“…one day you realize that the fairy tale may be slightly different than you dreamed. The castle, well, it may not be a castle. And it’s not so important happy ever after, just that its happy right now…once in a blue moon, people will surprise you and once in a while people may even take your breath away.” ~Grey’s Anatomy
My favorite thing in the world? Being surprised.
My son Em sent me a text message today saying that he has a girlfriend now. I asked him if this was a new thing, or if he was just telling me now. He said it was new, that it just happened, her name is *****, and she is in his homeroom. She’s blond and has blue eyes. He’s eleven years old and this will be his very first girlfriend. I don’t know the protocol, but I’m sure it’s not his last.
“Are you going to buy her a Christmas present?”
“I guess so”
“Are you going to get married?”
“I don’t think so mom”
“Aren’t you supposed to be in tutoring?”
“I am, but you keep texting me.”
So…there it is. The conversation that begins now, and will never end. From this day on, there will be a girl, not necessarily this girl…but there will be a girl. He will ask me about her, and I will give him my honest opinion. He won’t always like it and inside I’ll be screaming, “You’re JUST baby!!! My baby!!!” I will judge her and I will keep it to myself whenever I can. He will tell me when she hurts him, I hope. He will lie to me when he wants to, and I will find out. He will let his mind run in circles thinking about her, while I try to solve the riddle. And someday he will shut me out, and I will let him. I let myself wander through each of these future events very quickly and I felt panic set in as I remembered I would face each of them, head on and alone.
I left my son’s father right after Em turned three years old. We had a drawn out, volatile separation and divorce. Small town and small people, our hopes of civil discord were smashed very quickly by other people’s opinions and interference. Our relationship has had it’s ups and downs, but more than not: we avoid each other.
My son has asked thoughtful, honest questions since he was old enough to articulate them, noticed details that another child might miss. One rough day, at the ripe age of four, he asked me from his booster seat, while we were stuck in traffic, “Why does my dad hate you so much?” Years later he asked me point blank, “Why doesn’t my dad ever say your name?” I honestly can’t remember what my answers were to either of those questions. I do remember the sting of having to generate a plausible explanation that didn’t sound anything close to: because he’s a bastard.
Over the years, I have learned to tolerate accept my son’s father and his parenting style. Our co-parenting schedule is not traditional. He refused to sign any kind of custody agreement, he simply agreed to pick him up every other Saturday. Very hands off. In retrospect, I am thankful for the freedom to have raised my son as my own, without his interference. I would like to believe it’s because he knew all along I would be better at parenting; but I know that the truth is that it was just easier than dealing with me. If you could visualize the bridge between us, it’s a rickety swinging ladder, over a crocodile filled moat. We throw it out only to get through minimal interaction of kid exchange, and yank quickly back for everything else. Pick ups, drop offs, phone calls: he never addresses me by my name, never smiles, and despite my very best efforts to engage in conversation, he never looks directly in my face. I sometimes wonder if he thinks I will turn him to stone. I don’t try to figure it out anymore, I pick and choose my battles.
This evening he called me, our son had sent him a text message about the new girlfriend. His first question, “What is this about?” And then a chuckle. I responded, “Yeah…that’s how I feel about it.”
Before I realized what was happening, we were both laughing, hysterically, without having exchanged more than those few words. By hysterically, I mean, belly aching guffaw. We could barely get through the conversation we were laughing so hard. The idea of our eleven year old son being “grown up” enough to have a girlfriend, the cute panic of it as his parents, what it represents as the beginning of a new era for him…it was all just too much to process for me to smile at alone. For a very brief moment, as we laughed hard together, I remembered and embraced that I wasn’t.
One time exchange? I have no idea. But if you had told me nine years ago, that we would some day share a moment so perfect, so filled with kindness and understanding, and mutual adoration for our child…I would have never believed you.
I have my own rules for co-parenting in a way that helps maintain my sanity. Maintaining a healthy distance is one of them. None of those rules prepared me for how my heart opened today. If I could teach my our son one thing about his first or last love, or any of the ones in between: it would be that even without a fairy tale ending, love stories are best when they don’t end as planned. I don’t think my son’s father and I will ever be great friends, or that he will start looking me in the eye or saying goodbye instead of just hanging up; nor will I stop referring to him as Fathead. But I do, for the first time, believe that the love we have for our child is finally enough to have bridged the distance between us.