This could have just as easily been titled “Notes from a Mid-30s Mother” or “Notes from a Melancholic-Choleric Grad Student”. Or any other combination of personality ticks that could be labeled and hyper-linked on a social media profile. The difference and danger of identifying myself as a divorced Catholic is that somehow, the impression is given that I am the self-nominated voice of this particular demographic. And I reject that. Emphatically and with fervor. Every person on the face of this planet has his or her own story. We each have to put a signature at the end of our own life and despite trends and statistics, none of us are interchangeable with any other in whatever minorities or groups or demographics we happen to belong. Are you a homeschooling mother of four? You’re not like any other. Are you a faithful, stay-at-home father of two children? You’re not like any other. Are you a single, early twenties, same-sex attracted woman? You’re not like any other. Each of us is unrepeatable. Each of us is not the sum of society’s definitions about our character…
With that disclaimer, I offer some simple notes on a life that is a bit… different. It is my own random bits, in no particular order, from my own scattershot brain and not meant to speak for any others.
–According the the NY Times there were about 5,000 households like mine in 2011: a single woman with seven biological children. That is 5,000 out of about 122 million households. Catholics make up about 22% of Americans. Less than 1/10 of Catholic households have more than three children in it. If I calculate my rough numbers correctly, this means there are about 100 households like mine across the United States. If we are generous— given population breakdowns— there might be two in my entire state?
-^ That?! That… is an incredibly sobering and isolating statistic. I’m a demographic unicorn. And I never wanted to be one.
-I have learned so much about my own judgemental attitudes. Because of how the social aftershocks have continued to play upon my life, I can see echoes of who I used to be in many of my friends… and in the social distancing that has happened in my life. Here’s the thing about the word “judgemental” though. Most people don’t know any better. We’re the product of our upbringing and our catechesis, which is so often lacking in any comprehensive “how to” lessons on integrating separated and divorced families into the normal, healthy parish life. Good, practicing Catholics simply don’t know how to “do” this. And I don’t hold this against anyone. I was the same. I can think of some single mother families I used to know and I was kind and charitable and “let me know if you need anything” just like everyone else. But I simply didn’t know *how* to integrate these women or their kids into my wholesome, stay-at-home, homeschooling mother life. So I kept them at an arm’s length. Just to be safe. Being on the other side of the arm now, I feel that pain and that isolation. But I understand it… and try not to take it personally. The Church Militant has some hard, serious work to do on coexisting in this hospital of sinners.
-Yes, I’ve heard of Retrouvaille. Yes, I’ve read (and would recommend) Primal Loss. Yes, I’ve seen that one Fulton Sheen video about how marriage is hard work. Yes, I know the Church’s teachings about separation and divorce. Yes I know about annulments. Thank you for the prayers for my family. That’s all. Some very well meant comments can sting… partially because folks can be insensitive. And partially because my heart is still defensive.
-It is a difficult thing to balance authenticity and discretion. Airing out the truth and protecting my family. I am doing the best I can. And this is my discernment to do. Not anyone else’s.
-The hard thing is that my world has to become, by necessity, very small anyway. I don’t usually have *time* for mommy’s groups or nature outings or Rosary Makers or whathaveyou. I barely have time for the small handful of friends I somehow have retained. When I am with my children— 63.3% of the the time— I am with them. And it is hard. Grueling. There are seven of them. There is one of me. There are three different schools. And two toddlers. And extra-curriculars. And doctor appointments. And potty training. And driving lessons. And teeth to brush and breakfast to make and stories to read and laundry to fold and bills to pay. And, and, and… all the demands of large family life with the exception of there being only one adult at the helm. Very little time or breath to answer phone calls or make room for the social life I need.
-What about the other 36.7% of my life? When I am not with the children? Do I get to live it up, wild and free in a sick sort of quasi-bachelorette way? No. The first thing I do is drink. Silence, that is. I drink the silence deep into this parched soul. (Maybe followed by a good, red wine…) The noise of large family life is utterly overwhelming for my introverted, abstract thinking brain. And so, when I wave goodbye and blow kisses to my babies when they go to their dad’s house… I return to my home and shut the door and pause. And listen. And begin the act of self-restoration. Books. Poetry. Music (I live somewhere between Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song” and Brother Isaiah’s “Jacob’s Song”). Saltwater. Fresh air. Meandering in my mind and neighborhood.
