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How I Spent My Summer Vacation

November 19, 2013


My ex-husband moved. Dear readers, those of you who assured me that the Cottage Formerly Known as Dream was not the answer to all my prayers were absolutely correct. Had I gotten what I wanted back in 2010, I would have been out on the street in 2013. “The landlords need me out by July, so their daughter can move in,” my ex-husband told me back in May, sounding a bit frantic.

A happy, self-actualized, independent ex-wife would have left him to sort the particulars of his own life out. A happy, self-actualized, independent ex-husband would have been capable of sorting his own particulars. I wonder, sometimes, whether fucked-up marital relationships are doomed to persist, forever and ever, as long as the ex-spouses continue to interact. I bring out the worst in my ex-husband, I fear, and he brings out the absolute worst in me.

So, and predictably, I became obsessed with his move. I scoured Craigslist and the classified section of our tiny town’s tiny weekly newspaper, which he stubbornly refused to look at. I found him a house nearby. I found another. I found a third. Some he looked at, some he ignored, all were unsatisfactory. Eventually, he found a house in a town half an hour away–a town where he knows no one, a town that is moderately convenient to the children’s school and not at all convenient to my house nor to his lab. He took the children to look at it, signed a lease, and I went quietly ballistic.

What the fuck, I said to myself (and to my boyfriend, and to consoling-windows friend, and everyone who crossed paths with me, and anyone who foolishly picked up the phone when I called) was his problem? Had he forgotten that the children spend the whole summer with me, all day every day, and that our older son’s job and our younger son’s half-assed half-day camp both were located here, in my town, half an hour away from his new house? Was he planning to drive them every single morning over to me by eight thirty a. m.? Was he then planning to pick them up after work at my house, when he deigned to come and get them for “his” evenings? What about when school started? Had he forgotten that school ends in the afternoon, and he doesn’t get home till evening? What about sports? Had he forgotten that he leans heavily on the kindness of neighbors with children on our kids’ teams, who drive them to and fro when he doesn’t want to?

I raged, I fumed, I counted the ways he was an imbecile. And then I woke up one morning, after weeks of this, and thought, what the hell. It’s his stupid life to lead wherever he wants, and it’s not the end of the world

So the moral of the story is that I’m a bossy domineering jerk. Getting bent out of shape was a waste of time and energy. Besides, it probably gave me shingles.

Surrounded By Children

The kids were with me every day all summer. They talked non stop and ate like locusts and made it impossible to get work done, but I was in such a state, most of the time, that I didn’t care. I wish I could say that they were a glorious distraction, that they sensed that I was out of sorts and tense and sad, but they were oblivious, which is (I suppose) a good thing. You don’t want your kids worrying about you, tiptoeing around you.

My boyfriend’s younger daughter and my younger son flew by themselves down to South Carolina to visit my mom for a week. They marched right on the plane without so much as a backward look, carping at each other like an old married couple, dragging their wheeled suitcases behind them. (They’re now 12 and 11, grades seven and six, in case you’ve lost track.) Meanwhile, my boyfriend’s older daughter and my older son went to look at colleges with their other respective parents and ended up, at one school they visited, on the same tour. “It’s a real pain in the neck explaining who we are,” my son told me, when he got home. “So we just say we’re brother and sister now.” He has a point–“My mom’s boyfriend’s daughter, who’s here with her mom, actually, and I’m here with my dad, and they don’t know each other, so it’s a bit odd,” is cumbersome. Still, the brother/sister thing unsettles me slightly.

So now my boyfriend’s ex and mine have been officially introduced, and I wonder what they made of each other. If the kids end up going to college together–they’ve both applied early decision to the same place–this sort of thing will become commonplace.

We couldn’t manage a week away with all four kids this year–their various sports and jobs and camps made it impossible to coordinate. But in late August we drove in two cars with three of the four up to my mother’s rented house in Maine, stopping along the way to camp by the ocean near an old boarding school friend of mine. My boyfriend’s older daughter rode shotgun in my car the whole way. On both long days of driving, she talked for about six hours straight and made me laugh so hard I almost drove off the road.

For years and years–since my children were born, come to think of it–people saw fit to warn me about teenagers. Oh, you like your kids now, but just wait a few more years. Then you’ll really be in for it, these same people predicted darkly. Well, why wouldn’t they be right? After all, everyone knows that teenagers are monstrous. I never thought to question anyone. I just figured I’d deal with the problems as they came. I know I’m not out of the woods–bad things could come up at any moment!–but so far so good. And neither my boyfriend’s seventeen-year-old daughter nor my seventeen-year-old son are perfect by any standards, but my god do they ever entertain us.

