There are some things that are OK about joint custody. Ruby still, at age way-too-damn-close-to-7, does not regularly sleep through the night, so on nights when she is with her dad, I get a little bit more rest. I don’t have to fight with her about doing her homework every night, just half of them. (Time spent fighting: 2 hours; time spent actually doing homework: 5 minutes.) I can banish loud toys or games I really, really hate playing to her dad’s house. (In fact, he and I often enact joking revenge on each other by sending her back to the other’s house with obnoxious toys and horrible DVDs: “I see your toy microphone and raise you this copy of Gnomeo and Juliet.”) That’s really about it.
The bad things about joint custody are … well, none of them is terrible, especially not when compared to raising Ruby in a household filled with tension and fighting, but almost everything about joint custody is, at the very least, inconvenient.
It’s the fact that as of this morning, a chilly one by NOLA standards, both of Ruby’s school sweaters are at her dad’s house, so I had to send her in a non-dress code fleece hoodie. It’s the fact that her lunch box is also at her dad’s, and so is the book she wants to bring for show and tell, and she brought both new outfits that I just bought her to her dad’s house, too, so I spent the money but didn’t even get to enjoy how cute she looks. It’s that my friends’ kids often have birthday parties on weekends when I don’t have Ruby, and it would be weird for her dad to bring her and weird for me to go alone, so I just send a gift and feel guilty. It’s that her dad’s girlfriend did her hair on the morning of school picture day, not me, and even though I am grateful that Ruby has a close relationship with her and that she takes such loving care of my daughter, it still smarts a bit to think of another woman performing such an intimate, typically maternal task for my precious baby girl. It’s that yesterday morning, my ex-husband showed up at my doorstep at 8:06 a.m. bearing an inflatable purple unicorn in a sparkly party dress. “I just dropped Ruby off at school,” he said, “and she felt very strongly that you have Uni because all of you are apparently going to a fancy imaginary tea party tonight.” And really, at its core, it’s the fact that I don’t get to go to fancy imaginary tea parties with her and Uni every night – which, honestly, is a little bit terrible.
But overall, it’s OK. I’m OK. Ruby’s OK. I don’t want to sound like I love being divorced or like it’s no big deal – I never planned to get divorced, and going through it was the most painful experience of my life – but I know that I am happier, healthier, in a better relationship and a much better mother than I was four years ago, prior to the divorce. I love my husband. I love my stepson. I love my in-laws. I love Georgia. I can’t imagine my life without any of them in it.
And yet I still get sad from time to time. I’m trying to write this in a way that doesn’t make me sound like a completely narcissistic jerkface: My ex-husband’s brother and sister-in-law just welcomed a beautiful, healthy baby boy, Ruby’s first cousin, and I am so happy for them. But at the same time, and here’s where the jerky narcissism comes in, I feel the weirdest sense of loss. This is a boy who would have been my nephew, and now he’s not. This was a baby whose theoretical existence I used to factor into my future plans – “Well, when they have kids and the family gets bigger …” – and now I will only get to know him through Ruby and Facebook.
I’m not trying to make this all about me because, truly, the birth of a new child is a time for joy and a time for all of the focus to be on the brand-new family. I’m just struggling with how hard it is, on some levels, to accept that I am not a part of this family anymore.
When I was in high school, my mom’s car got stolen. Our first reaction was to the loss of the car, but our continuing reaction, over the next few days, was to the loss of things we keep belatedly realizing were in the car. “Oh, shit, my chemistry notes were in the backseat.” “Where is my jacket? Ohhhh.” “Dammit, my favorite tape was in the cassette player.” “Ugh, God, I just realized I had my rollerblades in the trunk.” The biggest loss was immediate; smaller losses kept revealing themselves to us again and again and again.
And that is what my divorce has been like. The dissolution of my marriage, of my daughter’s world, of my home life was an immediate, swift kick to the gut. Slowly, though, I realized I was losing the rest of his family, a group of people who had never been anything but wonderful to me, people I adored. Then it dawned on me that I was losing every holiday tradition I had had in my adult life: the post-Thanksgiving gumbo I fixed every year in my in-laws’ St. Louis kitchen, the Christmas buffet and white elephant gift exchange, the Easter egg hunt. I imagined the stocking his aunt had crocheted especially for me just sitting alone at the bottom of the Christmas decoration box as all the others were joyfully unpacked and hung up. Now, finally, it’s trickling down to me that my former sister-in-law – who stood in my wedding, who gave me a handmade pillow that said, “Chance made us sisters; love made us friends” – is going to get married one day, and I won’t be there. That there will be more children who will never be my nieces and nephews. That the future of the Crawford family is going on without me.
That’s how life is, and believe me, I know it goes both ways: Georgia is Ruby’s sister, but she isn’t my former mother-in-law’s granddaughter. She isn’t anybody’s niece or cousin either. I got remarried, I moved on, and my ex’s family didn’t come with me; my future is going on without them, too.
It’s hard and sad for everyone involved, and all the love I have for my new family doesn’t totally take away the ache of what we-as-the-Crawfords all lost and, in some ways, continue to lose.
I always try to focus on the positive, though, and mostly, like I said, it’s good.
My ex and I are friendly now. We attend parent-teacher conferences together and text back and forth about our daughter’s antics and cheerfully drop inflatable purple unicorns off at each other’s homes. We get along much better than we did during the last years of our marriage, and for that, I am thankful.
My former mother-in-law has been extremely gracious to me, too, giving Georgia a present when she was born and even making matching dresses for both girls for Easter, and for that, I am thankful.
My former sister-in-law, the one who just had the baby, was texting me for C-section tips the day before her son was born, and for that I am thankful.
None of his family members have “unfriended” me on Facebook, and for that I am thankful.
My husband and I laugh much more than we argue; a normal night for our kids is us in the kitchen, cooking, laughing, drinking wine, hugging, playfully teasing each other. It looks and feels much healthier than my previous marriage in its last years, which was marked by yelling, terse words, avoidance, and score-keeping. We are showing our kids a much better model of what marriage should be, and for that I am thankful.
And of course, as I already said, I have an incredible new family in the Peytons, and for that I am thankful.
Above all, a healthy baby boy was born, and even if he will never call me “Aunt Eve,” I am thankful beyond words that he is here and safe and loved.
Welcome to the world, Tiny Baby Boy Crawford – and trust me when I tell you that you have an amazing family.