Modern Family


“Are there any Jewish people here?” My mother asks, over her vanilla yogurt and Swiss cheese sandwich.

“I think there are a few in the gated community up the road,” I say, clearing dishes off the table.

“Well that’s a relief,” my mom says.  “How did you hear?”

“The Jews have secret smoke signals down here, Mom, ones that the Klan don’t recognize.”

“Ilene…” my ex-husband says.  It’s the warning call, the one where he tells me to back off.  Just the use of the word Klan is feeding into my mother’s fear that I’ve moved myself and her grandchildren to some back wood, red neck hell hole where crosses burn on lawns on a regular basis.

My mother and my ex recently arrived for the weekend,  weary from their car ride from New Jersey, one hour longer than expected, when my ex’s cell phone died somewhere on I-95 soon after crossing into North Carolina, losing the GPS with it. My mother called me from her ten year old dinosaur of a phone in desperate need of directions. They were fine until they got to Wilmingon, where between the spaghetti bowl of highways my well-intended instructions getting lost in translation, they took a few unexpected detours.

I called my mother to check their status not long before they arrived.

“We’re on Route 133.”

“What are you doing on 133?” I ask.  “I told you to take Route 17. Let me talk to S.”

“It’s not a good time,” Mom says.  I can tell from the tone of her voice that there’s been tension. My ex-husband hates getting lost.

When they pull in, I have food ready.

“I have a plate for you,” I say to S.

“You made a plate for me?”  He asks.  I hear the subtext in the tone of his voice, the subtlety of it obvious to me, who from first date to separation was with this man for fifteen years. It wasn’t well over a year ago that I would have mumbled under my breath for him to make his own dinner.  Throw in an F word or two.

But he was tired and just drove 650 miles to see his children.  Food is the least I can offer.

“This cheese is delicious,” my mother says.  Where’s it from?


“I never would have guessed.  They sliced it so nice and thin.”

“They’ll slice the cheese thin for me at Walmart, Mom…so long as I don’t tell them I’m Jewish.”

S. looks at me again and rolls his eyes, although I’d swear this time he’s holding back a laugh.

“Is…Walmart the only place to shop here?” My mother asks tentatively.

“Unless you drive to Wilmington.”

“Do they have real stores in Wilmington?  Like Macy’s?”

“Real stores Mom.  It’s just like being in New Jersey.  There’s Jews there too.  Lots of them.”

S. can’t hold back the laughter anymore.

I had debated taking off for the weekend and leaving the house to my ex.  I wanted him to have his own space with the kids.

There was also the issue of not knowing how we’d all get along under one roof.  But it was fine.  I would go as far to say it was a good time.   We parented together.    We had family dinners. We argued incessantly over which airport we flew out of to get to Paris for our honeymoon (It was JFK – I’ll bet my life on it!).  After I dedicated Sunday afternoon to baking, I told him I’d send him home with a bag of my home made granola.

“Wow, I forgot how good this stuff is,” S. says, tossing a handful of it into his mouth.

I look at my ex-husband and think about the past year, not in relevance to him but in relevance to me and the men that I’ve interacted with since our split.  There haven’t been many, but every single one of them has been some sweet talking dude with a jacked up story.  None of them holds a candle to the man I’m divorcing.

Sitting next to this good, decent, honest guy, I can’t help but wonder what he’d think of my choices, the bridges I was willing to buy, the red flags I chose to ignore.   I can almost see him shaking his head at me as I’d tell him about this one or that one, the way he’s shaken his head at me in the past when I’ve gone down the wrong road despite his warnings.

This is also the same man I’ve been in the ring with for years, but he’s never once thrown a punch below the belt.  We’re completely polarized in our thinking on the “most important issues,” but he’s not vindictive or manipulative or unkind. Even in divorce.

I’m glad I stayed in town for the weekend. He reminded me what the good guy looks like.

Sometimes, the messages we need to hear come from the most unsuspecting places.

Namaste, ya’ll.


Modern Family — 94 Comments

  1. Sounds like it was a great experience, one you’ll think about often.
    When we go to Vegas, my daughter stays with her Dad – my ex – and we stay with my ex-inlaws. Strange, but it works. I’ve had some great conversations with him earlier this year during our last visit. XO!
    Kerstin @ Auer Life recently posted…ApfelstrudelMy Profile

    • That is great that you have that kind of relationship too – but knowing what I know about you, I have no doubt you were cool like that. I more I know you, the more I think you totally rock.

