Dad’s Eulogy

Toni and Burl’s three daughters extend our deepest thanks to Peggy Timm, Nathan Berryman, and Jim Fricker for sharing your time and care with us and with Burl during his last days. 

My dad lived a rich and colorful life. As a young man, he served in the Navy. He had a strong entrepreneurial spirit, starting in his twenties with his convenience store, Burl’s Rip-Off (he forgot to put “weed” on the sign, although I’m pretty sure that was a significant source of revenue). Later in life he ran his electronics services business, ESC. For most of his working life, he was an Electronics Wizard, traveling around Montana installing and repairing fire alarm systems and entertaining everyone along the way. He was a wonderful Dad, husband, grandfather and friend. 

Burl could fix anything mechanical. He had a complex of garages comprising more square footage than his house. Everything he touched ended up in great working order, with the added bonus of resembling an illustration from a Dr. Suess book. He loved to buy and sell cars. His friend Tommy Kimmel teased that he was like a middle eastern rug merchant with his constant vehicle deals. My sisters and I shared our first car, a tiny Honda Civic he acquired for $75 and “Fixed Up” for us. In Burl’s world, this meant that the driver’s seat was propped up with a broomstick, the horn honked when you turned left, cassette tapes in the car stereo sped up when the car accelerated, and there was a special button on the steering column which you had to push while turning the key to start the car. The car ran like a top, and everyone at Capital High School knew when the Streets girls were arriving.

Burl SHOWED UP for the people he loved. He advocated and cared for both of his parents at the end of their lives. He took our 90 year old spinster great aunt Julia grocery shopping every Saturday for at least five years, and when she got to the end of her life, he was her caregiver and representative. He did the same thing with his brother Wayne who died last year. He cared for and ceaselessly loved his wife Toni, his chosen son Guy Root, his family, and his friends. When our mom Karen got sick and was so afraid, I will never forget him climbing into the hospital bed with her, putting his arms around her, and telling her he would never leave her. And he didn’t.

We can’t talk about Burl without mentioning his sense of humor. The night he died, we had a family dinner at his home with him in the next room in the hospice bed. We were talking about life expectancy, and somebody googled and found that in the US it’s age 78, and in Canada Age 80. Burl’s 15-year old grandson, Henry, piped up and said “When I turn 78 I’m moving to Canada.” It is comforting to know that Burl heard this and our laughter in his last moments, leaving the world in the only way he would want – with the people he loved most around him, laughing and loving one another.

Burl was witty, talented, loyal, and sometimes painfully authentic. Politically correct, he was not. He moved through the world unapologetically regaling it with his unique brand of humor. If you knew Burl for any length of time, you know what I mean. Here and now, I extend his apology if he unwittingly offended you, and I assure you that his intention was always to entertain and delight.

Burl was very clear about his end of life wishes. He filled out a form detailing “What I Want My Loved Ones to Know”. The final question was “If anyone asks how I want to be remembered, please say the following about me”. His response was:  I tried my best to be a good person.

Dad, you were more than a good person. You were a fucking spectacular person. Casey, Britt and I are honored to be your daughters, and our hearts burst with pride when we think of the person you were and the life you lived. Thank you dad. We love you.

The Loves of My Life

I have been thinking a lot recently about the phrase “the love of my life”. I hear the concept frequently, in music, conversation, and stories. It denotes exclusivity and a hierarchy where one stands out above all others we have loved as the most meaningful, unique, and special. This goes along with an idealized view of love wherein there is only one connection in an entire lifespan that is the “real” one. Dropping this mythical standard and objectively looking at the way relationships really work, I see that the loves in my life do not exist in relativity to one another. There are many, they are different, and they are all the loves of my life.

Some of the loves of my life

My daughters are now 14 and 18; I have spent the better part of two decades being their mom. I have written before about how much I am in awe of them (“Thing One and Thing Two”). Like every parent, my love for them is all-consuming, piercing, and deep beyond measure. As much as my own parents shaped me, those girls are integral to who I am; their happiness makes me happy. Their sadness breaks my heart. They are the loves of my life.

My sisters are my best friends (yes, another flawed superlative, but it makes the point). I have written before about “The Triad”, and what they mean to my life. Our shared origin begets a sublime comprehension of one another. They are an unwavering source of comfort to me. The three of us see each other completely, without filter, and the unconditional acceptance between us is a permanent oasis in the scary unforgiving world. They are the loves of my life.