Hideously, Pointlessly Furious With Family

Here’s a dire prediction that did, in fact, come true:  Families tear each other to pieces over the most ridiculous things. It’s not just money, though of course there is that, too. What has become apparent since my grandmother’s death is that she was not only the emotional center of our clan, but the ethical and moral center, too–both the glue that held us together and the whip that made everyone behave. Without her, we’re vicious and nasty and utterly adrift. I don’t know how other families cope with death. I don’t know how other families divvy up property and renegotiate their places in the hierarchy of siblings and cousins and parents and children. I do know that my family seems to be doing everything badly, with no thought to long-term harmony and a good deal of cutting-off-noses-to-spite-our-faces. It’s horrifying, and I’m glad my grandmother isn’t alive to see it.


37 Comments leave one →
  1. November 19, 2013 2:01 pm

    Entertainment! Yes! That’s why I had kids! At least, that’s why I had the second two.

    I imagine it will take years for your family to find its place in itself. And it will never be the same, but hopefully it will grow into something mostly tolerable and occasionally exactly right. Until then, read plenty of Nancy Mitford.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      November 19, 2013 7:12 pm

      Nancy Mitford is actually kind of perfect for my family, except we’re not as eccentric or charming or rich, alas.
      And kids ARE wildly amusing, especially as they get older. Who knew?

  2. November 19, 2013 2:16 pm

    Glad you’re back!

    My cousin is a lawyer and says the saddest part of his job is to watch families quibble over inheritance. After my grandmother’s memorial service my aunt and uncle laid out the last of the unclaimed items from her home for the grandchildren to go through. We took turns selecting mugs and plates and ornaments. It was sad and there was no fighting, and my cousin just smiled to himself and said there were other people who would rant and rage over such decisions and he was glad we weren’t them. We’ve had other elements of our family crumble since the death of our matriarch, but at least we were spared that pettiness.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      November 19, 2013 7:14 pm

      I feel so guilty for vanishing for so long. And I can’t tell you how many people have told me that they’ve seen families quit speaking over, like, mugs or plates or ornaments. Is it worse when it’s money, or more understandable? Or is it exactly the same ghastliness?

  3. November 19, 2013 2:19 pm

    Nancy Mitford is a great suggestion btw!

    And welcome back – you have been missed

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      November 19, 2013 7:15 pm

      Thank you. I will try to write more. I’m rather shamed.

  4. November 19, 2013 3:12 pm

    Sorry about the shitty bits, but it is such a pleasure to read a post by you. Was wondering if you’d quit for good just the other day. So glad you haven’t.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      November 19, 2013 7:16 pm

      Thank you. I’ve just been kind of hovering around, off line as much as possible. But I wouldn’t just VANISH without saying goodbye….

    • May 25, 2016 8:23 am

      Many many quialty points there.

  5. November 19, 2013 3:28 pm

    Welcome back. I’m sorry for all the angst your summer brought, though the trips sound like good times. I enjoyed the summer before each of my kids started their senior year ~ lots of growing up to do and things to talk about. You’re doing something right if your boyfriend’s daughters like you at all, never mind riding with you and talking.

    I know it’s not easy…but at the end of this post I thought, “What an interesting life.”

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      November 19, 2013 7:16 pm

      My boyfriend’s daughters are very very very easy to like. They’re great. And you are very kind. It IS an interesting life, thank you.

  6. Anon for now permalink
    November 19, 2013 4:43 pm

    How nice to read you again. And oh, my lord, can I relate. My soon-to-be-ex-husband is surreptitiously house hunting, and I am biting my fingers with all my might to avoid bossing him about. And he’s looking at house 20 minutes away, in terrible neighborhoods, etc. What the hell is wrong with men?! I’m very sad to hear about your family strife. We had some adjusting to do after my father died, but we emerged mostly unscathed. Hang in there, my dear.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      November 19, 2013 7:20 pm

      Every single god damned time one of the inconveniences I’d gnashed my teeth over came to pass–EVERY SINGLE TIME–my ex-husband got an utterly blank expression on his face, like he had never once considered what on earth to do when (say) a pair of cleats needed to get from one house to another, or the soccer game in my town fell on a day the kids happened to be in his. The mind boggles.

  7. Ellie permalink
    November 19, 2013 8:22 pm

    So glad you wrote!