    • I’m lucky, Alison – and I need to give credit where credit is due. S. tried hard this weekend as well!

  2. I totally agree with Alison. And I love your perspective too. I don’t know how I’d work through something like this, and I’m guessing it took some work for you to get here, but it’s so amazing to read. You are an inspiration.
    Tricia recently posted…The mish mashMy Profile

    • Thanks, Tricia. It’s been a process and it’s over a year now since our split. Time heals a lot.

  3. You never cease to amaze. I love how reflective and open you are with yourself about your ex. You should be proud that you reached such a place that few do!
    You are also freakin’ hilarious with the Jewish comments to your mom!!! HA HA HA!!!!
    Allie Burdick recently posted…Running with GazellesMy Profile

    • Thanks, Christie. Huge learning curves and acceptance curves along the way. But so glad we are where we are right now!

  4. Your post made me laugh Ilene, you’re a funny woman. And crazy strong to boot. I can’t imagine looking at an ex with enough perspective to consider them in a positive light. Call it immaturity or a lack of closure or whatever. And I didn’t marry those guys! But hearing your story I can believe that it all works out one way or another, given time. Your kids are lucky to have great parents. I’m happy you had a good weekend!
    Maribel recently posted…Thankful Thursday: What I’m Thankful for this WeekMy Profile

    • Time heals so much and gives us perspective. The bottom line is that I’m glad I ended my marriage – but I am also glad that this is a man who can stay part of my family. I’m blessed.

    • I feel fortunate for this Natalie, and it definitely took the two of us to make it work the way it did!

    • it is to everyone’s benefit when the parents get along. I’m glad you have the same experience in your family!

  5. How you manage to make me crack up laughing and then get choked up is a testament to what a great writer you are. I have no words, really for what a beautiful post this was about your ex. I will only say this: You are one of the most amazing women I have ever met and if just a little bit of you rubs off on me, I’d be better for it. Love you. XO
    AnnMarie recently posted…5 Things I’d Do if Money Were No ObjectMy Profile

    • I have no words for this comment – I’m completely humbled by it – except to say I love you too. xxoo

  6. That’s wonderful. It’s just …. WONDERFUL. You give your kids an amazing gift when you can treat each other with respect in the midst of a divorce. It means the world to me that my parents are friends now, far better than when they were married. The Klan joke almost had me spitting coke on my laptop. Your conversation with your Mom was hilarious. And I love that you can show each other the good people you are, because the end of a marriage doesn’t mean the end of a relationship, especially when you share three children between you.
    Jester Queen recently posted…Mornings With MerrimansMy Profile

    • Jessie, you nail it when you say that the end of a marriage isn’t the end of a relationship. It just changes. And despite our differences, I’m glad we’ve managed to put the kids first – at least this time…

  7. Ahhhh… I love love love this. I love how perfect the timing was of it all… the lesson, the message, the truth, and most of all the total beauty of perspective. And through the most unexpected one.

    Clarity is transforming and sooooo powerful. YES!!

    (And I would totally be laughing OUT LOUD at your comments to your mom… ohmygosh- hilarious!!)
    Chris Carter recently posted…Devotional Diary: TrustMy Profile

    • I really wish I could have taped these discussions with my mom – and yes, the clarity was amazing. To think, my ex husband will set the bar for the next one. Pretty ironic.

  8. Ok, I laughed a lot. I like my cheese sliced thinly too! Walmart, though? The one here is lacking. Almost as if they understand that this is Northampton and they’re not supposed to be here! Except, they totally are supposed to be here.
    I kinda get what that’s like.
    I want that granola. Badly.
    I love the way you describe your ex-husband. That’s better than the way some people describe their currents. I was thinking about you this weekend! Love hearing the stories.
    Tamara recently posted…Wonderland.My Profile

    • He’s a damn good ex husband. I mean, hey, it’s not perfect. That’s why we’re no longer married. But seriously, I have it better than most and I know it. And you are totally getting some granola. Totally.

    • You are so very kind, my friend. So very kind. We all made it work together. I’d do the weekend again in a heartbeat.

