April 4, 2015: Easter 09...What a Difference Six Years Can Make....

Grant and I...Easter dinner at the Outback
This morning I vividly remembered back to an Easter six years ago. I hadn't thought about this for some time. But somehow this seemingly forgotten memory resurrected itself. 

Easter weekend was tough that year. Thus why I have likely tried to forget. But with each passing year, I see this journey as a lesson and the tough times, ultimately a blessing.

My finding a family video labeled "Christmas 2008" probably stirred this memory. Christmas Day of 2008 was just two weeks after our filing for divorce. The news was an unpleasant surprise to our three boys. Still in shock, this was our first post-divorce holiday with my attempting to create normalcy as a 'new kind of family'. Their dad and I were continuing holiday traditions; trying to keep intact our cherished Christmas morning of opening gifts.

As I viewed the abandoned video footage on my computer, Garrett watched over my shoulder. What I thought was a very typical Christmas morning looked much different from my eyes six years later.

At the time I remember describing our Christmas together as "very nice" and "just like all the others". My PollyAnna attitude would accept nothing less than postivity following my mantra of 'everything was going to be alright'. I convinced myself that this Christmas setting was normal and the boys were just fine.

Viewing it six years later showed a different story. Ben seemed detached. Zach was forcing pleasantries, playing my second in trying to act normal. And Grant was so, so very young; trying to please and for us all to be the happy family he loved.

As the video was concluding and without me saying a word, Garrett's commentary summed it up.

"This is so sad to watch."

Amazing that I thought it was all just fine at the time. You really can't force happy.

The next official holiday for our 'new kind of family' that year was Easter. In these short four months since Christmas, life had changed dramatically. Scott and I were no longer rosy and smiles to each other. There wasn't remotely a consideration that our family of five would celebrate this holiday together with a rolling family video camera in the background.

Every decision in co-parenting stuck to the Parenting Plan, our new family Bible. "Odd numbered years, Easter with Father. Drop off from Mother's house at 6:00 pm the night prior and return 9:00 am the morning after." Our kids were now parented and 'shared' based off of a three page document drawn up by attorneys.

I found myself numb with the reality of my new life. Nothing seemed positive. I was grieving the loss of my little family unit. At the same time it became apparent to me that I lost my extended family as well. Easter was always with my ex-husband's large and loving family. And it had always included me. Not this year. I would be alone.

During these months of divorce and co-parenting turbulence, I had met with a female attorney specializing in family law issues. I thought she could fix the unfixable.

This attorney had been through her own divorce. In retrospect the advice she gave me was good counsel. She knew my pain and tried to reach me, woman to woman. But I was too buried in my own grief of losing my family. Instead of being open to her words, I wallowed in self-pity.

"You need to stop focusing on the Parenting Plan," she told me. "Live your lives and let your kids be kids. The biggest problem my ex and I have to deal with is when our son forgets his soccer shoes at the other house. That should be the extent of what they need to worry about as it relates to how you and your ex co-parent."

Although I was trying to be strong and professional, I broke into tears. I cried as she silently handed me a box of Kleenex. I truly believed this woman didn't have a clue. She had no idea what my life was like or how this wasn't a possibility in my situation. I was fighting for my kids. Why did she think she was my counselor when I needed a good attorney? I left her office and never returned.

I now understand and relate to every word she said. She was wise in advising me that court systems and court-appointed professionals (attorneys...child psychologists...counselors...the list continues...), could not fix my problem. After a six year journey that includes similar painful family issues with those close to me, I completely get it. The legal system, with even the best intentions, cannot fix families.    

As Easter continued to loom as an empty entry in my Outlook calendar, there was a point in time when I consciously chose to stop wallowing in self-pity and start thinking about someone other than myself. With a some prayerful reflection and an open heart, God led me down the right path.

Within twenty-four hours of this revelation, my Outlook calendar was full.

I got Grant to smile
The plans began with many of my close friends meeting the boys and I for an early Easter meal at Outback Steakhouse. Although unconventional, I had reconciled with myself that spending time together was all that mattered, rather than fulfilling my desire to be together on the actual holiday.

