Just Be

Several Sundays ago, I went out for a jog in a heavy mist. Usually, I listen to a podcast or music when I run. For some reason, unclear to myself, I decided to leave my phone behind, even though, given the current situation, never has there been such a need for distraction as now. Yet, my phone had mockingly informed me that my usage had increased tremendously the past week.


Of course, it had. Between trying to monitor my school email and google classrooms, oversee my own children’s school assignments, and exchanging texts with friends to help me keep my sanity, I felt like I hadn’t put my phone down since our quarantine began.


At first, it was uncomfortable to run without external noise upon which to focus. The run seemed more tedious. But I soon fell into my natural rhythm. The only sounds were my footsteps pounding the pavement enveloped in the muffled sound of the mist, and the occasional car. It can be unnerving to be left with your internal thoughts, especially now when so much is unknown, and fear and anxiety pervade.


I love distractions; I need them. On the weekends my children are with their father, I fill every moment with activities: exercise classes, yoga classes, visits to nail salons and the hairdresser, brunches, lunches and dinners with friends. I am always on the go because if I stop, I fear being overwhelmed with uncomfortable emotions.


One of my very good friends always advises me to just be. “You are such a doer; sometimes you just need to be.” But I fear just being. And so I avoid it.

Yet, that day during my run, I set my intentions for the upcoming week. I was going to just be. I was going to appreciate all the comforts I had despite Covid-19 and really try to enjoy being with my children in this rather strange situation. Quarantine feels like a suspension of time so removed is it from our normal daily scheduled life. I wake up every morning questioning the day; there is nothing to differentiate one day from another, except for a self-imposed schedule.


Several evenings later, I learned of the death of a college friend. It was a person with whom I was once close. We had lost touch. I saw his success on Facebook. We liked each other’s photos.


I walked into the grocery store the next morning to face our new normal. People were social distancing; some wore masks. Everyone looked scared or worried. There were long lines to check out, and even longer lines to get into the store. I felt a distressing pressure on my chest; I could only take shallow breaths. Was it a reaction to the apocalyptic scene before me, Covid-19, or grief?


I thought about my college friend. He was smart, silly, and charismatic. I thought about the ridiculous fun and risky adventures we had had at a time I was completely unaware of life’s fragility. Through the years, I had thought of reaching out; I never did. Liking his photos on Facebook seemed like enough.


In June, several of my college friends and I had reunited in Buffalo for our twentieth year college reunion. We were supposed to meet him out; our paths crossed but never met. I remember thinking, I will see him next time I am in Buffalo. Because there is always a next time. Except when there isn’t.


It turns out my friend had fallen prey to something darker than the virus. He had relapsed and died of a drug overdose.


Despite the images we usually see on social media, the perfect images of people’s lives on Fakebook and Instagram, what I have come to realize in my 40s is that everyone struggles. Everyone faces his or her personal darkness. This is something that should connect us, but we spend so much time looking at the surface rather than delving deeper that we miss significant commonalities.


One common thread holding many of us together is dealing with life in quarantine. I read one expert who advised that as with any trauma, people need to find the lesson. The ability to extract a lesson makes people feel more in control of an uncontrollable situation. So I need to extract my own lessons.


I need to stop living my life always thinking there is going to be another opportunity. If anything, our current situation shows us, sometimes there won’t be. I intend to be less judgmental, less competitive, less concerned with appearances, results, and perfection. I want to allow myself room to just be. Sometimes that might be awkward. Sometimes that might be messy and imperfect. Always kinder. More grateful. Hopefully, regretless.

Homeschool, Hikes, and Heartaches

This past two weeks, my life has mirrored the landscape of the dystopian novels I use in my middle school ELA classroom. A pandemic set loose on the world, exponentially rising death tolls, lack of basic services and consumer goods, inadequate healthcare, unmitigated government control, and widespread fear and hysteria.


The surreality of our current situation reinforces my belief that I cannot spend my life needlessly worrying. So many times in the past, I have had sleepless nights, letting potential problems keep me up, only to find they have never come to pass. Instead, I have been blindsided by issues I could never have foreseen. Today’s dystopian world is the perfect illustration.


