Threads

Dear Cherished Heart, 

Fire up the DeLorean, I’m going back in time. Maybe I can find the thread, before it unravels.

Sept. 1997 – The day dawned with full sunshine. I put on my grandpa’s purple dress shirt, worn right through at the elbows. I was sitting in the salon chair beside my sister by 9 in the morning—a full hour before they opened. When we walked out, we each sported a version of Ivana Trump’s elaborately coiffed hair. 

I stepped out of my bedroom draped in a crisp white, fully-beaded sheath, and my three-year-old nephew stopped in his tracks and said, “Wow.”

My entire body quivered as my mom walked me down the aisle toward my husband-to-be—the man I began to refer to as my soul mate some twenty months prior. 

Fall 1999 – The pieces of my life, which had a created a vision of happy-ever-after two years prior, began to blur. With work and step-kids and a busy husband and difficulty getting pregnant — I guess I fell apart. 

“What do you expect me to do?” my husband demanded as I lay immobile across our bed, feeling a sadness I couldn’t articulate or get rid of. I closed my eyes and cried. He walked away and flung the door closed behind him. I packed a bag and went to stay with a friend. 

Summer 2000 – Naramata ran right to the edge of Lake Okanagan. The family camp lay under broad-leafed trees tall enough to provide an umbrella and short enough to embrace those directly beneath. The sun shone every day, and the temperatures pushed what we Albertans were comfortable with, and we spent every afternoon in the cool crispness of the deep lake. Side-by-side. Playful. Family. 

Our weeks, over the years, at Naramata provided a place where we could have fun with the kids, explore spirituality, relax on our own, say goodbye to cooking, and re-connect with one another. Couples counselling in the previous months had revealed that we would have to be intentional about staying connected, given the busyness of life. We agreed that our relationship needed to be a priority, and as a natural organizer I thought I could handle the planning of our togetherness. 

July 2001 – I went into the bathroom and peed on the white, plastic stick. My husband sat on our bed waiting. I came out, “I can’t look. You do it.” He waited the one or two minutes required for the colour to change . . . or not. 

“It’s positive,” he said, and I burst into tears. 

I had given up on getting pregnant many times over our few years together. He had two children when we got married and I loved them; they loved and accepted me back without question. But, I yearned for the full experience. 

March 2004 – Motherhood turned out to be all that I imagined. Just before our daughter’s second birthday, I longed for another child. As my husband and I soaked in our hot tub and re-connected, I brought up the topic. 

“Honey, what do you think about adopting a child from Ethiopia?” I asked. We had previously talked of adoption as a back-up plan to failed pregnancy.  

He leaned back and pulled his arms out of the water to cradle the back of his head. He stared at me. “I think . . . I think we are already so busy we can barely manage,” he said. 

“But, our lives are filled with abundance. We have a lot to offer a child.”

“Abundance? It looks to me like we have no margins. We barely have any time together.”

You have no margins,” I said. “Look at this,” I gestured toward our house, “we have so much. I feel like we have lots of love to offer a child without a family.”

“Why can’t this be enough for you?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “It’s just…”

“I don’t think I can do it,” he interrupted. “I’m already running full speed ahead. We are busy, and…”

“Never mind,” I said.

April 2006 – The Ethiopian smog spiralled in the sunshine and threatened to steal my breath. My husband stood with his hand on my low back as we waited to meet our son. A caregiver walked around the corner. In one hand she held onto two girls who tripped over one another; in her other hand two-year-old Yohannes walked toward us. I crouched down, smiled, and opened my arms; he shyly sidled into my lap and slung his scrawny arm around my shoulder like an old friend. I leaned into him and took a breath; he smelled like dust and soap. 

“Look at him,” I said. We sat together in the grass as Yohannes chased his new siblings. They laughed and hugged one another. “I don’t get it,” I said.

“What?” he asked.

“Yohannes . . . he seems happy. Why is he happy, he doesn’t even know us.” 

“What’s not to like?” he playfully answered. 

