Keeping Score

Warning: sport metaphors ahead. If you’re not into baseball … please keep reading anyway. 

My son has been playing baseball almost year-round since he was seven years old. I feel like there should be a support group called Baseball Mothers Anonymous. We’d work our own set of 12 steps. Something like:

Step One: admit we’re powerless over baseball and that our weekends have become unmanageable.

Step Two: come to believe that a power greater than us (i.e. the coach, the umpire, the commissioner) could restore us to sanity.

Step Three: make the decision to turn our lives over to a higher power  … or just accept the fact that all our days and nights will now be spent sitting on bleachers, working concessions, celebrating wins, commisserating losses, and washing mud out of clothes.

You get the picture. It’s a unique club. One that I resisted joining for a long time, but now I admit defeat and proudly own it. Hi. My name’s Jennifer. I’m a baseball mom.

This year, my son moved from little league to high school ball. As players move up over the years, the fields get bigger, the rules get more sophisticated, the coaches get louder and the stakes get higher. Players have to earn playing time and starting positions. And there’s a shift from just counting wins and losses to actually keeping stats.

I volunteered to keep the back-up scorebook. I thought, “Hey, I’ve done this before. I know how to count balls and strikes. I know when to color in the little diamond to count a run. I can do this!”

But here’s the thing: keeping score at a little league game is a far cry from keeping score at the high school level. Suddenly, you’re expected to record errors, passed balls and wild pitches. There are certain symbols for called strikes and earned strikes. You have to note when someone gets caught stealing, catches a pop fly, has an unassisted out. There’s math involved. And I was told there’d be no math in life, so it’s been more difficult than I’d anticipated.

What’s really been tough for me, beyond the math, is the concept of not just keeping track of wins and losses, but keeping stats for individual players. It’s suddenly very personal. Or at least it feels that way to me. It feels like that scorebook is a big book of grievances to which players, coaches and parents can refer to determine who’s at fault for a loss.

Who’s at fault. Keeping score. Recording errors. It’s all too familiar.

Throughout my marriage, I mentally recorded basic wins and losses. I’m sure all married couples do this to a certain extent. Sometimes you win. Other days aren’t as good. Some years are great. Others are a struggle. That’s normal.

I’m the first to admit that I made some pretty bad mistakes. My husband made mistakes, too. That makes sense. We’re both human. We aren’t perfect. But somewhere along the way, we started keeping a much more detailed scorebook.

At times, I felt like the scorebook was always on display and the coach was always pointing out the bad plays. There seemed to be a culture of “you did something bad to me so now I get to act awful to you … for a long time … and hold your guilt and shame over your head … forever.”

Yeah, it wasn’t healthy. Namely because we could never get to the point where we just chalked up the loss and started a new game. We never make a concerted effort to embrace a clean, fresh page in the book with no errors, no pop flys, no called strikes, no wild pitches. Sadly, we had to end the series altogether to get a fresh start.

Now, we both are starting new games, albeit in different stadiums. He seems genuinely happier, although I know he misses his kids terribly. I’m feeling healthier and stronger by the day. We’re easier on each other when we see each other. It’s as if finally after all the years of keeping score, we just don’t have to anymore. And finally, instead of focusing on the errors and missed plays, we can look at the scorebook of our marriage and see the RBIs, the double plays and the beautiful grand slam we accomplished together: our children.

Play ball.

Crisis Communications 101 (or How Not to Be an !@# When Your Friend Gets a Divorce)

When I started this blog, I hoped it would become a place where others could find good writing and possibly some comfort in knowing they aren’t alone in feeling messy and imperfect. I did not realize how much you people need me. Sheesh.

I got this email today from a friend seeking advice:

Dear JennCobbNito,
I just learned that someone I consider a good friend separated from her husband. What do I do? Should I reach out? Should I wait and let her break the news on her own? I assume she’s in crisis mode. If it were any other kind of loss, I wouldn’t hesitate. HELP!
Signed,
Feeling the Feels

(Disclosure: I didn’t really get an email. It was a text. And it really wasn’t signed “Feeling the Feels,” but names have been changed to protect the innocent!)

As I doled out advice on how my friend should respond, we both realized that I have some decent wisdom to impart. As someone who’s fresh off the separation/divorce boat, I’m close enough to the situation to remember how I wanted people to act and far enough away from my own moment of crisis to have some clarity.

