“Why can’t you two be like normal divorced parents and NOT talk to each other?!?!”
Turns out he told her she could do something, after I told her she couldn’t, and then retracted his yes to pair with my no. She was not a happy camper. Ahhh, parenting from two different homes and making every effort to show a united front can be as challenging as, well, parenting from one home while making every effort to show a united front.
I know both forms of parenting all too well. Thirteen years of 1-house/2-parents was way easier than 2-houses/2.5 parents has been (hard, but not as hard as it could’ve been). Parent 0.5 is quiet and shy and generally sits on the sidelines and let’s us (parent 1 & parent 2) do what we do. I appreciate her involvement in my children’s lives without getting involved in our parental decision making. I’m not quite sure what she thinks of our parenting skills or how he and I relate to each other but, for four years, she’s been good and patient with my kiddies (yeah, even with kid 1!) and that’s all that matters to me.
I’m not oblivious to the fact that kid 1 was correct when implying that the co-parenting kindness the ex-husband and I have towards each other is not at all normal. What she sometimes fails to miss during her Veruca-esque fits of anger is what it took to get here. I can only surmise that none of this would have come to pass had it not been for a whole-lotta grace.
Last Saturday the ex-husband and I had our annual sit-down-face-to-face breakfast. I had the french toast and bacon as we talked about what, where and how we will continue to parent two of the craziest, fun, smart and sometimes most difficult kids ever (and when I say ‘difficult kids’, I think we all know who I mean). I won’t deny that it doesn’t really make my “Top 5 Awesome Things To Do” yearly list. But, for us, it’s a necessary pow-wow. The first couple of years were the hardest but by year three, thankfully, it just got easier to show up less angry.
For the record, it wasn’t only him with whom I was angry. I was really pissed at me too.
What reason could I have possibly been angry at myself? After all, it was due to his actions/choices that we were now co-parenting over phone calls, emails, texts and annual french-toast and bacon breakfasts.
Well, in all honesty, I was angry that I had failed. I was so ashamed that I couldn’t keep my family together. The way I had seen it, in the realm of all the dozens of tasks I did throughout the day, I really had one main job and that was to keep my brood in tact.
Given that we didn’t start our marriage the traditional way, looking back, I would’ve bet on the odds against it working out. Though we’d been together for over two years before we married, my proposal came in the form of ‘The stick turned blue. Guess who’s getting hitched?’ Not exactly romantic. Not exactly promising.
The first couple of years into the marriage were less than thrilling but, apart from that teeth-grinding thing he did when he slept and thinking it was cute to leave ‘his scent’ in the room for me as he walked out, everything seemed to be going smoothly by the time year 3 rolled around. We were definitely one of those families who enjoyed being around each other and had our calendars filled with things to do.
Of course, I didn’t know it at the time but over a dozen years worth of daily to-do lists and scheduling had become such a comfort. That is, until my very structured, very put together, very content life, suddenly ended. I know, I know, all the pros will say that there must’ve been years of deterioration before the actual day it all ended. Far be it from me to question the pros, so let me just state, without question, I did not see it coming.
One summer afternoon I dropped my husband off at the airport and the next time I saw him, he sat down next to me on our bed, took a deep breath, looked me in the eyes and told me, among other things, that he didn’t want to be married anymore. That may have been what he said but what I heard was, “I don’t want to know your thoughts, share your dreams, see you smile, make you laugh, rub your feet, share your bed, go for walks, be your dance partner, watch movies or make memories with you anymore.”
That was seven years ago.
It became an uncomfortable comfort to hear those damaging words play over and over in my head throughout that time. But, thankfully, they slowly died out. Well, mostly they did. To say that I ever possessed the power within myself to display kindness and grace to the ex-husband throughout those two years following that dreadful night, would be an outright lie. In fact, there were more than a few moments when I tried to figure out how to really, really hurt him in a way that couldn’t be traced back to me. I was an emotional wreck but I wasn’t a total idiot. There was no way I was going to be brokenhearted by him AND do hard time because of him. Needless to say, I’m grateful that my seemingly evil plots were always foiled when I realized it would mean that I would have to get out of bed.
