Thanksgiving afternoon: In my car, outside my house. I remind myself to take mindful pauses. I’m scared to enter my house, the home I loved for so long, where we raised three daughters.
I force myself to not speed back to my apartment.
I enter smiling. I engage. I respond, not react. I don’t drink. The day, a measured success. No moments when my behavior reminds my daughters of the bad ol’ days.
Feeling like a visitor, my ex-wife, Caroline is super-polite, as if manners can gloss over the corrosion that eroded our relationship. My daughters, across the room, occasionally scrutinize me as I chat.
Leaving before dessert, I mate up an excuse. No one begs me to stay a few more minutes.
Cut to Saturday morning. Preparing for the “Cook Off,” an annual tradition – the antithesis of Thanksgiving. My brother-in-law Stefano, dear friend Jack, and I prepare a tasting menu for family and a few dear friends, 23 people!
Much of the cooking is done ahead of time. The dinner is held at my old house.
Friday, I asked my ex if I could prep-cook at the house. My kitchen is challenging to put it kindly.
Caroline replied, “Of course.”
Saturday morning, while roaming Whole Foods, Caroline texted me.
“Lexi, (our youngest) is hosting a few friends to watch Michigan play football and it will be a little crazy til 3 0r 4. Will that work?”
The text triggered an explosion of pain.
Years ago, Caroline and I converted a screened-in porch into a cozy sun room. Large windows, comfortable sofas, it became our favorite ron. I have wonderful memories of Caroline and me curled up, doing the Sunday Times crossword, me on my iPad, Caroline, old school, our dogs nestled in, lazily lifting a paw accusingly anytime we stopped rubbing them.
I’m not a big football fan. Once in a while though, I like watching part of a game.
Soon after the room was finished, I was in the mood. Lexi, a high school senior, was camped out, doing homework. I politely asked if she would mind going elsewhere or if she cared if I watched football.
“I have all my stuff spread out! Can’t you watch in your bedroom? Or the basement?”
Caroline sided with Lexi. I felt powerless, furious, betrayed by my wife.
Receiving Caroline’s text sent me reeling in a tsunami of pain. Once again Caroline siding with Lexi, ignoring my needs.
Then I found compassion. I thought about Lexi and old friends while her separated dad’s cooking in the kitchen. I felt Lexi’s pain.
That enabled me to put my pain in perspective, to change the relationship with my feelings. By doing so, I restored my equilibrium.
The cook-off a success, I even drank a bit. My daughters, catching up with lifelong friends, paid me little heed.
This weekend reminded me I can’t control what triggers pain. I can control my relationship with it. A reassuring thought to begin a new week.
Stay in touch. Connect.
P.S. I’ll do a mini-post on what I made and where I got the recipes.
P.S.S. Just because this might be one of the best movies ever made.