Monday, August 14, 2006

New Beginnings and Old Ghosts

Well, this month the kids start back to school, and my husband and I will be celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary.

Spawn is not showing any anxiety about starting college, but he might be covering it up. He’s been a little reluctant to go and get his books, is borrowing some from a friend who’s a year ahead of him at the same campus, and is generally trying his 18-year-old darnedest to be manly and unconcerned about college. I’m not buying it. My husband and I drew up an agreement for him, so that we would all be clear on our expectations and responsibilities and his responsibilities. It was very specific, including what he can expect if he flunks a class, if his GPA drops below a B (increased car insurance costs!), in terms of transportation, overall contributions from us, and what we expect him to contribute. He seemed very surprised and extremely pleased. He’s one of those kids who likes to have everything explicitly spelled out for him, and I can’t blame him. In many ways, I’m like that, too.

Bunny is entering her high anxiety phase. She’s gotten this way every year she’s been in high school, and now, entering her junior year, she’s moping and stressing out again. I have been talking to her in comforting tones, using motivational and reassuring words, but I don’t think it’s working any better this time than it usually does. Maybe I need to try a reversal, like I did with the “Cat Lady” thing. I’m just afraid that it would backfire and she’d run off to her room, slam the door, and weep copiously and dramatically before announcing to me in a trembling and damp, sniffy voice, that she doesn’t think I’m very DARNED funny. I’ve tried putting myself in her shoes, but my 16-year-old shoes were nothing like her shoes, and I just can’t figure her out all that well with this anxiety thing. I always looked forward to school starting. Summers were boring for me, and I had hopes of learning something new, perfecting and refining old skills, and maybe meeting some new people to hang out with. I do know she suffers from school-induced math anxiety, brought on by a lousy teacher in 7th grade. She’s been very afraid of math ever since, even though I worked her through that period. I thought I had her confidence back up, but I was wrong. If anyone has any suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

Doodle is cruising amiably into his 8th grade year, the same way he has ambled into most years in school. He’s in no hurry, which he never is, and he’s not worried or excited nor does he have any particular feelings about it. He’s got his supplies assembled, he knows he’ll be seeing the same crowd, and he is bumbling happily along, being himself. There’s something very comforting about his acceptance of himself and his surroundings.

As for me, I never thought I’d feel so ambivalent about my 25th anniversary. I thought I’d see a quarter of a century of marriage as a real milestone, something to celebrate, something to invite people to share with me, something bigger than it feels like it is. I don’t even want to send our newlywed photo in to the local paper for their “Milestones” page. I just don’t care that much. The last few years have been tough. I’ve had health problems, there’s been my husband’s midlife crisis, my father-in-law’s death, my dad’s ongoing decline in health, my mother-in-law’s daffiness, and I feel detached more often than not. There just doesn’t seem to be much to celebrate other than enduring this long. I haven’t made any plans, and I seriously doubt that my spouse has, it’s not his thing to make plans to celebrate anything. Heck, I’m the one who pays when we go out for our Thursday lunches.

We spent last year, our 24th anniversary, on the brink of divorce. Neither one of us acknowledged it, but I was done putting up with his nonsense, and he was busy punishing me with his misery and anger, making mope faces at me, giving me the silent treatment, pushing me away from him emotionally, and I detached then, too, trying to stay upbeat and keep things normal – ish – and reasonably together for the sake of the kids, getting through one day at a time. It was a year I would not care to repeat.

It has been hard, trying to learn to trust him again. He seems to think he’s entitled to my trust, just because he wants it that way, but that’s not the way things work. Normal people don’t immediately give their trust right away, upon demand, and it’s a lot harder for someone like me, who was seriously abused as a child, to trust again when there has been betrayal of trust and/or too many of the wrong kind of secrets.

It’s been hard, trying to find joy or happiness with him again, instead of just more work. It’s been hard trying to re-engage emotionally instead of remaining safely distant. That’s another holdover from my childhood – it was safer and easier to go numb and absent than to be there, feeling everything. And it's a very long road back.

One of the hardest things has been finding out that he was so far outside of himself that he has no memory of many of the hurtful, damaging things that he did and said during the worst of his crisis. The only place I’ve had where I can talk about them, cry over them, and try to heal has been with my women’s group, and there are only so many sessions I feel comfortable monopolizing with my baggage and woes.

And it’s been hard working to avoid falling into self-defeating traps like remaining silent when I need to speak up for myself, or not questioning things that I have every right to question. Old habits may die hard, but old BAD habits seem nearly immortal sometimes. I do know that things are better this year than they were last year, despite my father-in-law’s passing and the effect that has had on my husband and our marriage.

I guess that’s all I can reasonably hope for, really. Real life has very few moments of incredible joy or despair, the vast majority of it, married or not, is somewhere more moderate on the continuum. I really don’t know where this anniversary falls. I guess I’ll figure that out when it arrives. All I can do is to keep working on my own problems and plugging away. Meanwhile, the kids make me happy, so I’ll enjoy my last few days with them before they go back to school!


Makeuprtista said...

Dear BoS,
I look forward to checking in with you every day. I feel like you are a kindred spirit, and I'm so sorry that you've had such a difficult few years with your husband. It speaks highly of you that you stuck with him despite your problems. Thank God for your women's group! Please keep sharing your life experiences and wisdom with the internet community. It means a lot to me. Thanks!!

BoS said...

Thank you very much. I generally feel a little trepidation when I post something so introspective because I wonder what the heck I'm doing, spewing it out into the cosmic void, whether it will have any worth beyond venting. It's nice, very nice, to hear that it connects us in some way. My women's group is great, and I'm glad I found it. Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

Ah, never forget the lurkers. There are more of them than you think - and you touch their lives whether you'll ever know it or not. Believe that you make a difference, Joan ('cause you do).

Hang in there. There are more people pulling for you than you'll ever know.