In my late teens and early twenties, I had a volatile relationship with a boy from my home town. We lost our boundaries and became inextricably connected. The relationship was unworkable in the long term because of its intensity and our inability to co-exist without extreme drama. The heart break when we parted ways was excruciating. Even though that was more than 20 years ago, thoughts of him still send my heart fluttering. I will love him always, even if I never see him again. He is the love of my life.

I spent 18 years with my ex-husband, and in many ways we grew up together. We built a life, had two kids, and had innumerable happy times together. As our marriage ran its course, we were able to create separate lives while maintaining an enduring friendship; we continue to cheer each other on along our respective paths. Ending a marriage is painful, and I regret the hurt we had to go through to get here. He is an amazing person, the father of my children, and he is the love of my life.

Today, I live with a life partner, and we have very little in common on the surface. He is a musician and a soft-spoken dreamer; a contrast to my logic-driven, black and white tendencies. The time we spend together is fulfilling and fun. Our differences give our relationship texture and intrigue, and I learn immensely from seeing the world through his eyes. We support each other constantly even without always fully identifying with each other’s direction. We reflect the best in each other. He is the love of my life.

I have always been surrounded by an abundance of wonderful people, and I am grateful the love that has graced my life. Co-workers, friends, running partners, and even family members have come and gone over the years, with connections ebbing and flowing as they naturally do. Some of those have become lasting bonds that I will always hold on to. They are all the loves of my life.


Just. Stop.

On June 5, 2010 I was arrested for DUI. Before that moment, I was a closeted, suffering alcoholic feeling trapped in my addiction, desperately wanting to escape it but unable to IMG_3150 (1)see a way out. The moment I saw cop lights in my rear-view mirror, I knew it was over. In a nightmarish instant, as I was handcuffed and placed into the back of a police car, the solution presented itself: Just. Stop.

There is so much noise and dogma in the world about recovery, twelve steps, one day at a time and higher powers. Before the arrest, all of that overwhelmed me. Escape from my alcoholic patterns felt inaccessible, as if it required a gauntlet of complicated machinations of which I was simply incapable. But in that moment as I heard about my right to remain silent, I crossed a threshold into a new reality that had been there all along: Just. Stop.

That day was the beginning of what the addiction treatment world calls my recovery. A fuck-ton of recovering did indeed occur in the weeks, months, and years after that day. Contrary to the tenets of the “disease theory” of addiction, I do not consider my recovery from alcoholism a lifelong state requiring perpetual focus and work. Rather, it was a finite series of phases I passed through, ultimately emerging as a recovered person. This is not to say that I rid myself of the tendencies and fundamental wiring that led me down the road of daily alcohol abuse, but I learned how to see those parts of me with honesty. I learned how to be healthy with their presence as part of my being.

For the first three months, I was overjoyed at how easy it was and how brilliant the world had suddenly become with my newfound sobriety. I had solved my drinking problem! I was already on the other side of it! Life was amazing! I didn’t know it then, but it is common for newly sober people to experience this “pink cloud”: a period of euphoria and manic energy in the first few months. It is fueled by the physiological jolt when the daily inebriant is suddenly discontinued. There is an acute awakening of emotions and sensations; every day feels like a thrilling adventure. I remember being excited to go to bed at night during that time because I JUST COULDN’T WAIT for the next amazing day.

The three-month mark is a common point of relapse for addicts and alcoholics, and I know first-hand why that is (although I have never relapsed myself). As autumn began, my euphoria began to give way to a much less pleasant state of being. I had lost significant weight over the summer (removing several hundred calories per day and exercising like it’s your job will do that), and my weight loss continued to an unhealthy point. I started having trouble sleeping, and soon was sleeping only one or two hours at night. I became anxious and irritable, feeling like my skin had been peeled off exposing every nerve. I felt incomplete and became intensely dissatisfied with myself and every aspect of my life. I began taking anti-anxiety and sleeping medication and was able to return to a semblance of normalcy, but piercing angst was my constant companion for the next year.

