(Read part three.)

It was a Friday, shortly before my birthday. We were having dinner, and a pitcher of margaritas, at a Mexican restaurant.

“You’re not getting a ring for your birthday,” he warned. “I just don’t want you to be disappointed.”

I had figured he wouldn’t do something so obvious, but my heart fell a bit as I tried to be flippant about it.

We had been talking for months about getting married eventually. We both knew we were heading in that direction — he’d even asked me once what sort of ring I liked, and a helpful girlfriend sent him photos of a ring I thought was beautiful. And while I theoretically knew I didn’t need to be engaged to reassure me of the solidity of our relationship, without that sign, a tiny part of me still doubted. I didn’t want to pressure or rush him, though, and tried not to bring it up as often as I thought about it. He had a plan, he said. I just needed to trust the plan.

Saturday evening, he had promised to take me out for a special birthday dinner. “Are you up for an hour drive to dinner?” he asked. “Sure!” I said, expecting something special and spectacular. He said it was a steakhouse he’d never been to but had heard great things about. I wore a darling outfit — a black and white skirt, a black T, and strappy heels … and let’s say I was overdressed by a magnitude of about 1,000 at the restaurant. Which had Wild West murals painted on the wall. And antler light fixtures. And taxidermy. LOTS of it. I texted a girlfriend from the bathroom to relay my disappointment, trying to hide it from Jason. “I bet the food will be really amazing,” she replied. My steak was really good … right up till the point where I realized the center was still raw. At that point, I lost my appetite and sat silently at the table, trying not to tear up. No ring. No fancy restaurant. Not even a properly cooked steak.

I texted my girlfriend from the car on the way home. She wrote back. “If he has that ring he may want to cough it up about now! Screw the plan. Abort! Abort!” It was sound advice that I didn’t relay to him.

DSC_1007-Edit-untitled On Sunday, with my kids at their dad’s house and Chandler sleeping in, we slept late too and lounged in bed, having a silly “I love you more”  argument. “I love you more because if I were the one to propose, we’d be engaged already!” I told him triumphantly. A few minutes later, he got up, while I curled up on my side, half snoozing. He got back shortly and lay down behind me. “Alexis Victoria,” he said, “will you marry me?”

I flipped over and started to cry. “Are you only asking me this because of what I said?!”

“No,” he laughed. “I’ve had the ring for three months.” He was holding a box.

I started to cry again. Eventually I composed myself enough to say, “OK, now I want to see my ring!!!” It was beautiful. Beyond perfect. Beyond sparkly. Everything I wanted. More tears.

“Was that the plan?” I asked.

He laughed. “No. I’ve had a lot of plans. None of them really worked out.”

And yet, here we are. With a lot of plans for our lives that didn’t work out quite how we planned or expected … and that’s okay. Better than okay. Amazing.

(Read part two.)

Things weren’t perfect.

Both of us had been hurt, badly, and I in particular struggled to trust again. We also both had a history of rushing into relationships too quickly.

DSC_1406-Edit-untitledIn addition, there were political and parenting differences. And then there were the sports. Oh, there were sports.

I told him once that I’d thought “Wrestlingdad32″ was an offputting username, which had been part of my hesitancy to respond to him. (What if he’d liked pro wrestling…?) But I joked that if I’d known the truth, I might’ve run for the hills. Chandler was a terrific wrestler (Jason coached), and wrestling meets weren’t like soccer matches or football games, where you could generally go home after a couple of hours. They were all-day affairs, frequently requiring us to show up before 8 a.m. and stay till dinnertime. (We didn’t bring the kids — I stayed home on weekends when I had them, at first because Jason hadn’t met them, and later because I wasn’t sure how Matthew would handle the volume. And also because I’m not a masochist.) I didn’t mind going — I actually began to really appreciate the sport — but staying there for eight or nine hours only to see Chandler wrestle three or four times could be grueling. I took up knitting to pass the time (and got some very cute scarves out of it).

It wasn’t just wrestling, either — as soon as that wrapped up, it was lacrosse season (which I enjoyed greatly), and football has just started up. Football appreciation is probably going to come a lot more slowly.