  9. This post touched me deeply because my parents are divorced and my mom never made an effort to allow us to spend time with my dad (I’ve been working on that since becoming an adult). I love the fact that you know at his core he is a good man and even though things didn’t work out he is still the father of your kids. Y’all are making your kids lives so much easier!!
    And, your Jewish comments were making me laugh!!
    Kim recently posted…WooHoo!! It’s My SITS Day!!!My Profile

    • At the core, he’s a good guy – part of the heartbreak of the divorce but also exactly why we can have weekends like this one!

  10. Wow! You get right everytime! God always shows us just what we need to see right when we least expect it… I too am going through a speration with my sons father, it’s been a crazy ride for the both of us while we still love each other sometimes despite what all those sappy love songs say “Love is NOT enough..” It is better for our son to see two seperate “HEALTHY” parents who respect each other and work together to parent our son than to live in a constant state of battle with two unhealthy parents…. thank you for sharing this. I needed to read this today… thank you ~Leah~
    Leah Elizabeth Locklear recently posted…Bedtime Excuses Before Bed: (The few my son throws my way!)My Profile

    • I am feeling you Leah. Love is not enough. There are so many components that go into a marriage. And only you can know when it can be worked out or when it’s time to walk away. Either way, the road is not easy. I am sending love your way my friend!

    • Thanks, Kerry, we are beginning to feel settled it. It was nice for my ex and my mom to see what our lives look like!

  11. Sounds like you had a great weekend. I loved reading your reflections about your ex – and that you know to hold out for another good guy. What a gift you are both giving your children by handling your split with such grace. And your banter with your mom cracked me up!
    Dana recently posted…Blog Challenge complete!My Profile

    • My mom is a riot. The banter was normal for us. But living down here gives us all new material. And yes, my ex is one of the good guys. I know not to settle for anything less next time.

  12. This post really, really tugged at my heart strings Ilene. First of all, I didn’t know you were close to Wilmington. You really aren’t that far. I used to drive up to Jacksonville for the weekends when J. was stationed at Camp leJeune. I see a girls weekend in our future. Now, how do we get Jenn down??
    Secondly, the maturity that you two can have and your ability to deal with each other as human beings who have shared so much is really, really touching. I love that you can show that two people can no longer be in love, but still share a life long bond, and set such a wonderful example of humanity and goodness for your children. I loved you before, but this… well, now I just love you even more!
    Alexa recently posted…Keeping My Head Above Water… barelyMy Profile

    • It’s so true – that we no longer share a life but we will always share a bond, and I think the two of us respect that – thankfully. And yes, I’m 40 miles from Wilmington and 50 miles north or Myrtle Beach. Girls weekend!

  13. I’m often surprised where the messages come from. Relationships serve as our mirrors if we let them, don’t they? We learn a lot, even when the relationship lasts only a season, or when it changes. You are such an inspiration, Ilene.
    Stevie recently posted…TimeMy Profile

    • It’s so true about relationships. They are our mirrors. The long lasting ones and the short lasting ones. They are all a gift in their own way.

  14. I’m so happy for you that the two of you can have such a civilized relationship as you go through this divorce. My parents didn’t have that and it was so hard on us kids. My bil is going through an ugly separation right now and it’s painful for all involved.

    LOL @ the real stores in Wilmington- that’s where I go for my real shopping, too. 😉
    Shell recently posted…Mum, Mum, Mum: Where’s My Cloak of Invisibility?My Profile

    • I’m glad we’ve gotten to this place. I know it’s not like this for many. And yes, where would I be without Wilmington?

  15. Your mother reminds me of my in-laws. My father-in-law only thought that right hand turns on red were legal in Jersey. That’s right. Of all fifty states in this great nation, only New Jersey allowed cars to turn right on red. Those towns with only one stop light?? They have to wait. And, I love the message here. I wanted to ask about “S” and the relationship there, but opted to mind my own business. I’m glad that he not only came down to see the kids and that the two of you had a nice weekend, but I’m especially proud that he drove your mother down to see the family! Divorce or not, it’s nice to know that the kids have a great father, and you have a good partner in parenting.
    Michelle recently posted…The Pessimistic ApproachMy Profile

    • He’s a good parenting partner. I call him sometimes when the kids aren’t listening to me! It’s the virtual version of “wait until your father gets home!” And you can ask away about S. anytime. xo

  16. Ilene I have the utmost admiration for you for staying home for the weekend. What a great example you are setting for you kids! I have seen the ugly side of divorce far too many times in my days as a day care worker. It can get real ugly; but what you have done is amazing!
    Rabia @TheLiebers recently posted…I’m Sorry! So Sorry!My Profile

    • Thanks Rabia. I don’t know if it’s amazing, or just the willingness for us to see each other as human beings. Whatever it is, it’s the best thing for everyone.

