Edging Toward Two Daddies

Another thing about this father’s holiday is…. well, you know, Zack has a second father figure in his life: my boyfriend, who lives with us, and has lived with us for more than a year.

Frankly, I have to admit I’m still amazed that this is allowed to happen. The fact that I could meet a man who loved me *and* my son, and who agreed to take us both on (of course, without his even knowing what was in store for us just weeks after he moved in, but that’s another story unrelated to divorce, and you’ll have to go here to read about it), just seems like an impossibly lovely occurance. But if I learned anything from my divorce, it’s to stop expecting that you have any idea when the good and the bad will make their grand entrances in your life. They don’t really care about our schedules, it turns out. So you just have to say howdy and pull up a chair when they decide to visit.

The process of Zack and my boyfriend’s getting used to each other was an amazing thing to watch. In my case, my boyfriend was more reserved about making the connection than was my son, being worried about overstepping his bounds. But Zack’s like me: a big, sloppy wet-kiss puppy waiting to love any creature in an 8-foot radius. So Zack learned to adjust to his slower pace, stopped draping his body all over D’s, waited for all the signals to align. One night as I was putting Zack to bed, he said to me, “Mom, D—— doesn’t love out loud like we do.” Exactly. But the important part was, clearly he was feeling D’s love anyway.

So Zack has spent a lot of time investing in the language of ownership. Last year at the 1st grade school picnic, he screamed delightedly when D showed up, “My mom’s boyfriend is here! My mom’s boyfriend is here!” I blushed, because something about the nomenclature made me feel like D and I had just escaped our love nest, with the hot blush of nookie still on our faces. A few weeks later, Zack said he wanted us to get married, especially because we had a family trip to Hawaii coming up. (I don’t know how he knew, but he said, “Hawaii’s perfect for a wedding! You can get married on the beach!”) He also admitted, when I asked him to tell me more about what he was feeling, that he didn’t like calling him “my mom’s boyfriend,” he said. It wasn’t like everyone else. But what I really think was going on is that that term didn’t capture Zack’s very own relationship with my boyfriend; Zack, ever a wordsmith, knew he wasn’t included in that language.

So when we were in Hawaii, we got sent a little piece of grace, in the form of a sprite-like 4-year-old blonde charmer in a flowered bikini who struck up a conversation with Zack in the pool. She said, “Is that your daddy over there?” And Zack said, without hesitation, “No, that’s not my dad. He’s back in Brooklyn. But he’s like my stepdad.” I quickly hid my face behind my puzzle book, so Zack wouldn’t know I was listening, and I threw an elbow in D’s ribs to make sure he was catching it. Then the little girl said, “I have TWO daddies. And we live in Atlanta.” Zack said, “Oh, cool.” And the two of them paddled and splashed around the stairs until, sure enough, the darling girl’s second father showed up, and jumped into the pool to swim with her.

We’ve had many more “stepdad” and “parent” incidents since then, but each one stil feels like a totally original pearl, a thing of beauty born out of heartbreak and hard times. On Memorial Day weekend, D was trying to teach Zack how to ride a bike. Pedal-pedal-fall over; pedal-pedal-fall over. I was standing by, guarding a stair railing that might impale Zack if he tipped in the wrong place. Z fell over again, this time the pedal scraping his leg as he went down. Indignant and furious, he stood up and said, “You two are the worst parents EVER! I’m calling the police on you!” before he started walking back toward the bike.

D and I just raised our eyebrows at each other, before Zack could see it, and Zack walked over to the bike desipte his anger, and got on and tried again, content that two terrible parents were helping him through this rite of passage.

I’m posting a picture of my son and his third parent (though my boyfriend would be very unhappy about it), because I wanted you to see their expressions. You can’t make this stuff up. Which, it turns out, is the truly great part about it.

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Those Damn Parenting Holidays

When I was first divorced, Mother’s Day was agonizing for me. My son was just 16 months old, so for him the holiday was just another day (and trust me, I wasn’t expecting a card from him or anything). But for me, I spent the day thinking about how Mother’s Day is actually a holiday from the FATHER to the MOTHER. And I didn’t live with Zack’s father anymore. And I was still feeling like that was some kind of huge failure.

Fortunately for me, my amazing friend Kim (read more about her amazingness here) invited Zack and me to join her and her daughter and husband in their Mother’s Day brunch. I was so relieved not to be alone.

