By Lisa Barr
Recently, I wrote a blog called “I $&%$ Hate Camp Packing” and another one called “The Ultimate “Ouch” — When your Hubby Criticizes You…” While all was true, it really was tongue-in-cheek writing, because although packing up my girls for a full summer away sucks, there’s a lot of love that goes into it. And though my husband can be critical at times, I know he has my back when I need support, and my front when I need a hug. I am very blessed.
However, a woman named “Vanessa” recently wrote a response: I am packing up my house to move for the third time since my divorce. I would rather be packing to send my kids to an expensive camp all summer. That is not something I can afford. I love your blog, but sometimes it is very hard to relate to the problems you write about.
Vanessa, this is for YOU, and for thousands of others who go through tough times, and believe that there is no way out of hell. While you may not have enough money to cover the bills, or enough time to sleep because of all the stressful responsibilities, I have learned that you do have one line of defense that NO ONE can take away from you: Laughter.
Finding the lighter side under the most dire circumstances, I promise, will not only keep you among the breathing, but also a good laugh will be the gas that fuels your survival.
Ten years ago, I had just gotten out of a nightmare marriage. My ex-husband had abandoned my two young girls, then 5 and 3, and never even said good-bye. You can’t begin to imagine what hell looks like until you see sheer pain and abandonment in your children’s eyes.
All of our money was gone, and I was left on my own to help bring my “new” family back to life. I never cried throughout the ordeal because I had to deal with so many little girl tears, that there truly was nothing left in the river for me. I was a single mom clinging to driftwood, trying to figure out how I could survive, and ultimately thrive. I know I’ve written this a few times before but I literally had 67 cents to my name, and legal bills the size of Manhattan, and two little girls to resuscitate. I had seen a lot of cruelty in my own childhood, but none could compare to this fork-in-the-road (more like a spear-in-my-back) Moment.
And then came the day, the unbearable pressure of having been in five court cases at once with my ex — trying to find a job — sleeping three hours a night — trying to hold off the bills and take from “here” to pay for “that “– that I finally broke down and cried. Right there in front of my young children, who six months after their father had left, had not seen me shed a single tear. It was my first day of a new job, after having been a Stay-at-Home Mommy their entire lives.
It started when my older daughter said, “Please, Mommy, don’t go to work. Be with us. Don’t leave us. Please. I’m so scared.”
“Me too,” echoed my three year old. “Don’t leave like Daddy, and not come back.”
I squeezed them tightly against me, wishing I could just pull them back inside me and carry them with me to work, like a kangaroo. “I know this is hard. I know you miss Daddy. I don’t know where he is or why he hasn’t contacted us. But I do know one thing. We have each other, and WE NEVER LEAVE EACH OTHER.”
Let that sink in, again and again and again.
“Right now, I have to go to work, because I have to pay for groceries, and yummy snacks,” I continued.” I have to pay for this house, and for all the new stuffed animals I want to buy you. I’m nervous too, but I have to be a big girl, and so do both of you. We will get through this new change, but I can’t do it alone.”
But inside my head these words were swirling: I don’t want to go back to work. I want to be with you. I want to bring you to school, pick you up, make you a special snack, play games, make dinner and get you ready for bed. I don’t want to miss a minute of either of you. But I don’t have a choice anymore.
And then the tears came. For the first time since my husband had left, I let it rip in front of my children, and I couldn’t stop. Why can’t I control myself? I’m a wreck. I’m as scared as they are. What if everyone hates me? What if I forget how to write stories – good stories? I haven’t written or edited a damn thing in years. What if I can’t find the bathroom? I need serious therapy, but who has the time, or money?
“Look at me,” I managed through my tears. “I’m so sorry this has been so hard, so messy. I’m so sorry Mommy feels sad right now.”
My five year old looked at my three year old, who nodded back at her older sister — a secret code had been exchanged. Before I could stop them, the girls ran out of my bedroom. I wanted to yell that we had to get moving, that I had to be at work on time, especially on my first day, but no words came out. Just more tears.
And then there they were, my daughters running back down the hall and into the room holding Fluffy, Floppy, Lumpy, Monkey, LuLu, Peachy, Puffer, Inchworm, Chester, and Piggy (being schlepped in a baby doll stroller and wearing one of my daughter’s dresses) — an army of stuffed animals — in tow and ready for action.
“Here we are, Mommy,” announced my eldest, self-anointed leader of the stuffed platoon. “They will make you feel better. They will take care of you. They always do. You can even take them with you to work to protect you from the mean people. And besides, they always make us laugh. And like you always say: When we laugh, we feel better.”
This made me laugh, right through the tears. My daughter was using my own parenting strategy on me.
This is my family now, I thought as I proudly eyed my daughters and our furry posse. Some members are stuffed, others are real, but all are sensitive and loving. Most importantly, all are here. No one in this room runs away during tough times. But everyone here laughs. And we did.
We laughed and held each other, and then renamed ourselves the Power Puff Girls — we could get through anything. And then I knew, really knew, that laughter trumps pain. Laughter is Love. Laughter is Prozac. Laughter heals and protects against the enemy forces.
When I met my husband David, who is tall, dark and handsome, I thought, “Ehh — what else do you got, buddy?”
Could this man make me laugh?
That had become the number one quality I looked for in a partner … and now, in everyone. Oh, could he make me laugh. Not just in an intelligent way — but in a Jackass Dad way. The slip-on-the-banana-peel way. David’s idea of culture is “Dumb and Dumber” and “Eurotrip.” This was the man I needed. The man who could find light in the dark, light in the heavy.
This man makes me laugh constantly.
He had me not at Hello, but at How you doin’ (as in Joey from Friends).
Vanessa, my reader, I always remember in my most difficult times what my personal hero Anne Frank had to say about finding light through the blackness: “Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.”
I don’t know you personally, Vanessa, but I know you on a different level — I was once “there” too. So entrenched in survival. But it was in those painful moments that I would sing with my girls, or stand and re-enact book dialogue wearing makeshift costumes for them before bed, and I would hear “One more time, Mommy” (more like ten more times) until their eyes finally closed, and they didn’t think about the man who abandoned them, or that other kids had daddies and they didn’t … They had me. I was funny, goofy, clutzy, but most of all, I could make them laugh — and that was enough.
LB: Would love to hear from you GIRLilla readers. Any advice when life gets tough, how YOU keep on keepin’ on … Feel free to share your story, your survival tips with us in the GW comments column below. xoxo< back