Like everyone, I am trying to cope with our new reality. Between trying to teach my own classes online, to homeschool my kindergartener and first grader, and to productively fill our long days and empty schedules, some days are better than others. I am trying to be kind to myself and my children. We are all struggling. I am attempting to explain the unexplainable to them, why our world has shut down, why we have to practice social distancing. It is hard to answer the questions my young children have about these complicated issues without scaring them. It is difficult to remain calm in the face of so many unknowns.


And I am also trying to keep my children busy and provide opportunities for them to expend their youthful energy, even though all their activities and sports have been cancelled. There are very few places to take them. Even our local tracks have been closed.


So yesterday afternoon, after our daily homeschool lessons, I took my children up to the North Shore of Long Island to Cold Spring Harbor State Park. I have done this challenging two mile trail countless times with one of my friends. It was the second time that I had taken my children; the first time we did not get very far.


As my daughter, the future trail runner, bounds ahead, my son and I walk together.


“Mommy, my legs aren’t as long as Sis’s.”


“I know, Buddy. You are doing great.”


As we pick our way over logs, roots, and rocks, he begins to discuss a past event. “It was before we broke up,” he explains. My son has started to sort events into two categories: pre-divorce and post divorce. However, he descriptively timestamps events as before or after “we broke up.” Again, I explain to him that we didn’t break up; we could never break up. His father and I divorced, but we both love his sister and him very much. My heart aches.


From the time I learned I was pregnant with my daughter, over seven years ago, I have dedicated my life to protecting my children. Initially, I gave up wine and sushi and tried to fuel my body properly, nurturing beings I had never met but to whom I was already acutely tied. Out of the womb, my love and responsibilities have increased a hundredfold. I agonize over their physical, academic, mental, and emotional well-being daily, struggling to shield them from pain and conflict.


I have never before experienced the rage I felt when my children have been harmed by a playmate or bully. As a person who has always been immune to road rage, can turn my back on an enraged person, can tune out a belligerent student’s tirades, knowing full well his anger has nothing to do with me but stems from other issues, I have reeled from this blind rage. A feeling so uncontrollable, it can only be instinctual.


Unlike our previous visit to this site, this time my children completed the whole route. In a celebratory spirit, my slightly tired children and their exhausted mother return to the car for a thirty minute drive home. On the radio, a song I never heard before was playing, “Try Again,” by Andy Shauf. Despite recounting the story of a broken relationship, the tune is upbeat. The chorus repeats the song’s title, “Come on, baby, try again.”


I tell my children I like the song. Trying again is such an important lesson. We all need to try again as we did with our hike. Or how we sometimes need to do with our behavior. I am going to try to be more patient, I tell them. Maybe they can listen better, I suggest. We chat a bit more. A new song comes on the radio. But something has been dislodged in my son. He begins to pound his booster chair, repeating fiercely over and over, “You and daddy have to get back together again.”
It takes me a moment to understand what he is saying. He starts to kick the car door. “I am not kidding,” he yells at me. The irony is that I feel almost healed, but my poor children are still struggling with the aftermath of the divorce.


In the past, I might have given the stock answer, Daddy and I didn’t get along. However, the children’s therapist has cautioned that could lead children to needlessly feel conflict between parents. I say instead, “Sometimes parents don’t work well together.” Or, at all, I think to myself.


He calms momentarily. Throughout our ride home, he frequently returns to his outburst. I thank him for telling me how he feels, for sharing with me. I am sorry he feels that way. I do understand, I tell him. I know his ability to articulate his feelings is healing in itself. Yet, every time I hear his pain, my own heart splinters. There is no escape from this paradox. In trying to protect my children, I have caused them pain.


At one point, he says, “But mom, it is like the song. You can try again.” And I am undone by his intelligence, his ability to make inferences and connections. His optimism. He is five.