  8. Ellie permalink
    November 19, 2013 8:36 pm

    Shouldn’t ”my dad’s girlfriend’s daughter” read ”my mom’s boyfriend’s daughter”, or your family is even more complex then I thought?

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      November 19, 2013 8:56 pm

      Oh, god, you’re right. Changing it now. Am moron.

  9. MumMum permalink
    November 20, 2013 12:53 am

    I came across your blog when i googled “irretrievably broken” looking for words that could encompass the nightmare that has become my life. In your absence i have absorbed every single post and have been eagerly awaiting more. Thank you for your eloquence, for phrasing emotions that, as i experience them, are made so lucid through your words. Your blog has helped me through so many days when i felt i could not face another minute at the office keeping a brave face.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      November 20, 2013 9:35 am

      I’m so sorry you’re in the middle of such a dreadful stage in life. But it is a stage…only a stage, you will pass through it, and you will be happy again, and take that happiness completely for granted. I promise. And thank you so much for commenting…I’m delighted the blog has helped, and I wish you all the best in the world.

  10. jen permalink
    November 20, 2013 12:56 am

    So nice to hear from you. And I am so sorry your family has been falling apart in the wake of your grandmother’s death — I shuddered in recognition. When my grandmother died the explicit fighting over stuff and money was minimal, but on the other hand grownup people behaved (and are still behaving!) very badly in terms of sibling relations, pulling crap that they would never have indulged in had she still been alive. It sucks.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      November 20, 2013 9:36 am

      It really does! It’s quite amazing. It seems to me that it’s probably just as easy to err on the side of kindness, but everyone is snapping at each other like rabid dogs. There’s zero comfort in it, to say the very least.

  11. SarahB permalink
    November 20, 2013 8:13 am

    Just glad you are back! And I admire the grace your son and boyfriend’s daughter demonstrated on their college tour.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      November 20, 2013 9:43 am

      The kids are all right. They’re good kids. The only reason I even heard about it was because one of my son’s friends from school happened to be on the same tour with her mother (small world) and said, “Who’s that girl you’re hanging around with?” Hence, the “My mom’s boyfriend’s daughter who’s here with her mom, who’s right over there, and there’s my dad, and they’ve never met till now, even though I’ve met her mom and she’s met my dad, and…oh, never mind. She’s my sister. Stepsister. Kind of. Whatever.” There wasn’t any sense that something weird or uncomfortable happened, just an interesting anecdote and a bit of a “Could you guys please get married so we wouldn’t have to explain at length who we are to each other, already?”

  12. Melospiza permalink
    November 20, 2013 1:21 pm

    Ooh, an Irretrievably Broken post! A little treat in the day’s slog.
    My sympathies on all the upheaval, although it sounds like there are some sweet compensations (children who joke! vs. just tell knock knock jokes and/or swagger about smugly) (I may be somewhat difficult to entertain).

    And speaking of compensations, I wonder, jealously, if there is a balance between large and complex families with lots of sustaining closeness and the bitterness that follows a death…as someone whose family of quiet keep-to-ourselvers never sustained much but never fought much, either, since there was nothing in particular to fight for, there seems something to be wistful about even in the bitterness. And things will fall out, and even out, and get better, surely they will.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      November 20, 2013 5:39 pm

      Right now I feel like our family is large and complex with very little sustaining closeness, but I see what you’re saying. My grandmother wasn’t fierce, but she kept everyone in line somehow. I’m trying to figure out how she did it with nothing but kindness, and follow suit. Not to sound like a pollyanna or anything, but there’s no point in resentment. BESIDES, IT PROBABLY GAVE ME SHINGLES, TOO.

  13. nancyk permalink
    November 20, 2013 7:49 pm

    You are so lucky the step-parent/step child interactions are going so well…I know you’re not married yet but…my 10 year old twin daughters are sweet, good girls and yet their new step mother is mean to them -strict and yelling at them all the time. What is wrong with this woman? Doesn’t she want them to like her?

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      November 20, 2013 10:41 pm

      She’s a moron. My ex-husband’s girlfriend has forever earned my sons’ devotion by baking cakes with them and being sweet to them non stop. They’re pushovers, I admit…but you’d think, in your case, that a new stepmother would certainly aim to err on the side of unwicked.

  14. November 20, 2013 9:44 pm

    It’s so great to see a post from you! Good luck to your son with his college admissions. It’s wonderful you have a great relationship with your boyfriend’s daughters. I’m sorry about the family fallout after your grandmother’s passing. It’s so sad, and so utterly stupid. Though, it does seem that many families face that. It doesn’t make sense at all.
    Most of all, it’s great to read your post!

