Learning About Adaptation On The Road

Filed Under (Single Parenthood) by Estee on 30-07-2009

We are free to view life from many possible angles.

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I think I am making my way into singledom with grace. Those of you who have followed this blog might have noticed some soul searching buried within some of these posts. A surgery, a husband leaving, and a vast new expanse of what-ifs and a nasty bit of weight gain (okay, that’s the vanity part of me…I gain weight when I’m down as opposed to you lucky ones that lose piles of it), and I finally got to another tipping point — my life has to go on and it may even get a lot better.

I did the sleeping thing. The “don’t want to get out of bed” thing. I did the crying and the grieving. These are the things that one does when a relationship has been an important part of your life.  I did what I had to do until I realized that I had to put a time limit on it. If all of our pain and suffering is created by how we view our present circumstances, I thought I’d better change the view. So I decided to take my first trip alone since my separation. And it was life-changing. Funny how getting out of the confines of your daily existence pats you on the shoulder to remind you again of who you really are. I quite enjoyed traveling on my own, meeting really nice people on my recent biking trip from Prague to Vienna. The flight was wonderful on Austrian Air. It exceeded my expectations as a chef was on board and served very good food. I was excited to use my German again —  I hadn’t used it in over fourteen years which was the last time I spent living in Germany. At first, I missed sitting there next to my husband as this symbolized a turning point for me. I briefly wished he was there to share this with me, as we had traveled so much together and he was a good travel partner. But I soon eased in to this new reality that this would be my first major European trip on my own again just as before I met him. I relaxed into my seat and decided to let the ride just take me along. I had been studying in Europe before Henry. I was learning new languages. I had many friends from around the world. I sensed I would be coming full circle.IMG_0297

I noted how I was adapting to my days on my own, and to meeting new people with ease. I recognized that I could ride at my own pace without having to slow down or keep up with my partner. This Es-“tella” got her cadence back. I felt vivacious and social. If you’ve seen the movie “How Stella Got Her Groove Back,” you’ll get it.  Divorce can make you realize how you may have lost yourself in the process of giving yourself up a little too much. No one should have to go that far, but more often than not, we do without being conscious of it. Sometimes we do it because we believe that’s what love is. The lesson may be in the need to keep track of ourselves as partners and individuals within a marriage — to become conscious and honest about who we are and what we want and be accepted for it. I think partners need to regularly check in with one another and definitely share some major interests. Aside from my mini post-divorce evaluation here, I have to laugh at some of the things I do when I’m on a trip alone — taking pictures can be a little tough. It’s hard to get the background in with your face close up to the lens which tends to expand your face like a blowfish. IMG_0381

But hey, I had to have a picture to prove I was there!  The trip reminded me of the pace of life, the ups and the downs. But most of all, it introduced me again to the self that got lost because I never fit into the box I was asked to fit into (except for the distorted picture frame…okay…there are advantages of having a partner too!).

Let me get to my metaphorical point: I began my first cycle day with a crash. Yep, day one I had a whole two-minute ride! As I traveled up a steep climb, not able to figure out the new-ish gears (duh me — I couldn’t locate them as they were at the front and the back of the handle), and my feet were strapped in so I couldn’t get them out quickly enough. I could not change gears and I lost control of the bike and fell into a bit of a long ditch….on and over my head. As I fell over and over again, it was one of those circumstances that you can see yourself and do nothing about it. I thought I was screaming on the way down, but a Czech lady (the only person who spoke English that day in Central Bohemia), told me she could barely hear me at all asking for help. I was in a state of shock and enough pain (I am still feeling it to this day two weeks later) to warrant a 911 call and a trip to a Bohemian hospital.IMG_0299

A testament to Czech hospitality, the woman offered to stay with me the entire day to translate to the doctors when she was really supposed to be spending vacation time camping with her sons. As I lay in the ambulance, all muddied and covered in grass, I was wondering why this was happening to me after such a harsh two years. I was really ready to feel exceptionally sorry for myself. I mean, this was to be the “life-changing” trip and here I was down again. The only person I could think of was Adam, for if I had really hurt myself, I would have potentially made him suffer too. Luckily, after it was confirmed I was not likely to be a Natasha Richardson case, we began to laugh and act silly. So a crash can be a blessing. I made a new Czech friend, renewed my faith in humanity (and my resilience),  and got to know my guide, Darius, for about six hours. I became close to two complete strangers.

And it made sense that we became so close —  a brusque Czech nurse stripped me down virtually naked while men were walking in and out of the examination room. When we asked for a gown, the nurse literally threw a small square of  paper towel over my groin. I mean, you just cannot take your self too seriously when there (seem to be)  no other options.