In hindsight, I see that all the years of drunkenness had inhibited my development of basic coping skills. I thought about drinking sometimes because I knew it would cure the pain I was feeling. But, I had mentally removed that option from the realm of things available to me on the day I was arrested, so I never got anywhere near close to going there. No “one day at a time” for this gal – it’s all or nothing with me. I never wanted to revisit the decision again, and I never really have. I don’t drink; that’s part of who I am and will be for the rest of my life.

Over the next two years, my life became unrecognizable from what it had been before.  Where I lived, where I worked, who I lived with, my role as a mom, how I looked, what I did with my days, how I thought… It all changed, drastically.  I escaped the life of a lost, sick, and guilty alcoholic. I figured out how to blow my secrets into oblivion and claim my freedom.  I gathered my shame into a pile and set it on fire.  I flailed and squirmed and hurt and suffered as my being expanded into who I really am.  I went through a period of self-absorbed narcissism as I woke up, and l hurt people I love.  I behaved unpredictably as I rushed to fix everything. It felt like an emergency that my life was not what I needed it to be.  It all worked out.  New truths announced themselves, and I found the strength to accept them. I did the work of honest self-examination and self-acceptance. I settled down and learned how to live with balance.

On June 5, 2010 I decided to Just Stop, and I have recovered.

On Happiness

There was a time in my life when I would have defined happiness as the absence of sadness.  This is no longer true. Today, I know that real happiness is found in the bumpy landscape of life where sadness, anger, frustration, and fear have their place alongside joy, elation, gratitude, and humor.

It annoys the shit out of me when people reject anything that may be perceived as negative out of a belief that only positive thinking is allowed in the pursuit of happiness. I know people who apply the idea of the “power of positive thinking” extremely literally. They espouse a dogma requiring banishment of any unpleasant thoughts, worries, and fears. They send these things to some mental isolation chamber so they cannot interfere with the business at hand of BEING HAPPY. Conversations with these people often involve the idea that positive thoughts have some magical direct impact on physical outcomes. These conversations are characteristically accompanied by voices that are a little too high pitched in their frenzied assurance that “everything is WONDERFUL”. There are false forced smiles that say, “if I smile wide and long enough, happiness will be mine!”  This hyper-literal application of the concept that our thoughts define our realities (which I agree with, in some regards) is problematic.  (Note:  For a super witty and insightful take on this, check out Mark Manson’s mordant blog post on this topic – The Staggering Bullshit that is the Secret).

First, it assumes some kind of cosmic and irrational connection between a single person’s thoughts and what actually happens in the world. For example, one of my perma-grin-sporting friends a few years ago warned against discussing Ebola during an outbreak in Africa because thinking about it could lead to contracting it. To believe shit like that is to believe that there is a direct link between what is going on inside a single human cranium and what actually happens in the external world. This complete disregard for reality is at best silly, and at worst, dangerous.

Secondly, the disproportionate focus on thoughts and emotions seems detrimental to a person’s emotional health. To be truly happy and live a rich life, we have to maintain a sense of segregation between what we are thinking and feeling and what is actually happening. Regardless of how strongly we feel something, it is our behavior that determines what happens next. The “positive thinking” movement directs people to a state of unhealthy denial and abdication of responsibility for their actions by making actions subordinate to “thought energy”.

A couple of years ago I watched a friend during a major life transition piss away her life savings with abandon because she just knew her winning attitude would bring in more money and the universe would make sure things went her way. It did not. Major struggle ensued; armed only with a clear vision of the perfect life and zero practical problem solving skills, this friend’s life circumstances became increasingly troubled. I was “voted off the island” of her life for expressing that I thought her behavior was delusional. Admittedly, I could have been more compassionate in my delivery, and I regret the loss of that friendship. That said, it is hard to be compassionate in the face of willful self-destruction and denial, and even harder when that denial is wrapped up in the infuriating veil of false positivity.

We need to accept, if not embrace, discomfort and difficulty as much as luxury and laughter, or things become lopsided. I do believe that a generally optimistic attitude is instrumental in achieving authentic happiness – the kind that accounts for and actively accepts challenge and pain as part of being a complete human being. While I reject the idea that it is enough to just “think positive” and life will unfold accordingly, I believe that a generally optimistic outlook results in behaviors that support our desired outcomes. And, in embracing discomfort we can choose to see challenges as catalysts for growth, and our challenges can increase our compassion for our fellow humans.

