Another year gone by

My birthday is a few days away. I have always been one of those people who *loves* my birthday. I’d make sure EVERYONE knew it was my birthday, and I mean everyone. To the clerk at Safeway: “No thank you, I brought my own bags. But, by the way, today is my birthday.” I practically shouted it from the rooftops. For as long as I can remember March 30th has been like a national holiday. I make sure I have the day off from work, I go shopping, get a pedicure, or take myself out to lunch — historically it’s a Treat Yo Self kind of day.

That changed when my husband left. In February of 2017 I came home from a trip to Tanzania and, after my husband picked me up from the airport and dropped me and my luggage off, he packed up and moved out of our house after 25 years together. We had been in therapy for some time and things had been tense, but I was utterly and completely blindsided by the abrupt end to our marriage. He never came back, never even entertained the idea of coming back. That was a month before my 49th birthday. When March 30th rolled around I was not shouting anything from the rooftops.

The next year a dear friend went all out and planned an extravagant bash for my 50th. I was touched at all the effort she put into it and was truly humbled by my friends who came out to celebrate with me. Unfortunately, it was all overshadowed by the feeling of being alone in the world and having to navigate this next stage of my life all by myself.

The list of things I haven’t ever done alone is huge: bought a car, moved out of one house and into another, filed my own tax return, paid a cell phone bill, paid a property tax bill (and two supplemental bills that just appeared with no warning), set up and paid for my own health insurance, car insurance and homeowners insurance, sold a car, managed an adult budget, planned a vacation, purchased a major appliance, bought a power drill, used a power drill, dealt with a bathroom leaking so profusely that the subfloor was practically rotted clean through, cleared out a decades old hedge that dislodged from the side of my house and blocked my entire driveway and map out my finances to make sure I have enough money to support myself for the remainder of my days. I’m sure there’s more, but that’s all that comes to mind at the moment. You know why? Because at almost 51 I cannot remember what I did 5 minutes ago. My memory is shot. Is it age? Hormones? Stress? Probably all of the above.

What was I saying again? Oh yeah….it’s not that I did nothing during out 25 year relationship. We had a division of labor in our household. I managed everything to do with the kids: doctor appointments, dentist appointments, orthodontist appointments (with 3 kids just managing those appointments seemed like a full time job), haircuts, clothes shopping, school supply shopping, laundry, school lunches, being a room parent, scheduling and attending IEP meetings for my son with ADHD, driving to and from soccer, baseball, gymnastics, cheer and tuba practice, planning and throwing birthday parties, purchasing presents and driving to and from birthday parties, hosting and transporting to and from playdates, filling out field trip paperwork, chaperoning field trips, taking the dogs to the vet, buying dog food, buying groceries, making sure kids had what they needed for vacations and packing their suitcases, packing up bags of snacks and activities to make sure the kids were entertained on the airplane, breastfeeding each child for 1 year, waking up in the middle of the night for feedings since none would take bottles….. I think I’ve made my point. But at almost 51, and with 2/3s of my children out of the house, I have a lot of catching up to do on real world adulting. And it’s scary. And overwhelming. And I wish I had someone to help me navigate it.

But, I digress. This started out about my birthday. So we’ll get back to that: my birthday is in 4 days and I will likely spend it alone. My older two kids are away at college (and will stay there because, thankfully, we did not pay someone to take their SATs for them, nor did we bribe someone to get them in). And my youngest son is flying to Boston the day before my birthday to attend a video game conference with his sister.

I know that I have no right to feel bad about this. I am healthy, I have a roof over my head, a car to drive and food to eat. I have 3 healthy and happy children and am relatively healthy myself. I have family and friends have not had to deal with racism or sexual assault. Those are all biggies, I truly do know that, I just wish I could get excited about my birthday.

That silver lining I have been waiting for.

It finally happened. Over the past two years I have heard more than my fair share of “my divorce was the best worst thing that ever happened to me.” And the “some good WILL come out of this pain,” and ” you will come out the other side happier than you have ever been.” I was starting to think that none of that would ever apply to me. Thankfully, some of that light poked its head through the clouds tonight. I’ll take a few steps back and explain how I got here.