  17. It’s amazing how sometimes being separated from a person or situation allows you to see things with more clarity. So glad you were able to parent together. Love your openness on this post. Poor mom (bless her heart) lol. I loved teasing my mom about certain things…good fun 🙂
    Hope recently posted…Blog love: posts you should readMy Profile

    • It is good fun with my mom and yes – the distance has served to give me so much clarity – on many things. Time and distance really do heal!

  18. I can only imagine how tough that weekend had to be for you but overall, you seem to have come out the other side even better.

    Even in my small town outside of LA, we too, are missing a Jewish population (and I’m not even THAT Jewish). It’s not an easy transition after being in the tri-state area where everyone is Jewish (even if they’re not).

    I’m glad you and your ex could co-exist and co-parent together this weekend. Ilene, you never cease to amaze me.
    Melissa Burton recently posted…We All Need The Human Touch – A GNO With Rick SpringfieldMy Profile

    • Yes! yes! In the tri-state everyone is Jewish even if they’re not! I totally get this! I wasn’t sure how the weekend would go – but I was pleasantly surprised.

  19. Wow!!!! I’m not sure I’ll ever get to that place with my ex. He was (still is) the type to hit below the belt. Usually I drop the kids off and run… ignore nasty texts…. communicate through lawyers. I’m so glad you have a good weekend. As far as those bad guys go, just chalk it up as a post divorce mistake. I got a horrible tattoo, which will take five sessions, six weeks apart, to get rid of. X
    Martha recently posted…QR Codes for Better BusinessMy Profile

    • Oh my gosh! I have to hear about this tattoo! And yes, not at my best with the post divorce bad boys – I’ll chalk it up to lack of perspective, which of all places, I’ve regained via my ex.

    • LOVE that thinly sliced cheese – and I have to tell you, the big W did a great job slicing this one! It’s crazy because I was never in a Walmart in my life until I got here – and now it’s like every day….

    • Now that’s an interesting money making venture! My ex as my business partner in dignified divorce. My wheels as turning, girl. Like it. And yes, we’re lucky. all of us.

    • It was definitely more than survive. It was OK. I’d go so far as to call it good. For all of us. And yes, that smoke signal you see is me saying hello xo

  20. Jersey Girl- I gotta say it, bless your heart! You are a strong woman!! I wish I could be so kind to K’s sperm donor, I realize it goes both ways, glad to hear that it is fairly peaceful…as it was said earlier classy divorce.

    & I’m glad no one got out their pitchforks, call me if they do… I will jump on the highway & fix it… LOL.

    Bless your sweet Momma too!!! xoxo.
    Amber Day Hicks recently posted…Not all who wander are lost.My Profile

    • I think it’s wonderful that your husband stepped in and raised your kids. That’s a gift. I had a stepdad like that too and it meant the world to me.

  21. Pretty amazing all around. Your Mom, your ex, all in one house? Showing your kids that they come first, showing them that they still have a family – best thing you can ever give them. Being able to recognize the good in your ex- beautiful.
    Leah Davidson recently posted…Quote of the WeekMy Profile

    • Thanks, Leah. If I can make things good with my ex, it will be good for my kids. You know this. You wrote the book.

  22. Ilene, This article makes me SO happy. I was hesitant to read it at first. Afraid I’d see bickering and awfulness. I am so glad you two are able to move forward and put differences aside for the kids. Love, love, love this!!! And love you all!!!