In bed that night, tears flow unbidden down my cheeks. Seven years of trying to insulate my children from heartache and loss. Despite our best efforts, we may still cause pain.

#socialdistancing

I often think of the tragedies I have lived through: the Gulf War which had little impact on me because I was in middle school, though, I do think my fellow students planned a walkout; coming back into the United States after the bombing in Oklahoma City; the horror of watching the Columbine Massacre unfold on television my senior year of college. The biggest traumas of my life included 9/11, and even more locally, Hurricane Sandy, and then my own personal trauma, my marriage and divorce. I am in no way equating a local natural disaster or my divorce with the magnitude of 9/11. However, each one was terrifying, contained so many unknowns, and left me feeling powerless to control my situation.


After I recovered from the immediate horror of 9/11, I, like many New Yorkers, spent a great deal of time living under the shadows of the threat of another attack. I lived on a barrier island during Hurricane Sandy, and I remember the National Guard coming into a wrecked town covered in sand and debris, and I thought I would never come closer to a scene that resembled war. At the time, my father reminded me that people can act desperately when they do not have necessities; there were sewage issues and lack of safe drinking water in some Long Island towns for months after the storm.


The horror of my marriage and the divorce process impacted me on such a personal level that, unlike 9/11 or Sandy, I couldn’t escape its impact even for a moment. For so many years, I walked around with a weight on my chest that made it hard to breathe, laugh, or really enjoy life to its fullest.


And here I am, over a year out, and I am a new, happier, lighter person. Peaceful in a way I never could have imagined less than a year and a half ago. And, when I think about the darkest moments and what allowed me to survive physically, and, even more so, emotionally and mentally, it was my support network. My parents, my coworkers who have become my friends and confidantes, my circle of high school and college friends, and the friendships formed more recently. The moms of my children’s friends from daycare and elementary school. The people with whom I interact daily. The school secretaries who practically run the school where I work. My hairdresser. The people I talk to daily or even just once in a while. My students’ parents. My children’s teachers. The people you barely know or just meet for a moment in whom you confide at a low point or moment of despair.


There is evidence that you may actually confide more in people you barely know than the people you consider your safety network. I have been on both ends of that paradox. People I looked at across a room have shared the strangest and most intimate information with me. But, I understand. Often, when particularly upset or stressed, I feel my words tumbling out, oversharing with unlikely recipients. After a particularly difficult week dealing with my ex over the children’s visitation schedule, I poured my concerns out to a grandmother picking her grandchild up from a play date. She sagely advised, “Remember forgiveness is more for you than the person you have forgiven.” I try to live by her words.

But the emotions I am feeling in the midst of the Corona crisis are unique. I walked into a bakery yesterday and almost cried to the owner because, in the aftermath of talks of a state lockdown, I could not even imagine being unable to walk into a local store anymore. I am bemoaning the loss of all the normalcy I typically take for granted. All the routines that keep us grounded and purposeful, the routines that allow us the structure to overcome our small or larger challenges are being threatened.


My children’s routine is in upheaval. Their school, religion class, sports, and other activities have all been cancelled. I texted one mom I see at almost every activity just to ask how she was doing. I missed seeing her.


The store shelves are bare. Going into stores with empty shelves seems designed to cause panic and fear.


One of my best friends, who is typically a very laidback person, told me that the unknowns of the virus and this situation are making her feel very anxious. I told her my divorce and dealing with a narcissistic ex must have made me immune to such anxiety. In the past year, I sadly have had to release so much control over my children’s safety and well-being. The courts seem unwillingly to enforce consequences over parents who don’t comply with settlements. So when my ex has my children, I often do not know their whereabouts. Is he taking them to school? No, he dropped them off at before care, which is in violation of the settlement. Are they at his parents’ house for February break? Nope, he violated the settlement, took them to a hotel, and never informed me. Are they on this flight? No, he changed their flight without apprising me. He flouts the settlement at every turn. So, yes, as a person who often doesn’t know if her children are safe, I may have become immune to anxiety.


