Being Exes Without Exing Family Bonds

When people find out that my ex and I are still friends and we do things together as a family (that we’re exes without exing family relationships), I get a lot of:

Wow! That’s wonderful. I really admire you. How do you do that?

I typically shrug (it’s an honest shrug) and respond:

Why would we not do this?

I sometimes go on to explain how we found ourselves here. It goes something like this.

Rounding the Bend Begins with Forgiveness

I was sitting across the teak patio table from my mom when she started the rant again. A list of all the anger and disappointment points, all of the things for which she faulted (eternally it seemed) my now ex-husband.

I have long practiced tolerance for the difference in points of view (primarily political and religious) between my parents and myself. I respect their choices and typically skirt any embroiled discussion because that’s not what matters about my relationship to them, and, importantly, because their choices are authentic and deeply rooted in a belief system I have no intention of undoing.

This was different. Beyond a difference in belief and perspective, a future was at stake. The future of family relations.

Mom? Why are you still so angry? I’m not.

That was the first line of a new chapter in our family.

My mom and I had a long conversation that afternoon about anger, responsibility (I, after all, was not exempt from the problems in the marriage that ended), and forgiveness.

Father’s Days and Holidays

A few months later was Father’s Day weekend. Before the divorce, we had celebrated together at my parents’ place with the two fathers: mine and my children’s. For the two years since the divorce, our children had had to split special occasions and holidays between me and their dad. Mom asked about our plans for the upcoming Father’s Day.exes without exing

I’ll be here with you and dad but the kids will spend it with their Baba. 

Silence.

Later that week, my oldest asked about the plans too.

You and your brother and sister will spend the weekend with Baba. I’m going to the farm to spend the weekend with my dad. 

No silence.

Why can’t we all spend the day together?!

Indeed, I thought. Why not?

I made the phone call and suggestion to my mom. The affirmative answer came with restrictions, but it was a step. A step towards healing anger and mending relations.

I think we were all a little nervous, but we had a great, if sometimes awkward, reunited Father’s Day.

The next family holiday was Thanksgiving. This time my eldest was the first to bring up the plans. She asked: Please, let’s spend the day together. We did. Since then, our family, the broken nuclear family and the rebonded extended family, has come together for holidays, special events, and vacations.

High Roads and Easy Roads

I’ve been trying to write this post for over a year now. Not because it’s hard to write. The story of it spills out. The difficulty is that it might sound too proud or that others whose post divorce relationships were more challenging might feel judged. I don’t feel proud. I’m simply happy and blessed. The path we took as a family was the natural path for us. And I certainly don’t judge. Just as every marriage and family is unique, every divorce comes with its own hurdles and heartache.

I should emphasize too that I didn’t take the high road. Those I admire you’s often suggest that I did. Maybe we’re on the high road, but this was the easier road, the right relationship road. The beginnings of it were a little narrow and scary, but this road has proffered our family better holidays and special occasions, richer relationships, and a deeper understanding of where love and forgiveness lead.

Every time we have a family gathering, we hold hands in a circle before the meal and take turns saying what we’re grateful for. My mom’s gratitude, without exception, has always been or at least included:

I’m grateful for this family and for Ziad and Pennie, for how they keep this family together. 

Me too, mom. I’m especially grateful this was the easy road.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

Love Is a Four-Letter Word

“You never loved me!”

I didn’t answer back. At the time, I didn’t know how. The accusation wasn’t true, yet there was truth in it. I had loved my ex-husband, even in that moment, but my love wasn’t that our-hearts-beat-as-one love. The soulmate, I-can’t-live-without-you “true” love.

You never loved me!

I felt the raw pain in his accusation. After three children and more than fifteen years of marriage, there it was, this half-truth squatting uncomfortably on the shards of our relationship.

That moment haunted me for years. The untrue truth didn’t prompt the demise of our marriage (we had other problems), yet for years, I struggled with the notion that I had a defect in my love gears that made me incapable of “true” love.

Is true love a childish fantasy or daydream? I don’t think so. I know couples who have “true” love, who feel they are soulmates. At times, I felt envious. I compared myself and wondered, “Why can’t I have that? Am I broken?”

In an effort to untangle the nature of my love mechanism and hoping to find out what was broken, I committed hours of thought and energy to these questions.  I looked in, but I also looked out.

Looking out, I became aware that assumptions often made about “true” love and other relationships fall apart on scrutiny. Couples who feel they are soulmates are not without their ups and downs and missteps. Even soulmates must work on right relationship. Couples who don’t fancy themselves soulmates can enjoy depth of commitment and compassion. Old solid relationships may still have embarrassing middle-school moments, and budding ones often work through hurdles with maturity and wisdom.

Love

My parents paddling into the 60th year of their journey

Looking out, I confirmed what I already knew:

Romantic love comes in many sizes, shapes, and tones.

 

Looking in, I started defining the expectations I had going into a relationship and understanding the qualities I wanted in a partner and partnership. Pretty damn practical. Share in all things domestic, complete projects together yet have projects of our own, communicate with compassion and patience, journey together and journey apart. My list did not include requisites such as “must be my soulmate” or “I would die without him.”

The observations and introspection helped me understand that I wasn’t broken at all. Perhaps I guard my heart, perhaps my love is not “true” love as conceived by many. Yet I would argue that my love is true.

What makes it “true”?

