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What I did on my winter vacation (part one)

February 11, 2011

So I was in Honduras, with my mother, for my birthday.

My last few birthdays have gotten screwed up. My fortieth happened to occur just after we’d signed the lease on the apartment we were to share, birdnesting style, as we struggled to negotiate our separation. On my forty-first, my mom was recovering from chemotherapy. (She was diagnosed with breast cancer the summer before, right when the birdnesting arrangement collapsed and my ex-husband moved out. Not a happy time.) My forty-second…what happened last year, exactly? I can’t remember. At any rate, this year my mother took me to the same inn she and my stepfather visited a year earlier. “You need sunshine,” she said, and I did.

At the last minute, the whole thing turned frantic–a huge storm was closing airports and canceling flights, so I had to flee a day early and spend the night in a mephitic hotel near Atlanta. But the next morning my mom and I got on a plane for San Pedro Sula together, and then, only a few hours later, I was swooning with disbelief and bliss, as we sat in teak chairs on a lovely deck with rum punches in hand, watching orioles and hummingbirds and all manner of tropical butterflies flit from flower to tree on the eve of my forty-third birthday.

I am a complete ass about my birthday. I love it, and milk it shamelessly. I was always a year younger than everyone in my class, and so viewed February as the month I caught up, I suppose. And (for the massively egotistical) there is something wonderful about a holiday that’s all receipt, no gift. At any rate, I woke up the next morning in a tiny cabin in the tropical woods, listening to the oropendolas burble and squawk outside our window. I had read What Maisie Knew on the plane down, so it was dead weight. But I still had a couple of books in my backpack, and my mom had brought a few as well, so I wasn’t too nervous. We were two of only four people staying at our lovely hotel. The week ahead held horseback riding, hiking, birding, swimming, snorkeling, boating, and a day visiting villages with an organization that gives microloans to Honduran women. And lounging. And sunshine. And margaritas. In other words, the kind of week human beings dream about.

I’ll be writing about the week in more detail (and I simply must list the birds I saw–they were stupendous) but I wanted to put this up just to let you know I’m alive. I thought about this website, and the Babble one, an awful lot during my internet-free vacation. I haven’t been terribly happy with what I’ve written so far at Babble and I think I’m going to tweak that blog a bit. (My next post over there talks about the changes I aim to make.) But there has been an interesting discussion in the comments section about division of labor in marriage–how very easy it is to have your erstwhile competence wither on the vine if your spouse takes over certain chores–and I would like very much to keep the discussion going, both because other peoples’ relationships are fascinating, and also because I am determined not to repeat the same mistakes twice (though how could I, given that my present relationship is so different from my marriage that it seems silly even to compare the two?)

So, as I said over on Babble, in my marriage my ex-husband managed all the money stuff, and I managed all the kid stuff. Now I manage my money and the kid stuff, as well as the house stuff, the yard stuff, the various and never ending Möbius strip of errands and wage earning–and so must he, in his separate life, and I think we’re both surviving. We are now polymaths where once we were specialists. Should we have made sure we were polymaths while we were still married, though? And if so, why?

I’m still not convinced it is bad to divvy up the chores by person (from each according to his or her abilities, right?) instead of making sure one stays diversified, because when it came down to it, my learning curve was very steep. But perhaps it would be best to have kept my gears oiled and all my motors running, as it were, so that the initial fear I felt when I realized I was going to have to step up to the plate would not have been so crippling? Or perhaps the sense of triumph and mastery and Hey, that wasn’t so hard, I think I’m going to make it after all that came when I did, in fact, cope was a sorely-needed ego boost at the nadir of my life?

At any rate, I’m off to do my taxes in a slapdash fashion so that I can get my older son’s financial aid application in on time. Will I manage? Or will I collapse in a puddle of incompetence? My younger son, home from school with a mild case of the vapors, looked dubious when he saw me gathering papers and getting out the calculator. Of course I’ve left it till the last minute (some things never change) but–oddly–I don’t feel panicked or frantic. We’ll see how it goes. In any case, I hope I can at least serve as a reassuring example–even if your financial head has been in the sand (rephrasing one reader’s comment) for your entire married life, and you doubt your competence and your pluck, you can–I promise–manage on your own. Get someone to help you (I hired a financial adviser during the divorce, and it was the best thing I ever did) in the beginning, and don’t be afraid. I can barely manage to add single digit numbers, and now I run this little fiefdom with (I daresay) a fair bit of expertise. Learning to manage wasn’t fun, but you do feel awfully good about things once you figure them out.

And here is a picture of one of the birds I saw: the Lovely Cotinga. It took a few days–my mom started calling it the Lousy Cotinga–but I finally managed to “get” it, as the birders say. Hooray!

13 Comments leave one →
  1. February 11, 2011 12:14 pm

    Happy birthday! I was just about to send you a message as you were missed. And, I totally know what it is to be a birthday person and need it celebrated appropriately. Sounds like Honduras was just the present you needed – and deserved!

