Tag Archives: divorce

25 Days of Giving Day Four: Find the Silver Lining

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When I was two years old my parents got divorced. I was lucky in a way, because at the time I was too young to understand that separation, at it’s most basic level, is the physical manifestation of pain being split in two.

By the time I’d turned five Mom had remarried. We left Atlanta, where our entire family was from, and moved to Louisville, where I ultimately grew up. Back then, fathers didn’t have the same parenting rights as today, so with a brand new puppy under one arm and a pack of candy cigarettes in my hand, I waved goodbye to my father as my stepdad’s sleek, silver Thunderbird rolled down the driveway, through Tennessee (“See Rock City!”), and toward a new life.

As time went by, pieces of my old family became seedlings for another, and when my amazing baby brother was born, my new family was complete, but in a different kind of way. There was someone else present who, even though he wasn’t part of this new unit, was still in the mix because he was attached to me.

My father.

I wouldn’t say things were perfect between my mother and father, because even when bad memories fade they leave a scar. But Mom always held the door open for visits, and my father never missed an opportunity to take any time with me that she was willing to share.

As years passed and I became increasingly comfortable with my family dynamics, I began to see myself as lucky, even though it wasn’t always easy. I was a Whitten and everyone else I lived with was a Logan, I felt like a misfit in the world of seemingly perfect families on my block, and I sometimes had to paint a smile on my face when all I wanted to do was cry. But intermingled with the sad was something that no other kid I knew could match. Not only did I have one great dad, I had two, with different but equally important ideas, strengths, influences, opinions, and dreams…and one huge commonality. They both loved me, in a way that only a father can. Times two.

So the challenge, for Day Four, is to find the silver lining in a bad situation or event. In some unfortunate incidents it simply doesn’t exist, which, regrettably, is the true definition of tragedy. But in many cases, good can be salvaged from bad. If you can find happiness in something that at first only brought pain, it’s a gift to yourself that never goes away.

Divorce, like life, is complicated. It’s messy and raw, and carefully drawn colors end up bleeding outside the lines. Sometimes though, if we’re lucky, the things that hurt most end up helping us in the end.

I, Gemini Girl, have interrupted my non-existent programming to bring you the 25 Days of Giving Challenge. Please join me in my quest, over the next 25 days, to make people happy. I’ll share stories of giving escapades that will be sure to wow, impress, or at least not annoy anyone who chooses to participate. Each Day of Giving will be conveniently brought to you via email if you follow this blog. And if you’re already a follower? Pass it onto your friends. If we work together we can change the world, or at least dramatically improve my hit ratio.

How Do You Move Forward When You’re Grinding All Your Gears?

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As humans, we’re constantly in motion. But motion and movement are two very different things. Just because you’re in motion doesn’t mean you’re necessarily going anywhere.

Trust me on this, I know.

If I could catch a ride with Richard Branson on his uber-expensive Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space, I’d easily be able to assess the difference between the two. But first I’d hit him up for drink. Specifically? A glass of 1907 Heidsieck. At $275,000 a bottle, it would help defray my ticket price while momentarily absolving me of the guilt associated with blowing the kids’ college tuition just to prove a point. BOGO at its highest and best use.

Space cowboy Richard Branson. Image via cognitivelibertyuk.wordpress.com

Space cowboy Richard Branson. Image via cognitivelibertyuk.wordpress.com

The second thing I’d do is settle in to check out the real estate, because isn’t leveraging my children’s future to see the world from a different point of view all about perspective? I imagine myself staring out the window at an earth below that looks less and less like the picture we all try to paint on a daily basis. Not so much a three-dimensional place anymore, but from way up above? A ginormous chessboard marked with clearly defined grids, gateways, and boundaries, as tiny balls of energy collide, advance, deflect, promote, dodge, gather, seek and recede in an endless effort to check the king.

