Anchors Away

anchor

January 7, 2017

Dear Cherished Heart,

I have lost my way.

We had but one tradition. Each anniversary we would buy the other a gift that somehow symbolized the past year. One year I bought my husband a set of plastic child-sized tools and he bought me a 500-piece puzzle of a lighthouse. For what we spared in price, we made up for in thought.

Some years ago I bought my husband a pendant of an anchor. He had been a steadfast, logical, and clear-headed partner for most of our relationship. In moments of emotional stress, self doubt, or catastrophic thinking, he became my anchor. His wide shoulders absorbed my disharmony without getting caught up in the emotion. His deep voice reassured me that things would get better. The upright, balanced manner in which he carried himself gave me confidence when mine faltered. His sturdiness became a bedrock upon which I stacked my struggles and inadequacies.

Somehow our lives moved from thrive to survive, capable to chaotic, and unified to disconnected, without our noticing. It was as if a course had been set and we only noticed once we had already arrived. My struggles stacked ever higher, but the anchor stayed fixed.

A few years ago, I read an article that referred to an anchor as a negative thing, something that holds you back. I was gobsmacked. An anchor—something that stabilizes and supports—could not be bad. No way.

And yet?

Over the last decade I have unceasingly engaged in professional and character development, in the hopes that my role as wife and mother would become easier. As if by bettering myself, those that I was in relationship with, would also be better versions of themselves. It hasn’t quite worked out that way. Moreover trying harder made me lose touch with what it was I wanted to achieve. I realized that using my husband as an anchor made me align with his values, and conflict arose when I could feel myself drowning my values in order to maintain much-needed peace. I compromised to stay attached.

Exhausted and with little left of myself, I left the boat, slipped off the anchor, and swam away.

Becoming untethered is a form of release. However, being afloat in a sea of memories, emotions, and decisions while feeling alone, makes the release bittersweet indeed.

Truly Yours,

Mona Lott

 

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The Arena

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December 30, 2016

Dear Cherished Heart,

Who knew?

That separation was an event—a main event that other people would feel the need to attend, in voice or thought, with opinions for or against.

We have been married for a long time— together for twenty-one years. Some people came to be my friends and family through him, and some people befriended and loved him because of their connection to me. So it goes, each person a ripple in the pond of their community, touching a myriad of people. I thought that my ripples created concentric circles that would not be broken.

I am by nature naive and most often believe in the inherent honesty in others, and that people are offering their best. So my legs get kicked out from under me when this basic notion is challenged or flipped on its head. Some people are mean. Things get said that are hurtful, whether intentional or not.

I didn’t know that separation meant my husband and I would stand in an arena, staring through all the joy, debris, admiration, disappointment, confusion and heartache, like an ever-changing weather system. How could I have known that there would be people who would stop cheering for “us” and only cheer for him? The fact that my presence in the arena still contains elements of loveliness, commitment, intuition, uncertainty, success, failure, and grace, no longer conjures up thoughts of my inherent goodness—for those few.

I am fifty, and I have only once felt the need to choose between him and her in a divorce. People may move closer to one side of the arena or the other, given their history with and affinity for one person. But to support one does not mean to condemn another.

As a teenager, I chose my mom—who stayed, over my dad—who walked out. And though I may have originally condemned him, I’ve kept the hope that my dad would one day turn back toward me; in other words, I continue to believe in his goodness whether he choses to act on it or not.

Right now, I don’t believe my husband or I have given anyone a reason to choose victim or villain. Our mutual admiration and respect continues, despite all else. Separation was not part of the master plan for either of us. Who—after all—gets married with a notion that “growing old together” will not come to pass? We got married with the conviction that it would last forever.

So when those that I have known and loved turn toward my husband and unnecessarily against me, it hurts a lot.

I’m sitting in a Cochrane coffee shop, Dejà Brew, and a song by Jim Croce has started to play. “Time In A Bottle”—a song I have long loved. Today its melancholy lyrics have slipped out of the bottle, and smashed all over the arena floor.

