Friday, July 31, 2015

"Mutual Friend"

This year I had the best Mother’s Day ever.  And that says a whole lot because I usually do not like holidays – “Hallmark” or otherwise.  David really hit a home run: he sent me and my friend, Jen, to a divine spa in Calistoga for a day of spa treatments, wine and relaxing.  It was like stepping back into my old life, or a parallel universe, for a day – in more ways than one.  Spending a spa day with Jen in wine country was the culminating event of a very strange journey she and I have been on for 6 years.
Truth be told, Jen is “The Other Woman”: she is my ex-husband’s now ex-girlfriend, the one he left me for.  I met her about a year into their relationship, and Jen and I have been fast friends ever since.  Sure, we’ve had some “out” times but that’s to be expected – right?
It started on a Sunday morning in December 2009 when I was picking up the 5 kids from their weekend with their Dad.  The Ex met me at the bottom of his front steps, to warn me not to go in the house.  He didn’t know me very well, now did he?  “Poppy cock!” I exclaimed and bounded up the two flights of stairs to his rented flat.  There was no preparation – no time to pick an intimidating outfit, coif my hair, polish my makeup, get Botox, compose a script.  Nothing.  I went in with yoga pants, no shower, and running shoes.  The Ex trailed along.
Our breakup 10 months before was bad, to put it mildly.  Nearly as horrific as 1989 movie,  “The War of the Roses” with Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner, and Danny DeVito.  I highly recommend this movie for anyone in the mood for a dark comedy that hits close to home for countless couples, including us.  By the time I met Jen, The Ex and I were entrenched in the throes of negotiations moderated by a private judge and orchestrated by two of the most powerful divorce attorneys in the Bay Area.  My attorney actually retired immediately after our divorce papers were finally signed; my Ex’s attorney underwent surgery and took an extended hiatus.  We did them in.

