By RoiAnn Philips
I never expected to stand in front of a hundred family members and friends in a long white dress, lighting candles, exchanging rings, and proclaiming my love and commitment to a woman. I never expected a ceremony like ours to be fully and legally binding. I never expected to want to be legally bound.
I never expected to be a mom, or a stepmom.
I never expected to sit around my dining room table in pajamas one Saturday morning, breaking the news of our divorce to my twelve-year-old daughter. I never, ever, ever expected that.
And yet …
None of us are where we thought we’d be.
It’s 9:00 a.m. on a Sunday. I’m still in my pajamas, nestled into the most comfortable chair in the house – a grey, modern-day wingback with firm cushions under me, comfortable armrests, a curved back that’s like a hug, and a blanket on my lap. On top of that is my spiral notebook.
As a kid, I’d be at church by 9:00 on a Sunday morning, nestled in a chair or in a pew, reading while my dad rehearsed with the choir. Slowly, my friends would trickle in for the 9:30 service. I’d put down my book to greet them. We’d giggle or gossip or run down to the church basement for ten minutes of mischief or privacy. I remember there were people all around us with passionate, frenetic energy, things to do, purpose. I loved this weekly routine. I loved being in the mix.
Three months ago, I’d be journaling in bed at 9 a.m. on a Sunday. My Honey would bring me coffee and gently shut the door behind her, leaving me alone to write. This always felt like a gift, this blend of love, care and privacy.
Sometimes, though, I’d be out of the bedroom, talking with her about plans for the day – Was she showing houses? Was I seeing friends? Could we take the dogs for a walk in the nearby forest preserve? Could we do it together?
Our 12 year-old would wander out of her bedroom, headphones still on, a screen in her hand. She would grunt her “good mornings” or she wouldn’t; she’d give hugs or she wouldn’t; and she’d go into the kitchen to forage for food.
Our eldest lives half a country away. She’s in grad school for writing and she waits tables, so she’s often rushing to get out the door as we’re yawning our way into Sunday.
It’s hard to untangle a life you’ve woven together for 14 years. Where does my piece of this life begin and end?
When we announced the separation, friends and family asked me right away if I’d hired an attorney. They wanted to know if I needed referrals. I wanted to scream. Why would I need an attorney to fight the woman I’ve been in love with for 14 years? They cautioned me about money, reminding me how people act crazy around divorce – the way people act crazy around death – as if this is the norm. Is this the norm? This has never been us. We’ve always been kind to one another. Why would that change now? “No,” I answered more than once. “No, I’m not hiring an attorney.” They meant well. I know they did.
The only attorney we’re hiring is the one who files our mediated divorce in court. We built this family outside the system and we’ll dismantle it outside the system, too.
Our mediator asked what our goals were for mediation, first in separate meetings with each of us, and then in our initial joint session. Who thinks about that? After a break-up, I usually just want to be DONE. That’s always been my goal before: Be done. But I built a richer life this time, a shared life with kids, and I’m grateful to have her set the tone. “I want us all four to land on our feet,” I said.
That’s what I focus on now when every fiber in my body is screaming. It’s clarifying to have a goal on those hard, hard days when my best self is sleeping.
So today, my Sunday begins in the grey chair, alone in the house except for the pets. My ex has a place of her own. I don’t know if she’s showing houses. I don’t know if she’s taking our dog to the forest preserve. I don’t know. It’s not my business anymore.
Our youngest daughter is with her for three more days. This fact threatens to kill me, but I’m told it won’t. I breathe. I text a friend. I write. I breathe.
I prepare my coffee at night so that every morning, when I tap the button and it starts brewing, it’s like a gift. I know life is rarely what we expect. Every morning is a gift. I remind myself this again and again.
Every single caffeinated morning is a gift.
Slowly, I’m taking that in.
RoiAnn Phillips blogs about co-parenting, adoption and other things at Are You the Babysitter, http://areyouthebabysitter.wordpress.com