-But it can’t be too long-lived. I have to have a future for these children after all. And there are seven of them. Being out of the workforce for 15 years means that I have very few options. As such, I study for a professional career in counseling. The 36.7% of my life is my book time. Reading. Writing papers. Studying. Being willfully distracted by anything other than studying. Then drinking more silence. This time neat. Running to the waterside if I feel overly emotional. Running to a friend if I feel isolated. Guarding and cultivating my need for laughter. A reminder that life is short and Calvary is actually lined with fragrant roses if only we stop to smell them along the way. Trying to not take myself too seriously… but to take myself measurably.
-The glorious thing the past two years have taught me is gratitude. Is a man ever able to appreciate a piece of bread more than when he is starving? Have ever the simple joys in life meant so much as when that is all there is in which to delight? There is something about being utterly crushed and weighed down by the monstrosity that is your life at the moment… that gives you such an acute awareness of and appreciation for the most primitive or nondescript sensations. A child’s smile. Hot water. The smell after a fresh rain. A pillow. Suddenly, the ordinary becomes extraordinary. And what a gift it is to be enlivened by the ordinary. Not everyone has that.
-Last year I woke up one day on a murphy bed at a friend’s house and had no idea where I was for a solid three minutes. I cried out in a half-awake state, as if crucified: “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me!” I had been in and out of temporary, residential schedules, bouncing around friends’ homes, sitting on the floor pumping breastmilk and storing in friends’ freezers, working at a restaurant, begging for free childcare, writing court declarations, and being sucker punched by the horror of what I read in return. I wept whenever I had to leave my baby. I lost a lot of weight. I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t make a decision. I was skittish and dissociated from what I was experiencing. I was in the throes of trauma. And I was held up by my community and by my family at a distance and by strangers and by those very dear to me who became forever grafted to my heart.
-^That was about 14 months ago. It feels like 14 years ago.
-Answering the question “How are you?” has never been more challenging. Are we grading on a relative curve to how I *have been*? Then, fabulous! But are we prepared to hear how I really am sometimes? Because folks generally tire of hearing about the same “Busy. Overwhelmed. Guarded. Dealing with nonsense you’d rather not hear about. Busy.” hamster wheel that is my answer more often than not. However: in a brilliant sort of irony… when the complexities are SO overwhelming in my world… I actually am able to access a tiny bit of interior freedom that is imperturbable. There is so much that I can’t control that I very often just live 15 minutes at a time and can marvel at the quivering birch leaves behind my house or savor my cup of coffee or check out to a lengthy scroll through Pinterest… and I’m fine. Very often full of joy. Happiness is from without. Joy is from within. I turn within a lot to be able to say “Fine” and mean it, when others ask.
-The grace of the sacraments is real.
-The experience of having my entire life utterly ripped out from underneath me has been a gift. A most painful, beyond-the-pale gift that I would never wish on anyone. But I am grateful. So grateful for the ways I have grown to know myself. I’ve never really gotten to know this woman in depth… she has been a shell for a long time. And I am able now to see me for who I am, weak and flawed and desperately in need of grace… but also a beloved, chosen-before-all-time daughter of an incredible Father. He had to hit me pretty hard in order for me to wake up to all the goodness and beauty He has in store for me. And I am grateful.
-Being an adult is hard! I don’t know anything! I am 36 years old and still don’t know some very basic life skills! I just learned how to change a drill bit and identify a breaker box last year. This year, my goal is to figure out how to check my oil and try to understand what the stock market means. Thank the good Lord for YouTube tutorials.
-I don’t like attention. And I don’t want to be a poster-child for “divorced, Catholic, veiling, INTJ mothers of seven who’d rather be homeschooling”. I don’t see myself as one. If I had my way, I’d be living happily under a rock somewhere in the woods, reading books and listening to birds and marveling at the moon. Yet, I am here. In this world. On Facebook. And Instagram. And responding to the call to use the gifts He has given me. I don’t know what God is asking of me yet. I only hope to always be obedient to the promptings He puts on my heart. And those promptings nearly always whisper: Write! I am a poor co-author of this story that He is weaving in me and through me. But I still have an obligation to tell it.
-Having some very nearly libertarian leanings… I am thankful for public assistance. And I think shame is fascinating. And I am thankful for feeling genuine, accurate empathy for so many people in this world now that I never felt before. And I think the human heart is fascinating. And I’m thankful to be growing one.
That’s all I really have to say tonight… peace to you and yours.