Image via portwallpaper.com

Image via portwallpaper.com

Fascinated with the sparkly surface patterns of intricate motion that everyone on earth longs to be, and all happy-tingly-woozy from my six-figure, speed of sound buzz, I’d almost miss what I didn’t know I flew so high to see. Something small and seemingly insignificant situated inside the massive advance of energy that everyone else on board paid a lifetime of 401K savings to witness.

I’m talking about inert matter. Those pinpricks of light that mimic motion, but whose movement is an optical illusion: running in circles, dancing in place, and bumping up against imaginary walls. As everyone else on board focuses on the obvious, I’d be able to drill down a little deeper. But only because I’ve been there. Stuck. In motion, but not really going anywhere.

Image via trojantimes.org

Image via trojantimes.org

Looking back at my adult life, it’s easy to categorize it into a series of phases.

Phase 1/1980s: The Sussana Hoffs era of Big Hair and Big Dreams.

Big hair is hot. Image via houston.culturemap.com

Big hair is hot. Image via houston.culturemap.com

Phase 2/1990s: The Yves Saint Laurent era of Big Black Suit and Big Career.

Don't look at my body. Look at my soul. Image via www.girlsguidetoparis.com

Don’t look at my body. Look at my soul. Image via http://www.girlsguidetoparis.com

Phase 3/2000s: The Barbara Billingsley era of Big Belly and Big Bills.

That’s not me. OK it is. On the verge of birthing an alien.

I’ve always considered myself fairly stealth, able to move seamlessly in and out of various roles at-will to the beat of a metronome perfectly synchronized to my tune. But about three years ago, on the cusp of my 40th birthday, everything changed. For someone who’s always been confident enough to chart her own course, I suddenly found myself drifting. I was lost and knee-deep in the weeds without a compass, while a storm of my own design grew larger than it appeared in my peripheral view.

Somewhere between my career and the kids, buried in a pile of laundry or possibly lurking inside a box in the basement that I hadn’t opened for years, I lost my perspective and appreciation for the life I’d so carefully built. I don’t know how it happened, but it felt like I simply woke up one day yearning to be anywhere and anyone but who I was. Confused, I couldn’t seem to recognize the woman looking back at me in the mirror when I washed my face every night.

No matter how enlightened I become, I will always hate matching socks.

It’s easy to get lost in a pile of socks.

I was that person who, although constantly in motion, wasn’t actually moving. Busy with my responsibilities as a parent and a wife, I had somehow forgotten about the inner workings that support the common denominator between the two, and then the kids went off to school, and could tie their own shoes, and make sound decisions without being told how, and I realized that I had unintentionally parked myself on an island and hadn’t taken the time to learn to swim. Even in the middle of paradise, isolation is lonely, and days on end of the most beautiful sunset somehow lose their color. Things that shine on the surface, like the tiny balls of energy you might see from outer space, sometimes look entirely different from the inside out.

Telluride, CO August 2011

When you’re stuck, you’re forced to stop. You don’t have a choice. And then when you’re ready to move forward, you have to look around and figure out where you want to go next rather than simply allowing the tide to sweep you along. That initial inertia and subsequent plotting of a new path has great value, even though in the moment it feels miserable, like treading water in quicksand.

One of the side effects of getting lost is the unexpected places you get to visit on your way to a new destination. Like for me? Writing. This blog is a direct result of a yearlong, step-by-step, rocky hike on a circuitous path. And I’m still going. I’m a constant work in progress, but I’m now comfortable with my ever-changing state of being because I’m doing the work to figure out where I want to end up. Plus I reserve the right to change my mind, which is a great back-up plan when all else fails.

I believe that in life, we all get stuck at some point. Whether it’s due to things like divorce, disease, death, or distraction, almost everyone loses their way. Sometimes we have to move backwards to go forward, or hit a bottom so hard that the force of impact acts like a catapult up to the top, but the a-ha realization at the end, when lessons are learned and intersecting lines actually connect, is priceless. It isn’t easy, but almost everything worth accomplishing in life is born from some type of hardship or loss. So what about you? Are you simply in motion or are you actually moving? It’s a question worth asking, even if the answer isn’t what you want to hear.

