Friday, March 16, 2012

Flying Solo, Together

The past year has been a steady string of firsts, none of them easy. Twelve months ago, this very week, my husband and I broached the idea of separating. It was the first time we'd discussed the idea in a calm, non-threatening way, not as hurtful words hurled to inflict pain during a fight, but as a means to end the hurting that had become a solid part of our relationship. It wasn't what I wanted, giving up on our marriage, pulling our childrens' lives in half like the clean snap of a wishbone. But it was the right thing to do. We had long talks about how to part as friends, how to set aside our anger and sadness, and focus fully on making the transition as easy as possible for our girls. We looked together for a place for my husband to move into, went to Ikea as a family to pick out furniture for his new apartment. For the first few months we called it "our house" and "our apartment" when talking to the kids, so they wouldn't hear the division, the finality, of mommy and daddy having different homes.

The kids adjusted surprisingly well. Their dad and I had been leading fairly separate lives for a while, between him traveling regularly for work, and me ducking out to a hotel for a night of recovery and writing time when he came back into town. While they were with me they continued to have the same home routine, school routine, and play dates as always. We took our time getting them used to the apartment, to sharing a room for the first time, to being without me in a new place. The apartment came with new bunk beds and a pool, two things the girls were very excited about. As soon as the warmer weather hit, they started heading over there regularly to swim with their dad, and we worked up to them spending the night there on Fridays.

It was a big change for me, being home without them, but after the initial shock of quiet, I learned to appreciate the down time. I had precious pockets of alone time to simply sit and breathe, something I hadn't had much of in years. I started going out with friends, especially other single moms, to unwind during my Friday nights off. Our new version of family fell into a rhythm that lasted through summer and into this school year.

The girls are both thriving this year, blowing me away with their reading and math skills, blossoming into confident little chatterboxes with a constant bubble of friends around them at all times. And a surprising number of their friends also have parents who are no longer together, which has helped this all feel less drastic for them. They compare notes with their friends on which toys they keep at mom's and dad's places, who takes them out to eat the most, which ones have pools to offer summer fun.

A year into it, we're still figuring out certain details. When dealing with small kids, flexibility is key. But one thing I'm most proud of is that our kids' family has not been shattered. They have a lot of love around them, on all sides. And their dad and I have kept our promise to stay friends, to stay kind, and to not put the kids in the middle of our issues. When we have family gatherings at my house, he's invited. Last Christmas we all headed back east to visit his family together. Next month his sister is accompanying the girls and me on a Hawaii trip. I feel very strongly that the girls must not lose any of their family connections as a result of the failings of their parents' marriage. It's a strange new world, this single motherhood gig balanced with a determination to keep the whole extended family in the picture. But I think we're pulling it off.