Blogger’s note: This is a highly personal post, written to establish the news that it bears on our own terms, as a family, and as members of many communities, but especially the one in which we live.
If there is one thing my Mother understood (at least from my perspective), it was how to give validation. In my life, I have cried deep, saturated tears – the kind that wrench up your whole face. You can feel detached from your body when you see that face in the mirror, and you feel that pain, and those tears are heavy and then turn cold on your cheeks really fast.
Before adulthood, I would melt into my Mother’s embrace, over flowing my own flood gates. She captured my full release, and I left it there upon her rich bosom, drenching her heart because it was strong.
And I guess, deeply within, she drew from the source of her own empathy, somehow, she knew.
Someone taught her how to give empathy. I’m not exactly sure whom, because her childhood was bound to a generation where emotions were tempered and taboos were avoided, socially. And my Grandmother always seemed, from my perspective, to have limits on her expressions of affection – not that I’m the most effusive when it comes to doling it out, myself (typical Sagittarius).
I rarely saw my Mother cry, and when she did, it was more of a mildly dramatic whine or whimper because people weren’t delivering moments her way. She rarely shed significant tears, unless she was witnessing a tender moment or else doubled back in uproarious laughter.
I simply cannot picture her finding herself in the mirror the way I have done at points in my life when answers seemed as heavy as immovable mountains. Her emotions were quick to appear and dissipate, as did her discipline, but her openness, her smile, and decisions were both quick and enduring.
I guess what she got right in parenting led me back to myself whenever I got lost. Though, sometimes, that process took years. Sometimes, decades. And sometimes her judgments waylaid me like a washed out bridge.
But, now she is gone, and even though her death was only three years ago, she’s been gone pretty much Sean’s whole life due to the dementia that changed her over the better part of a decade.
When times get tough, without my primary source for validation, I have to find her validation within me.
I spent my 40th decade on that very journey – understanding what it means when someone you love dies and yet they remain with you, always.
Once I turned the literal curve into my 50s (40 was like turning a corner), I could see what lay just ahead in my path – and it was out of my control.
It was an humbling realization that none of us can really tweak our biological clocks as much as we spend our youth thinking that we can. Life is short, and it is the only cliché that doesn’t sound cliché.
And that brings me to why we phoned both our adult daughters – our young son’s big sisters a few nights ago. They needed to hear our news from both of us, together.
I’ve been in love with an idea of someone. An idea that never truly fit the object of my attachment. I have to find a way to accept that my love for my child’s father has never been about who he really is. I’ve never wanted to accept that I don’t fit him. Or that his understanding of acceptance doesn’t fit mine.
So it is now, that I arrive at a place where I know I’ve been before – perhaps when I was 7 or 8 and wandering the woods alone, acknowledging my aloneness, observing my emptiness, fondling the folds of left over thoughts. This place is strangely familiar, but it doesn’t fit very well. The size is too small, and the space and time I have for working it out is pressing, almost urgent.
I’m not comfortable, but I see the pathways before me. I just have to decide which one to traverse. This grief that I feel is more direct and clear than, when on younger paths, I felt confused and lost. No, I know what I have to do. I just have to find a way to commence the difficult process of stitching the lines formed by the paths together… so that I don’t lose myself in the moments that grow up my child before I’ve had a chance to catch my breath.
Because, every year steals the version of my child that I treasure. And every decade that I spend not seeing clearly steals the part of me that he will want to cherish.
The traditional model for family is quickly evolving in our society to being as diverse as the populations on earth. Newer generations (and some older) are breaking the rules for marriage, and even rejecting the institution. If I choose grief as my focus, I’ll ruin the opportunity I have to establish new traditions within an alternative paradigm.
That doesn’t mean I have to be blind to all the things that generated pain for me. It means that I can choose my path and walk it. It means that I can be free to be who I need to be while ensuring that my child’s needs are met, including his need for both of his parents to be involved in his life, without coercion – as he has been raised his whole life.
