January 31, 2020
The morning starts with my oldest child’s admission of empathy.
Typically, the door to this side of him is slammed shut and locked tight. I miss the eight-year-old who used to cry when we passed a homeless person on the street. Today, this door stands slightly ajar, poised to slam if I don’t tip-toe through it.
“Her dad feels like she’s drifting, so he picks her up in the mornings to talk with her on the way to school.”
He’s talking about his best friend. I tell him I’m proud of him for seeing she’s in pain and helping her through it, for remembering how tough divorce is on the kids that endure it. Most of the time, what we see as parents isn’t the entire picture. So I’m trying to listen more, intrude less.
We talk about how lucky they are to have parents who are best friends, who will always put them first. That’s not common with divorce.
Our conversation drifts to this friend and that friend. This friend only sees his dad every other weekend. This friend only once a month. My youngest is ticking off the list and then abruptly says:
“Remember when we only saw you on weekends? I hated that. I cried every time you left us. I still remember.”
My heart twists inside my chest. That visceral reaction of shame floods my face. I can feel it getting hotter, my stomach tightening.
“I remember. I cried all the time. I missed you guys so much, but we had to do what was best for you. Same school, same house. That was best. Less transition.”
I listed the reasons. I provided the facts. Guilt will always accompany some memories. At 22, I laid down my 20-year plan so carefully. I mapped and remapped, redrawing the blueprints, ruler-edging the lines. Tracing in pencil before applying permanent ink.
I was determined to be in control of my life, take charge in a way I couldn’t growing up in a household of eggshells and glass. Ryan and I had graduated college, recited our vows, built a family with two beautiful boys, bought a nice starter home. We laid sod in the yard, tilled ground for a garden in the back, planted a maple tree, and a rose bush on the side – an early Mother’s Day gift.
We began a nice suburban life.
My plan included church-going, polite, respectful children. The type of kids who make straight A’s or at least A’s and B’s, pray for the homeless, raise money for kids in Somalia, go on mission trips to build wells in Africa.
That’s the future I thought I had. And I was on track, 6 years in, until the edges caught fire. Wisps of smoke and feathers of charred paper drifting through the air – the only remnants of the meticulous design I’d crafted.
“I think I’m gay. . .”
Those words seemed out-of-place on a bright Saturday, late afternoon, cruising in his orange Honda Element. A toddler and a baby snoozing along in their car-seats after a long afternoon of play.
I laughed. I looked over at him. His eyes facing the road.
“Ryan . . .?”
My voice was suddenly shaky.
Twenty minutes later, I was convinced. No joke. Sometimes, you grieve the loss of your future like the death of a loved one.
In the years that followed, I was groundless. A wanderer. My dream had been uprooted – defaced – and I couldn’t blame the man that offered to stay. I was proud of him for coming clean, for taking a risk in being vulnerable.I didn’t know the path ahead, though. I spent years trying to fit my pieces together, and that included the year and a half the kids mentioned in the car today. The lessons I’ve learned are the lessons of impermanence and grace.
Impermanence says everything is changeable. Nothing stays the same. Grace says you did the best you could with what you had. I think of it hauntingly, a dark period in my life full of longing and regret for something I couldn’t change.
But I’m here now. Life may have bounced us around from house to house every two years, but we are together. My boys are loved and safe. The plans I make now are flexible, loose, Expo marker guidelines on a dry-erase board.
The map changes, and my thirties have been about learning to adapt. Learning to live now. Learning to appreciate the moments because now is all we have. The kids unbuckle their belts.
“I love you, mom,” they both say in unison.
I kiss them goodbye and hug them a little tighter before sending them on their way.