A few weeks ago, I texted my ex-husband, asking him if we could all get together for my older son’s fourth birthday party. I was promptly hit with a hard and steady NO. It would be separate parties this year. One with mom, and one with dad.
Knife. In. My. Heart.
Logistically speaking, I knew that I wouldn’t really be able to pull off a huge party, because I get the kids during the week. Nobody is trying to get chocolate wasted on a Thursday afternoon. It’s Party 101. I could get a few kids together to jump around at the trampoline park after school, maybe, but my heart was racing. Failure. Abandonment. Betrayal. Emotions flooded me. It is one day, I know. But he is four. It is tied with Christmas for the most mind blowing days of the year.
He will blow out the candles on his cake, rip open his presents, and laugh in the sun for his birthday, four years after I looked at his face for the very first time. He will look up to see my ex-husband there, but not me. Not Mom. I wonder if it will hurt him, if he will remember it later.
The fact of the matter is that these things are out of my control now. I don’t get to tell my ex-husband what to do with his parenting time. I cannot make him want me at every event. I will have to miss things. Casualties of divorce are often unexpected. You see the financial blow coming way in advance. You know you will have to adjust to spending time alone. But getting excluded, excommunicated from things you feel entitled to participate in- that will blindside you. It got me, anyways.
There have been voices whispering in my ear, saying, “Just give him time.” Not everyone heals at the same pace. Becoming a functioning co-parenting duo- let alone friends of any capacity- is a lot to expect from someone a year after you decided to end a commitment that you both thought would last a lifetime. The loss of a marriage is almost like grieving a death.
Patience is a virtue. I’m 23. I’m getting there.
I had to stop and ask myself why this was so upsetting to me. I ugly cried about it in the bathtub. And then I realized I was doing what all parents are guilty of at one point or another- living vicariously through my kids. I was putting the pain of growing up in a divorced family on my son.
I grew up with two parents, thousands of miles apart, who rarely had good things about the other, who were snarky and mean after their divorce. They cried when they put me on the plane to say goodbye. I felt like I was disappointing them, and I was guilty thinking about one of my parents always having to miss me. The boundaries that I felt trapped by, the separations that tortured me, the failure to find a sense of belonging in my youth… all of these things that I labeled as limitations and obstacles were never presented to me as gifts. They were not celebrated by my parents because they were busy grieving the loss of experiences that they had to miss out on with me. I have an opportunity to do better by my sons. I have lived in the ruins of a bad divorce, raised in the embers of an ever smouldering and resentful fire of bad feelings.
I want to paint a more beautiful picture for him. Instead of fitting nowhere, he has a place everywhere. Instead of missing the parent he isn’t with, I want him to value his time with each of us in the moment. I want him to be graced with fluidity and adaptability, and to take pride in all of the different traditions and memories that he gets to be included in. If I tell him he is lucky to live his life this way, he will not grow up believing he is going without. That is my job as his mother. And that is a truth that he will live.
Instead of wallowing in my loneliness and disappointment with a glass of bourbon next weekend, I will have to find solace in the fact that my son gets to have TWO birthdays. It’s a beautiful thing to have two different celebrations for his life- but above that, there are two worlds that he gets to navigate and coexist in. He is doubly loved and appreciated and I am so, so grateful that even when I’m not there, his heart is cared for and he is happy. I’m no less his mother for having to miss these things. And I’m sure, one day, we will all be there together. For now, I’ll wave him off with a smile and a kiss. Happy birthday, my son.
Savanna is a 23-year-old divorcee/waitress/closet musician/mom extraordinaire living in Ferndale with two toddler sons. She prefers her daily chai intravenously with a side of sarcasm. She is from Southern California but grew up mostly in Metro Detroit, earning a bachelor’s degree from Oakland University (which she cries over daily as she straps on her restaurant apron). You can find her on Facebook.