For those of us who have gone through the gut wrenching moment of informing our children of their parents’ separation, this sentence alone may induce the heart beating faster, the temperature rising, or a sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach. This moment is the metaphorical tearing off of the duct tape-like bandage that has, for many of us, held together years of relational failings, words left unsaid, resentments held, and secrets kept. Though we know that the moment of reckoning must come, we’re left soon after holding and tending to the torn, raw skin, not only of ourselves, but also of our children. It stings, it burns, it aches, and it smarts.
This moment for me occurred four years ago, when my former husband and I agreed to call a family meeting in which to tell our children about the end of our marriage after our own very painful conversations the previous week. We gathered to inform them that I would be moving to a small house nearby, and since our careers both included some late night shifts, our kids would go back and forth as our work schedules demanded. For children whose definition of upheaval was characterized by a burnt plate of cookies or the not-quite-right birthday present, a lifestyle that involved two houses and several different school buses was a massive shift. My move ensued, and our new schedule began with a sputtering start. And the tears were daily and abundant, carrying emotions that ranged from intense grief to relief, swelling and swirling within all of us, springing forth at what felt like the least welcome of moments.
As had been a family tradition in my family of origin, any move into a new house meant a family selected meal to start life in the new home, a ritual that was comforting and grounding to all of us. My daughters and I elected a favorite of cheddar shells and peas, and we joined together around our little round table in my new kitchen soon after I was settled. Though I could feel our awkward and tender newness as a party of three, rather than four, I also felt the tingling of what I would later identify as peace and wholeness. We were, as of that moment, a different yet perfect arrangement of a new family, slowly gestating in that tiny kitchen, nascent cells joining and forming together.
Over the coming months, I became very aware of our burgeoning, our family becoming its own version of a “baby bump” of sorts. The three of us hosted our first “Friendsgiving,” we shoehorned a four foot Christmas tree into the back of my Prius, and we hosted “girls only” fondue parties for new friends and neighbors. Most nights were spent curled up together on our shabby couch, watching tv, cuddling, and healing, becoming emotionally and physically reacquainted with one another. Because of the size of the house (tiny), we would crawl into our respective beds at the same time, barely needing to raise our voices to share our goodnights and “I love you’s” across the hallway. That winter, we reached our second trimester, rubbing our round belly, feeling a contentment that I had not known for many years. It was a still and quiet feeling, but it was anything but hollow; the quickening was felt through the subtle kicks toward our life as a strengthening “girl gang” of three.
At nearly a year of living independently at times, and fully with my children at others, our rebirthed family status allowed us the fortitude to embark upon our first family vacation, and we decided to take a road trip to the beach to visit friends. Early on in the trip, playlist blasting, I managed to slam the car into the side of a Dunkin’ Donuts drive-up window. It was hard enough for all of us, including the cashier, to hear the scrape of my side mirror along the side of the brick building. I swore loudly, and the teenage cashier gasped an audible, “Oh my God!” Old me would have declared the trip off to a terrible start, cursed by its very inception. New me, however, along with my girls and with the cashier, dissolved into a fit of laughter at the ridiculousness of it all. The start of our atypical family vacation was perfectly us, complete with a shattered mirror souvenir.
Birth is messy, unpredictable, and bloody. It only fits that coming into the world as a new mom after divorce will leave one with some scrapes that will fade to faint scars that someday won’t even be visible to anyone else. The transition to becoming a wiser and fully authentic mom means that sometimes you know that when things break and when expectations aren’t met, all you can do is smile, shake your head, and laugh. The tension that reverberated throughout my former relationship kept me in a place in which I was never able to be fully present with the people who deserved me most – my children. And yet the pain of my divorce, much like birthing pains, gave way to a kind of motherhood I never could have expected, yet I always somehow desired; one that is genuinely and undeniably mine, complete with birthmarks and new milestones worth reaching.