I recognize that in the middle of something really heavy-duty and difficult, like a broken heart, mourning a death, a lost job, a physical injury or illness, that the mantra of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” sounds pollyanna and hollow. The fact remains that sometimes you have to experience pain and suffering, and it sucks.  A person in the throes of heartbreak has very little ability to see the good in the absolutely horrible feelings that are consuming them. This is a bit of an exercise in faith, but not in a deity or invisible energy in the universe. Enduring things which bring us to the brink of our ability to cope requires faith in self. It requires acceptance that the only way out of some things is to go through them. It requires that we give ourselves permission to think negative thoughts, look at them straight on, and do whatever we can to punch them in the face and keep on moving.

Warm or Cold

I talk a lot about my “modern family” situation, which after six years feels normal, stable and healthy. Sometimes, though, things happen to remind me how difficult and painful it was to get to this point. Our modern family was once typical and traditional; the transition to where we are now did not come without enormous loss. A few months ago, one of my older daughter’s classmates was killed in a car accident on her way to high school. Our experience is a fraction of the pain her friends and family are enduring. The tragedy of that child’s life ending has sparked my memories of the time my family as I knew it disintegrated. One person’s sorrow does not exist in relativity to another’s, and it is fruitless to compare my experience to the death of a child. But it has renewed my memories of loss, and even more so my gratitude for what replaced my “lost” family.

My memory of the evening our family said good bye is at once rife with clear details and a surreal blur of the most intense emotions I ever experienced… my children, my heart, their arms wrapped around my neck holding on as if for dear life…the four of us (my husband, myself, and our two daughters) wracked with sobs so deep and overpowering we could not move…my soon-to-be ex-husband and me, clinging one last time to each other and the children we both love so much, awash in the regret of having hurt each other, overpoweringly sorry for not having been able to figure out how to keep it together.

We sat as a family for the last time on the stairway of our empty house, holding each other, crying for hours. Every few minutes one of us would verbalize some detail or feature of the “old” life we would miss, sending us into a fresh spasm of collective sorrow. So much passed between us during that evening on the stairway of the house where we had spent our final months as “The Coleman Family”. Four hearts shattered that night as we came face to face the profundity of our loss.

They moved to Vermont the next day, and there I was in that vacant house in Colorado for one last day before moving to my new place. The echoes of the quotidian life of a “normal” family where everywhere. I could almost hear my six-year-old daughter yelling down the hallway, “Mom, is it going to be warm or cold out today?” as she had done every day while picking out her clothes for school. The absence of that humdrum question to punctuate the morning felt like a gaping hole in my life; the silence roared at IMG_0569me. I missed their mismatched socks littering the house, their bickering, the barbie doll graveyard they always left in the living room. I missed them asking me what we would be having for dinner, even though I had hated the drudgery of responding. I missed waking up before they did in the morning and admiring my sleeping beauties. A big part of me was gone. I was not sure I would survive that grief.

Over time, a new rhythm emerged for our family and gradually it became less painful. We are a distance family, enabled by technology, airplanes, substantial disposable income, and our love for one another. At some point several years into this configuration, we all realized it was working and that we were happy. I don’t think any of us will ever say this is an easy way to live, but we all appreciate the fact that we are, in fact, still a family. The conventional features of a “normal” family are nowhere to be seen, but we have not lost the heart of it; we have not lost each other.

13880366_10210351357206522_5432846519791015578_nThe death of a child in the community reminds us to hold our own tighter and not take them for granted. While I still miss the daily “warm or cold” question ritual, I cherish the new things that have replaced it – the daily FaceTime calls, the weeks we spend together in Vermont, the adventures we have traveling, and all the little ways we have found to continue as a family of our own design. I am on a plane to spend the next few days with my daughters in Vermont as I write this.  I will hug and kiss my children tonight, and I am blessed.


