My toddler had a cold last week. Nothing serious, but he did have one long night. I’d gone into his room to soothe him, but his runny nose wouldn’t let up and he was soon crying again. I eventually brought him into bed with me, and we stayed up for the next few hours trying to lull ourselves back to sleep. He protested each time I tried to lay him down next to me, insisting instead to stretch out his full length and use my body as his mattress. He lay on me, eyes closed, gently whimpering, not really sleeping, but as comfortable and content as the situation allowed. I was tired and uncomfortable and my neck was in a weird position. I knew tomorrow would be tough because here it was 4:00 a.m. and I had only a couple hours of sleep under my belt. Also, I was blissfully happy. I can’t quite understand it myself, but the word that kept coming to me was beauty. And though we both desperately wanted to sleep, there was no other place and no other person we needed more at that moment than each other. And it was beautiful. At some point we must have fallen asleep because we both woke up around 6:30, our faces inches from one another. Then we had a day together, and it was tough and we were tired. And then we had another day. And another. And another.
To be clear, not all sleepless nights evoke this kind of serenity. I begin with this story because it reminds me of what matters, and that recognizing beauty when it presents itself is the only way through.
You see, I’m part of a club that not all parents are part of. I resisted joining this club and resented my status, thinking I didn’t belong. I didn’t identify with the other members. To be completely honest, I looked down on them. I felt miscast, like someone had made a mistake. Maybe you’re part of this club too. The name varies depending on how euphemistic or optimistic you want to be: divorced, broken home, co-parents, two-home families, “conscious uncoupling”. I wanted to shout, “You’ve got the wrong person! I don’t get divorced, other people do. I don’t screw up like this, other people do!”
My husband and I separated when our son was six months old. I felt shame, embarrassment, regret, anger, despair, and bitterness. A part of me wants to go into the details about what and how it happened, but the other more practical part of me knows it doesn’t really matter. Because it doesn’t define who I am, or who our family is, or who our son will grow to be. Getting divorced with kids is hard. Like, really hard.
My son saved me. It’s he who empowers me to stay confident. He’s the one who keeps me grounded, keeps me sane, and keeps me looking toward the future. He distracts me when I need it and reminds me that it will all eventually be okay. Listening to him laugh makes me wonder how anything bad could ever happen. He challenges me. He brings me grace.
If you’re part of this club, you might be well past your own divorce, happily re-partnered and co-parenting in a thriving, reinvisioned family. If so, you give my racing mind perspective. Or maybe you’re like me, removed just enough to start seeing the light and to feel your self reemerging. Or possibly it’s just begun for you, and I can still empathize with the crushing sorrow you must feel.
I’ll hold off on giving advice in this column, in large part because who the hell am I to offer insight into something I still struggle with. Also, I’m historically not much of a “sharer,” and simply writing this is a big enough step for now. I will eventually write about what’s been helping me cope — resources, groups, books, practices — but for now it’s enough just to share my story and to formally acknowledge my reluctant, yet hopeful, membership into the club I never wanted to join.