Posted by: itneverrainsinseattle | December 27, 2010

Our Last Christmas Together

On the Wednesday before Christmas, my soon-to-be-ex-wife (Penny) and I attended our third session with our divorce mediator.

I went into the meeting with a bit of trepidation. I’ve come to detect very subtle differences in his progress notes in how he refers to things Penny says versus things I say. When Penny says something, it’s recorded as fact. When I say something, it’s recorded as “Inris believes….”

Or at least, that’s what jumped out at me upon a quick reading of the mediator’s notes from the first two sessions. Just before this most recent session, I re-read them more carefully. Yes, that difference was still there. But it was verrry subtle, and in fact, it was also explainable given the context of our conversations. I went into our third meeting willing to accept the possibility that I was jumping at shadows, but nonetheless sensitive to the notion that there might be some bias at work.

Two things happened at the meeting that I didn’t expect. The first was that we cruised through the parenting plan and child support arrangements quickly and painlessly. Penny and I are agreed on all of the fundamental points, and the one minor point that remains to be pinned down is, well, not a deal breaker. The fact is, we’ve agreed to a narrow range on this one issue, we now just need to agree to a specific number. Since setting that number too high or too low could hurt either one of us depending upon the circumstances, we both have good reasons to meet in the middle. In fact, I suspect that’s exactly how we’ll resolve it; by meeting in the middle.

Having so successfully navigated those waters, we moved on to discussing the division of assets and liabilities. Again, the conversation went quickly and smoothly.

At some point during the conversation, I realized that the proverbial bit had been switched for our mediator. Pardon my resorting to geek talk, but what I mean to say is: he came to a decision regarding me, and the decision was favorable. He perceptibly relaxed. He even commented toward the end that we seemed to be handling things just fine and were likely to wrap up negotiations long before the waiting period is over for the divorce paperwork.

So the second surprise of the session came when he asked if we had picked a date to officially separate financially. Had we “drawn a line in the sand?” At our shoulder shrugging and head shaking, he asked if the last day of the calendar year made sense. I said it made sense to me. And then Penny….

You have to understand that Penny plays her proverbial cards very close to the vest. I have no idea how much the mediator picked up on, but while Penny hesitated and said something to the effect that she was concerned about picking a date without actually knowing the current state of our finances, I detected outright, deer-in-the-headlights panic.

After a few beats, the mediator dropped it. “Well, this isn’t anything we have to decide now. Just something to think about.” But yes, I think a decision point has, in fact, arrived, and Penny is worried.

She has reason to be concerned. So do I. Neither of us really knows for sure how the next few months (or years, for that matter) will play out for us, financially. We are both counting on somewhat risky propositions. And while my contract is likely to remain viable for the next six months and possibly beyond, Penny’s optimism that our business will continue to sustain her when she no longer has my paycheck as her safety net, well… it’s a sobering proposition.

This all meant that the mediation session ended on an odd note. On the one hand, the road ahead seemed not only very clearly mapped out, but also that we were closer to wrapping this up than I’d expected. My mood was surprisingly light after coming in with so much trepidation. And yet, Penny now showed signs of hesitation. I don’t think it crossed her mind to doubt our getting divorced, but rather, the reality of it may have snuck up on her and made her wonder if she was prepared.

*****

Penny and I have each signed leases for new rental houses. The two houses are at opposite ends of a neighborhood park, but are not within sight of each other. Penny and I agreed not to tell the children about our divorce before Christmas (in an effort to avoid having them link Christmas to bad news) nor immediately after, but we’re finding it increasingly difficult to dodge that particular conversation. The boys know that a move is coming, and Penny and I find ourselves needing to coordinate logistics around holiday-season sales that end (or have ended) this week. We have decided to tell them no later than this coming Thursday, and we will be presenting this as opportunity, not tragedy.

Our current plan is to tell them that we will be moving into different, but nearby, houses, and then after taking any questions (and making sure they understand that they will be taken care of, that we both love them all very much, and so on), we’ll take them on a tour of the new houses and the park. We also plan to offer our oldest the choice of finishing the school year at his current elementary or switching to the new local school (where he also has friends). I suspect he’ll elect to finish out the year at his current school, which I’m sure Penny and I will be able to accommodate without too much strain.

*****

I suspect that we will formally separate our finances by the end of this calendar year (ie, by the end of this week). We have too many things to start addressing in setting up our respective new homes, and keeping our finances co-mingled through all of that will be all pain and no gain.

We talked about it briefly on Sunday. Penny asked what my understanding of our current financial situation is (ie, how much money do I have left in my bank account, given all of the lease-related checks I’ve had to write both for myself and for the joint account on her behalf). It’s a reasonable question, and I gave her my best assessment of the situation, but then I also pointed out that the answer wouldn’t really change anything. Neither a large nor a small balance in my account would be good reason to prolong the divorce.

She acknowledged the point, but then she made one of her own: it’s not so much about getting information to help make a decision, but rather, it’s about getting information to help deal with fear. And I completely relate. As I’ve said before, it’s my firm belief that fear is the mind’s way of telling us to prepare. Knowledge is a powerful antidote to fear, because it accomplishes exactly that: it helps us to prepare.

In divorce, fear is an enemy. It can cause people to act badly. I have some more thoughts on that subject that may be the topic for a future post….

*****

We stayed up until 4am after getting the kids to bed on Christmas Eve, wrapping presents and prepping the house for Christmas morning. The late hour was mostly because we’d both been over-committed to the point of not getting any wrapping done prior to Christmas Eve. We’ve experienced this fire drill a couple of times before, and we worked through it just as effectively as any time before.

Truth be told, this Christmas was, for me, a lot like most of our previous Christmas-with-kids. It was all about the kids. As such, there was no real dwelling on “you broke my heart,” or “woe is me; this is our last Christmas together.” It was Christmas As Usual.