When I got pregnant with the second of my three kids, my husband was knee-deep in the launching of a high tech startup. Long hours, lots of travel and all of the stress that comes along with launching a startup made it difficult for us to be a two-career family. My husband and I made the decision that I would stay home with the kids. And while being a stay-at-home mom wasn’t always the easiest job, I was very grateful to have been able to spend that quality time with all of my kids.

When my youngest child started kindergarten, I realized that I had quite a bit of free time during the day when all three kids were at school. But since by then my husband was working on startup number two, a full time job wasn’t going to be any more feasible then than it had been ten years earlier. Seeing the various substitute teachers that came and went in my kids’ classes, I realized that I could do a much better job than most of them. I promptly got my substitute teaching credential and began what has now been a 12 year job as a sub at the elementary school my kids attended. It was perfect, the kids and I could essentially commute to and from school together. I became the go-to sub at the school (believe me, it is not difficult to rise to that rank, the bar is set painfully low) and got to be part of my kids’ lives at school as well as at home. My youngest graduated from the school more than six years ago…..and I’m still there.

But when my husband moved out and divorce became inevitable, I realized that being a substitute teacher, and making what amounted to little more than pocket change, I needed to find myself a new gig. Having been out of the traditional job market for almost 20 years, I saw little opportunity available to me. Without going back to school for an advanced degree or vocational training there just wasn’t much out there for an educated, but rather unskilled middle aged divorcee.

When I signed up for yoga teacher training about four years ago it had nothing to do with a desire to actually teach yoga. I was more interested in deepening my own personal practice. But on a whim, I decided to approach the principal of my school to see if the possibility existed for me to start a yoga and mindfulness program for the students. I didn’t have high hopes, but really, what was there to lose?

To my great surprise my principal loved the idea, but he cautioned me that it would be an uphill battle to get the program approved and funded. Months of frustration followed as things went through the school district, school board, PTA and the education foundation. My hopes were dimming. It was a wonderful shock when four months later, we were given the go-ahead to use a one-time education foundation grant to start the yoga and mindfulness program….yay!! Yoga mats were purchased, I set up in an unused classroom and set out scheduling 30 minute sessions with each classroom at our kindergarten through 5th grade school — about 14 classes per week.

The kids, and teachers, took to the program and it felt like a success, but I worried that when the grant was gone, so would this new dream job. As the end of that first year approached, I heard from the PTA that they would be taking over the funding of my program — telling me that it was the only non-academic program their kids came home and talked about. Again…..yay!!

Fast forward to tonight at our district’s school board meeting. My principal was using our school’s “spotlight” to highlight the yoga and mindfulness program. I knew that he had sent out a request for teachers and students to write about the program or even attend the meeting to speak about it in person. I was pretty excited as it was, but when I walked in the door to see at least 6 families walking into the meeting — I could not stop smiling. My students, as is typical when they see their teachers outside of school, were excited to see me. But what wasn’t typical, for me, at least, was to have their parents tell me how much they appreciate what I do….I had to work hard to hold back the tears. But man, when those kids got up and told the school board how much they love yoga, mindfulness, pranayama and meditation, I can’t even describe how fantastic it was. It seems so corny to say, but I was bursting with pride.

When we were all told we could leave the meeting so that the kids could go home and finish their homework and the board could get back to boring school board matters, the kids gathered outside the room and showed their parents their favorite yoga poses (mostly the impressive looking crow pose) and asked me to pose for photos with them. Each parent thanked me and one even told me that she would make sure that the PTA will not only continue to fund my program, but she will also push to expand it. Wow!

Again, so corny, but true….I cried tears of happiness and gratitude all the way home. I haven’t felt this much pride and joy in a very long time. And had my husband not left me, I never would have had this experience. I’m not sure why — old habits die hard, I suppose, and I guess I still haven’t fully given up the need to share my accomplishments with my ex — but I called him on the way home. I told him that I was grateful he left me so that I could have this experience. He seemed irritated to hear from me and I don’t imagine that telling him I appreciated him leaving me helped matters. But it seems time for me to move on from that need to have someone else validate me. Tonight, at least, I was able to validate myself, with a little help from some amazing little yogis.

I’m not naive enough to believe that my sadness is gone for good or that life will suddenly be all rainbows and unicorns, but it’s a start. A very big start.