Truly Yours,

Mona Lott

 

Looking Good

fullsizerender

December 11, 2016

Dear Cherished Heart,

During these times of difficulty my friends and family regularly ask me how I am doing. My answers vary. “I’m okay,” I might say; or I’ll sigh, “One day at a time.” Rarely will I admit that I am not doing well, or show any outward signs of the pain I am experiencing.

People commonly respond to me with, “Well…you look really good.”

Looking good is my sub-specialty.

In my twenties I travelled from Calgary back to my home town of Sherwood Park, to gather with extended family for the wedding of one of my cousins. The day after the wedding we gathered at my aunt’s house for lunch. At twenty-four-years-old, I still fit perfectly on my Grampa’s lap. I felt like his favourite, even though I was one of fifteen grandchildren. Grampa gave me a hard time about the fact that my younger cousin had gotten married before me. “You better find someone soon,” he chuckled, “you can’t fool ‘em with your good looks forever.”

Walking to school after lunch one day, a friend of my sister’s told me that my mom and dad were separating. She assumed that I knew. I didn’t. I felt certain that she was playing a mean joke on me, and I didn’t give her ‘insider’s scoop’ any merit. That night therefore, I sat in horrified silence as my dad told my brother, sister, and me that he would be leaving. I was twelve-and-a-half and I had never heard or seen my parents fight. I distinctly remember thinking, “Couples don’t split up after this long”. After all, they had been together a lifetime—mine.

Being in grade eight at the time and growing into some new curves, boys began to take notice of me as I participated in the gymnastics club during lunch. Not only had my dad left my mom, he decided that parenthood was not his bag, and he pulled out of the family unit. It would take me years to work through all of the rejection and abandonment issues that sprung from that action.  While the pain of being rejected and unlovable sunk to some part of my sub-conscious thought, I found that I could play my physical beauty like a trump card. It seemed for a time that all I had were my good looks. So my grampa’s words, years later, opened an old wound.

My grampa had died the same summer as my cousin’s wedding, and so he did not see me married seven years later. I wanted to speak at our wedding luncheon, if only to reassure my Grampa that I had managed to keep my good looks just long enough to snag a mate.

Something so painful cleaves through my heart at the thought that I am loved for beauty’s sake. And of course, Cherished Heart, that is not the whole truth of it. I have so much more to offer. However, many of the other aspects that make me a most authentically beautiful and amazing being, reside in a locked chest of my own making. In courtship, I dance and I sing and I reveal every colour of the rainbow, but, since the twelve-year-old girl who was not loveable enough to hold the heart of her father, still exists inside of me, the risk to be vulnerable eventually outweighs the benefit, and the lock snaps back into place.

The point is not that I don’t want to hear that I am looking good despite what I am going through, for that is a challenge worth noting. But, I also want to know that there are eyes looking beyond my finery, and resting upon that which cannot be seen.

Truly Yours,

Mona Lott

 

The Lucky One

unknown

December 1, 2016

Dear Cherished Heart,

I recently went to watch my son play soccer. Each indoor season half of the team changes as kids move into or out of age divisions according to their birth year. I sat with a group of moms I hadn’t yet met. I am a socially capable introvert: one who feels discomfort amidst strangers, yet can easily converse and connect through honed social skills, which are driven by a need to be liked—everywhere, and by everyone. This is not an easy path.

When I sat down, I exchanged the usual—which one is your kid, and what team did he play for last year—chatter with two women. During the second half of the game, one of the women stood up and I noticed that she had a stunning picture painted onto the thigh of her jeans. Given my interest in fabric and clothing, I asked her if she had painted it herself. She had; she’s an artist; she showed us several pictures of her paintings-on-clothing. Jaw dropping images. Not kidding.

I believe strongly in the purposeful encounter of coincidence. Just the day prior, I had been looking for courses that I could take on “Fabric Art”. I am engaged in a spiritual journey with a coach at the moment, and some of the creative work I am doing relates to fabric, fashion, and design. So, meeting a woman who could create art on fabric made the hairs on my arms stand up.

Artist Mom lamented the fact that she didn’t have as much time for art as she would like. “When I was in Hong Kong, before having kids, my job was very busy,” she said. “Now I find that I don’t have the time to dedicate to it.”