All kidding aside… kinda… I can truly say that being patient and kind to him during that time can only be attributed to barely a fraction of what I knew to be God’s grace. Don’t get me wrong, I was far from understanding what all of that meant at the time. I’m still not completely sure. What I do know is that as much as I wanted to be and say cruel and hurtful things to my husband who had betrayed me, I really couldn’t bring myself to say them to my children’s dad. Most days I really hated that ‘they’ were the same person. But as the weeks turned into months and those months turned into years, the process of forgiving and trusting that the Lord would give us both the wisdom and strength to get through it, prevailed.
How my marriage started may not have been ideal but all of the in between stuff was really good and fun and hard and frustrating and silly and mundane and, well, for the first time in my life, it was exactly what I wanted. I didn’t always know it’s what I wanted but I did appreciate it. I did. Not every minute of every day. But, on most days, I knew that it was a good thing. It was a good life.
But that was a lot of yesterdays ago.
As I chowed down on my second of the three slices of bacon on the plate (he actually asked me for a slice… *sigh* it’s like the man never really knew me at all), he and I discussed our parenting hits and misses in 2013 and went over our list of hopes and aspirations for this new year. He was saying something about his summer plans with the kids and suddenly I had the urge to cry. And so I did. While I sat there silently crying crocodile tears into my last wedge of french toast, I knew that he was freaking out a little. And, as far as he knew, there was no apparent reason for this spontaneous flood of tears. But there was, in fact, a dozen or so apparent reasons. But none that I could really express or explain to him.
As I sat across the ex-husband, a flood of memories hit me. The thing is, they weren’t even memories of things that actually happened. They were memories of dreams and desires I once had. Ones that I had hoped and prayed for, for so many years. Some were unrealistic but there were a few requests I petitioned for which made my heart ache as I realized the Lord’s answer wasn’t ‘yes’ or even ‘wait’. It was, simply, ‘no.’
In that instant, I had become a little more understanding of the angry outburst kid 1 had displayed, regarding her father’s decision to no longer allow her to have what she felt she had earned.
So there I sat in the booth at Cozy Corner, across from the ex-husband who was now visibly upset because I was upset. He reached over and did the patting-of-the-hand while giving me the ‘there, there’ look. Comforting never was his strong suit but I give him an “A” for effort. Once again, he apologized for how things had turned out for me. I shook my head and said, “It’s not that. I promise. I’ll be ok.”
The thing is, I really wasn’t mad at him nor did I even think he should feel guilty for my sadness. I know it would be easier for me to blame him for everything when things in my life aren’t going as I had hoped. Allowing him to believe that he should still feel like he owes me an apology for something for which he’s already said he’s sorry and has also proven it in his actions, would only cancel out everything I’ve learned grace to be.
I know some people don’t get it. And that’s ok. For a time, I didn’t either. And then one day, it just made sense for me to do it this way. Extending grace to someone who hurt me more than words can describe was no simple task. But once the decision was made to do it, I only had to keep my word to me. I didn’t promise the ex-husband or my kids that I was going to do it. I didn’t even promise God I was going to do it. I do remember praying for the strength to do it. And then I did it.
We sat in silence for a minute or two looking out of the window. He never asked why I was crying and I didn’t offer a reason. Though we can once again break bread, talk and be friendly towards each other, we are no longer best friends. But we can, ONCE AGAIN, break bead, talk and be friendly towards each other. Grace = another chance; even if it looks nothing like the chance we thought we wanted it to be.
I watched as he reached over his side of the table and cut the last slice of bacon in half. He handed me one half then extended and held up his half as if to give a toast. I smiled, held up and extended my half and said, “to bacon… it really does make everything better.”