I had to rest the following day, but I still wanted to get to know my new bike-mates, so I joined them for lunch at a farm. I was anxious to get back in the saddle, so the day after, I did just that. There was nothing that was going to stop me now. I rode and rode at such a pace and made it past the town square. At that point, as I was riding down the highway back towards Prague and felt something was amiss. I figured our guides likely wouldn’t want us to be taking the traffic route. After failed attempts to find my way, I called Raphael and asked him where I was. He told me to make it back to the square and at this point, I took enough of a break for this shot. Yet, I enjoyed getting lost. I felt satisfied for having tried to find my way, discovering routes I would not have seen otherwise. So, while no one ever gets lost on a straight road, no one might ever discover something interesting from one’s mistakes, either.IMG_0338

It began to pour rain on us but I wasn’t planning on stopping soon. I was motivated to test my will, my strength, and dag-nam-it, to jump start my twenty pound weight loss (an added benefit I hoped) to shed the guard and vulnerability that became my new weight. I think it’s significant to talk about this for many women. It becomes not only a health issue, and not just a vanity issue, but an issue of what is happening to us on the inside. Some of us pack it on like a shield for the blows we are taking. Sometimes we have no energy to spare when so much of it is being spend on the shock and healing. Yet now, life is about a lot of shedding to find the woman that has been buried and guarded for a while now. Nine months after separation, it is time for a rebirth.

Our group rode the next day in Austria toward the Wachau region. It was stunningly beautiful and a clear day. The hills were very much alive in my lungs as I realized that when I returned back to Toronto, I would have some serious hill-training to do. I made it up the hills, but this is when the stronger cyclists could really catch up to me and where I would fall behind. I’ve had my heart-rate measured many times and I’m lucky that I have an athletes heart (my resting heart rate is just under 60 beats per minute). So I guess I’m telling myself that really, I’m all out of excuses.

I cut my hair before this trip. I don’t know why because I actually prefer it long — more like this:  IMG00300-20081213-1921

I think it was also a part of my shedding. Separation is a good time to re-evaluate everything on your plate. I’ve looked at all the jobs I’ve had to do, and all the stress to determine that the priorities are making sure Adam is okay, managing his programs, team and education as well as focusing on keeping myself healthy and working on that which is important to me. The rest has to drop away in order to do a good job at the things I believe to be important right now. The shedding is for health and well-being. This is not just about being attractive, but it’s about feeling the best I can about myself. This is why cycling was exceptional for me: it enabled me to challenge myself in a way that had meaning beyond just aesthetics.  This is why I wonder why I’ve never taken an active vacation before, and this will surely not be the last time. I’m already looking into hiking this summer, and I’m cycling every weekend now just outside of Toronto.

It has given me more energy for Adam as well. I can’t say enough as a divorced mother, how the guilt can keep creeping in: am I doing enough for him; am I keeping up with his curriculum; am I on top of his team; is he getting the best from me? The sense of obligation for a child, and a special needs child are immense. For seven years, I’ve spent my life completely devoted to my wonderful little boy. And feeling down and out the past nine months, I realize that Adam needs and deserves a strong and happy mother. I may take a bit more time for myself now, but in the end this will benefit him. Already, I’ve taken him cycling. Every day he asks to use his bike. As I become more active, I envision Adam become more so as well. My goal is that Adam can one day bike with me and participate more and more with mom in the activities we can enjoy and share together.

I think it is no coincidence that many men and women who have ended their long-term relationships must take a life-changing trip. Frances Mayes bought a property in Tuscany for heaven’s sake! While I can’t just take off and leave Adam to buy a new property in another country, there is no reason not to expand my own, as well as Adam’s horizons. The feeling of expanding is liberating. Life is not just about Toronto, Torontonians (I have a few things to say about the city I was IMG_0473born in for the people don’t exactly have the “gemutlichkeit” I am more comfortable with). Life that is out there and can put the back here into a clearer and more positive perspective.

When we reached Vienna all sweaty from a bike ride on a 35 degree celsius day, we toured the city a bit and reached the Goddess of Wisdom which I ran right up to for a photo opp, taken my a fellow single lady from Edmonton. I realized that maybe I have finally learned what  others might learn earlier, and others still may never learn at all — that wisdom comes from experience and that the way we succeed in life is by how we adapt and respond to the life that happens to us. We can choose to respond negatively or positively to everything that happens to us. For it happens all right — in sickness, health, disability, divorce, and so much more. These in and of themselves are not failures and tragedies. The tragedy is if we never learn to adapt at all. “Life is not the way it’s supposed to be, it’s the way it is,” says Virginia Satir. “The way you cope is what makes the difference.”

So thanks to my guides, my new bike friends — the incredibly kind people who made my journey something I will never forget.IMG_0401

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About Me


ESTÉE KLAR

I’m a PhD candidate at York University, Critical Disability Studies, with a multi-disciplinary background in the arts as a curator and writer. I am the Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project (www.taaproject.com), and an enamoured mother of my only son who lives with the autism label. I like to write about our journey, critical issues regarding autism in the area of human rights, law, and social justice, as well as reflexive practices in (auto)ethnographic writing about autism.