Although each situation is different, I do think there are some basic rules to follow. And so with no further ado, here are my tips for times of crisis. Otherwise known as, “Four Rules for How Not to be an Ass When Your Friend Gets a Divorce.”

Rule #1: Comfort In, Dump Out – I didn’t invent this one, but it’s just so good. If you only remember one thing from this post, let it be The Ring Theory. In a nutshell, your friend who is separated or divorcing is at the center of a crisis. S/he is surrounded by co-centric circles. Depending on how close you are to the person, you might be in the innermost circle, or the next level out, and so on. The rule is: you put comfort into the center of the circle. You dump negative thoughts and words into the outer circles.

Example: When I was in the anger stage of my grief (more about those stages later), I did a lot of blaming, bitching, whining and crying. Occasionally, a close friend or family member would add his or her own blaming, bitching and whining. Most of the time, this actually made me feel worse. Open criticism of my soon-to-be-ex-husband didn’t ease my pain. It just added another layer of confusion and guilt.

What I really needed to hear instead was, “I am so sorry. This totally sucks for all of you. I am worried about your family. I am here to listen. Do you need some chocolate? Or a beer? Or some wine?”

To recap: bitching out, wine in.

Rule #2: It’s Not You, It’s Them – When my husband and I finally decided to separate, there were only a few people I had the energy to tell immediately. Our children. My mother. My brother. My father.

Next on the list, and equally important, were my aunt, my closest friends, my coworkers, other friends who I really wanted to tell myself … but I couldn’t get around to everyone in a timely, tidy manner. I just needed to put one foot in front of the other, take care of my kids, go to work, repeat.

If you find out from a secondary source that a friend is separating or divorcing, please don’t take it personally. It’s really not about your feelings. My ex-husband and I had ZERO conversations about making sure our friends weren’t hurt by our separation. We were completely focused on our children and our own broken hearts.

When you do learn the news, reach out with kind words. Offer comfort. Prayers. Pizza. Wine. Whatever. Wine. But then back away slowly. Your friend will feel better knowing that she doesn’t have to worry about telling you and that you’re now on her team. She’ll reach out when she’s ready. Trust me.

Rule #3: You Can’t Fix This So Don’t Even Try  –  In subsequent texts, my friend and I had this exchange:

Her: You’re absolutely certain it’s not up to me to save their marriage?
Me: I am quite certain.
Her: Because that is my instinct.
Me: No, no, no.
Her: Got it.
Her: But maybe if I just had all the details I could FIX THINGS.
Me: If they can’t, you can’t. If therapy professionals can’t help them, you can’t.
Her: Sigh. Wish I could.

Yes, I know you wish you could. We all wish we could take away pain. I get it. But you have to trust that your friends have done everything they know how to do to save their marriage. And if they haven’t, then that’s still something that only they can control.

Again, offer support. Offer kind words. Offer fried foods. Offer wine. But don’t offer to mediate, relay messages to the spouse or even pass him a carefully folded note in study hall.

Rule #4: Hang On for a Wild Ride – A divorce is the death of a marriage. There’s a grieving process. One day, your friend will be crying and heartbroken and in denial. Days, weeks, months later, he or she will be mad as hell. Eventually, the acceptance will start to sink in and the healing can begin.

Your job? Just hang on. Ride it out with her. Hold her hand while she cries. Stay on the other end of the phone as long as he needs to talk. Go with her to the top of the tallest mountain around and let her scream our her anger. Let him be bitter and pissed. Stand by her side while her world burns down … and then lead the round of applause as she rises from the ashes like the Phoenix.

Because let’s be honest, this person’s life is never going to be the same. And this person you love? He or she will never be the same. 

And here’s a little secret: while this divorce truly isn’t about you … your life will change, too. Your friend will need you in different ways than before. Your definitions of love and marriage will be tested. You might even find yourself holding your spouse a little tighter and a little longer, thanking God it’s not your marriage that’s ending, praying it never will be. 

And that’s not selfish. It’s life in crisis.  Crisis, by definition, is “a time of intense difficulty.” It’s just a time. It’s not forever. For your friend or for you.

 

 

 

Winter of My (Dis)Content

Now is the winter of my discontent. Well, now. And yesterday. And the day before. And last month. And last spring. And okay all the way back to high school and college, if you want to get technical.

It’s also the season of Lent, which in the Episcopal Church is a time of reflection. Many people adopt a Lenten discipline, either taking on a practice (meditation, prayer, journaling, fasting) or giving up something perceived as a vice (chocolate, drinking, swearing, etc.).