 

I love my partner of ten years. We share, we fuss, we communicate, we have projects, we take trips, and we have independent interests and endeavors. Even though I don’t feel like we’re soulmates (he would argue we are), our love is good. True love? I would say that my love is true, yet I would hasten to point out that, were he to die tomorrow, I would not feel lost or devastated. I would be sad, deeply sad. I would mourn and grieve, but I would not fall apart. Is that because he’s not my soulmate? Is it because I guard my heart? I’m not sure what the answer is. I do believe, however, that the “trueness” of my love should not be measured by my dependence on the presence of that person.

For those who would accuse me of settling for a partner I can love instead of waiting for the soulmate I can’t live without, let me assure I didn’t settle. I chose. We chose each other. That said, I’m not writing this for those doubters. I’m writing this for the other people like me, who, at some point wondered if they were getting it all wrong, if they were incapable of true love, if they were broken because they couldn’t surrender their hearts with abandon. Perhaps our hearts are not wired for a soulmate quest or unfettered falls. Even so, our love is true.

Love is love.

We can make generalizations about love, define it, classify it, even qualify it. Those intellectual exercises confuse the love we live. I don’t believe in hard edges that define where you cross into or out of true love. Instead of ideals and definitions, I would have been better served as a young adult by this kind of advice:

  • Don’t chastise yourself if your love doesn’t fit a standard definition.
  • Observe others in love but don’t belittle your love for being different.
  • Your unique love journey should start from within, loving yourself, understanding your expectations and needs.
  • Be true to yourself and your love will be true.

My ex was a little right but mostly wrong. I did love him. In some ways I still do.

In the end, no matter what size, shape, or tone, love is love. Be true to it.

Copyright © 2015 (updated 2017) by Pennie Nichols, All Rights Reserved.

Confessions of an Eke Addict

Hi. My name is Pennie, and I’m an eke addict.

I eke things for everything they have. I like to squeeze all the life out of the foods and products that come into our home. A few of my peccadillos will sound familiar to some of you, even if you only slightly struggle with this addiction: boiling chicken bones or shrimp shells and heads to make broths, boiling rib bones to enhance the dog food, using compost buckets instead of garbage disposals, keeping a compost pile, and wishing the recycling truck would pass twice a week instead of once (the regular garbage truck could pass just once a month).

Although I’m an amateur addict, I know I am in advancing stages of this addiction because I have some less familiar habits.

My worms receive a handful of food scraps and coffee grounds about once a week in exchange for the castings they make for my garden.

My worms receive a handful of food scraps and coffee grounds about once a week in exchange for the castings they make for my garden.

I keep a second compost bucket for eggshells that I eventually grind for the garden. I have a worm colony that thrives in a tub outside my back door.

Cardboard boxes become seedling hosts.

Cardboard boxes become seedling hosts.

I use flat cardboard boxes from Costco for starting seedlings.

I mix eggshell dust and worm castings into my soil. They add nutrients, and the dust also deters snails and slugs.

Eggshell dust and worm castings add nutrients to my soil. The dust also deters snails and slugs.

Additionally (and this habit may border on eccentric for some of you), I ferment citrus scraps —peels and pulp— in reused plastic bottles to make cleaning enzymes.

To feed my addiction, I cull the Internet for ideas. Pages like Food Parts That Are Surprisingly Useful and DIY Life Hacks: 25 easy ways to reuse commonly thrown items make me jump out of my chair and dance around the room. No wonder I can’t stop. The possibilities seem endless.

Back to my addiction. I sometimes —this is starting to get uncomfortable, but I suppose this is why we’re here— I sometimes try to raise the dead. Dead plants, that is.

This was the week of the dead pepper plants.eke-1

I finally faced the fallout from the freezes. Dead pepper plants. Hundreds of cayenne, scorpion, and scotch bonnet peppers, now ghosts, snuffed out in their prime. Even the stems closest to the roots snapped dry, lifeless. I knew it was time to let go. As I took a deep breath and began to harvest the dead peppers to add seeds to my already enormous seed collection, a possible eke path revealed itself to me.

The cayenne peppers (did I mention there were hundreds of them?) were dry and crisp, like the red ones I had harvested and dried out months before to make cayenne pepper powder.

I could grind the cayenne pepper ghosts and make a unique pepper powder!

I was dancing in the dead pepper garden.

Ghost Cayenne Pepper powder! No. That would confuse people and ghost pepper fans would be disappointed. White Cayenne Powder? No, boring. This was making me dance. I needed an exciting name to fit the mood. Cayenne Angel Powder? Possibly, although still tame for the moment I was experiencing. Whatever it will be called, the deed is done.

Ready for the grind

Ready for the grind

eke-4

To the oven for toasting to remove any residual moisture

eke-8

White(ish) Cayenne Powder. Taste notes: not quite as spicy or rich as red cayenne powder, but tasty with a kick. Worth the resurrection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So that’s my story this week. In a nutshell: I resist letting go. When something goes wrong or when something seems used up, I try one more time, one more thing.

This compulsion is not confined to food, gardening, cardboard boxes, and dead plants, but creeps into my work practices and personal relationships as well. I find ways to reuse and re-purpose the good stuff at work. A rift in a friendship, even a dismal one, is a path to healing and reconciliation, a way to eke more (and better) life out of the connection I have with that friend.

Dead pepper plants become a unique pepper powder. A misunderstanding with a friend becomes a path to deeper communication. I confess I will continue to resist letting go. I will continue to eke out the good in things. I can’t help myself.

Hello. My name is Pennie and I’m an eke addict. I’m not looking for a cure. I’m looking for enablers.

Copyright © 2015 by Pennie Nichols, All Rights Reserved.