Chapter 8: MSP Joins Me on the Border of Crazy
There is so much I want to tell you, and so little you can understand right now. You are 4 ½, in kindergarten but you have a much older spirit. Your Father and I are getting divorced. I know this will hurt you. I know it will be the thing that marks you in a significant way. And I know one day you will hate me for it. I also believe that one day you will understand and forgive me…”
Excerpt of My Post-Divorce Letter To MSP (Miss Sassy Pants) February 2014, Written by Cherry Maggiore
As we slowly make our way to New Jersey from Brooklyn (one of the many complications of the divorce), we are observing the beautiful sunset. Especially the way the sun peeks through the clouds causing beautiful fractured spotlights on the peaks and valleys of the treeline ahead.
Suddenly, MSP asks me THE question.
“Mama, why did you and Daddy get divorced?” She stares at me with her big blue-grey eyes from the rear-view mirror; I am struck silent. My peaceful moment comes to a screeching halt.
Internal monologue: Really? REALLY?!!!! Fuck. Is she asking me this now? Ok girl, get it the fuck together. This is that moment you’ve been dreading. You have to be honest with her…but not too honest. Do I tell her everything? How do I break this down? Fuck! I’m so tired. I can’t deal right now. I have to deal. I made this happen, and she wants to know, and I owe it to her. Ok. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Here we go…
Four and a half years ago, was the morning I confessed to the Chupacabra of Joy about cheating on him (click here for my previous blog which tells of this confession).
It was an unusually warm and blue-sky filled February morning when all hell broke loose. Literally.
The first thing he did was scream, “I knew it!” Like, somehow his gut feelings were justified at this moment, and there was a sense of relief in knowing. But the rage that ensued was nothing that I’ve ever experienced. A fit of anger I never want to experience again.
The second thing he did, was grab my jewelry box (really? What the fuck is that about?). An entire box filled with my life’s treasures; a collection including pieces from my Nauna, my grandmother, and my mother. He started to take the most valuable jewelry out of the box (and hid it from me; eventually he gave me some back but kept the most expensive pieces) and then threw the rest of the box against the wall where it all crashed down in a sparkling storm.
SIDE NOTE: We ultimately settled that MSP would get the jewelry at different milestones in her life. So he can’t sell them. YAY!
This was the beginning of his revenge. His intention…take away anything that brought me joy. Take away anything I valued. Take away any dignity I had left.
Once his parents came home with MSP, she found me in her room under a pile of my clothes. He had emptied my closets and drawers on top of me as I sat on her trundle hysterical crying. Inconsolably crying. He was kicking me out of the house (my house) and just piling everything on top of me as if that was going to get me out faster or maybe to bury me completely. He then called my mother and told her to come to pick up, “Your disgusting, garbage daughter who cheated on me!!!”
MSP started to cry, and that was when I snapped into reality and began to focus on her. I had to calm down, then calm her down and figure a way out of this situation. After she was a bit more together, I got her a snack in the kitchen. I then went back upstairs to focus on packing my things up. He brought me garbage bags. Appropriate.
As I was finishing up, I started to get MSP ready for art class. He taunts me by saying I couldn’t take her (the first inkling of his newfound power). I freaked the fuck out; yelling back that he couldn’t tell me what I could or couldn’t do with my daughter. The arguing went on for some time, but then I started to beg (he loves when I beg) and so he finally relented and agreed to let me take her.
Once my things were “packed” up, my mother agreed to let me stay with her until we figured things out. Little did I realize that I should never have left because he could have sued me for abandonment and earned full custody (the stuff you learn POST-divorce!).
But at that very moment, I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t think, and there was no other way but out. Out of this house. Out of this marriage. Out from his control. I just needed to GET OUT!
With my eyes nearly swollen shut, I got in my car and buckled MSP into her car seat. And she asked “Mama, are you ok?”
Internal Monologue: no, baby, I am not ok. Not even fucking close. But I promise you I will be and so will you.
I tell her that mama is sad, but everything is going to be alright…so I drive her with my mom in the passenger seat to art class to keep things as “normal” as possible.
I buckled myself in, I started the car and exhaled. I could breathe again. I could hear again. I could see again. I was back in the present. And I was free…
There it is. I said it. He knows, and the lies are over. Starting at that very moment, as I drove away from my house, I never looked back. The relief and hope I felt were palpable. I realized that the fantasy world I created to survive every day with him, could now be my reality. I no longer had to stay in the mud, stuck with this man in this terrible marriage.
But as I looked into that rear-view mirror, I saw my daughters face and realized that what I had done would impact the rest of her life (Cue the immense weight of guilt that I still carry!) I have co-created the very moment that will mark her forever. It is a memory she’s brought up to me several times. It is the thing she still hasn’t resolved. It’s the thing she may never reconcile.
Fast forward four and a half years later, when she asks the question, “Why did you and Daddy get divorced?” I know I have to answer. I know I have to be truthful or she will see right through me. But how? How do I help her understand this very complex adult “situation?”