Thing One and Thing Two

Every parent thinks their kids are special. The universal biological function of reproducing turns us into doting, obsessive chumps. We see our kids’ idiosyncrasies, talents, weaknesses, and emerging personalities through the unique parental lens that makes us simultaneously blind and omniscient about these beings of our creation. I am a typical parent in this regard. As Thing One (age 17) and Thing Two (age 13) grow up, I have a new perspective on my girls. This may be something we all go through as our kids begin to knock on the door of adulthood. Regardless of the universality of it, what I feel for them these days is novel and pleasantly surprising. This is a distinctive mix of gratitude, respect, intrigue, and admiration. I am inspired by the unassuming wisdom and dignity of my children.

Beautiful Lolo

My girls have not had an easy childhood. While it started out “normal”, I blew their worlds apart when they were 5 and 9 years old. That year, they lived through my tumultuous transition from heavy drinker to non-drinker and the flailing search for identity that accompanied that transition. The same year, I threw in a move across the country to Colorado, so they had to change schools, leaving behind their friends, family, and everything that was familiar. A few months later, their dad and I realized it was time for divorce, and he and the girls moved back to Vermont without their mom. Things stabilized after that year, and our newly defined non-traditional family settled into a rhythm of monthly visits from Mom and summers in Colorado. Five years later, I can happily (and with some degree of incredulity) report that they are not only well-adjusted, but clearly thriving.

As I think back to my own childhood, I cannot fathom what this has been like for my girls. The security and stability of everything they knew was suddenly removed from

Beautiful Lily

their lives. Their grace, strength, and magnanimity in the face of that upheaval was extraordinary, especially given their tender ages. Now that they are older, I am overflowing with gratitude to them for their kind hearts, their flexibility, and their affability. They have instinctively and naturally worked with their dad and me to forge happiness within a family structure for which there is no existing script. They are authentic, open-minded people who have survived broken hearts at the hands of their own parents and wear the resulting scars without resentment.

I have not deluded myself into thinking all rough waters are behind us or that my girls will never experience angst from what they have been through. I used to worry I had caused them permanent and fundamental damage. They have made it clear that they are ok, and I can settle back into the routine worries of “normal” parenthood. They have and will continue to have shithead moments, just like the rest of humanity. They are growing into themselves; the same strength that got them through before shows up every day as they do life with gusto. They try new things, express themselves, and share themselves with the world. They are great people, and It is not an exaggeration to say I am in awe of them.

The Triad

Years ago, my ex-brother-in-law coined the moniker “Streets Triad” for my two sisters and me. I like this because it connotes a kind of superhero-ish tribe, and it fits. Although he has long been expelled from the family because he just couldn’t hang, the Streets Triad carries on. We are a group of loud, strong, successful, quirky, neurotic forty-something women. The combination of us is intrinsic to who I am.

My sisters are among the most important people in my life and they are my best friends. They infuriate, aggravate, motivate, entertain, and comfort me in a way that only they can do, and without trying. It is a natural dynamic borne of having moved through childhood with one another as constant (and often unwelcome) companions. There has always been a zero-tolerance policy in our family for anything resembling pretension, and this is reflected in each of us. When we are together, the authenticity becomes so concentrated as to be overwhelming. The level of eccentric hilarity and strong-mindedness in any room occupied by the three of us is a thing to behold.

While we are different people in many ways, there are some unmistakable Streets Triad hallmark characteristics. The most obvious is extreme candor. For better or worse, you IMG_0584never have to wonder what a member of the Triad thinks of something. Over the years, we have all developed self-awareness that has tempered this quality. So, the occasions where we unwittingly offend, embarrass, or overshare are much less frequent than they used to be. But time has not changed the fundamental tendency of the Streets girls to be uncommonly direct. As anyone who has spent time with our family can attest, straightforwardness fills the space when we are together. The result is often uproarious; I suspect that the uninitiated walk away from their first triple Streets encounters with shell shock from having been exposed to such a high frequency of what many people consider “things you don’t say out loud”.

Along with our frankness, the Streets Triad shares an outlandish sense of humor. Laughter is the soundtrack at every get-together. The subjects that amuse us most tend to be lowbrow and juvenile, and no bystander is safe from our silliness. Just last month, Britt jokingly threatened our brother-in-law with a punch to the butthole, except she was inadvertently talking to a stranger who happened to be walking next to her. The three of us were doubled over with laughter at this for several hours that evening. This kind of thing is just what we do!

