The Long View of Divorce

It was a dark late night when I told my friend in faraway California that I was leaving my husband. It had taken me two years to come to that moment, and many conversations with older, wiser friends, to realize that I would be happier, more successful, and more confident – and so would my kids – if I ended the marriage and set out on my own.

I had to get through the realization that I might always be alone, and that being alone would be better than being in an unhealthy marriage. I had to mourn the loss of the dream of the marriage, of the vision of happily ever after I had wished for.

When I got divorced, I knew the faceless future would be better, more breathable, than the now. But I didn’t realize what some faraway things would be like, for example, a child’s bar mitzvah, as is happening this weekend.

image from www.timothysykes.com
image from www.timothysykes.com

I couldn’t possibly imagine it. When we divorced, the children were not quite 2, 4 1/2 and just 6. That they would ever grow up and become bar or bat mitzvah, let alone go to college or sleepaway camp, or get married, all of those inevitable milestones were unfathomable.

And now one of them is here.

I’ve heard some rabbis say that children of divorce have bar mitzvahs where both parents are the hosts, even though they cannot possibly speak to one another, let alone be sanely in the same room. And so the rabbi is left to play the role of referee, making sure one parent is on the bimah at a time and their paths don’t cross at momentous moments.

That’s not us. We can be in the same room, and sometimes we can even talk. For the past several months, my ex has come over on weeknights to study my son’s Torah portion, and they sit in my dining room together as a natural part of our household.

Still, he is hosting this weekend’s celebration, and I am hosting a second one in May. It was the only way since we observe Judaism differently and I just didn’t feel like giving in to all of his demands.

My son has taken it quite well. Actually, he’s embraced his learning amazingly, and is truly proving to be a fine young man at this coming-of-age time of his life.

And, to be fair, we’ve invited one another to the respective events. Not only will my husband and I be there this Saturday to celebrate in services and at the party, so will my parents, my sister and her family, my aunt and uncle, and my cousins, along with a very dear friend of mine. That’s pretty incredible.

At the same time, all week I’ve been feeling this knot in my stomach. A knot of trepidation mixed with anxiety with a little bit of uncertainty thrown in.

I know without a doubt that everyone will be nice to one another, even friendly. None of us harbor ill will toward the other’s families. It’s just…weird. Awkward. Not how we envisioned major family celebrations.

And that’s the thing about divorce. You know it will be better apart, but you don’t realize what that really means.

Seven years ago, when the judge declared us unmarried, I had no clue that I would be a guest at my son’s (first) bar mitzvah. The mother, yes, but an observer mostly. I won’t be sitting at the tables reserved for immediate family; I’ll be at tables shared by my family and friends on the other side of the room, and my children will be forced to go back and forth between worlds.

When you get divorced, you don’t realize the depth of the divisions until you’re there. Last Sunday, at the early morning service to celebrate Asher’s Hebrew birthday, the rabbi kindly congratulated me as “Lynne Schreiber,” then my ex, then my husband, then my former father-in-law. Incredibly gracious, as he recognized this new American family.

That doesn’t make it easy, though. The fact that my son has two bar mitzvahs is evidence of our continued lack of harmony, and his father’s and my inability to find points of compromise for the benefit of the kids. On the little things, yes – we each ebb and flow when the other needs time for a quick errand or a special something.

But on the big things, which is perhaps the point of a divorce after all, we just can’t seem to get in alignment. We still cannot get out of our own way for the benefit of those around us.

The Gordian Knot in my stomach becomes the hill we keep climbing, which keeps growing taller, ever out of our grasp for truly reaching the top.

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