As far as the virus, as is often the case in many aspects of life, I have no control over whether I get sick or my friends or my family members do. Or, as contraction seems inevitable, when? Prior to school and work closures, any of us could have been exposed. Or during our social distancing, we might be exposed on our one errand for essentials. All of that is out of our hands.


But for me, the biggest loss, what I am struggling with today, is the loss of normalcy. The loss of a “boring” routine. The loss of going to work and seeing my coworkers and my friends. Knowing that my children are at their school with their teachers and friends. That in the afternoon, they will have their play dates or their activities. That I will greet the same parents. See the same familiar faces.


Today, I am grieving for the social interaction I have beyond my friends. The larger social network I take for granted. I think many of us are. Some of my friends who are introverted say they prepared their whole lives for this. I didn’t. I thrive on social contact. I need it.

The Art of Losing (and Winning)

Years ago, I used to do a lesson with my seventh grade students about objects we had lost. Students would begin to generate a list. They would initially record concrete items, socks, keys, earrings. As the class started to share their items, they delved into the figurative sense of loss and added pets, grandparents, patience, one’s mind, and weight to their lists. It was always an engaging and rewarding lesson.

Eventually, the students would use their lists to write their own poems, and, sometimes, I would share Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, “One Art,” which introduces the loss of items as “no disaster.” Initially, the speaker discusses losing keys and the time spent looking for them as relatively inconsequential, but throughout the poem, the losses become more significant. Ultimately, by the poem’s end, the speaker has lost a person.

The losses sustained in divorce are substantial. My own had been, and, at different moments in the process, I found myself sobbing for my marital residence, my dog, a husband, money, sleep, and most significant, time with my children. Each loss was heartbreaking. For so long, I felt the emptiness of the raw gaping holes in my heart.

Sometimes loss paves the way for a more rewarding future. It is a difficult realization to reach, especially when in the midst of a funeral for the life you had carefully and lovingly built, the life that had burnt to the ground. But the process of grieving is a circuitous one, and even in my darkest moments as I thought about my tremendous losses, I began to appreciate my gains. And I started to generate my own lists.

I lost conflict and strife, pervasive sadness, a rancorous house, nightmarish in laws, and an abusive husband.

I truly was 1000 pounds lighter.

I had lost a marriage, but I had begun to gain peace and a sense of contentment.

In my twenties, I felt like a charcoal sketch with an indistinct outline. Marriage and a husband gave me substance. And then, within the confines of my acrimonious marriage, even that charcoal sketch faded and the indistinct outline grew blurrier. But now years later, after two children and a divorce, I felt myself stepping off the page – strong, substantial, and vibrant.

9/11, Eighteen Years Later

I have many half written blogs that need revising, a zillion more blog ideas I have yet to begin, and so I never planned on writing about 9/11, but as I looked on Facebook last evening, and I read comments about how 18 years ago, over 3000 people went to bed unprepared for what awaited them, I became reflective.

Eighteen years ago, I was a brand new teacher just starting my career, incapable of being able to imagine 18 years into the future. I had no idea that I would still be teaching middle school English albeit in a different district on Long Island, or that I would even still live on Long Island, or that I would be the proud mother of two children and a reluctant divorcee. Forty seemed ancient. At 24 years of age, even 30 seemed faraway.

Instead I was only concerned with the present. As a first year teacher, I was more nervous about arriving at school than my students. I was struggling to plan and implement instruction on a daily basis. I couldn’t predict the timing of my lessons, never mind foresee that on a gorgeous September morning, life, as Americans knew it, would change forever.

I can still picture the guidance counselor who entered my classroom, took me into the hall, and kindly explained that the Towers had been attacked, that a plane had hit the Pentagon, and another had crashed in Pennsylvania. I sank to the floor. I could not process what this woman said, but I knew it was horrific. I was worried. My father was working in the city; my sister was attending college in Virginia. My mother and brother were back home in Nassau County. I was lucky; no one close to me was lost.

For days afterwards, I, like everyone else, was glued to the television. We were waiting for another attack. When I finally ventured into the city, the landscape had changed. The National Guard became a familiar yet foreboding presence in Penn Station. The ominous threat of another attack hovered overhead for years. Life was forever altered.