So, there I was hurdling up the stairs.  I heard the loud happy noises of the kids in the kitchen, finishing up a home cooked brunch.  I stood in the doorway and before I had a chance to rethink it (or think at all), I introduced myself to Jen with a big hug and a beaming smile.  (Sometimes I surprise myself.)  And, God bless her, Jen hugged me right back.  I told her how relieved I was to finally meet her and thanked her for taking such good care of my children.  I welcomed her with open arms into our little clan and planted the seed of a lasting friendship.
Clint Eastwood
The children and The Ex stood in stunned silence.  They must have imagined a very different scenario.  But here’s the thing: I was, and still am, eternally grateful to Jen for getting me out of a dismal marriage.  The Ex and I had been in a virtual Mexican Standoff, or staring contest, for YEARS.  We are both extraordinarily stubborn and strategic, and neither was willing to move out or admit defeat.  So we each stood our ground.  Admittedly, life at home was …. tense.  Then Jen came along, and The Ex “blinked,” so to speak.  Hallelujah!  I was so glad, that I could just hug her.  And I did.
Besides, there were a lot of other reasons to like her.  First and foremost, my kids adored her.  Charlie was 13 and little Robbie was barely 4.  They were babies and needed someone to take care of and nurture them when they were at their Dad’s.  And if she was going to be an integral part of my children’s lives, I wanted to “be in the loop” so she and I could coordinate our parenting efforts (since I certainly could not do that with The Ex).  I wanted to tell my kids that it was OK to like this new person, that they did not have to chose between us – they could have us both.  I showed them flamboyantly, effusively and theatrically that Jen and I would be friends.  Finally, Jen kept my Ex happy, and a happy Ex is a less confrontational, more compliant ex.  (OK, and being friendly with her threw my Ex off balance – always fun.) 
Over the years, Jen and I communicated regularly to manage the 5 kids: “Do you think this one is depressed? Is that one actually eating or just pretending? Do you think this one is having social issues at school? Could you take that one out for some one-on-one time shopping? Can you make sure this one does the art project due Monday?”  Jen and I routinely texted and “tag teamed” the kids, or played “good cop/bad cop” with them.  Sometimes we even had lunch on my Ex’s credit card!  A genuine friendship developed, and I came to view Jen as the little sister I never had.  She just had terrible taste in men—we could work on that. 
We attended all the kid functions together—me and Bubba, Jen and The Ex.  Like a really, really warped double date.  One of these events was a sit-down dinner to celebrate a middle school graduation.  The other couples at our table got wide-eyed as the four of us head for our seats.  “Uh oh.  Take cover,” I’m sure they all thought.  Au contraire.  Jen and I sat on one side of the table, away from both guys, and gossiped the night away.  It was at this dinner that I asked if she knew the full story of my Ex’s indiscretions (besides her, of course). “Yes! He told me EVERYTHING on our third date.  I know in my heart that he has changed his ways.”  “Oh honey, a leopard can’t change its spots.  There is nothing on this planet that is worth selling your soul for,” I counseled.  Ah, youth (Jen is ten years my junior).
Several years later, Jen texted me in the middle of the night: “You were so right.”  Damn.  It’s really hard to find a stepmother-figure as good as her and I didn’t want to train up a new one (!).  But more importantly, my friend’s heart was breaking.  I had unique insights and perspectives on what she was experiencing.  Their relationship EXPLODED with drama, no Mexican Standoff for them.  Without going into all the details, it involved police, knives, cross country drives, and Facebook unfriending.
When the dust settled, she and I had even more in common than before.  I admire her spunk, her determination, and her ability to advocate for herself.  To this day, she and I still strategize about how to raise the 5 kids and we often set up situations where she can model to the girls how to be a successful, strong, independent woman in a “man’s world.”  Telling them simply is not enough; they need to see it from someone other than their mother.  The kids still confide in Jen and value her opinion as an adult they love and trust.
“So, how does this have anything to do with goats?” you may be asking by now.  Well, one of Jen’s careers was as a filmmaker.  For a while, I had an idea to make a reality TV-show about showing goats.  Imagine “Best in Show,” just with goats instead of dogs.  If “My Cat From Hell” and “Toddlers and Tiaras” can make it, then so can “Get Your Goat.”  Right?  (Maybe I’ll still do it…!)  Anyway, Jen was going to film it for me.  We always got a huge chuckle out of that plan because The Ex doesn’t like animals, especially goats, and his girlfriend would be totally wrapped up in goats just like the rest of his family. 
Jen encouraged Katherine’s goat project, and always invited Katherine to bring whatever “bottle baby” she was managing to Jen and Ex’s house in Palo Alto.  Jen delighted in taking the children out for walks in downtown Palo Alto, with the baby goat trotting along at the end of the leash, wearing its newly acquired fashion sweater.  “Purse dogs and teacup pigs are so passé; everyone who’s anyone has a goat, dahling.”  She fielded questions with grace and aplomb, “Oh my god! Is that a baby llama?!” one genius asked her.
Does this look like a baby goat to you?
Jen also had a front-row seat to my only public fight with Bubba.  She had come over to celebrate a kid’s birthday with us, and at this party Bubba had flown off the handle bars at me about a snippy comment that Bella (age 16) had made to him.  “It’s all your fault! You are a terrible parent!” he screeched at me and stormed out of the room, glowering at Bella all the way.  Bella teared up instantly, and Jen and I whisked her off to a corner of the house (away from the party) to discuss the episode.  
Jen and I taught Bella all about misdirected anger and suppressed emotions in our attempt to reassure Bella that none of the imminent breakup was her fault.  Bella calmed down and went off to bed, whereupon it was my turn to be consoled and counseled. 
Honig Sauvignon Blanc - my fav
So there we were, having both moved on to new relationships, lounging by the pool at a spa in wine country, sharing a bottle of sauvignon blanc.  Cheers!  [And a shout out to David for appreciating both me AND Jen for our roles “mothering” the children.] 
Between massages and mud baths, Jen and I discussed the Ex’s new girlfriend.  We decided that the new love interest just isn’t fun enough to make the “lounge chair cut.”  We must have looked like a tableau from “The Other Woman” movie.  At one point I thought we’d get kicked out of the spa for being too loud. 
David, best boyfriend ever, had also arranged to pick up the kids from The Ex that afternoon as part of his Mother’s Day gift to me.  Jen’s boyfriend was killing time wine-tasting.  So Jen and I concluded that the two of them—the new boyfriends—should both pick up the kids from The Ex.  Now that’s a funny image!  Wine schnerfed out of our noses. 
The universe works in strange ways: the ex-wife and the ex-girlfriend, fast friends, helping each other navigate life’s treacherous course.  The kids no longer think it’s weird that we are friends—they just accept it.  And when people ask us how we know each other, we say, “mutual friend."
I hope the kids have learned two things from this oddball friendship:
1)   True friends are few and far between and you never know where your next one is going to come from; so be open minded.
2)   Happiness is a choice.  Jen and I easily could’ve chosen to be catty rivals, fanning the flames of the dysfunctional relationship that initially connected us.  But we didn’t, and look at how well that worked out! A day at the spa with a true friend.


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