I thought briefly about giving up or taking on something this Lent. And then I had a good laugh, because, really, I think I’ve taken on and given up quite enough in the last six months, thank you very much.

Given up a 17-year marriage. Given up the appearance that I have it all together. Taken on the stress of being a working single mother. Taken on the emotional task of learning to co-parent.

A friend of mine said my Lenten discipline should be to make a little mischief every day. I honestly don’t have the energy. Right now, all I can commit to is waking up every morning and doing the very best I can to make it through the day without running out of kindness and patience and without dropping the f-bomb in front of my children.

Some days I’m more successful at this than on others.

I did subscribe to a daily email series recommended by my church. It’s called “It’s time to…Stop, Pray, Work, Play and Love.” Like most non-essential activities in my life right now, it’s not gotten a lot of attention. The emails come daily to my inbox and sit there … unopened … mocking me.

One, however, caught my eye a few days ago. The subject line was, “Contentment – Brother, Give Us a Word.” I could see the first few lines of the message without opening the email. It read, “Are you content right now?”

What does it even mean to be content? I can’t remember a time I’ve achieved contentment. Especially not with the snow and ice and work and kids and laundry and errands and the smelly old dog who lives in my house and poops and pees everywhere … all the time.

I read on:

“One of the ancient words in the monastic vocabulary is contentment, which is incredibly counter-cultural. Contentment: from the Latin contentus, which means enough, it means sufficient. It’s the opposite of a kind of appetite of acquisition. But it’s rather saying: now is what is most important, not what is new but what is now. One of the downsides of this capacity we have to be virtually present all over the globe is distraction actually pulling us away from where we really are now. But the Psalm says, “Be still and know that I am God.” And the Psalm says, “My boundaries enclose a pleasant land.” Contentment is about staying where you are, looking at it more deeply and realizing with deep gratitude that this is enough, and for this I am thankful.”        – Br. Curtis Almquist

All my life, I’ve tried to embrace living in the moment. I’ve given a lot of lip service to appreciating the “now,” but I’ve always had that appetite of acquisition. I lived life as a series of “when, thens.” When I have a certain job title and make enough money, then I’ll be content. When my daughter no longer has seizures, then I’ll be content. When my husband’s business is successful, then we’ll be content. When I move back to my hometown, then I’ll be content. When I can repair my broken relationships, then I’ll be content. When I get the hang of being a single working mother, then I’ll be content.

No wonder I experienced so much discontent. Contentment is not anything I can actually achieve. It’s something I just have to accept … and be.

A few weeks ago, I found myself in a room full of women on top of Petit Jean Mountain. We spent the day in community, working on our own writing projects, mostly in silence, drawing strength and inspiration from being together.

On our way home, my traveling companions and I stopped at Camp Mitchell, the camp for the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas. I grew up at Camp Mitchell. My heart still leaps and my blood pressure still drops when I enter its gates. My muscles relax and tension oozes from my body. That day was no exception.

My sole reason for the visit was to sit and be still in the Chapel of the Transfiguration. The chapel looks like this:

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And the view looks like this:

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I sat on a bench, looking out over the cliffs. I watched the birds catch the wind and soar. I breathed peace in and exhaled anger out. I closed my eyes and felt the sun on my face for the first time in weeks. I sang hymns in my head, and I marveled at how lucky I was to be able to share this moment with my friends who were with me.

It’s easy to be content in the beautiful moments. In the real world, it’s harder to stay where I am and look at it more deeply. And to recognize with gratitude that right now is enough.

Here’s where I am right this moment.

I’m sitting in yoga pants and a sweatshirt in front of my laptop in my warm house. I have a view of snow-covered roofs and trees filled with robins puffing themselves up against the cold. The only sound is my washing machine, churning through its cycles in a valiant effort to remove ground-in dirt from baseball clothes. My sweet smelly old dog – the poop machine – is curled up on a towel at my feet. If I listen more closely, I can hear birds chirping and my daughter laughing with her friends as they play in the snow. My fridge has food in it, despite the fact that I missed the window to shop for bread, milk, Velveeta and Rotel before the snow started falling. I’m alternating between writing this post, studying everything I can get my hands on about strategic planning and fundraising, and texting with two friends who make me a better person.

There’s no when, then. There is only now. I am content. And for this I am thankful.