The Streets Triad embodies drive and strength. Two of us have trained for and completed Ironman triathlons. The third is retired from the Marine Corps at the ripe age of 44 after having achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. We have successful careers. We are all at the tail-end of raising amazing kids. We have all handled the tribulations of divorce and rebuilding with fortitude and grace. When I think about it, I marvel at the job our parents did instilling in us this dauntlessness (they were definitely not the wholesome helicopter types).

The bond of sisterhood is substantial. When we fight, it is with ferocity. When we laugh, it is from the heart, because we are celebrating ourselves and each other. When I am afraid, the knowledge that they are in this world with unconditional love and support for me is a comfort like no other. Looking at them feels like seeing parts of myself in a mirror, and that reflection is beautiful.



The Sunday before Thanksgiving I step out of a cold and snowy day into a brightly lit kitchen filled with the smell of holiday baking and the warmth of family, smiles, acceptance, and belonging. This is my ex-sister-in-law’s house. My ex-mother- and father-in-law are here, my ex-niece, and my two daughters are with me. After greetings and hugs, we settle in to make Thanksgiving pies together. It feels normal and good; we img_0088toss around the same jokes and hilarious memories we’ve shared for years. It occurs to me that the baggage of divorce, the awkwardness lent to these relationships by the prefix “ex”, has, for this moment, vanished. I am suddenly moved to tears by the kindness of this family and the togetherness of this day. I am overwhelmed with the blessing of being a part of this day. I feel unadulterated love for every person in the room.

For fifteen years, the institution of marriage ensured that I had a “legitimate” place here. I realize now that I took it for granted, and sometimes even resented it as an obligation. I was not happy in my skin then, and I was not willing or able to fully appreciate the extraordinary gift of being part of this family. I was quick to focus on an annoying thing somebody said or did at a family gathering at the expense of seeing how lucky I was to be there. This is not to say that I had zero appreciation then, but in hindsight I recognize there was a deficit of gratitude, to my own detriment (not to mention that I undoubtedly behaved like an asshole frequently).


Life continues to do its thing with all of us – divorce, illness, broken hearts, growing up, losses and successes. My ex-mother- and father-in-law are dealing with the trials of
aging (gracefully and with good humor, I should add). Things are not easy. Amidst the constant and insufferable toil of being human, this family is an oasis for one another. They hold each other up, they help each other, they come together to celebrate, and, I’m sure they annoy the shit out of each other from time to time. Even though I am no longer officially their daughter-in-law, sister-in-law, or aunt, they have held a space for me with them. It is not the same as it was, but it is beautiful nonetheless. I thank them for this.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

The Other Woman

There is a person in my life who occupies a very dark place in my heart and mind; my thoughts and feelings about her make me question my integrity. Every time I hear her name, a hard nugget of bitterness rises in my chest. I feel anger and disdain at the mention of her. Sometimes I catalogue her faults; since I don’t know her well, I let my imagination fill in the blanks, and through that lens, she has plenty of faults. The problem with all of this is that I KNOW she is a perfectly decent person, and she has never really done anything to me. But, as the girlfriend of my ex-husband, she is a daily presence in my children’s lives while I am not. My irrational resentment of this fact is sometimes unbearable, and sometimes it consumes me. I know I must reframe this in the interest of my own emotional well-being, as well as for my children.

As I consider the patterns of my reactions to The Other Woman over the past couple of years, I notice that there are layers. The outermost layer is like a wild animal, primitive and raw, wanting to eliminate the threat she poses by tearing her apart, limb by limb. My daughter mentions over the phone that The Other Woman braided her hair before bed last night, and my mind is flooded with a vision of slamming The Other Woman’s face into a wall. My blood is boiling, but I say, “Oh, that was nice of her,” as matter-of-factly as I can manage and change the subject. Once the visceral initial reaction passes, the next layer is like the reaction of a petulant child. I run through the index of The Other Woman’s failings that I have constructed out of thin air and stored in my brain and assure myself that although she is with my children (in my fucking place!), she is inferior in every way, so her presence cannot possibly pose a threat to my relationship with my daughters. She cannot hold a candle to me, right? The final layer is where my civilized adult mind steps in and returns me to a state of acceptance, albeit reluctant and tenuous. I remind myself that this situation is of my own design, and that The Other Woman really is a good person, and that she has no intention of taking my place or interfering with my relationship with my daughters. In fact, she is a positive influence in their lives.

