Divorce is hell, pure and simple. None of us coped well. I found myself a very broken individual and living with my parents at the age of 31. Maggie came to live with me. I had no fight in me, only the desire to be the best mom I could. My parents saved me, my mom was instrumental in me healing and helping me with the daunting tasks at hand. “Don’t worry about anything. We will take care of you until you’re strong enough to take care of yourself and the kids,” Dad said. Mama added, “Oh honey, we just want you to heal and spend time with the kids.” I was a mess, unable to work. I’m not proud of the fact, but telling it anyway. I spent days with mom talking about life, pain, healing. I cross stitched. We watched our tv shows. She was my constant companion and gentle encourager. I truly don’t know what would have become of me, of us, without my mom and dad. Dad was there with a shoulder to cry on and a hankie ready for the many tears that flowed during that time. He urged me to get a lawyer. I wasn’t going to fight. I had no fight. And then he told me I must get a lawyer under no uncertain terms. Needless to say, I got a lawyer. I still didn’t fight much, but the most valuable thing I got was shared custody of the kids.
Maggie came to live with me. I spent as much time as I could with the kids, slowly putting the pieces back together. They would all pile into the large bedroom that I was occupying. It became our hang out, our sanctuary, our healing place. We laughed, watched movies, hugged and snuggled together. Bit by bit we formed our new normal. New Years eve of 1998/99 Maggie, Serrah, and I slept together on the hide a bed in the living room and watched the countdown on TV. After they fell asleep, I cried tears of gratitude and hope. Surely 1999 would bring better things. I prayed for strength to be a better mom, to get myself together and make life better for these kids who deserved so much better.
One day, toward the end of January, Mom said, “There’s a nursing home not far from here called Elim. Let’s go over and see what kind of jobs they have. I think it’s time. What can it hurt to go see?” She literally took me by the hand and led me there, just six blocks away. We walked into the place. I was nervous about working at a nursing home, not knowing what to expect, and frankly being afraid of the people who lived there. It didn’t smell like a nursing home, and there was christian music playing overhead. My fears began to melt away a little bit. I met with the personnel director, I timidly expressed an interest in being a certified nurse aide. I lacked the training for that, so to the kitchen I went. That was ok by me. The money and benefits were good, and I could stay fairly invisible.
I started the first week of February. I got my first paycheck right around the 14th. With my very own money, I went to Kmart. I bought a pair of pajamas a movie for the kids, Mulan. I then went to Barnes and noble and purchased a tin of Republic of tea Earl Greyer black tea bags, my big splurge. Mom and Dad were gone to Arizona for the week. I picked the kids up, we went and got junk food, and then we piled into our bedroom wall to wall kids and I, watching Mulan. The time was magical, us in our tiny cocoon.
At the nursing home, as I set the tables, served the food, and cleared the dishes, I listened to the residents. Then I started to talk with them, Then I fell in love with the beautiful people who called this place home. Soon I called it home as well. I wanted to work more closely with the people who lived there, so in May I got my CNA license and began working the pm shift at the nursing home from 2:00 pm to 10:30 pm. It was quiet but busy time. Something about helping people relax into bed after, what must have seemed like, long weary days gave me comfort and satisfaction. The appreciation and relief of finally being in bed was rewarding. It gave me purpose and satisfaction at the end of each workday.
The divorce was final in May as well. I made some friends and started going out sometimes at night. The guys I met or dated were all younger than I and couldn’t be taken seriously. I had five kids to consider. It might seem silly to some, but even on a first date, I needed to consider them. Then there was the matter of the freckle on the end of my nose. A few times I would be sitting across the table from someone who would say, “You’ve got something on the end of your nose.” “It’s a freckle. No matter how much I wash it, it just won’t come off. The stupid thing seems to be permanent!” I would say. Those dates did not result in second dates.
The kids came for the second half of the summer. I worked nights, and Mom had the kids during that time. It was hard to be away from them on the evenings I worked. Nine days out of fourteen gave me five to spend with the kids, we laid in the back yard sunning ourselves as the girls listened to Brittany Spears and The Backstreet Boys. We played basket ball in the driveway.
They made friends with the neighbor kids, playing childhood games and enjoying summer life, slowly settling into the new normal. The greatest miracle of all was that with eight of us under one roof, there was no contention. Mom, Dad, the kids, and I lived together in harmony.
Ben and Max made a couple of friends, Eric and Alex. Alex lived next door. He was a ringleader of sorts, telling tall tales. The funniest being that his small terrier mix was a trained attack dog, Clydie the attack dog 😂! They had “happy hour” at Eric’s house, where Eric’s mom prepared an afternoon snack each day around four pm. Eric stayed in they boy’s life, friends to this day. Alex and Clydie the attack dog did not.
At Summer’s end, Serrah decided to stay. She was headstrong, and there was no budging with her once she made up her mind. This was not a popular choice with Lyle, but there was nothing to be done of it. I occupied one bedroom and Maggie another in my parent’s home. Serrah and Maggie refused to share a room, so I gained a roommate. Serrah and I would share a room and a bed. Somehow it all went off without a hitch. I asked Serrah later in life why she decided to stay and live with me. Without even thinking she responded, “Because I couldn’t live without you.”