Taking the road less traveled and finding my way.

Why Two Last Names Might Be Better Than One

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In 1972, NASA announced the development of the Space Shuttle, Mark Spitz won seven Olympic gold medals, and Serbian stewardess Vesna Vulovic set a world record by surviving a 33,330-foot fall without a parachute.  Seriously.  You can look it up.  It was also the year that my parents got divorced.

Now that I’m older, I kind of see my mother as that flight attendant, free-falling over six miles through the sky and expecting to land on her feet.  Amazingly, even though her chances of survival were slim, Mom’s, I mean Vulovic’s record stands to this day.

Not only did Mom end up perpendicular to the ground, she dusted herself off, got a job, and learned the intricate moves of life as a single mother.   Quite simply, at a time and in a world where she was supposed to go completely under, she flourished.

Remarried by the time I was five, we left Atlanta, where generations of our family lived, and moved to Louisville, where I ultimately grew up.  Back then, fathers didn’t have the same parenting rights that they do today, so with a brand new puppy under one arm and a pack of candy cigarettes in my hand, I waved goodbye to my old dad as my new dad’s sleek, silver Thunderbird rolled down the driveway, through Tennessee (“See Rock City!”), and into a new life.

Over a number of short years, I went from calling my stepfather “Dougie” to “Daddy Dougie” to just plain “Dad.”  This wasn’t meant in any way as a slight to my first dad, rather, more of a natural progression of the way things were.  From my point of view, I now not only had one, but two fathers, which also meant back-to-back Christmas celebrations, double birthday presents, and the obligatory “just because” gift of the month whenever Dad-Dad came to visit from Georgia.  From the perspective of a ten-year old, having two dads was pretty great.

Except when May came and it was time to sign up for swim team.  Every spring I was registered, and thereby known to all of my summertime friends, as my warm-weather alias, Stacie Logan.  Logan was the last name shared by my mother, Daddy Dougie, and now three-year old little brother.  I was the only Whitten in the house, and for all I knew, the entire state of Kentucky.

It’s not that I disliked my pseudo-last name, it just felt kind of strange to be called something else.  Like I was pretending to be somebody I wasn’t.  But there didn’t appear to be any other fractured families in my neighborhood, and I kind of got that it was easier on everyone not to have to explain why I was different.

As luck would have it though, there was a small percentage of kids from the pool who fed into the neighborhood school, and when fall rolled around each year, more than a few of my swim team peers overlapped and spilled into the hallways between classes.

With logic that only a ten year-old possesses and years of trying to avoid explaining my two last names under my belt, I walked into class on the first day of 5th grade with the whole thing mapped out.  Literally.  I stayed up half the night before drawing an intricate Venn diagram that described my life as I wanted it to be seen.  In case anyone asked, I had proof that I was who I said I was.  According to me.

Secret Agent of Terra

Image via Wikipedia

Channeling Kate from Charlie’s Angels (because I had brown hair, and nobody wanted to be Sabrina, like ever), I became a high-level spy…a black belt…a Secret Agent.   It was smart, no, necessary (for reasons that I can’t go into here because you don’t have the required clearance), that I go by an alias in the summer and my real last name the rest of the year.

I needed to protect the innocent, namely, me.

I toggled so fluently between my two last names from season to season that I secretly called myself “superlax” and slid smoothly down Jane Hite Elementary’s halls trying to stay out of everyone’s way.  I was small, painfully shy, and wanted nothing more than to go completely unnoticed.

But life often has a different plan than the one so carefully plotted, and it was in home room where the wheels immediately fell off the cart and my secret was once again exposed.  Remember, home room was organized alphabetically by last name, an annoying detail that spelled disaster for me year after year.

“You’re weird,” the kid on the other side of the aisle stated unemotionally as we made shrinky dinks to bake in home ec and hang on the bulletin board outside our classroom.