January 2007 – As Yohannes adjusted to our family, to Canada, and to a whole different way of life, he grew stronger and more confident with the rising and setting of the sun. I aged and wilted. Depression seeped under the edges of closed doors all over my life. My husband told me that he felt like he had lost me to motherhood, and he had. 

Yohannes had a strong sense of justice, and when I served up a helping of injustice, he wailed until the wrong was cleared. Whatever his sister Laurèn got, he wanted, even when it didn’t make sense. At supper one night, I served Laurèn a large scoop of mashed potatoes. He screamed when I passed him by and served potatoes to my bonus-kids Kristin and Fraser. 

“Mom!” he yelled.

“What’s wrong Yohannes?” I asked.

“Why you not give any to Yohannes?” 

“Because you don’t like potatoes.” 

He looked at the plate to the right and the plate across from him. “Kristin, you like potatoes?” She nodded. “Fraser, you like potatoes?”

“Yes, I do like potatoes,” Fraser answered and then changed the subject. “Hey guys, guess what I learned in school today?” 

“What is it?” Yohannes asked.

“I learned what the opposite of love is,” sixteen-year-old Fraser said. “Do you know what the opposite of love is?” he challenged.

“It must not be hate,” I said, “as that seems too obvious.”

“Correct,” he pointed his finger at me for emphasis. “Love and hate are both filled with passion and therefore cannot be opposites,” he informed. “Anyone else?” 

Between bites, Kristin answered, “Indifference.”

“Ha!” he said. “You’re right”.

Indifferent, I thought, of no importance one way or the other. I glanced at my husband, who seemed oblivious to the conversation. 

We consistently struggled with our perception of his work-life. I felt he spent too much time working, and he felt he spent the time necessary to do the job. One of a lucky few, he loved the work he did. However, the amount of time he spent working interfered with our relationship. When I had worked alongside of him, I watched as one patient after another fell in love with him. His competent and straight-forward manner, coupled with compassion, made him a spectacular bedside doctor. I was proud of his many accomplishments, but the sacrifices felt great. My complaints—whether spoken or not—undermined my ability to truly appreciate him, and certainly made him reluctant to engage with me. After protesting for several years, and trying to find workable solutions together, I gave up. His work life became “of no importance one way or the other”.

February 2008 – I arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia under the cover of night, twenty-six hours after I stepped out the front door of my house. I needed a travel visa, so I joined a line-up to the side. When my turn came I walked to a woman in a dark grey uniform, her hair pulled tightly away from her face. She sat behind a long wooden table with colleagues on either side. I handed her my form. She looked at it and then up at me. 

“Occupation?” she said. 

“I am a mother,” I answered. 

“That is it?” she asked. 

“Yes,” I said. 

“You are very fortunate,” she said, and stamped my form. 

I thought of my kids. Leaving them, at the airport, had been difficult. Six-year-old Laurèn gave me a hug and kiss, “Have a good trip Mama,” and four-and-a-half-year-old Yohannes kissed me goodbye and said, “Say hi to Faven”. My husband held me against his chest, “Stay safe,” he said. “I wish you were coming,” I replied. 

On the 2006 trip we had found out that Yohannes had a birth sibling he had been separated from, her name was Faven. We met her briefly, and some months later decided to proceed with another adoption. With the adoption stalled, and one complication after another, I decided to go to Ethiopia and visit her. 

 

Spring 2009 – My husband and I went for pro-active parenting counselling to prepare to bring ten-year-old Faven into our family. I had studied attachment before we adopted Yohannes, and he didn’t have any problems with it. But, we assumed that Faven’s age would provide more challenges. Our psychologist taught us about attachment disorders, trauma and loss, and basic adaptation, as well as pointing out that we would have no history on Faven’s life, other than what she brought with her in memory—and she would have no english skills. Faven joined our family in September of ’09.