We filled two tables for a late afternoon dinner before I dropped the boys off at their dad's per my designated time in the Parenting Plan. Although there was laughter and smiles, the pictures taken show the rawness of the situation. The boys were struggling too, but we all made the best of it.

After dinner, my Aunt Joan and niece, Emma, joined me for the Easter vigil service at Boys Town. We made a Costco run for supplies needed for the planned Sunday festivities. Until dark, the three of us filled fifty tissue gift bags with little toiletries and goodies for the residents of a nearby retirement home. The rest of my night I was alone. I filled my remaining time with a trip to the grocery store for purchases of breakfast items and then sipped a glass of wine while preparing food for the morning.

Our planned Easter Day activities revolved around giving back to others who also were not able to enjoy the holiday with their families. God worked at my heart in making me aware that I was not the only one feeling lonely that Easter.

In twenty-four hours of Easter planning, I had called the Ronald McDonald House and a nearby retirement home to find out that nothing had been planned for their current residents on Easter Sunday. Although there were masses to be given and visitors
Emma and Joanie wrapping
stopping by, the administration of both facilities opened their arms to my offers of treating those unable to leave their residences.

And my friends and family rallied. They took time out of their own family Easter gatherings to help out. On short notice, this troop showed up at the Ronald McDonald House with a buffet line of rolls, juices, fruit, and a variety of breakfast casseroles. Joanie brought beanie babies out of her collection to give to the kids along with Easter baskets. My niece, Ky, played with the kids while Robbie and Leslie talked to the mothers over coffee, sharing some adult friendship.
A group picture in front of the Ronald McDonald House

The next stop was the nursing home. Our troop had thinned down as many went on to join their own family Easter celebrations. Russ, Robbie, Joanie and I took on the nursing home adventure together. Although small in number, we were well equipped to take care of each of the residents.

Joan pulled a wagon full of beanie babies for each to choose from while Russ held the box of tissue-wrapped gifts. Robbie handed out these gifts while I introduced my little Maltese, Harry, who was leashed by my side. Harry was happy to meet the residents as they showed great surprise at the sight of a dog in their room.

Phil loved our company and gifts!
The experience was exceptional. We were overwhelmed with the excitement of the folks we came to greet. They loved the colorful beauty of the tissued gifts and the treasures wrapped in them. Harry was the most popular of the six of us. I quickly surmised that one is never too old to find pure joy in both a tiny stuffed animal and furry little creature of God.

Our night ended with my begging Russ and Robbie to join me for dessert at my next-door-neighbor's, the Shimerda's. What started as acceptance of some leftover Easter cake turned into a night of drinking wine and sharing stories until the wee hours of the night. It got so late that Tom Shimerda fed us a heated-up dinner of their leftover Easter ham and potatoes. The kindness of my neighbors brought a happy closure to an unconventional Easter.

And now we are celebrating Easter 2015. What a difference six years can make.

Just last weekend Scott called and asked what I had planned for Easter this year as the boys were with me this weekend. For the record, neither of us has looked at the Parenting Plan in years.

"Oh, I don't know. Do you have plans with your family? Just take the boys with you. Garrett and I will go to church and we can always just take the boys to dinner the night before." 

Overhearing, Ben commented on how much it meant to him that his dad and I get along so well. He went on to give examples of when he sees others not in a good divorce situation and then said "you and dad aren't like that". Although it was Ben sharing with me this sentiment, I know it to be true for all three boys.

I used to tell myself that the best gift I gave to my kids was to forgive and move on. But in reality, it was the best gift I ever gave to myself. The kids have just been the lucky recipients. And know that this statement is not all about my choices and actions. 

As I have always pointed out, it took two of us to get to the point of divorce. It also took two of us to forgive each other and treat each other with kindness. And it sure makes for a happy life. One that is impossible without both parents getting over themselves for the good of their family.

Tonight will certainly include dinner of some sort. Tomorrow the boys are going to the Lane Easter celebration in Kansas City while Garrett and I celebrate God's blessings together here in Omaha. That's it for my Easter planning this year.

And as for Scott and my biggest problem in co-parenting these days; we really need get Grant to stop forgetting his soccer shoes at the other's house......


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