For the first Father’s Day, I handed off Zack to his father in our normal share-the-weekend routine, and I did manage to wish him a happy father’s day. And I meant it. Even though it was hurtful to see the way he was blooming as a parent without me—I’d had such a hard time to get him involved when we were still married—I was immensely grateful for what that meant and would come to mean to Zack. As I wrote in my book, if Chris had to pick one of us, he chose the right one.

This year, Zack and his dad are going to a baseball game in Brooklyn, to see the Cyclones play against the Yankees (!) on Coney Island. Zack will be wearing his baseball uniform, and attending with some of his baseball teammates and their fathers. I have to admit my heart swells a bit at this charmingly old-school father-son event. I feel like I should capture it in a sepia photo or something.

But for some people who’ve divorced, these holidays still awaken old hurts. Sometimes it takes years to get to the place where you can even consider celebrating the other partner. And since I don’t think everyone in the world had the kind of divorce I did, I want to send you on over to read a great, honest post by Moxie, about the tangle of Father’s Day for her, at the totally awesome blog she writes with her ex, Laid-Off Dad, When the Flames Go Up, about the perils of co-parenting with an ex-spouse you don’t particularly like.

Vive la difference! I really admire them both for the way they work through their could-be-ugly stuff with such dignity.

Do You Dare Date Again?

Well, of course I say YES, you do have to dare to date again. It took me awhile to buck up my nerve. For twelve months I was in total internal seclusion, just coping. And then I lucked out and started a text-and-telephone relationship with a college not-quite-boyfriend. It was like a relationship with training wheels (even though it was very consuming). The distance and the fact that we really couldn’t be a couple in reality made it all feel very safe. And then the relationship just slowly faded away. After that, I ended up online, that wonderful one-stop-shopping spot for groceries, clothes, books and toys, and a nice guy to go to a movie with on a Wednesday night when it’s time to stop being alone. (Warning: one of my just-for-entertainment dates turned into a now-three-year boyfriend! Funny how that happens!)

Here’s my radio interview with the fantastic Joanie Winberg, of the Single Again? Now What radio show (as well as the director of the National Association of Divorce for Women). In it, I talk about how to know when you’re “ready” to date again and how to get ready. (No, not hair and makeup tips; I talk more about how to get your heart ready.) Live and love! Especially after loss!

Click this link to hear the show!

We Stumble Together

So my ex and I have hit a snag. Not a snag between us. Rather, a snag that envelops us.

Turns out, suddenly money is really tight. It’s tight because the economy stinks. Tight because both he and I have been out of work for long patches here and there (though thank goodness, he’s working fulltime again). And tight because our son—our beloved project who will outlast our years together as a couple in six more years—suddenly needs a lot of care and intervention and special attention. That’s $$$pecial attention, in case you were wondering.

Times like this is when living in New York is great, because there are plenty of warm and wonderful people who are helping us understand what Zack’s issues are (educational, social and otherwise). But what can I say? It’s a financially vulnerable time for us to be taking all this on.

I will admit that I really put off telling my ex that I was in trouble and struggling to pay for all these services. I didn’t want to be weak. I didn’t want to NEED him. He left me, after all. Needing someone who rejected you feels like a death-defying proposition. Even though I’ve forgiven him and all is well. I had to admit that I’d fallen a little in love with an idea of myself as the strong survivor. Because of my steady career as a magazine editor, we were able to separate without too much financial panic on either of our parts. My ex didn’t care about “my money,” he said, and he acted accordingly, allowing us to work out a nontraditional agreement that gave him what was his, while also giving me enough to buy a big apartment for our son to live in fulltime.

And now, I’m staring at my emptying out bank account, and looking over the cost of the private schools and so forth that our son needs, and panicking. And having to work with Chris to find a way to make it work.

And you know what? We are. I exposed my fears and mounting financial concern to him, expecting anger, eyerolls, refusal, since I am the more comfortable partner. He responded by reassuring me that we’d figure it out. By sending a long and thoughtful email about what he can do now, and what his plans are to help more later.

I’m so grateful. Grateful that that’s who he is. Grateful that we broke up in a way that means every time we have to renegotiate the terms of our connection (since it’s not really negotiating the terms of our separation anymore, now, is it?), we find a new path. We walk in all this unknown together, even though we are apart.

No, that doesn’t pay the bills. But I’d rather be financially stressed and at peace than the opposite any day.

Thanks for being a great partner, Chris, still, four years after we stopped being married.