June 2011 – Before we’d made it through our second year together, Faven’s inner turmoil began to drive her behaviour. She often refused to eat what we provided, didn’t like the family rules—and liked the consequences associated with not following them even less. She was regularly having tantrums and hurling accusations, insults, and objects at us. She seemed to be in pain all of the time, and we awkwardly juggled her needs, often finding ourselves incapable of guiding or soothing her …(Or, quite frankly, coping.)

Most of the parenting strategies we had used successfully in the past with the other four children, failed or created more chaos. Faven often required one full parent and it became difficult to do anything as a family. 

Her behaviour affected all of us. 

Spring 2012 – We sat kiddie-corner to each other at the rosewood kitchen table. How many different times in our fifteen years of marriage had we gone for couples counselling? I couldn’t remember. I had started personal counselling in 2008, and hadn’t stopped since. 

“Maybe we would be better of apart,” he said. 

I studied the pattern in the wood grain table, and shook my head as a stream of tears fell into my lap. 

 

Winter 2015 – Turmoil turned to chaos as Faven hit high school. We careened through the weeks like summer tires across sheer ice. Oddly, we became a formidable team under the most stressful circumstances. But hands gripped to the steering wheel and eyes wide-open are hardly conditions under which one thrives. 

February 2016 – We began to live apart and go for counselling in the hopes of re-building our relationship, while knowing that the possibility of figuring out how to separate with dignity was a reality. 

***

If there was one thread to hang onto, I dropped it trying to pick up the other threads that needed to be woven into the fabric of our lives. 

I still can’t see the exact time or event that led to our decision to separate. The unraveling came from different directions simultaneously, across the years and through many experiences. 

Yours Truly, 

 Mona Lott

80673197d8408db2de2775186aa9499a

Advertisements

Full House

man-walking-away

October 24, 2017

Dear Cherished Heart,

“Don’t you miss him?”  my mom asked me months ago.

“No,” I said and shook my head.

But my heart pulsed — Almost. Every. Day.

I miss the coming and going.

I miss having someone to bear witness to my life.

I miss the sweetness that used to exist between us.

I miss having someone to talk to about the kids.

Surprisingly, one of the hardest things is not to be tethered-together-by-technology. I know he is out there doing stuff and I have no link to him or to the kids when they are with him. (Of course he hasn’t changed his cell phone number! -but it’s no longer acceptable to text him every day and ask how he’s doing, or for that matter, what he’s up to.)

With alarming velocity I move between relevant and obsolete every week.

The volume of missing him has fluctuated over time, and other equally strong feelings flood in and replace this with that. But when the missing gets loud it reverberates off the inner edges of my skull and no other signal gets through. It is as if I have put my fingers in my ears—my inner voice becomes a flattened echo.

Maybe this is just another transition in a series of unplanned changes.

I underestimated the pain of letting go of our family home.

All seven of us lived there, though not all at once, as the oldest had started university when the last child arrived. But the walls held stories, and a few repaired holes; the floors supported us, and mapped the journey we’d been on together; and the ceiling created an umbrella that protected and contained us in the midst of struggle and chaos. We had built it all together.

I didn’t love our home even though it was spectacular. But, it provided a compass point to stretch out from and return to. It had fine bones and a solid foundation.

I feel so blessed now to have a new home—but I don’t know where the hell I am in relation to the lives we used to live. I feel lost. For weeks my car drove on auto-pilot and I found myself on familiar roads back to the “old” house again and again. The making of new pathways, finding new keys, and sustaining connections is way harder than I thought it would be.

Our house represented the cup in Yahtzee, and we—the dice—have been thrown end-over-end across the playing field.

Who will scoop the dice for the second and third rolls?

It is rare to throw a full house on the first try.

Yours Truly,

Mona Lott

 

Unknown

Taking Stock

 

Sept. 3, 2017

Dear Cherished Heart,

The end to our first year of separation came and went silently . . . right up until the final song at the Garth Brooks Concert on Sept. 1st.