I think all adults look back on their childhoods and young adulthoods with nostalgia for their innocence. My recollections of innocence are all set in a pre-9/11 world. After the attack, my life became clearly divided into pre-9/11 and post-9/11. A clear line was drawn; I am not alone. It seems impossible that my seventh grade students as well as my own children have never inhabited a pre-9/11 world when 9/11 has provided such a clear demarcation in my own.

And yet I don’t want to write about 9/11. The unthinkable happened. Lives were shattered. Heroes were made that day. Not a day goes by that I forget. The anniversary evokes vivid memories of that moment. I can reach out and touch it. I can relive every moment of the day as strange as that sounds. The beautiful blue, nearly cloudless sky I viewed overhead as I drove into Queens early that morning. The utilitarian hallway where the guidance counselor delivered the news. Keeping the information, as per the administration’s request, from my students. Trying to utilize a useless cellphone. Driving home fearful. Watching the news around the clock for the next 48 hours; my school was closed for days.

Today should be a tribute to heroes, a day of remembrance for those lost, but it should also be reminder to live. Because we get one life to live, and we deserve to live it well. Because no one knows what life has in store for us. Because every moment with family and friends, doing what we love, or just living is a gift.

And none of us can foresee the circuitous route our lives take. Until I was 13, my father worked on the seventy-ninth floor of the second Tower. Visits to my father’s work involved an exciting and long subway ride to the bustling World Trade Center; the Towers were a part of my childhood just as they were a part of the NYC skyline for decades.

And in a strange twist, my 4 and a half year old son has become obsessed with the story of Philippe Petit, the man who walked on a tightrope between the Towers in 1974. My father frequently reads a picture book, by Mordicai Gerstein, entitled, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, to him.

One day, my son found a Kodak photo my siblings or I had taken of the Towers, and he said, “That belongs here,” as he slipped the photo into the last pages of the book that read, “But in memory, as if imprinted in the sky, the towers are still there. And part of that memory is the joyful morning, August 7, 1974, when Philippe Petit walked between them in the air.” Gerstein’s last lines are poignant, and the message is straightforward, we can celebrate life in the face of unspeakable tragedy and loss.

And while I am lucky enough to be here, I will continue to make memories and to live joyfully. Not because I don’t remember but because,

We will never forget.

Letting Go

A pink bike with a pink and white floral print banana seat. I hold a wavery memory of my first bike as if viewed through a hazy flashback scene. Yet I remember with clarity the thrill of independence and pride associated with learning to ride it. A bicycle symbolizes newfound independence for young children, and I loved mine and the sense of adventure and freedom it gave me. Now that I am a parent, my children’s bicycles hold a different significance.

Because as a parent, loss is your biggest fear. My friend recently recounted a situation where her three year old daughter was lost behind the stage during a dance recital. My friend became emotional as she talked about her fear and inability to speak in the moment, and the amount of time it took her to recover, even after finding her daughter. Not being able to locate your child, even for a few seconds, feels like what I imagine drowning does. An immense pressure on your chest, an inability to speak or even breathe. Time slows and your vision narrows. You imagine the worst case scenario; calling for help or even forming a sentence becomes an impossibility. When faced with such loss, as parents, we hold on tightly to our children and resist their demands to let go.

In other situations, most people do the same, steeling ourselves against loss. Clutching our purse, locking our car and house, guarding ourselves, our family, and our possessions. Cruelly, sometimes, the people guilty of stealing the most from us are the ones closest to us, betraying our trust, our love, our friendship.

Throughout my divorce, acquaintances would talk about how divorce was so traumatic because it signified “the loss of hopes and dreams” and that captures the essence of divorce; my grief was not a result of saying goodbye to an imperfect partner, but the collapse of all I had built, the dissolution of all I had accumulated, and, far worse, the destruction of all my future plans for my family and me. Loss during divorce is inescapable, overarching, and momentous.