The woman seated next to me said, “Your kids are in school right? What do you do all day?” The question sounded like a cross examination in a court room; it was not asked with a drop of curiosity, but instead oozed sanctimonious judgement.

My throat tightened.

Artist Mom explained, “I clean the house, buy groceries, and I’m cooking every day at 1:30, to get ready for the evening meal before a night of activities.”

“Come on,” said Sanctimonious Mom, “Don’t give me those excuses. I work full time, and still have to do all of that. You ‘stay-at-home’ Moms.”

My heart rate shot up; sweat began to drip from my arm pits; and a voice inside of me screamed. “Ummm…” I said, keeping my eyes on the game, but leaning toward her, “What are you saying about stay-at-home moms exactly?”

“You have all the time in the world, but you’re always complaining,” she said. “You are so lucky that you don’t have to work.”

Fireworks went off. I turned my face toward her. “I would be EVER SO HAPPY to have a conversation with you about HOW LUCKY I AM that I chose to work from home raising my kids, and am no longer employable! . . . but this is not the place.”

“Well…” she said, but was interrupted by a mom sitting in front of us who clearly wanted to instil peace; she said, “You have no idea what it is like for moms these days, there is so much pressure to keep up with the Jones’s.”

I shook my head. Really? Not helpful.

I spoke with controlled calmness, “I would recommend that you do not judge others until you have walked in their shoes.” At that moment I began to cry. Hot. Angry. Tears. I got up and walked away.

For twenty-one years, my husband and I created a system of support that took into consideration what each person’s strengths were. I gave up my career when I became a full-time mom because motherhood was the job I wanted to dedicate myself to. My husband, a physician-specialist, became the sole income earner in our family. He agreed that looking after our children and home was important, therefore we pooled our resources. It made perfect sense. Our family grew and so did my responsibilities. I have never worked harder.

We both worked and supported each other in a myriad of ways. The truth that he made all of the money did not enter into my consciousness throughout our many years together. For one thing, he never saw it that way. But moreover, doing my job well enabled him to do his job well. We were a team. Not all parenting teams are made in the same way; not all parents have the choices that I did. I respect and understand that. I have always felt blessed that I didn’t have to generate income; that my work with our family was seen as necessary and valuable.

I felt equal entitlement to my husband’s salary right up until we separated.

And then I felt like shit.

I had to rely on him for my daily existence; I worried about financial security; I knew that I had no skills that would procure a job or money. I knew I could not provide for my kids, without him. My skills and accomplishments—my resumé—would not impress anyone (for that matter neither would my age!). Suddenly, my chosen stay-at-home-mom path seemed foolish at best, and doomed at worst.

So when Sanctimonious Mom spewed her unwelcome viewpoint into the stands, I felt a torrent of thoughts and emotions rise rapidly like stomach acid. It wasn’t what she said. Why would I care what she said? She was a stranger. (And yet…seriously…who says that shit to a complete stranger??) No, it was how her words made me feel. Sanctimonious Mom unwittingly made me feel <less than>.

But why?

How could I feel that I had made the best decision for our lives by staying at home, and then in a flash feel like I had no value without my husband’s eternal love and support?

I think it is the word “support” that rattles me. Down the road, when the dust settles, there will be a separation agreement. However, it will be a one way road in a busy village. The agreement will only detail the support or benefits he gives me—in financial terms, it will not detail the support or benefits I give him—in my role of managing the emotional and physical needs of our children, and home.

I becomer the pitiable one. He, the provider-hero.

I realize, Cherished Heart, that these thoughts and feelings are part of the journey, and as transient as the chinook winds. But chinook winds can gust in excess of hurricane force; and to deny their existence would be very foolhardy indeed.

Truly Yours,

Mona Lott

Withdrawal

swords04

November 24, 2016

Dear Cherished Heart,

The inclination to withdraw makes perfect sense. The inner conflict while navigating a map with no clear direction markers is confusing. If I speak my conflicting thoughts out loud—Have I made a mistake? Time to envision a new path. Am I being selfish? I cannot cope with the pain of still loving, but not living—I risk getting advice that I can’t follow.