Over nearly two decades, his father and I have developed many common interests, preferences, and understandings. We’ve made hard choices and at times, gut-wrenching decisions. But, we’ve also experienced joy and celebrated milestones. We’ve won hard battles and taken risks.
My heart became entangled with his daughters who taught me more about myself than I’ve ever learned on my own. Now, their little brother is wrestling with the scale, trusting us to be considerate, fair, and forgiving as we maneuver rewriting our lives without rewriting his history.
There are those who won’t really be shocked, but they will be kidding themselves if they think they really know our story.
And there are those who won’t be shocked, and have felt the tremors for a long time.
There are those who are extremely close to us who will wonder how this came about, and there are those who are close and will understand, but whom we did not tell until we pulled our horses right up to the gate.
Because giving up is not easy when a child hangs in the balance.
There will always be his story, her story, and somewhere in the middle, the truth. For me, it was easier to hang on to the hope represented by the idea that my version of a noble life would fit his version of an ideal life and off into the sunset our legacy would sail, forever.
That isn’t to say that my expectations were unreasonable. They certainly were not. But, he did not learn to love in the way that love was modeled to me. And he doesn’t want to continue hurting me. And we do not want our child to have to heal from his childhood.
The very premise upon which we’ve raised our child so far has been to stop the cycle of dysfunction and to better society by delivering a compassionate, confident, and passionate individual to the universe. We were mistaken to buy into the belief that this can only be accomplished within the institution of marriage.
And that is where we arrive. That is the point that draws us back to the center after a few weeks (months, years?) of a wretched-sorting-out, all while I continued working towards our upcoming goals, and he continued maintaining his own status quo for the sake of livelihood and stability.
I called upon my tribe of sisters and mothers months ago and even up to now. And I will still need them to help me sort the challenging realities from my higher mission.
If we had brought our struggle front and center without experiencing this period of private strife and pain, we could never have retrieved it and upcycled it into a structure of creativity, discovery, and validation for a child who has known only these things.
As for this child, our freedom-based lifestyle has actually prepared him to shoulder this moment with our help. Since he has never been sheltered by Childism or denied access to life by Adultism (those are actual burgeoning term these days, synonymous with our partnership paradigm), he has had little trouble keeping pace with the adult dialogue and negotiations. He even devised the title for this post that we batted around, as a family. But, the discord leading up to this point was stressful, and we are doing our best to eliminate that stress for him.
All my fears about undoing all the good we’ve done – from practicing attachment parenting to partnering with our child in whole life learning for almost nine years are dissipating as we see how our commitment to him can continue by respecting his rights and choices even as we break up the traditional structure of the family unit.
To do this, our aim is to be mature, quite frankly, and to not take the dissolution of our union before a judge in terms of custody. It is a risk for both of us, depending on how we look at things. And there will no doubt be moments where our song and dance will take the floor even when we are no longer married. This child will speak up and guide us to re-center – as he has been raised in authenticity and to have an equal voice and vote in his family. That includes this path we face. In fact, his vote decided our direction. His voice mattered most.
We love our child. We value our role as parents. And we love our child’s sisters. And they love their brother, and he adores them and is so proud of his little niece. Even though I’m not their bio Mom, I know that they love me, and I want them to remain in my story. Isn’t that family? I think it is.
We will (at least as far as we can see right now) still go camping and hiking together, and we will still be in the same space and even the same family bed (it is all Sean has ever known) while waiting for our house to sell. The community in which we reside is our home, and it will remain our home.
And people will probably point to us and say that we are weird. But, what we are is filled with sadness, courage, and intention, with loving hope for our child who will always be our greatest teacher.
There are many steps ahead, and we aren’t even sure how we are going to take them or make them work, but Be Here Now, Now Be Here has long been a mantra to which I aspire.
There will be awkward moments, and there will be more pain ahead for all of us.
But, we will still celebrate the love of our children and grandchild, and we will still share interests, and we will not try to erase each other from our stories. And, when the going gets tough, we will grow.