“Ummmm, excuse me?” I whispered, trying my best to mold myself into the shape of my desk and disappear.

“I know you from the pool.  You eat raw Jell-O before meets and like to swim breaststroke.”

This was true, my favorite flavor being cherry because it didn’t turn my mouth a radioactive shade of blue.

“Why do you have two last names?” he demanded.

Nothing subtle about that.  With the grace of a penguin he went straight for my throat, honing in on my biggest weakness with a laser-like precision, and pouncing.

My attempt to disappear had clearly failed, and I considered sprinting toward the door and running home.  But with brand new Dr. Scholl’s and an inclination to lose my balance just thinking about forward motion, I stayed, and put the carefully pre-laid plan that was currently folded up like a cootie catcher in my backpack into action.

“Because I’m a Secret Agent?” I squeaked.

I knew immediately that my delivery was one hundred percent wrong.  Lame.  Disappointing.  Completely anti-primetime T.V.  Secret Agents don’t ask questions, avoid eye contact, and start to quiver uncontrollably in the shadow of the enemy.  Secret Agents are tough, defeat evil, get contracts for deodorant commercials looped over and over during their forty-plus Nielsen-rated show, and smell good.

“No.  You have two last names because you’re a loser,” he snarled, as a strand of spit from the wad of Big League Chew he was blatantly pulverizing between his praying mantis-like mandibles landed on my cheek, and other kids in my class turned to see what was going on.

If you watched as much Saturday morning T.V. as I did as a child, you eventually understood that even super heroes had a weakness, and able to scale tall buildings or not, this kid had just found mine.

The new, revamped Wonder Twins. Art by Todd Nauck.

Image via Wikipedia

With the Secret Agent thing having produced a big, fat zero and his saliva dripping down my chin, I panicked and went to Plan B, fist bumping myself to activate Wonder Twin powers and spontaneously morph into some kind of prehistoric large-tusked woolly mammoth.  So that I could crush him into silence.

But that didn’t work either.

In that moment and others that had preceded it over the years, I was ashamed.  Face burning and eyes stinging with tears, I turned away, forcing my gaze out the window until the bell sounded and I could blend back into hallway oblivion.  The only thing worse than being made fun of in 5th grade was getting caught crying, and I wasn’t about to let him have both.

As the clock slowly ticked away and minutes disguised as hours stumbled by, I thought about my two dads, and how much I actually loved having each of them at the forefront of my limited view.  What I began to realize that day but didn’t fully understand until much later in life, was I was embarrassed about my dual citizenship only because that kid and others before him told me to be.  The truth was, I loved both of my dads, fiercely, for reasons that were different, the same, and much more important than holidays or birthday presents.  I was a Whitten and a Logan, the mixture of nature and nurture insignificant in the wake of two incredible fathers who were fully invested in my life.

Straightening up to my complete, arguably short height, I turned from the window to look that kid directly in the eye and deliver the best put down any 5th grade girl could ever hope to find.

“Shut up,” I said.

“What?” he replied, turning slightly red, as the rest of the room grew quiet.

“Shut. Up.” I repeated, voice strong, if not a little more highly pitched than normal.

And just like that, he did.

Those words were zero plus two more than I had ever willingly uttered during my entire elementary school career, and even more important, rooted in territory that could get my name written on the board.  If only for a moment, I had found my voice, and even at the risk of missing recess, it felt really, really good.

Growing up and forever in life, it’s not our attributes that make us stronger, but more often, our weaknesses.  If no one had ever tried to push me down, how would I have learned to stand?

Now, as a married mother of three, I’m not a Whitten or a Logan anymore.  I’m a Chadwick.  But all of the names I carried through life, the ones I was given, those I was called, and ultimately, the one I chose, mattered.  With hindsight a little more seasoned than that of a ten-year old, I can honestly say that I wouldn’t change the past.  Sometimes, the things that hurt most in life end up helping us in the end.