Divorce, Lies, and Bullying

As I recently posted, this past weekend was Garris’ last high school rodeo. Ever.

I thought I would be more melancholic about that milestone, but I’m not. I will miss going to the different arenas and watching him make his runs. But the atmosphere among the rodeos themselves have changed over the course of the last few years.

It’s no secret that my divorce was contentious. My ex is a petty and bitter person who, almost seven years after signing dissolution papers, is still foisting his bitterness onto our kids. I tried the first few years to co-parent with him. I kept him in the loop about parenting decisions and asked for his input and help when I was at a loss over what to do with Garris. But I didn’t get anything but blowback from him. So, a couple of years ago, I quit trying.

The reason that matters? The majority of our friends no longer speak to me. The majority of rodeo parents ignore me. These are people that I once considered, if not friends, at least folks who I could sit with and chat with during the rodeos. Now, I feel like a pariah when I go into the stands to watch the rodeos.

A couple of the rodeo moms told me last fall some of the things that are floating around the gossip mill about me. And there is only one source that could have originated those lies. I suffer from severe social anxiety. I get physically sick when I have to be a large crowds. Even just walking in front of people, like in the grandstands at a rodeo, makes me nervous. I have hyperventilated before in those situations and almost passed out. And now that I know I’m not welcomed to sit down with the other parents, the stress level I feel is magnified to a level that I can’t control.

Honestly, the people who believe the rumors about me, after knowing me for ten or fifteen years, aren’t people I need in my life. I don’t mourn the loss of them. What makes me angry and frustrated is that so many of these parents are ostracizing me based on lies. No one has asked me if there is any truth in the rumors. No one has been decent enough to give me the benefit of the doubt, probably because I’m a quiet person. I’m not going around debasing my ex or spreading lies about him. No one has questioned me about what led to our divorce, which is very different from the false narrative that’s being told.

These parents are engaging in adult bullying. It’s amazing to me that at this point in my life, I am witnessing the same actions that happen in schools. I’m an easy target. And it is hurtful. It reminds me of my two years at Bozeman High School and having to make my way through the gauntlet of mean girls and cliques. Once I graduated, I never figured I’d have to steel myself against that kind of behavior again.

It’s like I told Garris the other day: I always enjoy watching his runs, even the ‘bad’ ones. But having to sit by myself, knowing that I will be ignored if I try to sit with other parents, makes it a lonely way to watch the rodeos. I used to be included in the chit-chat. I used to be in the rotation of bringing treats. Now, it’s like the other parents can’t remember who I am.

So maybe that’s why I won’t really miss the high school rodeo atmosphere. I’m looking forward to attending college rodeos. And because Garris is the youngest, I will be able to go to more of those than I could with my older boys. Sure, some of these same parents will be in attendance at those rodeos, but college rodeos are set up differently than high school. There are different sections of go’s, so that not every student competes at the same time, or on the same day, for the same round.  So the number of those parents in attendance at the same time as me will most likely be drastically reduced.

I know that in time, the truth will rear its head. And those people who are actively choosing to believe in lies will discover they’ve been manipulated. But that doesn’t quell the pain in my chest or the nausea in my stomach.

I think this weekend finally brought some clarity to Garris as far as my struggle to support him without exposing myself to the cruel comments from the other parents. Our district was going to do an ice cream social for our seniors. Garris asked me if I was going to attend it, and I talked with him honestly and openly about how the other parents treated me. He nodded and said that he didn’t like the situation. He said he was sorry that they acted that way. And he said he didn’t understand why they wouldn’t talk to me. He knew that there are lies being told.

But he also understood why I wasn’t keen on putting myself in the middle of that social time. By the end of the weekend, he thanked me several times for driving to Baker and he said he knew that it wasn’t easy for me to be in crowds or around those other parents. So, even though it is the end of his high school career, I feel like he and I grew a bit closer and he grew up a bit over this weekend.

All I can hope is that he learns from this how to treat other people. We all love to hear juicy gossip about others. But not too many people work to separate fact from fiction when it comes to information sharing. What I’ve learned over the past few years is to reserve judgement about other people’s situations until I know the entire story. I try to choose kindness over cattiness. Sometimes I succeed. Sometimes not. But I try very hard not to spread rumors. I know firsthand just how much it hurts when those rumors are false and being treated as gospel.

Ultimately, I will be fine. I know what led to my divorce. I know what’s true about me and what isn’t. I know my culpability in my situation. The web of lies that has multiplied over the last couple of years will eventually tear apart and the creator of those lies will be proven as unreliable. A liar. Someone you can’t trust.

I am secure in my small circle of friends. They know me and defend me voraciously. I know who I can count on. That’s what I have to focus on as I take a step forward, with Garris, away from the childish antics of high school rodeo. And toward the next chapter of my rodeo mom career: my final college student.

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