At every stage, as I continued to part ways with pieces of my life, I underwent the same heartbreaking process of grief and loss. My house, my furniture, my dog, and most recently, a 15 year friendship. At first, I railed against the loss, then I grieved it usually with lots of hot, sad tears, and, ultimately, I shed that old form of me, which had held the item close, like a second skin. Each time, faced with the threat of loss, I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it, I wouldn’t recover, and, inevitably, I did. I emerged, often scarred, sometimes lighter. Always altered.

With the implosion of a roadmap for my life, there were certain ideas that troubled me more than others. One was that my children would not be with me when they experienced milestones. Ironically, my ex-husband had missed multiple milestones for our children when we were together; as the only constant in my children’s lives, I vow to always be there for them, and so my fears are unfounded. While I realize I have the annoying habit of worrying irrationally at times, an unusual source of recent distress became who would teach my children to ride their bikes without training wheels.

It was more than fortuitous then that in the midst of a particularly troubling month when my ex was threatening to take me to court regarding his misunderstanding of his visitation schedule, my daughter turned six and requested I remove her training wheels from her bicycle. My mother and I both took her out several times to practice with little success.

Two weeks later, as my ex’s threats increased, I took my daughter out again, and she practiced balancing and gliding on the bicycle. Then I held on and balanced the bike as she pedaled. Holding a child up is difficult work, both in that moment and all others. Every once in a while, she would tell me to let go and proceed to fall into a bush or onto a front lawn. She grew frustrated and cranky as we all do when our expectations of ourselves exceed our abilities. I tried to express how difficult and time consuming acquiring a new skill is. She did not care. She was determined.

That afternoon, after multiple attempts, when she finally instructed me to let go again, and I hesitantly did, my beautiful, tenacious daughter took off. Her long red hair streamed out from under her pink helmet as she rode away. I could see the pride she felt in her accomplishment in the set of her back, the way she sat upright in her seat and continued to ride away from me.

My heart was being squeezed. I felt simultaneously proud and nostalgic. As a mother, I cannot measure the pride I feel at my children’s accomplishments. At every one of my children’s milestones, I have cried with the weight and significance of the moment. This one was no different. I started to cry. I ran to catch up. When she finally came to a stop, I enthusiastically praised her, but she questioned my tears. I explained they were tears of joy.

The next day, my daughter came home with an even more valuable gift, a story she had written about learning to ride her bike. She is in kindergarten and an emergent writer, yet the story was very perspicuous. “I told my mom to let go. I told her to let go again. She let go, I could feel the fresh air and it was fun and my mom was crying joy.”

And so the student inevitably becomes the teacher. I had taught my daughter to ride a bike, and in turn, she gifted me a treasure. Sometimes, in life, we must let go. Letting go is scary and intimidating, but, often, it is necessary. In the process, we might be knocked around; we might fail at first. We definitely will fall. But it is in the act of letting go, difficult though it may be, that we find our way. Letting go is a freeing choice. We gain freedom and independence. We begin to fly. And we learn to write our own stories.

Darkest Before the Dawn

cbriximages

Several weeks ago, in mid April, I went for a run. It was the first genuinely spring day of the season. The bleakness of the winter landscape had been replaced by a scene awash in color: delicate cherry blossoms stood out against a cerulean sky, grass was lushly green, and yellow daffodils and brightly colored tulips bloomed. Easter would arrive in two weeks. The day held the essence of rebirth.

The weather was perfect for a run. I shed my winter layers, and a light sheen of sweat formed early in my jog. I felt the calories and toxins being expelled.

It had been three months since I had signed my divorce settlement.

For years, leaving my marriage had been an insurmountable obstacle. Making the decision to end it was so harrowing that I wrongfully assumed the divorce process would be easier. I was poorly prepared for the laborious paperwork, the mudslinging, and the convoluted legal process. A bad marriage seemed simple and sane by comparison.

Throughout the darkest days of my divorce, people gave me advice. Mainly, they spoke in cliches. As a writer, I had always been warned to avoid cliches at any cost. As a drowning person, I embraced cliches as a lifeline.