The kind of crowd sourcing I can get behind

Today is Valentine’s Day. A day I dreaded when I was younger and didn’t have a boyfriend. Then during the 25 years I was with my soon-to-be-ex husband, it was mostly just another day. In the early days of our courtship and marriage, we probably exchanged cards and gifts, but the day gradually came to be a non-event. It mostly meant that our kids came home home from school strung out on refined sugar in all its forms.

Now that I find myself very single and (mostly) without kids in the house, Valentine’s Day is back to being a day that culminates a week long march into dread. To make matters a million times worse, my favorite SweetHearts aren’t available this year. Something about the factory and…. blah blah blah….bottom line: no pink boxes with the heart-shaped window on the front. As a side note, I might actually be the only person who buys those conversation hearts to actually eat them. I have even been known to clean out the stock of them on February 15th so that I can enjoy them until mid-March.

To cheer myself up this year, I bought a big bag of Brachs candy conversation hearts yesterday, hoping they would be a sufficient stand-in until next year when SweetHearts will again be available (they weren’t) and all day I  have been popping them into my mouth like, well….like candy. But are they REALLY candy? I have spent a lifetime of eating the candy that nobody else will touch. Black licorice? Love it, and let me take those black jellybeans off your hands for you. Necco Wafers? Love ’em, especially the black ones… licorice-flavored chalk… mmmm. During Halloween season I have to strategically map my trips to Target so that I can keep away from the candy aisle. On those days when my will power is especially low, I casually stroll by the end cap that has the candy corn and, I’m not proud to admit this, but it always means I will have eaten an entire bag of the stuff before I even get to the check out. Am I the only one who loves that Peeps have expanded beyond just Easter time? Highly likely. I’m loathe to admit this, but I probably wouldn’t even turn down a Circus Peanut — you know, those orange, marshmallowy things? I know, I know. I am the bottom feeder of the candy world.

Anyway, I digress. My point today is that I came up with a great idea, well, for me, anyway. It might not be met with much enthusiasm from anyone else, but I’m excited by the possibilities. I’ve contributed to many very worthy GoFundMe pages, purchased a few Kickstarter projects and have made more than my fair share of meals for families needing assistance. I think it’s my turn now. As we’ve already established, I’m single. Very single. Here’s where you, dear readers, come in: I need a boyfriend. I don’t need a live-in boyfriend or anything that committed. But someone to go out to dinner with once in a while, or to catch a movie with. Someone who can add that 4th wheel to the gatherings I attend with my married friends. Certainly someone out there knows a tall, handsome and available bachelor who is dying to date a well read, well traveled and very social 50-something woman….right?

I have given up on online dating. Yes, I know it’s apparently the only way to meet anyone these days. But after the latest date that I thought went great but was told later that there just wasn’t enough chemistry, and after having corresponded with several “men” online who then disappeared from my feed because they were determined to be “unsafe accounts,” I deleted all of my dating apps. I just can’t do it anymore. So, I think I’m going to try to crowd source this one,

I’m not picky, but I’d like my new boyfriend to: be taller than 5’10,” live within 15 miles of San Jose, have kids who are at least high school age, likes dogs, likes to travel, owns his own car and if he doesn’t own his own house, he is at least not still living with his parents or ex-wife. Too much to ask for? I don’t think so. Now get to work and send me some great candidates. More importantly, happy February 14th, whether it’s Valentine’s Day at your house or just a regular Thursday. xo


The Amazing Disappearing Act of the Middle Aged Woman

I saw my doctor recently, having avoided her for far too long. It seemed like time to make sure my 50 year old parts were all in working order. Also, I’d been noticing the scale creeping up to unfamiliar levels. Nothing drastic, but I wanted to rule out anything serious. As it turns out, my 50 year old body is NOT functioning efficiently. My cholesterol numbers are at a level that needs immediate attention and, in discussing my weight, I learned something new. 

Making my way through the separation and divorce process over the past two years, I’ve learned a lot about stress responses in the body and how cortisol in high levels can wreak havoc on our bodies. What I didn’t know is that it tricks your body into fearing that starvation is a real possibility. So my brain, thinking that I am in grave danger, told my body to store more of the fats I eat. Much those fats were ice cream and most of it ended up in my mid-section. Great. Just great.

