Envy is my most hated emotion. I have never really had an issue with jealousy, even when I had every right to glow green. If someone wants to cheat on me, good riddance. I don’t give a shit about the Joneses or what they wear, or how much money they have. Trust me, I live in a town surrounded by friends with phat houses and fast cars and ridonculous shoes. None of it bothers me – I am happy for them – and I am fortunate enough to share in their luxuries from invites to Tahoe homes and pool-side sips at country clubs. Last year I made my third post-divorce move. The neighborhood is old but uber safe and quiet and there is little disparity between the houses. A developer must have built them all at the same time, and so jonesing to be a Jones is even less likely. The next morning I hurried out to my car, stuffed my sleepy kid into the backseat so I could drop him (push him out) at early camp drop off fast enough to get ahead of the traffic and get to my desk before the dreaded face-time office check.
At the same time my new neighbor walked out of her front door in a silky pink robe (and slippers!) with two cloyingly perfect little boys in actual matching button-up pajamas. Their Dad pulled out of the garage in his sports car which was parked romantically next to her Range Rover. Neighbor Mom, holding the smaller offspring, leaned into the car kissing him good bye. The bigger toddler jumped up and down waving. As man of the house drove down the street, dutiful family waved and called to him and bounced and watched the car leave until it was way beyond sight. I grabbed my coffee off the roof, threw my briefcase, dry-cleaning, gym clothes, purse, lunch and my son’s backpack in the back seat – arms aching from carrying it all. Apparently a muffin is all a 9 year old can hold at one time. As we drove away, the Stepfords were still watching Dad’s vapor path. I thought they must be really worried about him going away on his business trip. Clearly, Dad was their hero. Our family was currently down one Superman which I was painfully aware of every day. We went through our ground hog day routine and then the sun came up again.
As we rushed out to the car, my son’s shoes untied, my coffee spilling, there they were again. Waving frenetically, pressed jammies, and silky pinkish robe to complement her airbrushed skin and hair with no roots. Dad drove away, arms flailed, smiles everywhere. Oh… I realized. He isn’t on a trip. He is just going to work. And then the green hit. She is standing there in her pretty robe with her pretty children clearly in no rush to go anywhere. I started wondering about what they would do together. Maybe make breakfast, or go sit by the pool, or drive to a short day camp leisurely? Maybe it was a disaster inside and the kids had colic and chronic lice. Either way, she didn’t have to work and she got to spend time with her kids, and there was someone coming home at the end of the day. Someone who loved them. And I admit it, I was so jealous. I know green is not a flattering color, and I’m going to try really hard to expand my wardrobe. Maybe one day I will even wear pink.
Now that I am a four-year divorce alumni, I find myself as a ‘sponsor’ of sorts to those who follow in my set of solo footsteps. This journey has taught me how important one’s “tribe” or “village” – or more appropriately “family” – is during transformational events. Whether life brings loss like divorce and death; or beginnings like babies, careers and new homes; the people left standing by your side are the ones who matter. These life-altering events don’t have to result in ‘broken families.’ No event or person can ‘blow up’ a family – they just rearrange them! My son and I look forward to our new weekly tradition of “Monday Night Family Dinner” when two of his best buddies and their Mom come over. We hang out in the kitchen and cook over a bottle of wine (us) and throw a baseball around the yard or ride bikes in front of the house (them), before all sitting down to dinner. These kids have become such a part of my family that they know where the juice boxes are (help yourself) and to take off their shoes before any feet go on the sofa. New family members arrive each week when schedules allow –single moms, divorced dads, colleagues, neighbors, parents, school friends and their siblings, and even dogs. It’s like having Thanksgiving every night in the true sense of the word. Wikipedia says a family is a group of people affiliated by consanguinity, affinity, or co-residence/shared consumption. (I am guessing we all fall into the category of shared consumption.) Of course I miss my family in its original and traditional form as shown by the stick figures on the back of way too many cars, but I am really happy I found my new one.
Like my money tree, the last leaves seem to be falling off my giving tree. I truly love giving – I do. I experience immense satisfaction and inner peace when I feel like I can actually help someone else experience happiness. One of the few lovelies that comes with being in your forties is that you realize that some of the most important things you do in life will get you nothing in return. You do them solely for the benefit of someone else with no expectations – and its wonderful. Divorced or single – It takes a village. Our families and our friends need us! But what happens when we literally and figuratively have nothing left to give? How do we allocate our precious and limited time and energy when everyone wants a piece of us!? If you ever feel like that (I know I do), here is my list of 10 ways to give back to the person who needs you the most – you:
- Choose the people who choose you to spend your time and energy on.
- Beware of the energy vampires – you know who they are.
- Redefine ‘obligation’ – its ok not to attend every networking session, school commitment, and book club (you never read it anyway).
- Save some time every day for whatever the hell you feel like doing: sleeping, running, reading, pampering, playing, loving or lazy-ing.
- Take a mental health day once in a while and check out from work or from life. They will miss you but appreciate you more when you return.
- Be grateful to the people to who give to you, but give without any expectations.
- Stay in bed once in a while. Hide under the covers. Alone or with company - it’s a delicious treat.
- Slow down. Drive slower, eat slower, talk slower, live slower. You will last longer.
- Say “No” more. No, I can’t stay late; No I can’t give him/her a ride; No I can’t volunteer…
- Say “Yes” more. Yes you can jump in the puddles; Yes you can snuggle in my bed; Yes I’d love to come over; Yes I’d like a cookie; Yes a back rub sounds lovely.
Try to follow those ten steps and you may just find a little more to give and even have some left over for yourself. Expect nothing and you will receive everything.