    • I love you too! It was a great weekend. I was glad for that. I hope we’ve set the template for the visits to come. xo

  23. OK, your interaction with your mother sounds vaguely familiar to mine with my mom. Just vaguely 🙂
    I think that everyone else has said it better than me but I really admire you and your ex and how you are handling it in strength and civility – all of it. Pretty amazing that you all were able to have a good weekend together under one roof, definitely showing your kids the strength and bond of love and family even in this new configuration.
    Christine @ Love, Life, Surf recently posted…Looking forwardMy Profile

    • It’s still family like you said. Just a new configuration. And we’ll find our groove- or I should say, we’re finding it. Oh, how I’d love to be in a room with you and both of our mothers!

  24. I don’t think I could have done this…I would have tried to be the good one but something would have set me flying off the handles when it comes to my ex. 3 years later and we can fake positive like the best of them for 5 minutes…anything after that is not good…maybe sometime in the future. Its good for your littles that your family is finding the balance during the changes
    Krystal recently posted…Magical No Longer: The “Other” Disney Plan Most Don’t Know AboutMy Profile

    • I don’t know enough about your situation to comment, but the fact that I am divorcing a pretty decent guy made setting the tone for the weekend easy. And yes, kids first. Always.

  25. I’ve been dying to read this post for days! I think it’s great how you and your husband can respect each other – and even appreciate each other – while going through the divorce. I think this makes a big difference for the kids. My husband’s divorced parents come up to visit us together and even work together after all these years. And you had me cracking up with your Jewish remarks. Sounds like how I talk to my mom! 🙂
    another jennifer recently posted…Wordless Wednesday: Social Good Summit #2030NOWMy Profile

    • That’s great that your husband’s divorced parents are that close. Relationships never really end. They just change shape. It’s so much lighter when we can look at things that way.

  26. Dare I say that this might be one of my FAVORITE posts you’ve ever written. (I think I said this to you before.) So well written. I love this story and sense of camaraderie between you and your ex-husband. I feel like I should be rooting for the two of you. Very lovely story.
    Andrea recently posted…Don’t Let that Man OutdoMy Profile

    • You have said that to me before, Andrea, and I am so touched that this is a new favorite of yours. I love this story too and I was delighted to share it with y’all. And thanks for rooting for us. I think we have a chance at a great friendship, the two of us. I’d like that actually.

    • I’ll take the word mature! Yes indeed! And I think it may be in the Jewish mom handbook to ask about that – at least that’s what I’m beginning to think!

    • Thank you my friend. I’m so glad I’ve gotten to this place with my ex. For us and for the kids.

    • It’s like the translation of the word “namaste,” a word that I throw around pretty casually here – but it means, “The divine light in me honors the divine light in you.” When we recognize the divine light that lives within everyone, even our ex-husbands, good things are bound to happen.

  27. It sounds like a healthy weekend for you, him, & the kids! So interesting reading your thoughts on his understanding and warnings to you over th years. Even when a person is no longer a part of your life, you still wonder what they’d think…well I do! I’m glad you welcomed him after that eventful trip. The visit could have gone terribly opposite otherwise.

    • My ex is a good read of character. Better than I am at times, because my first inclination is to love and not judge…which is part of my goodness, yet sometimes, blinding. He’s always warned me about sketchy people. And he’s always been right. Yes, I’d love to know what he would have thought about some of the past events of my year. I bet I could predict some of them pretty accurately.

  28. I feel like this is the first post I’ve read where you talked about him as your “ex,” almost in the past tense. Was it difficult to do that?

    (and yeah, the convos with your mom… PRICELESS)

    ps – he doesn’t have a right to shake his head at you; you can make your own decisions. xo
    Deb @ Urban Moo Cow recently posted…Dilbert’s Secretary’s Pity PartyMy Profile

    • It feels pretty normal course to call him my ex. At some point, it just became past tense – and that’s OK – I think it’s part of why we can now get along so well!

  29. This post made me smile for several reasons. First, feel free to tell your mom that this former NYer just attended her first Bar Mitzvah last year… In NC! I’m happy for you in this place you are with your ex. It’s one my own and I have never been able to reach. Finally, Im checking off all the Walmarts down 17, trying to decide where you are! 🙂
    Single Mom in the South recently posted…Friday Fragments: Pierson, Parenting and PeachesMy Profile

    • I’ll make this easy for you – the Walmart I shop at the most is in Southport – and I’m one town over from there 🙂