Friday was a snow day. Even though Free woke up with a cold, we were excited to have a day off. Her dad texted to let me know he’d be working through the storm, so I knew Free, Newman, and I would be together for a while.
We are all still adjusting to each other, and I get a little nervous if we’re going to have a lot of face time. There are myriad reasons for this, and one is that I know Newman to be someone who not only enjoys but desperately needs his alone time. I try to respect his need for solitude, but when it’s just me around, he doesn’t seem to need it so much because I’m often happy to be doing my own thing or be quiet around him, so he gets the peace he needs even though I’m nearby. When you add an active eight-year old to the mix, that formula doesn’t work so much anymore.
Intellectually, I understand the factors that make this situation hard. Free and Newman need time, and a lot of it, to get to know each other on their own terms, and I need to butt out and not pressure either of them. It will take years for them to develop a relationship on their own terms, if at all, and it’s fine to let it be. Newman thought he was done with dealing with this stage of childhood, and with four kids of his own, he’s already put in his time. He is having a hard time adjusting to sharing space with a little one at his age and in this stage of life. I get that.
At the same time, it is hard not to feel sensitive sometimes. I snapped at Newman tonight because I wanted more from him today, and he became defensive because he’s making legitimate efforts to–nicely–withdraw when he needs to in order to maintain his own positive frame of mind. Today, Free dug snow tunnels, read Clementine, made letters to go out with her girl scout cookies, blew her nose about a thousand times, and watched far too much of the Disney channel. I catered to her entirely and spent my spare moments researching an April vacation online. While I get (intellectually) why Newman would not have too much interest in sharing these moments with me and my girl, I usually end up (emotionally) taking it personally and feeling that he is avoiding me–and the part of me that is her.
I recognize that I am still having trouble adjusting my expectations for this relationship. I know I can’t expect Newman to jump eagerly or quickly into a relationship with my child, and in total fairness, he never puts pressure on me to do so with his children, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not sensitive to the fact that he doesn’t relate to her quite the way that I do. (And by that I mean that he can’t manage to tune out the Disney TV noise or not appear totally repulsed when she wants to share what’s in the tissue she’s been blowing her nose into for the last ten minutes.)
It’s the stuff only a parent can deal with, and there’s the rub. Even when you successfully co-parent with your ex, divorce means you won’t co-parent together at the same time, and if that part of your marriage went pretty well, then the grief of losing that hits hard. After years of processing the primary grief (of losing the marital relationship), this secondary grief is the one that still lingers. Like other forms of grief, it shows up in waves. Sometimes you can predict it, and other times you can’t, but it keeps cropping up, like when you are sitting in the sidelines at your daughter’s first hockey game and realize how proud you are of her and how great it would be if the other person who would most understand that feeling could be there and could not hate you enough to look at you and acknowledge that there was a time when you both did something perfect together–and it was to make this amazing kid.
I am familiar enough with these waves that I know not to resist them; their power is lessened if I acknowledge them and wait for them, as patiently as possible, to lessen their choking grip. I also know there’s some comfort to be found in being as open to today’s new experiences as I am to the residue and remains of yesterday. I’m doing my best to maintain that openness and to communicate both sides of things–both the sensitivities and the successes.
Tonight, the sensitivities temporarily won in a pathetic and dangerous few moments where Newman and I argued aggressively in the kitchen. Bad things were said, and dinner was, as Newman later noted, made not in love but in anger. Thank goodness that Disney covered us up, so Free remained mostly oblivious. The good news is that we did sit down to dinner together and will go to bed not angry anymore.
The really good news, however, is that last night, after our snow day, the three of us all sat down to watch a movie together. Wanting to watch Nemo but unable to find it OnDemand, we decided on Brave instead. It was a great choice: the mother/daughter story hit home with me and Free, who tends to love me a little extra when she’s sick, and I was eating it up like, well, hot buttered popcorn. At one stage in the movie, after Free had explained the plot and scary parts to me and Newman because she’d seen it before, Newman put his head on one shoulder, and Free snuggled in from the other side. It felt so good that I wanted to cry. I didn’t, but I did soak it in.
I know I shouldn’t push, that I need to continue to do my best to honor everyone’s space in this new arrangement. And I will. But that little moment where both heads leaned toward me, and we all three found peace in the same moment? Well, that was mine to feel and to hold onto. If I can just relax and tune into those successes more, maybe I won’t be so sensitive in the other moments, which will just as surely come my way.
Newman and I booked a much-needed vacation to the Caribbean today. We joked that it will be great…if we are still together in April when it comes. Yesterday’s balancing acts are gone, and I need to let them stay in the past. Today’s challenge is to be ok with where we are right now, and that often means separate circles that spin around each other, sometimes miraculously coming together, but more often dancing gently in different spheres. I can do that. In fact, there is great joy to be found here. Whether it involves digging into the snow with Free or the sand with Newman, I will let myself be happy here.