It took much too long to get our 5-year-old to sleep on Christmas Eve, and I kept worrying that he would get up and come downstairs amidst our wrapping frenzy. But he didn’t. None of them did (and most nights, at least one of the kids will wake up in the middle of the night and get out of bed). We pulled it off.

The kids had a great Christmas morning. With cinnamon rolls to tide us over until brunch, and caffeinated beverages for the adults, the kids opened their presents in turn. There were a few under the tree for Penny and myself, as well, so I don’t think there was anything amiss on that front. The kids seemed to genuinely like their loot. And for that matter, the few gifts Penny and I exchanged were inexpensive and thoughtfully chosen and well received.

She opened the BIG box for her as one of the last gifts of the morning; the box that contained the Perfect Gift. She loved it. She said she loved the color (it matches the covers!), it’s nice and soft, and “it’s not leaking stuffing all over the place.”

In short, it’s everything a husband should be. (See the link to my previous post if you haven’t read it yet.)

After presents, I made us a big breakfast of bacon and eggs and all the trimmings. And after all… how bad can the day be if it involves bacon?

I’m also pleased to note that one of the other small, favorably received gifts I got for Penny was a book about building a successful business (Built to Last by James Collins and Jerry Porras), and she spent a large part of the day fending off the kids so that she could read it.

*****

So, this week I am likely going to be filing for divorce. There is a mandatory 90-day “cooling off” period in Washington State before a divorce can be finalized. That said, unless something unexpected comes up, we could end up finalizing our divorce on or near my birthday.

Also this week, Penny and I are likely going to sever our joint finances.

And by Thursday at the latest, we plan to tell our children about our separation and divorce.

It’s going to be a big week, this final week of the year.

So long, 2010. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.

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Responses

  1. Wow!!! It’s all really happening. Congrats and good luck.

  2. So glad to see all of this progress… It’s good that you finally decided to get the ball rolling, it won’t be long now until you can start picking up the pieces and making a new life for yourself. Also glad that everything seems to be amicable.

  3. Good luck, inris. I’m happy to hear things are moving. Movement is always better than limbo. Happy New Year and Happy New Life!

  4. Congrats, my friend. That’s a kick-ass way to end the year, and get the ball rolling to make 2011 the year of a new, better life.

    I foresee a celebratory El Gaucho dinner in our future…

  5. Wow. Your words grip me every time I read them, especially lately. You are a great story teller, even if the story has some sadness within it. I will say, you have done an amazing job doing this the right way, and maintaining a friendship (as much as can be) with Penny, and keeping your kids happy and satisified, even when you’ve probably felt less than sane. A quote I want to leave you with that I love (and got it from City Girl http://citygirlblogs.com/blog/the-bald-truth – she is amazing, if you don’t follow her) from Joyce Meyers “the opposite of fear is faith” – channel it, as it seems you already have been.

    Now, let’s get ready to live the shit out of 2011, shall we?!

  6. This is wonderful news, INRIS!! I can’t wait to read the next blog entry…and the one after that, and all the ones in 2011, as you begin your new single life.
    Life is GOOD, isn’t it??? HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

  7. Good luck.

  8. “In divorce, fear is an enemy. It can cause people to act badly.”

    lord, don’t i know it. that’s what ended up happening to me and my ex.

    as it happens, this was my first christmas without him. it was… a double-edged sword, especially considering i was also without my new man. i had to make my “via dolorosa” through the family as THE DIVORCED WOMAN, and it was as fun (heh) as i thought it would be. but i survived. somehow, some way, i got through it.

    hopefully, pulling the trigger will help you both get some closure. rooting for you…

  9. I don’t envy you any of this. Just know that I’m thinking of you. And hoping we talk soon. Miss you much, friend.

  10. First comments prior to reading the others’ input: The “deer in the headlights” Penny had at the mediator meeting was something I’ve been expecting. So far, based on the rest of your post, she seems to be adapting to this well. I read this as due in part to the holidays being in progress, but careful observation remains in order. There may be more histrionics before all is said and done as more awareness of your new realities occurs, especially if she has trouble with the business. Your calm manner and rational answers may well be called upon again. The wise man is prepared, and you regularly demonstrate you are wise. Steady as you go, Columbus!

    I’m going to keep my fingers crossed for you when you tell the kids. I’m feeling that Thursday is still a bit too soon, but I’m not the parent. I know that you and Penny have made a considered decision, so I will trust that you know better than I that telling them this soon after Christmas is the right thing to do.

    Now to read the others’ input.

    Magnolia’s last comment is the only one that inspires me to expound upon it. Closure is what you both are after. The end of your real-life novel isn’t going to be “Happily Ever After” like you once hoped, but it could be “No Regrets”. I honestly wish that, once all is said and done, you both can say that you learned something positive and important from your shared experiences. In a sense, you’ll always have Paris. I hope so, anyway.

  11. glad you were able to enjoy your last christmas as a family – hope the talk with your kids goes well.

  12. Great last line. When I’ve had a year that was a bit too eventful for my tastes … yes, my sentiments exactly. Continued good luck.

  13. I’m sure that conversation with the kids is playing on your mind – I hope that it goes as well as can be expected.

    I think you’re right about Penny’s fear – it’s really coming down to it. Has she figured out a budget/expenses – that helped me tremendously although my initial reaction was to be very miserly and cut back on all spending. Then I relaxed and got a better handle on things.

    Thinking of you,

  14. WOW. Sending you all the strength I can muster for the final push through this. It sounds like a lovely Christmas for everyone. Now, onward.

    xxoo

  15. Everything’s better with bacon! (Come to think of it, maybe I should eat bacon every day…)
    😉


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