You can do it.

You got this.

You will survive.

You have been through the worst of it.

Pace yourself. Divorce is a marathon not a sprint. You are closer rather than further.

(However, the finish line for my divorce kept moving farther away.)

Just breathe.

It is always darkest before the dawn, my hairdresser, of 18 years, told me. This should become your mantra, she advised.

And it did. There were moments so dark, I was rendered blind and paralyzed. I couldn’t see an inch in front of me. Or, separate reality from my worst fears, namely, that my estranged husband would get custody of my two small children. There were moments where I tripped and the earth opened up and promised to swallow me whole in a bottomless abyss. I continued to stumble along.

There were moments laughable now, but not when I was in the midst of a personal hell I didn’t think would end. One day, my estranged husband almost drove me off the sidewalk, screaming at me to get home because he had called the police. My infraction: I had put a post-it over the Ring doorbell and interrupted his surveillance of me.

I stood there, frightened. As he continued to berate me, I finally asked when the police would be arriving. I didn’t call the police was the response; I wanted to scare you. And that became a running theme over the next year as he made threats, filed motions, and blindsided me with his rage and vengeance. The children became pawns in his twisted game.

Then there were the moments that shocked me. Friends and acquaintances reached out to me to share my estranged husband’s profile on dating apps. Often, he didn’t admit he had children, but he did wish to have them in the future. He would tell his children, the ones who actually did exist, he was going to work as he packed overnight bags for his dates. They inquired why he needed underwear and a toothbrush.

There were moments that broke my heart. I spent Christmas Eve in court as he fought me for overnight visitation despite his continued abuse of alcohol and his inability to put the needs of our children above his own or his parents’.

I had lived in such a heightened state of chaos and strife for so many years, it was hard to foresee worse moments, but divorce exacerbated an already tense and stressful situation.

My friend who had survived a starter marriage told me an allegory about being in a boat in the middle of a squall. Ultimately, she said, you will row to the other side. Throughout my divorce, I felt as if my boat had capsized, and I was going down for the last time. Even though I always managed to pull my head above water to gasp for a breath and find the strength to keep treading water, I feared I would drowned.

My children love to gather pebbles and place them in a glass vase. They take the pebbles out frequently, stack and examine them and discuss their favorites. In the midst of my storm, I collected people’s divorce stories and treated them like my children do their pebbles. The stories became my worry stones. I examined them closely for a sign of guidance or hope. If this person had emerged intact, I could, too.

And then one day, I did, with no fanfare at all. The lawyers called a meeting, suddenly. It was their last ditch attempt to resolve our issues before we began the trial process. Five tense hours later, I emerged divorced. It had all happened so quickly that when I texted my friends, they couldn’t piece the puzzle together. Either could I. After a contentious 11 months, my ex and I were able to agree enough on a final settlement.

The biggest obstacle still to be overcome was the new visitation schedule. My children would now have overnights with my ex, a man who was irresponsible, disorganized, and self-aggrandizing on his best day.

There are still dark moments, but on this perfect early spring day, I chose to embrace the light. My hairdresser was right. Darkest before the dawn was the perfect mantra. I had walked straight through the most excruciating moments of my life. I faltered many times, but I never gave into the dark. And here I was on the other side. Dawn beckons welcomingly.

A couple of weeks later, on the eve of my daughter’s sixth birthday, I went for another run on an atypically pleasant spring day in a rainy and cool season; signs are everywhere if we look. Again, I reflected on how far I had come. My daughter wasn’t even five years old when I began divorce proceedings. So much had improved since then. I prayed that both my daughter and my son were too young to remember my darkness.

And if they do remember the darkness or ever face their own terrible moments, I want them to realize darkness is ultimately extinguished by light. Winter cycles into spring. And storms give way to calm. The strength of the human spirit cannot wholly be captured by cliches, but it is in the dark that our essence truly starts to shine. And it is in the winter when the seeds of rebirth are sown. And after the darkness always comes the dawn.