  2. February 11, 2011 12:23 pm

    I’ve been totally thinking and rethinking competencies, too, since you wrote that post. [Also? I’ve really been liking the Babble posts–although I am guessing you’re wanting to change less for performance reasons than for personal ones.] And I’ve noticed that while all sorts of competencies were alluded to briefly, the one that everyone, including myself, gets stuck on is the financial one. Because that’s the one where it’s so easy to get screwed, and quickly. It’s fine if Partner A doesn’t know how to fix drains/ call plumbers while Partner B has totally lost the ability to schedule appointments. These are things with relatively short learning curves. Furthermore, they don’t tend to crop up as impossibly complicated AND vitally urgent right at the very second you need them most (the moment Partner B loses the competence supplied by Partner A is also the exact moment when Partner A is trying to adjust finances to exclude Partner B). So: its best to try to keep on top of the financial competence (Er, RIGHT, Self? Let’s get HOPPING). The other ones can lapse into marital division of labor.

    God, though. Do we really BOTH have to do the taxes/ pay the bills/ track the frustrating and frightening progress of mortgage and refinance and loan this and loan that/ maintain retirement accounts/ etc etc and forever? Do we?

  3. February 11, 2011 12:26 pm

    And YES, Happy Birthday! Tropical birding sounds like just what you needed.

  4. Susan permalink
    February 11, 2011 5:00 pm

    I’ve been reading your blog for just a brief time, but noticed your concern about telling the story of your divorce in a way that is “true” to how it happened. I would like to offer this quote from Amy Hempel who wrote, “I am entitled to tell this particular story in a way no one else can.” Be assured that however you tell the story it is exactly that, your story. Release yourself from the conflicted feelings that come from needing the re-telling to be completely accurate to the events as they occurred. Of course, your feelings color the telling of the story. They are an intricate part of the story. And you are entitled to letting them be a part of your story.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      February 11, 2011 5:08 pm

      Yes, you’re right (and I love Amy Hempel, by the way.) Writing here, on this website, has been wonderful for that reason–I don’t feel the pressure to include every detail. I try not to let the entries degrade into self-pity or narcissism (with varying degrees of success, I think) but it took me a while to see that if I set out to write a short essay about (say) birthdays, I needn’t include the tale of every single birthday since I was born.

      For whatever reason, on the Babble blog I felt this crushing pressure to tell EVERYTHING. Which is not only boring, it makes you tonguetied. Where to begin? How to stop? Oh, god, you forgot to say something! Oh, wait, you got the sequence wrong! I finally decided it was the wrong strategy for writing about this particular divorce, which is a story not to be told blow-by-blow, but rather as I get to it, out of sequence or not.

      Basically I’m kind of backing off and starting over. It’s awfully nice to have the luxury of doing so. In print, you never get a second chance.

  5. Celeste permalink
    February 11, 2011 9:40 pm

    Happy birthday! Welcome home! You were missed.

  6. Geraldine permalink
    February 11, 2011 9:42 pm

    I stumbled on this blog a couple weeks ago, and havebeen gobbling up what you’ve written here and at Babble. Thank you. I’m in the midst of a divorce (with kids), which is still not resolved though I moved out 18 months ago, and it’s just awfully companionable to hear about someone else’s experience.
    I’m finally commenting to say happy birthday!

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      February 13, 2011 12:14 pm

      Thank you, and good luck with everything. It does get better. Things resolve glacially, though. It’s kind of amazing how slowly the wheels of divorce grind…

  7. February 11, 2011 10:47 pm

    Happy birthday, IB! Your birthday retreat sounds absolutely divine, and I look forward to reading more about it to help me move through this rather cold, grey winter.

    I commented over at Babble about how I didn’t know too much about our mortgage, which is true. And I completely subscribe to another reader’s point of view that living through one’s life or marriage as if you’re expecting disaster isn’t a particularly fun way to live one’s life. So, my husband has inherited the mantle of “financial guy,” but only because that is where his interests lie. Do I know my exact mortgage payment this second? No. But in about three seconds I could look it up online and in several more seconds could find the document in our home. I just don’t choose to retain this information or fret about it too much. If I need to I can, if I need to I can hire a financial advisor to help me.

    I manage our household accounts (my goodness, that makes me sound positively Victorian!) but I don’t read the financial section of the newspaper to figure out which is the best investment and what about this new blah-blah thingy. Because if I did I’d cry.

    Like you, I’ve stayed at home (with small freelance work) to look after our kids. Is that the wisest decision if we decide to divorce or if either of us dies? Maybe not. But we’re living a life that we like and enjoy. I’m confident that either one of us could expand our skill set if the need arises.

  8. February 11, 2011 11:48 pm

    Happy Birthday! albeit a little late. it’s wonderful you went away and had such a relaxing time on your b’day! your mom sounds like the coolest mom ever!!
    welcome back! it’s great to read your writing again. thank you for that!

  9. Maggie permalink
    February 13, 2011 12:10 am

    Loved “mephitic.” I feel like I never learn new words anymore. So thanks, that’s a great one.


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