Looking back on the memory of 

The dance we shared ‘neath the stars above 

For a moment all the world was right 

How could I have known you’d ever say goodbye 

And now I’m glad I didn’t know 

The way it all would end the way it all would go 

Our lives are better left to chance 

I could have missed the pain 

But I’d have had to to miss the dance 

Garth Brooks, “The Dance”, 1990

We had lived apart for six months prior to “separation”, trying to rebuild our relationship through counselling, conversation, and date nights. There is no doubt that hope and tenderness existed during the first of those months, but I don’t think either of us thought we could fix the repeating issues that impaired our ability to connect.

We used to dance. I came alive on the dance floor, while he gave me the strong lead I had been missing. We took several classes together; I loved the latin beats and he found his pace in swing and foxtrot. In those days it seemed that the dance would never end.

With twenty-one years together the dance included many amazing things. Closeness and space; a shared work environment; activities we both enjoyed; travel and adventure; conversations, religion, and spiritual exploration; material wealth; supported independence; and five of the most unique, delightful, challenging, and wonderful children.

Parenting and marriage are two of the most difficult relationships to navigate. Put them side-by-side or on top of one another, and you have a dance pattern that would challenge the most fluent of dancers.

For the last several years we performed in-solo on the dance floor—not aware of what the other was doing or how beautifully they carried out their steps. We synchronized our movement and came together only during times of upheaval and crisis, of which, we had plenty.

And now I am stumbling through dance patterns on my own and it just doesn’t feel the same. The decision to separate was neither good nor bad, not mine or his. Our relationship no longer worked.

The last year and more has been tough; hardest of all was the intensity of heart pain I’ve felt, even while knowing that this was the path to take.

“I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance.”

Thank you Garth Brooks for the memory of The Dance. I realize now that the dance continues but the music has changed.  

Yours Truly,

Mona LottIMG_1872.jpg

Shell

 

August 17, 2017

Dear Cherished Heart,

When house shopping, people ask you — “But did the house have good bones?” I love metaphor but I have a really hard time seeing the bones of a house when they are covered up. Let’s say the bones are the things that hold the house together; they create a structure to wrap the sinew of our lives around.

This week, after months of laborious work alongside of loving friends and family, our spacious home emptied completely over a three-day period.

Movers came and carried out our boxed-up and wrapped possessions.

Mom came and helped me re-purpose (more) items to Goodwill and to random strangers.

We loaded a truck of all the miscellaneous crap and recyclables that were no good to anyone and headed to the dump. (This was the fourth and final trip to the dump over the months long process.)

We took two car loads of stuff to a friend’s garage so that I can fill the kitchen and organize the office in our new house next week, before the moving truck arrives.

And all through these three days we cleaned. I touched each and every surface of the house as if preparing a daughter or son for marriage. Tender loving care.

Yesterday my mom and I careened through every room—touching up and making sure we had everything. Our remaining goods poured out the front door, draining the house  of our essence.

I met my first hermit crab years ago when my kids went to preschool, guided by the creature-loving, animal whispering Mrs. Dobler. Hermit crabs are crustaceans but have a soft and vulnerable abdomen that they need to protect – at all times – by carrying around and living in a vacated seashell. As they grow they abandon one shell and move to another. Theirs is a physical growth but I would suggest that we humans need to do this too, change shells as we grow.

As our house moved from a living home to a shell that had held us, the sound inside changed from whispered memories, to creaks of relief as the burden lifted, to the hollow echo of a seashell.

It reshaped under my hand like a sculpture that takes its own form. Not my plan, some master plan.

Late in the day we walked through the house with our realtor before closing the doors for good. I felt pride in the care I had taken to prepare this shell for the next hermit crab. I felt sad walking through the emptiness with the person whose life I had shared there. Leaving the house was like the ending to the end of our marriage; a waxed seal irrevocably sealing our separation.

There can be no doubt that the waxed seal, empty shell, and strong bones signify an ending. It hurts and I think I will stay here for awhile. But my new home is being transformed into a shell right now, and soon we will fill it up and rattle the bones of it.

Yours Truly,

Mona Lott

e1e29f46820e08364c15b64459c9ef1e--new-start-quotes-new-life-quotes