It’s been a year since the worst day of my life. The day I had to break the hearts of the two humans that I love the most. The day I had to tell them that their father and I would no longer be a couple.
It had been two months of harbouring the secret, to get through Christmas, to work out the plan, to talk to social workers to understand how best to tell them. I wanted to do it right, if there’s such a thing. I’m still trying. It’s a constant pull between my hurt feelings wanting to lash out at their dad and realizing that doing so would jeopardize a relationship that was always held together by a string, strong as hemp rope on one end, but thinned out to the most fragile of threads at the other.
Our favourite social worker, the one our family still sees, suggested we present the information as a unified front. Under no circumstances were we supposed to give any hints or suggestions that we may get back together. It was over, we needed to stick to the storyline, because any window of wavering would be a forever open door for kids who just want their parents back together.
We ordered sushi, a family favourite, and talked happily during dinner. People always ask if the kids suspected. I will say that while they felt weird energy in the house during those two months, and caught me crying a bunch of times, they really didn’t see it coming. I never ever wanted to do this to them, as a kid who had suffered a (temporary) parental break-up herself. And I told my now-ex that once we broke their hearts there was no turning back.
He waffled over those two months, but whenever he’d say, “Why are we doing this?” I would ask him why he felt we should stay together. The answer was always (and is to this day), “Because it’s harder than I imagined.” Not, “I realized how much I love you and what you mean to me, and I can’t believe I put you through all that shit all these years.” Nope. Not, “I realize I can’t live without you.” Nope. Repeat: He does not love you the way you need to be loved, Maria. Breathe.
For years, during many late night discussions about the state of our relationship, I warned him about how this would affect the kids, how they would struggle in life while all their peers had (happily or unhappily) married parents. I knew first-hand what it was like, while he, with parents unhappily married for 50 years, only saw that relationship as a trap. His story, his narrative, always won out. He would dig in his heels and say, “The kids will be alright because it’s us. We’re not going to do it in a way that makes us enemies.” It turns out we were both right.
The kids are alright, but they have moments of deep sadness, or fear, anxiety, frustration. They are stuck on the why, but the why no longer matters. It just IS. We must accept it and move on. Theo was right, we would do it differently. I did a bit of mudslinging in early days, but through meditation, yoga, therapy and the buddhist practise of accepting impermanence, I have learned to let go of my anger and my sadness. Sure, they creep in sometimes, but I know to breathe through it, turn it into a joke and to resist sending that angry text.
This morning’s angry text was going to be, “Who the FUCK is that woman on your Facebook feed saying what an awesome family you have? Just because you made a fire on the beach, as if making a bonfire earns you Parent of the Year! Stop using your fatherhood to get laid, you piece of shit!” But instead, I went to yoga and thought my hamstrings were going to snap like elastic bands pulled too far. The kids joke that I’m becoming a Zen master, but maybe I’m just becoming an asshole who buys too many Buddha statues and is getting mature enough not to fire off texts before I’ve thought through the repercussions.
When the kids do express their sadness, we sit with it. I have, in some ways, become a better mother through this process. I’m not anxious about their fears and pains like I used to be. Or rather, I notice the anxiety and guilt rising up within me, and I take a breath and pivot to Supermom. Dad is Fun Dad, and there’s something good in accepting that. I can be too serious, talking them through mega heavy life topics, like drugs and abortion. Dad is just Fun Dad. He gets them outdoors. He pushes their physical selves into the physical world, taking them for hikes on the beach and then returning to his
sad dad cosy basement apartment to watch a movie and eat something warm that he’s made for them. I am the keeper of their minds and their souls, he is the keeper of their bodies and their place in the outside world. We both approach their anxieties differently, and both are good.
When I think of us like that, it does make me wistful. It does make me want to get back together, but then I never ever saw our relationship as “that bad” until I got out of it. Sure I was unhappy, but wasn’t everybody? But then I remember that, regardless of whether I agree with the thinking, for him every fight was Hiroshima, every argument symbolizing the end of days. I love him, but I’ve come to realize that he’s a narcissist. He can only really care for himself. But maybe, just maybe, through divorce he is learning how to take care of the kids, too. I hope so for their sakes.
That night, after sushi, we told them. Or rather, I told them. Because he was frozen in inaction, wearing a suit of cowardice, of his own making. We told them he was moving out in a week (which was the timing prescribed by the social worker). And the girl one laughed at first, because she thought it was a joke. Surely her parents who claimed they loved her wouldn’t do this to them! I’d promised her once, and she’s always reminding me, that her parents were never ever getting divorced, because I swore to her that I would do everything in my power to avoid that outcome. And I did. I did do everything possible, from therapy to allowing him to move away to another city for six months, to considering the open marriage he was asking for. But it wasn’t enough. I was never enough.
Why? They asked over and over again. I wish I could tell them. I barely understood it myself, but I HAD to secure my freedom. I could never tell them of the years of mental and emotional abuse. I’m sure their dad would probably say the same about me. How do you tell kids, “Your dad wasn’t strong enough to be my man”? He couldn’t handle that I was smart and funny and pretty and successful and well-liked by so many people, while he couldn’t seem to find his footing as an adult. He was a shrinking violet, scared to share his experience of the world around him, and he felt my strength was drawn by making him weak. I can’t say if that’s true, but it was certainly true for him. I’ve come to accept that, too.
I didn’t kill him when he stupidly said, “We don’t know. There’s a chance we might get back together.” But I did give him a death stare and a strong kick under the table. “That is not true,” I said stoically, trying to close a door that he was trying to keep open a wedge out of weakness, “Dad and I are over. We are never getting back together.” We all cried, and I can never forget the pain of causing my children such agony. I’m still trying to forgive myself.
Then I presented rose quartz necklaces that I’d had made for us all, to keep our hearts close. Then we played a board game. Everything is rather hazy from that time, like when that bad thing happened to you as a teenager and you just walked around with that sick feeling in your stomach for days, wishing it wasn’t true. I don’t know how we got through that week, but somehow we did. And what followed was a time of mourning, change and open hearts, a love bigger than I knew I was capable of giving or receiving.
A week from now will be the anniversary of the day he moved out. I’ll be back next Sunday to reflect on my memories of that story. Thanks for reading.