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      November 20, 2013 10:42 pm

      Thank you, thank you. Fingers crossed re college, indeed. I’m delighted you are still reading.

  15. November 20, 2013 10:56 pm

    i’m so glad you’re back, too… and i was just this very afternoon thinking of your dream cottage, and seething just a bit over the damned injustice of your ex stealing it out from under you, even though that was years ago and i know it all worked out in the end! my own bitterness, misdirected. i’m glad it wasn’t you out on the street!

    in your absence, the drama of my own impending divorce has taken on proportions far more horrific than i ever could have dreamed. well, there’s no violence, i don’t mean to sound melodramatic, but as it turns out, for the entire duration of our “attempted reconciliation”–ten months! constant therapy! meetings! hundreds of thousands of words poured forth from my heart via email, text, and old fashioned pleading–my husband was carrying on with a former student of his, a woman i met once, while she was his student, at a party where she was so drunk she could barely stand. for the most part, your blog gives me great comfort and a sense that i could, potentially, find the sort of happiness and enlargement of my family that you and your boyfriend have found. but i have to admit that your description of the car ride with his daughter brought tears to my eyes. the thought that my daughter might–potentially, who the hell knows–have such a positive relationship with the woman who helped destroy my marriage makes me want to die. i know it’s in everyone’s best interest for the kids to like the new additions to their parents’ lives. i know i cannot go on forever hating this woman (or my husband) as much as i currently do. and i know that you didn’t enter into your relationship the way my husband and his girlfriend embarked upon theirs. but still, it breaks my heart for the thousandth time to think that some day, this woman might be a cherished part of my daughter’s life. it’s like the final twist of the knife, you know?

    i realize it happens all the time. maybe some of your readers have advice about how one makes peace with such a thing.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      November 20, 2013 11:10 pm

      Oh, honey. I don’t replace their mother, I don’t come close, even. I’m not their mother. I’m not like a stepmother. I’m not even like an aunt, or someone who has known them since babyhood, or a teacher. I’m frankly not even a big deal in their lives. Weeks go by when they don’t even think about me, I’m sure. I’m not particularly cherished. They don’t miss me when we’re apart. I’m someone they like okay, and someone they have fun with when they see. That’s it. It’s a lovely thing, but my god, it’s nothing like being a mother.

      Did you ever have a friend of your parents–of either of your parents–whom you especially liked, whom you got along with? Did that friend take away from your love for your parents? I’m betting no. I’m betting there are plenty of people you think warmly of, grown ups who were kind of around when you were little or when you were older or even while you were growing up. The special grown ups, even. The ones who remembered your birthday, the ones you occasionally confided in, maybe?

      If you can think of your daughter having that kind of relationship with anyone–a friend of yours, let’s say–and be okay with it, then you should be just fine. I promise you, your place in her affections is not at risk. A new girlfriend, any girlfriend, is absolutely no threat to you. I’m no threat whatsoever to my boyfriends’ kids mother.

      Does that help at all? I swear on my own two children, (who like their dad’s girlfriend very much, by the way–but it’s nothing like the way they feel about me) that you are secure in your daughter’s affection. Do not worry. I’m so so sorry to hear you’ve had such a dreadful year. I’ve been thinking of you, checking your website, hoping you’d resurface.

      If other readers have more to add, please add it. But please do remember first and foremost that your daughter would probably be incredulous at the idea that anyone, ANYONE, could come close to you in her esteem. It just doesn’t work like that, no matter who the new girlfriend/stepmother turns out to be.

      (I like my stepmother a lot. I even love her. And I never pitted her against my mom in my mind. It doesn’t work that way. Same with my stepfather/father. They were separate categories somehow…one did not take away from the other.)

  16. irretrievablybroken permalink*
    November 20, 2013 11:42 pm

    And actually, having thought about this a few minutes more, I realize that in my particular childhood, my stepmother was the one jealous of/threatened by my mother, even though by the time my stepmother met my father he had been divorced for several years (and she was herself divorced with a small child, and my mother had since remarried). I don’t know why my stepmother felt this way, but she did. It was hard for her. I was oblivious till much later, of course. Anyway, the heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing, and jealousy is immune to logic, but maybe it helps to realize that what you’re feeling is based on your (entirely understandable) fury at your ex, and not on any real threat to your mother/daughter bond? Am I making sense at all, or just babbling incoherently?

