She did look different as she sat down.
I could tell she wasn’t in the mood for the usual pleasantries, so I just waited.
With a slightly sardonic smile she said she’d just been at the school conference about her 11-year-old son who’d stopped doing any homework, and was becoming a behavior problem – at home as well as at school.
Her soon-to-be ex was there too – “15 minutes late, as usual” – after multiple phone calls from her both pleading and demanding that he be present at the meeting.
She gave me a quick summary of the meeting. Everyone tried to be constructive. They were “quite concerned” about her son’s declining grades – the school obviously knew about the impending divorce – and they all talked about what a “good kid” her son was, but the gist of it was they also really needed to do something about the increased aggression they were seeing at school. There was talk about a “consult” with the District’s psychologist for possible psych testing, or his meeting with the school social worker, and one of the teachers tactfully asked if meds had ever been “considered.”
For the whole meeting, her ex had been “restless,” could barely pay attention to what was being said, and his one comment was “kind of angry, and sort of off topic.” Time ran out on the lunch hour meeting before a “plan” could be completely formulated and written up.
As soon as the meeting ended her ex took her aside out in the hallway and said, “My lawyer tells me you want the Mustang appraised. What the hell are you doing?”
His “vintage” Mustang, which hadn’t been out from under its tarp in three years, was always supposedly on the verge of being “restored” and sold for “great money.”
At first she was taken aback by his accusation, “as I always am.” She started to explain that her lawyer was simply doing what the mediator had said needed to happen – compiling a list of marital assets. That was three weeks ago, and obviously that request had only now arrived at his lawyer’s office.
“I saw then how much his feelings and judgments toward me always affected me and made me doubt myself – right up through the meeting today – and I guess I’d foolishly hoped that his having to hear directly and face our son’s problems would be an opportunity for us to connect better.”
But then it hit her: it took a few seconds, but she realized just how hurt – and angry – she was at how uninterested and un-engaged her ex was toward their son’s obvious struggle with their divorce. She started to spit out her anger at him: “self centered, immature…”
“I was about to say ‘asshole,’ but the fact that we were in an elementary school hallway stopped me – which was good. Then all of a sudden I got really calm. I remembered our conversation about taking the high road.”
“As upset as I was, it actually felt good to calmly admit to myself, a) I’d married a jerk, that b) he probably wasn’t ever going to be much help, and the truth was c) I was better off recognizing it now and making the best of the situation from here.”
“Something died in that hallway, it’s not the same now. Feelings are changed. Who knows what’s real yet. I’m not sure I’m totally on the high road, but it sure as hell feels like it’s a different road now….”
Shaun Kieran, LCSW