This was written last month from a hotel room in Chicago, where I spent two days with Chelsea and Conor to look at a prospective college.
As I was packing for this trip I realized that it would be the first time I’d be traveling with just Chelsea and Conor in twelve years.
The trip? Disney World, courtesy of my parents. My marriage had just ended two months prior, and I was slowly climbing out of the hole I had spent much of the previous year deep within.
What a year. In the course of nine short but hellish months, I watched my marriage (and, I thought, my life) literally unravel before my eyes, totally helpless to do anything about it.
And as much as it
pains kills me to admit, Chelsea and Conor were not my top priorities during those dark months. Yes, they were fed, clothed and bathed. Basic needs were met, meals were served and routines were kept to. But emotionally? I was about a million miles away. It was as if every cell and fiber of my being was designated to keeping our family intact. Because the alternative was unthinkable.
Of course what I didn’t understand at first was that it was already too late. So I slogged through way too many days and weeks, in an effort to keep things going (and keep up appearances), even as the signs were neon bright all around me:
He was gone for Conor’s 4th birthday party.
He was gone most weekend nights and several nights during the week.
He was gone for his entire birthday weekend.
He was gone.
And so I slowly started to let the idea seep in that this might actually be happening – and what was it going to look like for me and the kids? And I started looking at my life with new eyes.
As a single parent.
And I began making changes – small ones at first – as a way of preparing myself. On the increasingly frequent nights that he was “working late”, I began cooking real meals again (I had been treating those nights as special occasions, getting take-out as a treat – and mainly because I was too slammed to deal with actually cooking).
And then there was the Friday after Thanksgiving.
We would typically spend that day together as a family, often going to the Botanical Garden train show. When he informed me that he would be gone for the day, my first reaction was to sit at home, put the kids in front of the TV and zone out.
But I realized that this was very well going to be my “new normal” – and I owed it to Chelsea and Conor to give them all the traditions and activities that they had grown accustomed to. So we bundled up and went to the gardens. Just like always. Now, this was certainly not the first time I was solo with the kids. But it WAS the first time that I was doing so as a single mom (even if only in my own head). And as I watched them scramble up the rock maze – just like always – I felt for the very first time that it was going to be okay. That WE were going to be okay.
And three weeks later I packed his bags.
And I think I’ve spent much of the last twelve years trying to make up for those horrible nine months.
I started small – like a return to home cooked meals every night.
And designating Friday nights “Dance Party Night” in the play room (with mostly Chelsea and I doing the dancing, and Conor playing alongside us).
And taking a trip to a place that was teeming with smiling, happy, intact families. As I looked around and imagined how we looked to others, I realized that however scary and uncertain the future was, that just the three of us was just fine indeed.
As it turned out, I got very lucky.
He spent the first year at his mom’s house, just a few blocks away. And for whatever differences she and I had, there was never any doubt about her love and devotion for my children. They had dinners and overnights in a warm and loving home, with home cooked meals and everything in its place. To this day I am certain that spending that first critical year there was key to helping them through a difficult transition.
I also went back to school for my Landscape Design certification. Having had this plan in place before my divorce, I was all ready to implement – something I don’t know if I could have done otherwise. I was able to jump right in and relish the promise of starting my own business and becoming financially stable. School was also an essential outlet for me emotionally, keeping me productive and occupied (and sane) during those lonely, scary first months.
And of course, I met Mike – who turned out to be my future husband and wonderful father to all of my children.
So here I sit in this room, all these years later, looking at my two “bigs” – my two beautiful, smart, accomplished and REALLY nice kids. Who are no longer kids, but amazing young adults. They are good to us, good to their friends, and fiercely devoted to one another.
Yeah – the three of us are okay.
And our favorite song on those Friday nights?