The holiday season is a crazy one. Time seems to move faster, obligations pile up all around us and there are hundreds of things we think we should be doing at any given moment. It's hard to put the brakes on in November and December. But that's exactly what I've been doing.
You see, there are two dates that have special meaning to me during this rushed, exciting season. Not special like the birth of a child or a holiday, but things happened on those dates that have made indelible marks on my life. Kind of made me who I am today. And for those reasons, I acknowledge them. Not with any fanfare, mind you. There are no announcements made, no celebrations to be had. But still. I pause, momentarily on each of these days, and remember.
The first one hits in November. It's my now-defunct wedding anniversary. We got married on Thanksgiving. I was a blushing bride, five months pregnant and giddy with anticipation to begin a new phase in life. I have nothing but good memories of that day; despite the giddiness gradually giving way first to complacency and then to much darker emotions, the memories are nice.
Then, just around the corner, is the anniversary of my divorce. That one lands in the beginning of December. Thirteen years, a house and four kids later. The memories of this one aren't pretty or fun or dotted with sweet flashbacks. It was the final blow of a two-years-long beating, and in some ways it was a blessing. The date used to be a black mark on my calendar, THE DAY EVERYTHING ENDED. Now, I see it more as THE DAY EVERYTHING BEGAN.
It's 8 years now. There were times I didn't think I'd live through the first year, but I did. And each year after that as well. Some were harder to get through than others, but here I am: older, wiser and somehow...happier. I wish I could go back in time and let Newly Divorced Jenny know that things were going to be okay. I'd sit down with that terrified, sad woman, make her a dirty martini (which she didn't know would become her favorite cocktail) and tell her what I've learned:
1. You did the best you could. There will be people who are going to make you feel guilty about being divorced. Make you feel as if you didn't try hard enough, didn't make the right sacrifices. Your ex is going to do this, too. Head games and guilt trips and bizarre behavior that will make you question every single thing you've done to get to this point, this consciously uncoupled state. Screw them. And screw the notion that you didn't try to save your marriage with everything you had. You did try, you tried harder than most people would have. You showed more grace than necessary, more class than needed. You became the poster child for dignity, and you did all of that while solo-parenting four children. Own your part in this, my dear: you rocked it.
2. You should sell the house, right now. Sell it, give it to your ex, do whatever you can do to get this albatross off your neck. Yes, I know it's a box full 'o memories, but my friend...it's time to be done. The three mortgages will end up breaking your back, and your credit. You're going to discover, albeit a little bit late in the game, that home is indeed where the heart is. And you can move your heart somewhere better. You're hanging onto it for all the wrong reasons. To quote a movie that your kids will thankfully be too old to become obsessed with, "LET IT GO."
3. Don't rush into the dating thing. Honey, I know you're hellbent on getting back into the game, that you need to show yourself and everyone else that you can still do it, but slow down. Focus on repairing. There is brokenness all around you, and despite the nagging feeling that you're missing Mr. Right, you need to be in fixing mode for a while. Believe me...if Mr. Right is out there, he'll wait until you're ready. That's why he's Mr. Right. Oh, and FYI: when you see the Mullet guy on eHarmony, just say no. Dude did time for domestic assault. And he's still married. A married felon. You're welcome. And now please see #4.
4. You will have sex again. And again, and again. Remember that day, after some of the fog began clearing, and you realized your sole source of all things sex-related was gone? I do. You were getting the mail and actually said, out loud, "Oh my God. Who am I going to have sex with now that he's gone?" Fifteen years of being with just one person is kind of habit-forming (well, at least it was for you). For a long time after he left, sex was the furthest thing from your mind. But then it wasn't. It was pretty damn close to your mind. Like, on top of it, in heat and quite possibly humping it. Know that the desire to have sex is natural and the fact that your Sexy Spidey Senses are tingling again is GOOD and NORMAL. But take this advice: choose wisely. Believe it or not, you will have several fellas to choose from. Some of them will be great for scratching that itch. Some will be fun to flirt with, and some will be best left alone. I will tell you that the guy who is remodeling your neighbor's kitchen is definitely one of the latter. I know you're lonely, girl, but do you not see his striking resemblance to Captain Caveman? PASS.