I could have skipped the meets and the games, of course. But it soon became as unthinkable to stay home — see caveat above about the kids — as it would have been to miss Matthew’s kindergarten graduation. And though I’d used to wonder if I could love another child as much as my own, I realized one day that I already did.

DSC_0364-Edit-2-untitledAnd my heart felt like it could grow right out of my chest when I saw him with my kids. Arguments over talk-radio hosts go out the window when you’re watching the man you love swing your toddler in the air, or explain mechanics to your 7-year-old budding engineer.

My biggest fear was “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Things like this just don’t HAPPEN, right? You don’t get your heart hung, drawn and quartered and a few short months later find mind-blowing, toe-curling true love that not only encompasses you but your children, do you? You wouldn’t even find that concept realistic enough to base a romantic comedy on. What’s the catch?

But as the months wore on, there was no denying … there was no catch.

(Read part four.)

(Read part one.)

His username was Wrestlingdad32. Match.com kept insisting he was one of my “top matches,” but I was dubious.

He didn’t say much about himself in his profile. His photo was less than flattering. And his initial message to me said something like, “We seem to have a lot in common, check out my profile.” (He didn’t even mention my zombie apocalypse references!) I wrote back and simply said, “Where is Bellevue [his town], down by Leslie or something?” — because I’d never heard of it.

He wrote back and told me, and included his number in case I wanted to text him. I didn’t reply. He wrote back again, a week later, asking if I got his last message; I texted him that time. After about two weeks of texting, friending each other on Facebook (where he had slightly more promising photos) and one phone conversation, we finally found a time we could meet for a first date. And did it ever knock my socks off.

Jason — yes, he had the same name as my ex — and I met at a coffeeshop; he wanted to pick me up, but I wouldn’t let him come to my house. My first thought after walking in was, “If I’d known he was THAT hot, I’d have worn a cuter outfit.” I loved how patient, friendly and polite he was when a friend’s mother, who happened to be in the same coffeeshop, came over and chatted at length. Then he took me to a late lunch/early dinner at a Japanese restaurant, where we spent hours eating sushi and drinking plum sake. Afterward, we had ice cream, which we ate at the park while we talked politics and kissed. Did I mention that he was mind-blowingly hot?

My friends noticed even before meeting him that there was something different about this guy. One of them said, “The way you talk about him is different — you’re smitten.” I was.

Two weeks after our first date, we were exclusive; two days after that, I met his son. I’d been nervous — I knew he was incredibly devoted to Chandler and that the two of us not getting along was a deal-breaker. But he turned out to be an awesomely sweet, smart kid, and we got along great right off the bat (did I mention I gave Chandler my old iPhone to use as an iPod….?). I wasn’t ready for Jason to meet my kids yet, and my ex and I had agreed we wouldn’t introduce our children to anyone until our divorce was final, so we waited on that.

Anytime I needed something, he wanted to be there to provide it. Toddler kept locking herself in her bedroom? He bought and installed new, unlockable doorknobs. I was panicking over a financial miscalculation? He wanted to know how much money I needed. (I wouldn’t let him give me any.) In desperate need of cowboy boots? Well, I wasn’t really, but he thought I should have some and got me a gorgeous pair. He called me every night. He texted me throughout every day. He came to see me between appointments.

It wasn’t long before I needed to know how he would do with my kids. Three kids under 7 is a lot to handle for anyone, particularly when one has special needs, and if he wasn’t up to the task, I needed to know before I fell even harder. I asked my ex about rescinding our agreement about significant others meeting our kids. After awhile, he agreed.

The end result was that their first meetings went even better than I could’ve even hoped. The kids loved both Jason and Chandler right away, and soon came to see them as impromptu wrestling buddies, snuggling partners, story readers and  jungle gyms. And Jason didn’t seem to be going anywhere, even on nights when Matthew had epic meltdowns or Natalie would NOT stay in bed. He even suggested we take them on trips with us, making him even braver than I was. (We did go, to Chicago and Traverse City. Everyone lived.)

