out on half of his life. I was missing out on the other half too.

During this phase, Bob and Brandi were what I would call apprehensively supportive.  Honestly, I totally understood where they were coming from.  As I neared my 40th birthday, things began to wind down for me.  I was finally feeling more and more frequently like I’d rather not spend my weekend in a bar I wouldn’t choose to be in otherwise.  And it wasn’t like we were writing original material.  So we weren’t on the brink of a record deal.  My son on the other hand, was in fifth grade by this time and decided to start a rock band.  I suspended my band membership for the foreseeable future preferring instead to put my energy to helping Ian to grow his dream.

There were five band members in Flame Brain as Ian’s band was called in those days.  And their instruments were quite literally bigger than they were.  But they had it all figured out.  I remember Ian telling me one day that he wanted to be in a band when he grew up but he added, “No offense mom, but we’re going to write original music.”  I told him sweetly that I wasn’t offended by his statement.  Let’s face it.  Besides Weird Al Yankovic, there are very spotty examples of unknowns making it solely on the basis of covering someone else’s material.

So at the tender age of ten, Ian set out on his journey as a musician.  He organized regular band practices.  And since I had some experience and owned a PA, I offered to mentor the boys and let them practice at my house.  The truth is nothing could have been more thrilling for me.   Of course their first cover was the favorite first song of many a cover band, Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water.  I’m sure many of my musician friends can relate to this early experience.  The boys proceeded to put together a full set of cover material.  In sixth grade they gained agreement from both their middle school and the teacher who was also a part-time DJ, the opportunity to play five songs at the middle school dance.

I asked one of my former guitarists to assist with some equipment needed for the show and to help the boys get properly tuned.  As this newly formed possibly future phenomenon took the stage, I witnessed what can only be described as a Beatles-style audience response complete with swooning screaming tween girls.  I was standing with all the band parents who were simultaneously overjoyed and laughing our asses off.  It was, after all, not an airport, concert hall, or stadium.  It was the middle-school cafeteria.  But as lead singer Joe, egged on by his older eighth-grade brother, staged-dived into the crowd, the boys experienced that rush of acceptance and positive energy that so many musicians become invariably addicted to.

Flame Brain continued to play throughout middle school at dances, benefits, band battles, and local restaurants.  They wrote their first original song for a band battle in eighth-grade and took second place amongst a very crowded much older roster of players.  Soon after that, they concluded that they had outgrown their band name and changed it to Evadale Drive, a name taken from a street in our neighborhood.  How sweet?

Amazingly this band stayed together through the end of high school, going through good times and bad, often fighting like brothers, and sometimes facing challenges with bad choices that many teens encountered.  I always reminded them to look out for each other and keep each other safe.  I couldn’t help but imagine that if they continued, it was inevitable at some band battle, someone would offer them something backstage while the parents weren’t watching.  So I had to instill in the boys some responsibility for each other’s safety that I could only hope would ward off the worst of these dangers.

As band gigs continued, all of us band-parents were very supportive, each bringing something to the table.  Not only was this our children’s journey, it was ours as parents.  Let’s face it.  It was the closest any of us was going to get to being rock stars.  During these years, Bob provided a lot of opportunities for the band to play, bought sound equipment and ran sound frequently for the band. He also brought consistent crowds of friends and family with him to the shows.  Mike videotaped every show, editing and distributing copies to all band members and parents.  Anita created countless posters, flyers, business cards, and press packs.  She and Mike even created a second practice location in their house complete with another drum kit for Ian to use in their home.  Nikki offered her photography skills and worked hard to keep her son on the straight and narrow.  Mike and Melissa booked shows and helped as “roadies” striving to learn the proper technique for wrapping up miles of speaker, PA, and instrument cables.  I was the consummate stage mom and assisted with everything from vocal coaching, to advice on stage presence, and even attitude counseling.  My motto for them was “check your ego at the door.”  Oh and did I mention we all served as “roadies”, a cool term assigned to those who are charged with carting hundreds of pounds of gear up and down stairs, in and out of vehicles and setting up and all the shows.  It was so great when the boys were finally big enough to carry their own stuff.

There were many aspects of raising our young musician that required a great deal of shared parenting coordination including financing music gear purchases, paying for instrument lessons, managing schedules, riding together to shows, and sometimes discussing at great length the many little dramas that inevitably afflict all bands.  I’m so glad Bob and I remained friends throughout these years so that we could offer the best version of support to our son and, rather than add stress to his events, work together to enhance his early musical experiences.

I guess I could write a whole book on my son the aspiring musician and maybe someday I will.  I so look forward to the unfolding of his talent for the world to experience.  May your rock name serve you well on your journey, Ian Harlow.