Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Saturday Morning Swim Switch

We walk into the steamy pool area of our local high school every Saturday morning with heavy winter gear; coats, hats, gloves, scarfs, boots and for my daughters, swim suits buried underneath those tantamount layers. It was an idea spawned from my obsessive compulsive need to make sure my girls never fear the water as I did/do. Well that, and the fact that their two best friends are competitive swimmers.

The girls are taking to it like fish in the......strike that.  Like sea bass on a hot grill waiting to be served to Oprah and Gayle. They are all in, fully invested and they make my heart skip a beat when I watch them glide along the water as I could never do.  There is a rather infamous story of me told by The Leaders of The Free World. It has been embellished over the years, I am certain of that.  And depending upon who recounts the tale, it is either told as a horrifying experience or the most hilarious thing ever witnessed at a lake house.

We had been boating and floating most of the day.  After docking the boat, we cranked up the Toby Keith tunes and sat at the edge of the water, drinking our Corona's and enjoying the sacredness of our much too infrequent reunions.  As the sun grew more intense, we all slowly drifted out into the lake, standing amongst the fish and squishy, tickly, disgusting plant life that inhabits the bottom of a lake.  I was uncomfortable at best but the conversation was getting deep and so was I.  Without realizing it, I apparently backed off a ledge of some sort and was starting to go under, grasping for my friend with one arm while carefully keeping my Corona arm safely above sea level, or lake level as the case may be.

But my girls will never know the agony of choosing to save their own life or that of a frosty cold beverage, for they will be the greatest of swimmers.  The one thing that saddens me at these Saturday morning swim sessions is witnessing the parade of divorced families using this noon hour as the drop off point for the switch from mom's house to dad's or vice versa. I see the bags packed full of weekend gear, I see the mom's giving those extra long goodbye hugs and I see the kids who don't appear bothered at all, for they have settled into this life, this routine that is comfortable and common to them.  "Don't worry, kids are resilient", they all say.

And I am reminded how ugly the face of divorce can be. I clearly remember my ex coming to pick up the kids for the first "switch day". I remember the twin whom I had guessed would be falling apart was brave and stoic, while her sister screamed and reached for me as she was carried out the door.  I could hear her screams all the way to the car.  I shut the door behind me and slid down to the floor, like a hollowed out tree, there was nothing left inside of me. I was numb.

While cleaning out some old files, I recently ran across a photo taken of Mr. Sunshine with the kids, just after our separation. It was a black and white photo used in a campaign brochure for his run at a seat in the State Assembly.  The Commando is standing next to him with his arm around his dad and a look on his face that brought me right back to that empty, hollowed out vortex I once inhabited. I looked at the innocence of a child who was being manipulated by a man terrified of losing his children.

I saw the brightness that has only recently returned to his eyes and I also saw a little guy who wanted nothing more than to please his dad.  Smile for the camera, let's tell the voting public we are a happy family, while behind the scenes, he was witnessing the unraveling of his father.  Mommy left us....mommy took the toaster so I can't make toast for breakfast, as he broke down crying in front of them for the very first time.  For years, I couldn't make toast without one of them screaming at me for taking daddy's toaster, the same toaster I had had since I first moved out on my own at the age of 19. It was only recently one of them finally opened up to me about what happened that day.  He must have been holding in all of his guilt, anger and raw emotion when the toaster's disappearance served as the catalyst for him to release it.

Eventually, as all divorced families do, we settled into our own routine; that is, until he made the decision to commit a felony fraud landing himself in a country club to serve 30 months of cooking, gardening and exercise duty while I usher the kids through this most difficult of transitions.  I've been through the unraveling of our son and I've seen him put back together again.  I am seeing more subtle signs from the girls.  Just as in that black and white photo, when they were too young to truly process their pain, they are now too strong to let this openly bother them; but the truth is there, if you look closely enough.  They are taking their emotions out on each other, as only twins could do.

Sitting through teacher conferences last week, I was told in each case, one by one, all three of these children are "gifted writers". It is up to me to nurture this in them.  I know what it is to have it, but I don't know what it is to believe in it from an early age.  We are always writing stories, or telling stories, or imagining a great title for a book or noticing humanity for the good and the bad.  Soaking it in until we realize we can internalize it, process it and then tell it in a way that is earth bending.

Watching the American Idol preliminary auditions recently, one of the girls quickly surmised a pattern.  She noticed when a contestant has a gut wrenching back story told prior to their audition, they will inevitably be a good singer.  I was amazed at how quickly she tuned into this.  As obvious as it is to us, that's some pretty heady stuff for an 8 year old.  As I tucked her into bed weeks later, she told me she had come to another realization. "Mommy, I am living my own back story right now, aren't I", she asked with an intended sad inflection and a heart-melting frowney face.

Yes, you are honey. This is a hard time, a struggle of your very own but just like those singers on Idol, you know what happens when they have a difficult back story, right?  Then with confidence, she nodded and concluded she too would be a winner.

I see these families on Saturday morning through a black and white photo lens and I wonder about their lives. Are they being good and true to their children, forsaking their own anger and bitterness to do what is best for them or are they using them as weapons in their own sick battles for power, control, money or just simply to say they won? When I can feel the tension from the top row of the bleachers, I pray for them. Then I sit back and watch my beautiful girls, who have overcome so much and I pray for them too.  One of which is currently writing her autobiography.


  1. How beautiful and full of truth. Your kiddos are going to be fine; you will be certain of it.

  2. How did I miss this one?!? So glad they have your insights and much earlier than we did for sure!!!


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