We’d been talking about the future for awhile — kids included. Eli once demanded in front of him, “Moooooooooom? When are you and Jason going to get married?!” Chandler voiced his desire, repeatedly, for a baby sibling.  But nothing was set in stone yet.

(Read part three.)

In August of last year, I tentatively stuck my toe in the dating pool.

Although I didn’t feel ready for a relationship, I was curious what dating would be like as a 37-year-old single mom, and frankly, I needed the ego boost. My self-esteem had been shredded by my ex, and while my girlfriends were wonderful and supportive and unfailingly made themselves available for me to talk to and hang out with, I missed romance. I missed feeling beautiful and desirable and interesting — because it had been a loooong time since I’d been treated that way. And having your girlfriend say you’re hot is waaaaaay different than hearing it Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome.

Online-Dating-101Since I didn’t have the time, energy or inclination to hang out at bars — nor did that work very well for me last time — online dating seemed like my best option. I could lay it all out there, rather than have some poor clueless guy approach me and then run screaming for the hills when he learned that I had three kids and the oldest was only starting kindergarten. I started out on a free site, which proved disappointing. I quickly realized that paid sites were more likely to have guys who weren’t interested solely in contents of my trousers, so I joined Match.com.

At first, I didn’t have any photos up. I was worried someone might recognize me and tell my ex (not that it mattered, since I would hardly be the first one to start a new relationship). Of course, that was not wildly successful, and I couldn’t blame anyone — I didn’t look at any profiles without photos myself. Eventually I did put some up, and was quickly overwhelmed at the response. I guess the competition isn’t too stiff in the Lansing area…? (One guy demanded a photo of me holding that day’s Lansing State Journal to prove I was real!) At one point I took the pics down because I was kind of freaked out by the volume of replies, but it was nice to have options and know I still had “it.”

I embarked on a dating frenzy. At one point, I had eight dates in eight days with eight different guys — I had lots of lunch dates while the kids were in school and daycare, or evening dates while they were at their dad’s. Finally, an ex-turned-friend told me, “I know you feel like a kid in a candy shop, but you don’t have to sample everything RIGHT NOW.” And, frankly, all that getting ready was exhausting.

Many of the guys were a lot like me — recently divorced, slightly shell-shocked. Several had never been married, which concerned me slightly. The vast majority of them were extremely nice but … meh. Most didn’t make it past the first date. I went out with one guy four times. We enjoyed each other’s company and got along well, but I realized that I would happily set up one of my girlfriends with him — clearly, not a recipe for a great romance.

Then, wrestling entered my life.

(Read part two.)

 

Once, my ex asked me if I was sorry I’d ever married him.

I told him, if someone had told me the night before our wedding what would happen 10 years later, but that I would get three beautiful, amazing children out if it, I’d have said, “Bring it the f— on.”

Some people have told me, “But you’d still have your kids … they’d just be a little different.” Would they? It’s hard to say. How much of their father is in them? How much of me? And who’s to say that they would have ended up being MY kids rather than HIS?

And I wouldn’t be the me I am today, either. I wouldn’t know how much I could live through and survive. I wouldn’t know for sure that I could do it on my own. I wouldn’t know how to appreciate an amazing relationship instead of a mediocre one.

So no, I don’t regret anything. Car ma vie, car mes joies — aujourd’hui, ça commence avec toi.

Today, I went into that room in the basement – maybe you have THAT ROOM too, the one where you throw all the crap you don’t know what else to do with. With a friend’s garage sale coming up, I thought this might be a good opportunity to de-clutter and make a little cash.Image

The end tables and coffee tables that my ex refused to take were an easy choice. So were the unopened toys from long-ago, overly fruitful Christmases and birthday parties. But the plastic tubs filled with baby toys and stuffed animals? Those brought on the tears. The adorable rattles and lovies I’d bought as a mom-to-be, so filled with hope for my babies and the life I planned to give them. The little stuffed animals I remember chubby hands holding and slobbery mouths gnawing upon. The doll-sized baby sling Matthew used to carry his Elmo in.