I gently reply to her question, “Well, it’s hard MSP, because there are SO many reasons. Daddy and I stopped loving each other as husband and wife and were fighting a lot, so we decided that we’d be happier if we were apart”.
She answers “Well, I’m not happier. Doesn’t my happiness matter?”
Wow. Ok, I am stunned silent again. Ironically though, I’m glowing with pride in her ability to express her feelings and share such a thoughtful question. I feel an array of emotions; but how do I tell her I am part of the cause, if anything, the instigator of her current situation.
Be direct. Be succinct. Be honest. Take your time. Here we go.
“Yes, baby. Of course, it matters; you matter very much. But do you see how happy Mama is now and how much fun we have together? Well, Mama wasn’t like that when I was with Daddy. I was sad a lot. Daddy was sad a lot too. Mama and Daddy tried to work things out; we worked hard for a long time. But Mama made a big mistake, and we realized it was time to part. I’m sorry that you are unhappy. I’m sorry that our divorce caused you to be sad.”
“I’m not UN-happy Mama. It would just be easier if you and Daddy were together. I know Daddy can be hard. He doesn’t smile a lot. He gets angry a lot; especially with my grades. Did he get angry at you?”
Cue the fucking flood of tears! My heart swells, and I can feel the ugly cry brewing on the outer edges; I’m about to crack. How could my eight-year-old capture and validate my marital experience with the Chupacabra in such a compelling and straightforward way? Once again, she levels me with her eyes…and her innocent wisdom.
Internal monologue: Get yourself together woman! She will freak if you break down. Ok. First things first, let’s pull over and have this conversation before you crash into the beautiful sun-soaked treeline that was oh so innocent about 15 minutes ago.
Here comes the choice, the dilemma that every single, divorced parent faces. To Bash or NOT to Bash. Knowing what I know, how do I acknowledge what she just said without painting him as the bad guy? How can I prepare her to deal with him on her own?
It is clear that I CANNOT and should NOT bash him in any way, nor have I ever bashed him to her (believe me, I’ve done my share of bashing with my friends and family over countless glasses of wine). I can’t present her father as the sole owner of our situation because it’s just not true. We are both equally culpable; even if he tries to paint me as the sole cause of her pain. I refuse to make her feel sorry for loving him because I DON’T love him anymore.
I want her to respect her Dad because I know how prominent a father figure is… and how a positive male figure impacts the foundation of a woman’s self-worth (as per my previous blog, click here for more on that story).
When a girl feels loved by her father, she is impenetrable. And I will do everything in my power to NOT let her become a woman with “Daddy issues.”
I tell her “MSP, yes Daddy can be hard sometimes, but he tries his best. He doesn’t mean to be upset or angry, and I know he loves you with all his heart.” Her response to me is, “I know Mama, I know he loves me, but sometimes he doesn’t know how to show it.”
And so I witness the first indication that my daughter may wind up with “Daddy issues”…no matter how lovingly I treat her, support her or fill her life with joy. It may not minimize the fact that I can’t be a buffer for her day-to-day with her father. I can’t protect her from his misery. All I can do is counter-balance it and show her a world outside of it…
There is no doubt in my mind that she is strong and smart enough to get through this. He does show her love, in his way. In the same way, I was surrounded by loving and supporting “father figures,” I will show her the world is NOT one-sided; that there are many ways that men show love.
As the conversation comes to a close, she finally asks “So, mama, why did you get married?” I shared, “because I wanted a family.” MSP quips back, “Well, I’m glad you did because that’s why I’m here!” I look into her clear blue-grey eyes in the rear-view mirror with all the love I could muster, “yes, my girl…the world is better because you exist.”
Ironically, I find myself grateful to the Chupacabra because no matter what happened between us, it was our combination that brought me the love of my life. She smiles at me and says, “I love you so much, Mama!” I turn to face her and say “I love you more than all the stars! More than you will ever know.” And with that, I put the car back in drive and feel a sense of peace as the sky turns pink; we continue our journey home. ________________________________________________________________
THE LESSON: Through the years there are so many learnings about trying to “co-parent” with the Chupacabra of Joy. The best lesson was identified and diagnosed by my very experienced custody lawyer. She exclaimed to me after one particularly difficult court session, “Oh! He is a high-conflict personality.” Confused, I looked at her as I had never heard that term before and asked her to elaborate. She suggested looking up HCP disorder, narcissism and ‘parallel parenting.’
I ran home and Googled those terms. As I read through article after article, I sat there utterly aghast, angry, relieved and finally validated. What I came to find out is that co-parenting is impossible…and ‘parallel parenting’ is the workaround.
Below are a few articles I found about the subject that tremendously impacted my approach to dealing with the Chupacabra. Now is my chance to pay it forward to the many people dealing with these types of partners or ex-partners that like me, don’t even realize it.
My heartfelt message to you is this…YOU ARE NOT CRAZY!! So if you find yourself nodding your head as you read any of these articles, I will say this…congratulations on your divorce (or separation), welcome to the club, I’m sorry for your painful experience, you are NOT alone, and lastly, you will not just survive but thrive.
Love & Hugs,