    • November 21, 2013 3:05 pm

      not babbling, certainly not, and thank you for your kind reassurance. on some level i know you’re right, and i know that a lot of what i’m feeling actually goes way back beyond even my fury at my ex, to the fury of a little girl whose father remarried to a crazy woman and then failed utterly to protect his little girl from her crazy. it’s “that drunk slut can have my ex, she deserves him–but she can’t have my kids.” (and believe me, the feminist in me HATES that i use the s-word, but that’s just how angry i am…) it’s just been such a long 6 weeks or so, so much to accept–the unfathomable deception, the relentless betrayal, the realization that he never meant to work things out, not from the very first day, and now, the knowledge that he will go blithely on with this woman he “loves,” despite the agony i feel. i have to be the grownup here–i have to maintain a working relationship with him for the sake of my kids, i have to resist the urge to burn his belongings and set fire to her car… the idea that i should be forced to accept that my children like her? it’s too much to ask. i don’t feel like i can really be pushed much farther. but i have no power here. she’ll get pregnant, or they’ll move in together, something–it’s out of my hands. he’s a prick, and that’s all there is to it.

      living well may be the best revenge….but writing well is a pretty close second 🙂

  17. Annie D. permalink
    November 21, 2013 7:31 pm

    Oh god. My kids’ dad will be looking for a house next summer and I see exactly this playing out. I keep wondering if I should try to convince him that we’d be better off living near each other, with him in the kids’ school neighborhood. But I couldn’t talk sense into him when we were married and I certainly can’t now. I will learn from you. He can lead his own stupid life wherever he wants. At least the overlap with my now non-stupid life is relatively narrow.

    I love your blog to excess. I found it over the summer when I was not even a year past the divorce that took my then-husband of almost twenty years and me by shocked surprise as the neighbors looked on, titillated. I inhaled your blog archives like they were cocaine, hoping I could find some indication I would eventually feel normal again. I discovered that I wasn’t insane for what I was feeling and experiencing.

    But one year past the final divorce, planning for the second set of split holidays, I’m feeling further from normal than ever. I’m trying to accept that another woman could replace me, even as I am thrilled by and satisfied with with the man in my life. The man in my life is not actually a replacement for the man I left, but instead a key part of the revised life I want to lead now. So perhaps I have not been replaced, but rather my ex has moved on. I should be happy for that after I caused so much pain. Instead I worry about how my replacement is prettier than I am, more successful than I am, and better with eyeliner. I am not a bossy domineering jerk (though I can be), I am an envious petty wreck.

    Please write more!

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      November 25, 2013 12:17 pm

      You haven’t been replaced, not even by your ex. I’ve written about this before from my perspective–and I was the one who left. Nothing can replace the years you had together and the history you have. It’s one nice thing about going out with another divorced person–there’s never any question that what you have together is categorically completely different than what he/she had before, when married.
      Think of it this way: the new person could just as well be an envious petty wreck of all the things you had with your ex that she will never have. All the firsts, all the years, all the milestones. Doesn’t that seem silly, in a way? Don’t you see why it would be futile for her to think that? To waste time worrying about that?
      Then turn it around, and don’t give your ex’s new squeeze a second thought. An ex with a new love interest is a million times easier to deal with than one who’s grumpy and lonely and alone.
      Best of luck with your new, non-stupid life. The holidays are rough. Things will look up once they’re over. Hang in there.

  18. Sarah permalink
    November 23, 2013 5:57 pm

    So glad you’re back.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      November 25, 2013 12:17 pm

      Oh, thank you. You’re awfully kind to say so.

  19. March 20, 2014 12:33 pm

    My name is Jessica Ruiz from Florida I have to give this miraculous testimony, which is so unbelievable until now. I had a problem with my Ex husband 2years ago, which lead to our break up. when he broke up with me, I was not my self again, i felt so empty inside me, my love and financial situation became worst, until a close friend of mine Lucy told me about a spell caster who helped her in the same problem too his name is Dr Shiva at hinduspelltemple@yahoo .com . I email Dr Shiva the spell caster and i told him my problem and i did what he asked of me, to cut the long story short. Before i knew what was happening my husband gave me a call and told me that he was coming back to me in just 2days and was so happy to have him back to me. We have two kids together and we are happy with ourselves. Thanks to Dr Shiva hinduspelltemple@yahoo .com for saving my relationship and for also saving others own too. continue your good work, If you are interested to contact him and testify this blessings like me, the great spell caster email address is hinduspelltemple@yahoo .com you are the best among all the spell caster online I hope you see my testimonies and also pray for my family too.

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