5. You aren't going to hate him forever. No, not Kevin James. It's 2014 and we still can't stand that actor. Seriously, must you pull out the 'dancing fat guy' shtick in every single movie, Paul Blart? The "him" I'm referring to is your ex-husband. Right now, there is nobody on earth you love less. Lucifer himself sounds like a fabulous companion compared to the man who broke your heart. But there will be a day when the hate is just gone. Poof. You will change his name in your phone from "A HOLE" to "HIS REAL NAME." Your lips won't purse and your nose won't wrinkle and your eyes won't scrunch when you speak of him. No, you will never be the president of his fan club, but you will be relieved of the back-breaking burden that is hate. And it will feel all kinds of amazing. In the meantime? Take advantage of that hatey energy. Clean the damn garage.
6. Wait, what? Another dirty martini? Of course! Didn't I say you'd love them?
6. Your kids will survive. Oh sweet Jesus of Nazareth. The children. It's almost unbearable to look at them right now, isn't it? The pain is so fresh and so vivid in their faces. That's where most of the rage comes from, my dear. I mean, yeah, it bites the big one to be cheated on, but your kids? The dismemberment of your marriage has hurt your offspring, and that evokes an almost-otherworldly fury from you. Know this, woman: each one of them hurts, that's true. They handle their pain in different ways. Four kids, four ways of dealing with it. None of them are easy, and a couple of them are downright horrifying. You're going to be tested, my friend. Your limits to what you can take are going to be pulled and stretched like taffy, until you think you cannot possibly handle anything else. And then you get more to handle.
Spoiler alert. You handle it like a goddamn boss. The two older ones? They are almost 21 and 19 now. Both in college. Both thriving and healthy and happy. One of them is in love! The two younger ones are still home with you. They are both giant teenagers now and spending time with them is like a salve on your soul. You have wonderful relationships with all of the kids. Thick as thieves, you are. And you know why? Because you stuck it out with them. You were there for them when they needed you, and you never, ever gave up.
(P.S. For Christmas of 2012 our daughter Molly buys you a toaster. You hide in the kitchen so the kids can't see you bawling over a freaking toaster. Yeah, you are still a big crybaby. Sorry.)
7. This is going to feel like the worst thing ever. Until you realize it's not. Your middle name is going to be Woe Is Me for a while, and honey, that's okay. Woe is you, no question. But then you're going to notice that planet Earth has been merrily spinning away while you were embroiled in what felt like mortal combat. People's lives were changing, kids were growing, the economy was getting ready to take a massive dump. Things are going to happen, some bad things, some scary things. People you love are going to get sick. You and the kids are going to hit some hard bumps in the road.
You're going to discover that your divorce, as painful and exhausting and traumatic as it was, wasn't the end of the world. It sucked, no doubt about it. But it didn't kill you. You will learn the difference between "bad" and "awful", my friend. It's not a pretty lesson, but it's something you never forget.
8. There is no limit to what you can achieve. This one is the most important, so I'm going to repeat it: THERE IS NO LIMIT TO WHAT YOU CAN ACHIEVE. Oh, what's that? You say that getting out of bed these days takes all you have? I get it. And that's okay. It's to be expected. Your world was torn asunder, girl, it takes time to recover. Time to work everything out. And when you're living in the aftermath of a brutal divorce, everything doesn't always work out with ease. You're going to face obstacles that scare the crap out of you, challenges that make you feel like a tiny, trembling David staring up at a gnarly, giant Goliath.
Get this: You're going to learn how to manage money and balance a checkbook and do your own taxes! You'll figure out how to change the bulbs in your car lights. You'll install a garbage disposal and hook up wireless routers and you'll talk to your teens about sex and love and condoms. You're going to become a fierce advocate for your children, you're going to ask for help when you need it and give help when asked. You're going to be stronger and smarter and tougher and more tender than you ever imagined you'd be. You're going to write like a mofo, and find so many friends and opportunities when you do.
You're going to love. You're going to be loved. You're going to adopt a dog who sheds so much but who will own substantial real estate in your heart (and much to your chagrin, the couch).
The day is going to come when getting out of bed is easy and you do it early every morning and work hard all day and then go home to be with your family at night. You're never going to master cooking much more than your curry chicken and a decent pot roast but that's okay. The kids still love Costco pizza.
Eight years will pass in the blink of an eye even though some of the days and nights seem as if they will never end. Eight years, and look at all the good things that have happened. Look how much light and love and laughter there is in your life. I can't even begin to picture what the next eight will bring.
So, my younger, freshly divorced self (and anyone else who fits the bill), hang in there. You're in for one hell of a ride.
But...I'm here waiting for you at the end. Waiting with a hug and a spot on the couch next to me and an ice cold dirty martini. It's all going to be okay, and it's all going to be worth it.
This post first appeared on Jennifer's semi-neglected blog, The Happy Hausfrau. You can read more about divorce, single parenting and her obsession with Louis CK there.