It’s hard to be reminded of what life used to be like then, planning a family with unshakable trust and confidence in the future. And of course it’s always a little sad to encounter such vivid reminders of babyhoods gone by — never to return with my three kids, and possibly not with any other baby, either.

I threw away the junkier things, safely encased in black plastic garbage bags so the kids wouldn’t see them. I set aside some of the working toys and cleaner, cuter stuffed animals for the garage sale. The rest went back in the bins, awaiting another — perhaps braver — attempt at excavation.

I didn’t know my grandpa fought in D-Day. Truth be told, I didn’t know him well at all.

20140606-083024-30624397.jpgDistance and estrangement from my biological father (his son) had come between us, and it wasn’t until after my father’s funeral, looking at old photographs at my grandparents’ house, that I found out Grandpa had been on the beach at Normandy, 70 years ago today.

When my ex-husband first broke the news that he was leaving, and why, one thought that kept me going was, “If Grandpa could step onto that beach, I can step onto this one.” It wasn’t until a few weeks later that I found out that D-Day stands, in some circles, for “Discovery Day,” the day you uncover the gut-wrenching, heart-stopping truth about your spouse.

I can’t compare my fight to Grandpa’s, of course, in any sense that doesn’t seem ridiculous. I don’t want to minimize his bravery or sacrifice; a divorce is hardly facing the Nazis. But we both had jobs to do – things we had to survive, in situations we didn’t make but found ourselves in anyway. And that gave me tremendous strength.

So thank you, Grandpa. Thank you not only for fighting for our nation, but for inspiring and encouraging your granddaughter seven decades afterward.

The house that I wrote and dreamed about so extensively – my perfect house, so tenderly planned, the one I was sure I’d spend the rest of my life in – never was. It never will be.

frontelevA month after I learned that the house wasn’t to be, I learned that the same was true of my marriage, as well. My perfect marriage, the one I was sure was for life. The irony was lost on me at the time.

I still live in my same little suburban ranch house, the one that my now ex-husband and I bought six months after we met, as a “starter house.” Its single bathroom and 1100 square feet are woefully inadequate for three children and one adult. It doesn’t begin to compare with the house of my dreams and its spacious, light-filled rooms.

But my other dream has fared better. No, my marriage has not been resurrected – it is dead and will stay that way forever, for reasons too numerous and personal to share here. But time, perspective and introspection have all forced me to see that its “perfection” was a combination of illusion and denial.

Once, after my husband left, I sat at Mass, weeping, listening to a wonderful priest give a homily on Matthew 7 (“Ask and it shall be given unto you; seek and you shall find”). He told us to consider that if we had been praying at length for something and God had not answered us, that we were praying for the wrong thing. At the time, I couldn’t conceive that God DIDN’T want my family to remain intact. Though in the end, my opinion didn’t matter, and possibly God’s didn’t either.

And while I don’t pretend to know what the Almighty’s will was for my marriage, I can tell you that He constructed something beautiful from the wreckage.

It looks like, for several reasons, we won’t be building our house in the near future. The financial and emotional outlay involved is, I think, more than we can reasonably handle at this point.

We still desperately need a bigger house, though, and are on the hunt for one. There’s one nearby that’s in many ways the opposite of what we were planning, but it looks promising. I’ve emailed our realtor about taking a look at it. A couple of other possibilities are out there, too.

We haven’t given up on the idea — we’re keeping the land. But it just doesn’t look like it’s in the cards for 2013.

AVC_1437-Edit

Well, we had our perc test completed today (after much rescheduling due to rain). The kids were delighted to go see the backhoe, and many dandelions were picked. Things look good! Unfortunately, the best drainage is right where we want to put the house, so it looks like we might have to go to an engineered system or possibly an advanced treatment system.

In other news, the construction plans are done, and our builder is gathering bids. We’re supposed to get together by this weekend, I think, to go over everything and make sure that it comes in within our budget. After that, we need to get the permits taken care of and finalize the loan with the bank. Dave (our builder) thinks that if everything goes smoothly, we might break ground in June. I’m giddy with anticipation!

 

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