I can’t sugarcoat the fact that divorce with kids involved sucks. I’m sure divorce without kids is horrible, too – the loss of shared property, family, dreams, friends, memories, private jokes. It’s brutal. But divorce with kids is the most searingly painful experience I’ve ever endured.
When I wrote this seven years ago, I had days when I felt like I could barely breathe. More than once, I drove to the grocery store, could not summon the will to even get out of my car, drove home, and went to bed.
Now, though, I am remarried with a 16-year-old stepson, an almost-11-year-old daughter from my first marriage, and a 5-year-old daughter with my husband, Robert. This blended family we’ve created is – I won’t sugarcoat this either – a challenge at times, but it’s also pretty wonderful.
I never could get along with my second stepmom, my dad’s fifth wife, because she was so jealous and yet still chose to marry a man with four ex-wives.
“What’s over is over!” she would tell me angrily if I, say, wanted a picture of me and my parents together at my graduation, and I would say, “It’s not like turning off a light switch!”
Because it’s not. One thing that Robert and I both get is that our exes will never not be a part of our lives – they are the parents of our kids.
So when Elliot was getting ready for the homecoming dance, I hung back and let his mom and dad fuss over him and straighten his tie. When he was inducted into the National Honor Society, I made sure to take pictures of his mom and him together and send them to her. His mom sends toys he’s outgrown and cute outfits and Christmas gifts to our daughters. When Ruby cheered at the school pep rally, Robert took video so that her dad could watch it in St. Louis. For her birthday every year, we have her dad over for dinner and cake. When I couldn’t find the toy Ruby wanted at any Target within 250 miles, I texted her dad, and he found it in St. Louis. He and his girlfriend play Santa and Mrs. Claus for Georgia. Both my husband’s parents and my ex-husband’s parents go out of their way to include both of my daughters in everything they do – Jamie’s mom sewed an Easter dress for Georgia; Robert’s mom loves buying clothes for Ruby.
Because it’s not about us. It’s about them.
Ruby’s dad came into town for Halloween this year, and when he left, she was devastated all over again.
“I wish I had a countdown calendar to help until I see him again,” she said mournfully. “Like an Advent calendar but not for Christmas – for my dad coming back.”
“A Dad-vent calendar!” I said. “We’ll make one!”
So I ordered a make-your-own Advent calendar, and I texted her dad to please send me 25 Post-It notes, and he did, and I folded them up one by one and put them in the little boxes.
It was more than bittersweet reading these 25 love notes that my ex-husband wrote to our daughter – the handwriting that I used to delight at seeing in my mailbox when we spent a summer apart before cell phones and texting and FaceTime made all handwritten correspondence obsolete, now penning words of affection to the only thing that survived our romance, our amazing little girl. But I folded them all up – the silly knock-knock jokes, the question-of-the-day prompts, the affirmations, Post-It after neon Post-It of pure parental love – and stashed them in the little boxes.
She has six more left before he’s back to pick her up, celebrate her 11th birthday with her – with us – and take her to St. Louis for all of Christmas break.
It still sucks. It’s still awkward.
But we’re still doing it, every day, for her love.
And that will never change.