My typical approach to problem solving involves casting the brightest flood light I can find on an issue. This is my way of disarming things; I feel compelled to remove as much of the unknown as possible so I can clearly assess and handle things. I tried to apply this to my relationship with The Other Woman, thinking that if I could have a candid conversation with her, we could clear the air and I could stop this cycle. I even had a little hope that we could have some kind of ongoing rapport. I initiated the conversation, she told me what I already knew; she doesn’t want to take a motherly role with my kids. That was the extent of her interest in interacting with me. It was profoundly unsatisfying. She was completely oblivious to the drama and emotional energy that was happening on my side of this relationship. I got the impression that to her, dealing with me was a mundane incidental interaction like you have with the receptionist at the dentist’s office; a polite and utilitarian transaction with no import beyond the exchange itself. My attempt to shine a light on the problem revealed what felt like bare white walls with nothing but a smooth unyielding surface, no texture, no warmth, no softness.

Clearly, my standard tools were not right for the job of finding peace with the presence of The Other Woman in my life, and I have since returned to the repeating loop of vitriolic anger followed by petty bitterness and unquiet settling. One thing I learned from my initial attempt to change this was that the problem is mine alone. The Other Woman is not impacted by nor concerned with the difficulty I experience around her existence. In some ways, this gives me a bit of satisfaction, as it supports my paradigm of her inferiority and allows me to cast myself as the bigger person, and even a bit of a martyr. But, that satisfaction is artificial and hollow. As they say, “anger harms the vessel,” and my search for a way to gracefully empty this vessel continues.

My Firing Squad


Three years ago my kids moved to another state across the country from me with their dad. He and I realized it was time to release one another to build separate lives. With a great deal of respect and love for one another, we carefully constructed a new arrangement for our family. I live in Colorado, they live in Vermont. I travel to Vermont every month to spend time with them, staying in the house where they live with their dad, my ex-husband. They spend summers with me in Colorado. Aside from the obvious heartache of being apart from my children, the hardest thing about this is the constant self-doubt which is inextricably combined with judgement (both real and perceived) of others.


I wish I didn’t give a fuck what you think, but I do. I don’t give enouimagegh of a fuck to change the way I live my life to gain your approval. But I do care enough to try to convince you that it’s all good. If I could carry on without hesitation, I would spend zero time or energy worrying about how the world might view my choices. But here I am, desperately searching for the words that will make you understand that I AM a good mother.

Every time someone asks me if I have children, I feel like I am standing naked in front of a firing squad whose bullets are judgments with the power to strip away my validity as a mother. In order to preempt the bullets, I feel the urgent need to simultaneously apologize for and justify myself as I describe my family situation to anyone. I want you to know that I love my kids as fiercely and deeply as any mom out there, and that the way I am defining motherhood is good for my daughters. If I can somehow find the right words for the 30-second elevator spiel about my family, you will see that my beautiful daughters are thriving. You will know that there is a functional and love-filled partnership between their dad and me, and you will be happy for us. If I don’t paint the picture just right, you will shake your head and lament the sadness of the situation. Then I will have to re-convince myself that it doesn’t matter what you think and that I am not a failure.

I am exceedingly grateful to my ex-husband for the grace and care he puts forth to make this work. He is a full-time single parent 75% of the time, and he is spectacular. He lets his ex-wife stay in his house for a week every month, for pete’s sake! He makes it possible for me to have an active role in the daily lives of our children. He solicits my input on things like bedtimes, food choices, and talking to the kids about sex. He makes sure we Skype every day, and he makes it possible for me to attend parent-teacher conferences and doctor appointments by phone. He could easily cut me out of these things. He is doing the heavy lifting, and I am chiming in from 2,000 miles away without any of the the toil or hassle.

The scenario we are living is exhausting, difficult, and expensive. It is also healthy and beneficial to all of us. Ironically, I am a much better parent under these circumstances than I was when we were living as an intact-white-picket-fence family that could have been the poster child for the American dream. Unhappiness, fed by alcohol and denial, plagued our “perfect” life. We successfully carved out a better way of being. I am proud of us for making this work. Someday, I will stand before the firing squad and be impervious to its bullets because I will have found a way to stop giving a fuck.