A couple of days ago I wrote a question in my journal:  “What do I need to know about this relationship?”

I pulled a Tarot Card.

Four of Swords.

You don’t have to know or use Tarot to understand that our lives are filled with symbols, signs, messages, and guides. You need only pay attention.

To merely glance at the card is quite dreadful indeed. But in reading and looking again, I saw many things. The letters P-A-X inscribed with lead into the yellow glass resonated with me. PAX is the Latin word for PEACE.

When we stand in the sunshine we are exposed to light, and to shadow. If peace is the freedom from disturbance, then the shadow-side of peace is conflict. I fear conflict and have walked many miles out of my way to avoid or dislodge it.

Withdrawing allows me to avoid perceived conflict too. I don’t want to have to defend my actions, because right now, the choices I’ve made feel indefensible.

A voice cries out:  You are letting everyone down. You can’t give up on your marriage. It’s sacrilegious.”

Whose voice is that?

Omigod…It’s ME—the twelve or thirteen-year-old who lives inside of me; she is speaking to her parents.

Dear thirteen-year-old self,

I am sorry that you were so confused by your parents separation and divorce. Know this—your parents made decisions that had nothing to do with you. Children do not bear the burden of the decisions made by their parents even when they are inherently affected by them. You could not have done anything differently. 

Even though your parents made this most unexpected decision—and the pain of it will find the most inopportune times to stab you in the spaces between the ribs that protect your heart—you will be loved and cherished by each parent, even when one of them lacks the skill to tell or show you. 

 You will grow into a fine woman, one who will grow from experience, succeed and fail, and love and be loved. It won’t be easy to put your parents divorce, or your father’s choice to walk away, behind you, because it will always be within you. 

One day you will be a loving and protective mother. Please know that the role of protector has its limits. Eventually you will need to allow FAITH, and TRUST, and HOPE to imprint upon your disquieted heart. It is then that the reins you grip so tightly in your endeavour to guide and protect, need to slacken. Otherwise, you will hold your children back, or they will pull away and break the connection completely. 

Bear no grudge against your parents young heart, for they were—for the most part—doing the best that they could given the circumstances of their lives. You are 100% deserving of love and belonging, 

Love you like crazy, 

Fifty-year-old Wendy

So, Cherished Heart though it is sometimes necessary to pull back and allow the body-mind to arrange the fragmented pieces of one’s life into a new mosaic, withdrawal needs a counter-balance for wellness. Sit on the teeter-totter and gaze up at the other end. What you find there…will find you.

Truly Yours,

Mona Lott

Mr. Not So Right

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November 13, 2016

Dear Cherished Heart,

How could Mr. Right have turned into Mr. Not-so-right? After such a freaking long time! Nothing in me wants to do this un-coupling thing; I don’t even know how to exist in an unpaired world. Up & down. Black & blue. Salt & pepper. Milk & cookies. Fire & ice. Ken & Barbie.

I know there are roughly a gazillion women who have walked before me on this discombobulating road, but it feels like an isolating and embarrassing experience. Embarrassing? Yes.

I thought embarrassed was reserved for silly, silent, spontaneous, or stupid behaviour. Like arriving home from the mall and realizing that you have a tea towel over your shoulder and ski goggles strapped to your forehead (doesn’t everyone wear ski goggles to chop onions?); or when you silently fart at the theatre, and everyone around starts moaning and plugging their noses—and you and your movie-mate know it was you. Not the my-husband-and-I-who-had-the-picture-perfect-life-have-separated kind of embarrassed.

This week I went to the bank for financial advice, to inform me for upcoming decisions. Our marriage, like many, encapsulated wealth and debt. I wanted reassurance from a money maestro that all would be okay in the world where my kids and I would come to live.

Here is the unspoken truth Cherished Heart: Once you decide to separate, a chasm opens up where you previously only saw blooming flowers; and the things hinged together, spring apart into the pieces that always made up their whole.  One has to hold an innumerable number of pieces, and each piece is tied to a task—something you have to do to make the tiny parts hum with life again.