Without taking a deep dive into my bodily functions, I will say that being a 50 year old woman is a thankless job. I don’t think I’m the first one of my kind to find herself in a doctor’s office feeling a little out of sorts. Obviously my lovely doctor sees many of us in this category of life: 40ish or 50ish, empty nester (or almost), divorced (or almost) and trying to make sense of all of the above. I know this because she launched into a speech that seemed too practiced to be designed only for me.

With only the best of intentions, my doctor implored me to take care of myself and to enjoy what is finally going to be “my time.” No husband, no kids (well, mostly no kids) and plenty of time to find new passions and new direction. She reminded me that I still have a lot of living left ahead of me and I owe it to myself to get healthy and enjoy it.

Since that day, I’ve been thinking a lot about how not-unique my circumstances are. I’ve found myself as part of a group of women in my neighborhood who are all divorced (most, like me, after long marriages), most are empty or soon-to-be empty nesters and most of us have endured the pain and shame of our husbands’ infidelities. At work a small group of us have formed what is essentially a support group for women going through divorce. We’re at different stages of the process, but share our stories of life in the trenches of family court.

Taking a step back, I realized that the majority of my friends are either divorced or unhappily married, and most of us are searching for purpose in a world that doesn’t always seem to value us. We have almost become invisible and what often feels like dispensible. Many of us lament that we spend so much of our time struggling to adapt to our new lives and new responsibilities. We share stories of bursting into tears when the TV or wifi isn’t working and we can’t fix it. Or when a storm knocks a giant tree limb across our driveway, or the shower is leaking into the basement. We struggle with these things not because we are incapable, but because, for many years, there was a division of labor in our homes and those were things our husbands did. An efficient family is one that divides and conquers household responsibilities. My friends are I now find ourselves trying to figure out how to manage these new jobs —while still doing the things we’ve always done—and the learning curve can be steep.

Adjusting to our new normal, we see that we have become invisible to our former spouses. Those of us on dating sites also experience a particularly humiliating level of invisibility. We swipe on men our own age and never hear from them. Simply put, we are not the hottest commodity Match or OkCupid. When did we become invisible to men — our husbands AND prospective dates? When did it become so common for men to leave their wives just at the time we’re finally getting the space to enjoy our kid-free lives? Why is it so easy for them to stop seeing us, but most of what we see and experience is a sense of deep pain and loss. 

Men aren’t the only ones who have stopped seeing us, we’re invisible to employers too. My circles of divorced women are finding it hard to make ends meet these days. Rare is the job available to a middle aged mom who has been out of the traditional job market for years — many of us have worked over the years but, often, because of our decisions to be the primary caregivers to our kids, we have salaries that were never meant to be the sole support for a family in Silicon Valley.

After my visit with the doctor, I found myself thinking a lot about sight. What we see, who we see, how we see them, how they see us. It’s an odd and disorienting feeling to be living what so often feels like an invisible life. I’ve also been thinking quite a bit about what it is that I see and who I see. In talking to my circle of divorced friends, it’s clear that we all want to be SEEN again. We want someone to SEE us and accept us as we are. To see —and appreciate—the wisdom we’ve gained in our many years on the planet, the strength we’ve built up, our man y accomplishments, big and small, and that we raised kids who have become pretty special adults. So maybe we need to zoom out our narrow view of our circumstances and start seeing the larger, wider, fuller picture of our lives. Perhaps we need to see more of what we have and less of what we don’t.

In an interesting case of life imitating art, my yoga teacher instructed us to experience this morning’s practice with our eyes closed for the duration of the 90 minute class. While we all wobbled and struggled through poses that are so familiar with eyes open, our teacher read aloud the poetry of Mary Oliver. Oliver, who passed away last week, somehow managed to eloquently voice what so many of us feel. She made poetry accessible to those who don’t necessarily enjoy poetry. She made us see things that we didn’t realize we were seeing. Olliver asked us to reframe how we view the world so that we can see and experience it in all its beauty.

As I stood on my mat this morning, eyes closed and struggling to find balance, a feeling of gratitude came over me for the gifts that surround me every minute of every day.  As I open my eyes each morning the decision to see those gifts is mine.



Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.


Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver