My First Thanksgiving as a Divorcee

By all accounts, the day was amazing.

I woke up at 6:00 AM and lay in bed until about 9:00 AM, just reading news, following Google rabbit trails, and generally trying not to do anything of consequence. I knew that would come later.

I finally crawled out of bed and threw on some lounging clothes and skipped down to the kitchen to brew some coffee and begin peeling potatoes. I checked the cherry Jello, with cherry pie filling, in the fridge and smiled, seeing that it had set perfectly. I hadn’t had this childhood concoction pass my lips since…well…my childhood. I drooled and imagined the cries of joy as my children gobbled it up, saving no room for real food.

I had a time limit. My cousin had generously offered to bring over a turkey for us that her husband had cooked and she had promised it between ten and eleven in the morning. This meant that I had to have the oven empty, giving the turkey enough space to maintain it’s warmth. I had a green bean casserole and Hawaiian dinner rolls to bake.

By 10:14 AM, I had the potatoes and a pot of baby carrots boiling, the casserole in the oven, and the buns on a tray, ready to go in. I was stressing out over being too efficient, some of the kids having woken up and filled their stomachs with cereal and muffins and some “old tyme” candy mix I had gotten at Candyland in St. Paul, Minnesota the night before. I would be ready too early. But I couldn’t stop.

I whipped the potatoes by hand, adding two sticks of butter, salt, and a pile of milk until they were creamy. I drained the carrots and melted two cups of brown sugar and a stick of butter into them. I took out the piping hot casserole and tossed the buns into the oven, and grabbed the egg nog, sparkling cider, and Malbec wine, putting it into one place in the kitchen.

The dog barked, letting me know my cousin had arrived.

A knock at the door and a creak of the hinge.

“Hello!” my cousin called into the cavernous house.

“Hi!” I responded, coming around the corner and seeing no turkey in her hands.

“You’ll have to get the turkey out of the car. It’s still in the brine. Here are the spices, onion, and apple to stuff it with, and I sent you the cooking directions on Facebook.”

I made a mental trip back down memory lane to that message she had sent me, showing me the directions to cook the turkey. The message I had ignored, because my mind told me to ignore it. After all, her husband was cooking the turkey and I was going to serve it right away. Why would I ever need the cooking directions!? I began to laugh at myself, thanked my cousin profusely, and then right then and there, decided that Thanksgiving dinner would be in three course over six hours.

The first course consisted of all the sides I had prepared, including the Jello with pie filling. I made a grand gesture of getting a bowl and filling it brim full of the stuff, then shoving spoonfuls of it in my mouth, rolling my eyes back in my head, reciting memories from my younger days. When I brought myself back down to earth, I looked into the sallow and disgusted faces of six children and teenagers, followed by a chorus of how they both hated Jello and cherry pie filling. I stared in sadness at the large serving bowl, now waiting for me to eat all of its contents. My eldest daughter, the sweet human that she is, offered to eat a spoonful, just so I wouldn’t be disappointed, but only managed to get her spoon a few inches from the bowl before shuddering and calling her own bluff. Jello really is as old as those Jello cookbooks where you can cover everything from a basket of fruit to a dead body.

The second course was pie, ice cream, and hot chocolate. Then we had the turkey, which was literally the best damn turkey we’ve ever eaten.

I loved every minute of today.

Next year, I will be alone for Thanksgiving and I’m thinking I may travel for it. I want to haunt someone else’s table and tell stories.

 

Officially Divorced

At 10:10 AM CST, the honorable judge in the county of Dakota, Minnesota, ended my 17-year marriage. I am now officially divorced.

I cheered. It was the best moment of my life, by far. Well…not the best moment. I shared some amazing ones with my ex, but marriage had always been a struggle, and I was completely and utterly miserable throughout, something I didn’t realize until the waning years. The utter peace and relaxation that I now have, after being away from her for over a year, is revealing.

The last few days, my body has decided that I needed to detox from the stress of the divorce process. I ended up sleeping away the entire day on Sunday.

Here’s to new heights and new beginnings.

Nearly Divorced

The decree is signed and before a judge. He has promised to sign it next week.

Thus ends over a year of absolute hell. I have become a new person, through this journey, and am much happier now than I have been in the last 18 years. Funny how perspective changes when you’re finally alone and see your past life from the outside.

I will be writing again, as everything calms down and my routine comes into view. I won’t be saying much about the specifics of the woman I divorced, though, because I want her to succeed in life, as the mother of my six children, and my lover for 18 years. I loved that woman with everything I knew about love, which I now consider to be a faulty understanding.

I won’t even pretend to know what love is, but I now know what it isn’t.

Love you all. Thanks for reading and having the patience of a sloth who just found a pool of perpetually warm mud.

I. C.

How I Escaped from My Mama’s Abusive Home

In February of 1999, I was 18 years old. I had six siblings. Two twin older brothers who were 19, an older sister who was 20, and three younger siblings.

One day, Mama punished my brother (19) after beating him, by sending him down the basement to sit on the bottom step. It was a half basement, moldy, full of spiders and other bugs. If she was really mad, she would throw water down on us every so often. When we were remorseful, we had to come up the stairs and knock on the door, risking being beaten for doing so, or welcomed back into the fold with open arms. Most of the time, we would just sit there and wait for her to remember that we were down there (and cool the fuck down), and she would let us back upstairs.

This time, she simply forgot about my brother for hours. She then told one of the other “kids” to call him upstairs. They did so and there was no answer. The “kid” went to look and found that my brother was gone. He had climbed out of the back cellar window after donning a coat and boots and walked the three blocks to Mama’s sister’s house. That aunt talked with him for a few hours and then brought him back home. She got Mama to promise that she wouldn’t hit the kids anymore and would respect us. Then she left.

That lasted for exactly one hour.

My brother said something to Mama that she didn’t like and slapped him across the face. I watched as the new false reality crumbled in front of me. I waited for my brother to tell her that she had gone back on her word, but I would be waiting forever. He never did. Life went back to normal – hell.

Throughout that year, my two older brothers and I came up with a plan where we would confront Mama and put a stop to all the abuse, forcing our family into a true new reality. After all, there were now four adults in the home, under her rule. I don’t remember any of the details of the plan, but I do remember that we settled on when it would happen.

Every year, our family took a pilgrimage to a Brethren camp near Biwabik, Minnesota called Storybook Lodge, with all the other families from our church. We loved this place. It was a bit of a respite from all the shit of life. We decided that this would be the right place to confront Mama. At the end of camp, we always went down to the river to just sit and play and canoe, etc, until all the families left, leaving us alone. We would do the deed at that time.

Like clockwork, we went down to the river at the end of camp and began to enjoy ourselves doing whatever. I kept looking at my brothers, waiting for a signal, trying to figure out when we were going to do the confronting. It never materialized. At one point, one of the younger siblings did something that Mama didn’t like. She yelled to them to come over to her and she slapped them hard across the face. They cried, so she did it again. Crying was bad, according to Mama. Again and again, she slapped them.

I had enough. Looking at my brothers, they had turned away, ignoring the entire ordeal. Taking matters into my own hands, I stood up and yelled at the top of my lungs at Mama. I don’t remember the exact words that came out of my mouth, but I knew they were laced with a sizable blue streak. And like I knew would happen, she turned her wrath on me, forgetting the other sibling. I felt the blows rain down and I took it. I didn’t fucking care. She was going to hear it from my brothers and I, telling her this rule of terror was over.

They never came to my rescue.

I waited. Nothing. I was ordered to lay on my face in the sand until I apologized. I complied and ended up deciding that I needed to get home somehow and nothing was going to change, anyway. At least, at home, I could figure out a way to escape. I had come to the conclusion that that was the only way. My brothers had no intention of saving anyone. So I did. I apologized profusely and we left for home.

I was 19 now.

One fine day in November, Mama called us into the living room and sat us in a circle. She had just had an epiphany from God and wanted to tell us the exciting news.

“My children. If I killed you, God would wrap his wrath around me and everything would be okay. As your authority, this is truth. Now, I will go around the circle and you will all tell me that I am correct.”

Now, aside from the bullshit religious crap in that clusterfuck of a statement, I knew this was the end. I was going to tell her “no.” That her reasoning was a pile of hogwash. As she went around the circle, I saw that I was going to be the last one. Everyone, including my older brothers and sister agreed. She got to me.

“No.”

I had just uttered the last word I would ever say to Mama, under her authority.

“Go sit in the alcove between the kitchen and living room until you agree.”

So I did. I sat there for three days. I was fed and allowed to go to the bathroom. The house phone was beside my shoulder the entire time. I was so under Mama’s control, it terrified me to even think of picking it up and calling someone for help. I worked up the courage for three days. Finally, at 3AM on the third night, I picked up the phone and called my dad.

“Papa,” I whispered as loud as I could, hoping to not wake Mama in the upstairs bedroom.

“I think you have the wrong number,” he sleepily answered, and hung up.

I was devastated. It took me three hours to gin up the courage again to call him back. He answered and I spoke louder and more clearly. 15 minutes later, my dad had driven the 30 minute drive and was picking me up, leading to my freedom and the freedom of the rest of my younger siblings, months later.

Jack’s Science Lesson is Complete

We had a good time. Today, we looked under a compound light microscope at cells from inside a human cheek, suspended in iodine, and compared them against plant cells, suspended in water. It was fascinating. The kids were so much fun.

Oh…and I went like this (sorry for the dirty mirror):

Why I Write What I Write When I Write That Which I Write

In February, 2011, I had recently joined a “survivors group” of young people (I like to pretend I can call myself young) who were figuring out how to break free of a cult-like organization called IBLP/ATI (Institute in Basic Life Principles/Advance Training Institute). At a young age, I had become involved in this institution, my Mama even trying to get us into the homeschooling program, My dad stopped her by threatening a lawsuit, which was awesome. Her abusive ways would have made the isolated life of homeschooling unbearable for us. When the board heard about my dad’s threats, they “prayed about it” and God told them not to allow my Mama to homeschool us. Funny how that happens.

The survivors group was exactly what I needed at the time. I was beginning my walk out of Christianity and religion as a whole. This group was all over the spectrum. Some were still struggling with what they felt was the bastardized definition of ‘grace’. Some still believed in the inerrant and infallible word of God. Some, the ones that I gravitated toward, considered themselves “apostates,” against the grain, if you will. Some of them were even rabid atheists.

So I began to blog. I walked out of religion as I wrote. My blog became very popular in that circle. I found my voice in the anti-fundamentalist crowd. I befriended (I pretend) bloggers like Libby Anne from Love, Joy, Feminism, Lewis Wells from Commandments of Men, Steve Wells, the author of The Skeptics Annotated Bible, etc. My blog was getting 1000 hits a day, sometimes 5000, when I did a series.

People began to come out of the woodwork and asked me to publish their stories of religious or sexual abuse. I did that. Some religious people fell or went into hiding. Others ignored me and moved on with their lives, hurting more victims. Some of those that had their stories published turned their futures into something beautiful. Others are still struggling, but are still beautiful. Still others are drifting around.

Then I watched as bloggers in my sphere became popular. They not only had found their voice, but others found them intriguing. Worthwhile to start a movement that branched out from anti-fundamentalism, moving into more mainstream causes. Fighting homeschooling abuse. Fighting for the rights of women and minorities. They made money at what they did.

But I got bored. I had written for my journey out of religion and now I was done with the subject. I watched as the survivors group added more people who breathlessly thanked the group for helping them get out. Years after I had worked myself out of the need for explanations of why women didn’t need to wear dresses, and grace vs. works, and other weirdisms that the normal world doesn’t give two shits about, I was spent. I didn’t care about it all anymore.

But it was all I knew. And it was what most people had come to my blog for. Anti-religion. And it got my page hits. And I was addicted to page hits.

So I pushed myself to keep writing. Then I found that I could create havoc on my blog if I pushed a juicy morsel in politics. The pitchfork subject of the day would bring in the screamers. I could harness the angst of my choir by just saying a bad word about Trump. About Tony Perkins. Ted Cruz. Name the right-leaning politician – I could find and write about good dirt. I enjoyed spouting off faux rage. I tried to be articulate, but nobody cared about wisdom. That’s not what drives page clicks.

It wasn’t long before I discovered a common thread that wove its way through my blogging. Something that I enjoyed doing. Something that brought freaking tears to my cheeks, every single time I touched someone with my words and stories.

I loved writing about my kids. My own life. Normal stuff. Day to day goings on. Slightly embellished for a good laugh, but mostly, not embellished at all.

Last night, my two oldest daughters asked me for the links to my two blogs. A few minutes later, I heard them giggling. Then laughing loudly. Then spontaneous reading aloud to their siblings or me, the subjects of my ancient posts. They read stories from 2011. 2016. Stories of school. Parks. Simple things. We laughed together about the realizations that I wrote about each kid that still held true today. Fred and his girlfriends. Laura and her need to have everything be fair and in control. Felicity and her warmth. Analisse and her freakishness. Jack and his perfect love. Renaya and her…well…she’s just everything you want in a kid.

In short, my heart was full. My kids were appreciating what I wrote.

“Renaya, did you read that thing I wrote about God, the other day?”

“Nope! That’s boring.”

My audience is small. And they are who I want to write for. I love them with everything I am.

My Eldest is Becoming a Hardened Criminal

“Daddy! Guess what!!!”

My oldest daughter bounded through the door, arriving home from school a tad late and out of breath.

“What?!”

“I just did something very bad and I’m super proud and happy with myself.”

So here’s the story:

The High School has a gymnasium that has a ground floor area and a raised track on the perimeter. The students need to check in, so as not to be absent, take part in gym class, and then have a free 30-minutes to do whatever they want at the end of the hour and fifteen minute class.

My daughter checked in, did the gym class, then asked the gym teachers if she could walk around the raised track for the last 30 minutes of free time, to which they agreed. She climbed the stairs to the track and promptly walked out the gym doors with her friends.

Shaking with fright, having never done anything naughty in her entire life, they decided to be even more criminal – and went to the school library. They stayed until the bell rang for the next period.

She’s going to be a downright Bonnie, once she finds her Clyde. A master criminal. Even more sinister, when asked whether she regretted any of it, she uttered the fateful word, “Nope!” Said with a brilliant smile.

“Will you do it again?”

“Not in a million years.”

Maybe she will go to Harvard after all.

Farmington, MN Public Schools Statement on 17-Minute Student Walk-Out

I think Farmington Public Schools is doing a damn good job in providing safety, understanding, and support, but also standing by their unexcused absence rules. It’s the kind of scalpel based decision-making that many organizations do not understand, many times, due to the necessity for a one-size-fits-all policy, afraid of litigation.

Here is the letter emailed to parents, from the district, in full:

Dear Parents and Families,

February’s tragic school shooting in Florida made a significant impact on school communities across the nation. While we have emergency practices and updated safety features in place at each of our schools, many are still wondering what more can be done.

Students have been especially active in speaking out on the issue of school safety, organizing a number of student-led activities around the country in response to the shooting. We are aware students are planning a 17-minute walkout on Wednesday, March 14th.

Though the walkout is not a school sponsored activity, we, as a district, support students who wish to participate in a peaceful protest; we also support those who do not wish to participate. However, the best way for us to ensure your child’s safety during the school day is to know where they are. We expect all students to stay on school grounds during school hours.

On Wednesday, each of our buildings will have a designated space where students can assemble peacefully while under constant supervision of building staff. Students should understand that if they choose to leave class to participate in the peaceful protest, they will be marked unexcused for the missed portion of the school day. As with any unexcused absence, students are expected to make up any missed work. Classes will continue during this time and all students are expected to promptly return to their designated classrooms after this brief event.

We encourage families to have open conversations with their students about expectations and participation in such events. If you or your student have questions, please connect with your building principal.

Thank you for your understanding and support.

Sincerely,

Farmington Area Public Schools

Science With Jack

I arrived early and helped put notebooks and pencils beside the compound light microscopes. Mr. Yonkers from Farmington High School walked over and warmly shook my hand. He was on a three-year special assignment in the district, called away from teaching science to high school kids, to travel around to all the elementary schools and teach those students. He was obviously enthralled by the idea of sciencey things.

His enthusiasm was infectious to both the adults in the room, as well as the students. The third graders articulated their questions and curiosity quite well, surprising me with their intelligence.

Each microscope had a group of two students by it and a slide of hair or fibers to look at in low (100X), medium (400X), and high (600X) power. Human hair was flat and had black spots on it. Deer hair was rounded and looked like a bee hive made of leather. Yarn was fat and brightly colored twisted fibers. I wondered aloud what would happen if we looked at it after it became wet. The students wrote down observations, asked questions, drew pictures, and hoped for tomorrow, where we will look at their cheek cells and other plant cells.

I couldn’t be more excited.

One caveat, though. Mr. Yonkers disallowed me from telling the kids they had cancer, should I clearly see those cells from their cheeks, tomorrow. I don’t really understand why. That seems to me, something a kid would want to know right away.

No matter. We all had fun – which Mr. Yonkers said was the point.