I arrived at the bank holding a lot of pieces. Months of unhinging had already taken place. I not only grasped property deeds, retirement savings, and records of debt between my fingers, my brain filled with fragments of information on legal issues, rights and responsibilities, and my heart clung to the hopes and dreams I had for my kids. Most weighty though, the ever present nay-sayers—doubt and fear—rode roughshod upon my shoulders.

The financial advisor that I—a fifty-year-old full-time mom and wannabe writer, seeking information on future possibilities—got matched with was a twelve-year-old looking sprite, who appeared to be at her first day of employment. Discomfort rolled in like a cold front.

“Hello, Wendy?” she said.

“Hello.”

“Right this way,” she said, and I followed her the short distance to her glassed-in office.

She sat across the large desk from me, and waited.

“My husband and I have separated,” I said. I had been perseverating at how one says—out loud—that they are separated. I could hardly admit it to friends. The script that ran in my head allowed for her to say, I’m so sorry to hear that. She only stared at me. “A-And . . . I need to get some financial advice as we draw up our separation agreement.” She continued to look at me with an expression of boredom, and I briefly wondered if I had actually spoken out loud. “I’ve brought some financial documents.” I slid them toward her. “All of our bank accounts are here. . . I need to know how much of  a mortgage I’ll be able to qualify for on my own, or whether I need to consider asking for the house in the separation.”

“Do you have any ID?” she asked. Somewhat taken aback by her insensitivity, I reached into my wallet and pulled out my driver’s licence. She typed my name into her computer, and without moving her eyes, she said, “You already have a mortgage?” “Yes,” I answered, “we have a cottage.” “And, you have a line of credit?” “Yes,” I said again, wondering why she was asking me what she could already see to be true. “I see,” she said with a note of finality to it.  She did not look at the property assessments, RRSP’s, or Notice of Assessments I had offered. Repeatedly she confirmed the mortgage and the line of credit, as if they were the only features on the palette of our finances that she could see—as if she were colour blind.

I felt as if my clothes had insidiously vanished, and I sat naked before her with my gaping flaws revealed.

Her chair swivelled, and she looked at me. I realized in the number of minutes that I had been in her office, she had not smiled. “What is your monthly income?” she said.

“Well, it hasn’t been fully worked out yet in the separation agreement.” I gave her an estimate.

“You mean . . . You don’t have a job?” she said.

I felt like I had been punched in the stomach in slow motion. The air leaked out and fell like lead into my lap. A voice inside of my head screamed, Pick up your things, and get out of here. Instead, I slowly and quietly said, “I am a full time mom.”

She looked back at her screen, perhaps for a definition of this old fashioned job.

I rambled, “I don’t need a pre-approval at this time I just need someone to look at all the numbers and project what might happen down the road so that I can make an informed decision one that is best for my kids and I.”

“But,” she said, her eyes glued to her screen, “you have no income. I don’t think…”

“Listen,” I said, with teeth clenched and tear-filled eyes fixed on her, “I will have a financial support agreement with a steady income,” I said.

“Oh,” she said, her mouth curving into a self-satisfied smile, “I don’t think we can use support payments to approve a mortgage.”

At this point, I searched the recesses of my brain for one of the vanishing spells that Hermione Granger had perfected in her studies at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and a transfiguration would not have gone amiss. “I suggest you go and ask someone else about that because according to my lawyer, I can use the separation agreement.” She stood up, and walked out.

I put my clothes back on.

She came back and admitted that I had been right. However, she remained confused about how she could help me. I put on my doing-homework-with-my-kids-voice and said, “You could take the assets from the supposed sale of our current house, and subtract the debt. Then take my estimated monthly income, and calculate how much of a mortgage I could qualify for.”

She pulled a calculator out of a drawer, and presented me with a number.

“Thank you,” I said, and walked out.

When I got to the door she said, “But we can’t make any guarantee. It could be a lot less.”

I left the bank and walked through the brilliant sunshine and into a bookstore. I went into the washroom, and stared hard at myself in the mirror. As tears rimmed my eyelids, I felt myself shrivel.

So, Cherished Heart, I wish I could tell you that I didn’t allow that experience to deflate me, but that is not what happened.

Truly Yours,

Mona Lott