I knew it was coming.
This morning, after her sister had gone to school, my younger daughter, Bryn, asked me whether James and I had gotten back together yet. I told her we hadn’t. She frowned.
Bryn: Why haven’t you gotten back together? You always get back together.
Me: Not this time, babe. I’m sorry. Really I am.
Bryn: But why? What happened?
What I wanted to say was something along the lines of “None of your business” or “It’s grown-up stuff” but the little voice in my head reminded me that this was a teachable moment, and I was, after all, responsible for her current state of confusion. It was my conscious decision to begin to incorporate James into all of our lives…. to allow my children to see him as my “boyfriend” rather than a “friend”… to encourage them to get to know him and value him. When I made the decision to finally commit myself to the relationship and not run away last May, I committed all of us. And when he left, he left all of us. Now I had to figure out how to put the pieces back together.
I took a deep breath, willed myself not to cry, and told her the truth: he just didn’t love me. Her little face scrunched up, confused.
Bryn: But why not? How does that happen?
Another big breath. Swallow the lump in my throat.
I reminded her of the different kinds of love that people have for one another — the way I love her, the way she loves her sister, the way we all love the dogs, the way her dad loves his girlfriend. We talked about how different those are and how the last kind of love doesn’t always go as smoothly as some other kinds. I assured her that James still really liked her and her sister, and that this was only about me and him.
Except that it’s not. And she’s way too smart to be fooled.
Bryn: But if you don’t marry James, how can Chelsea and I be sisters and live together?
Sigh. Bryn and James’ middle daughter, Chelsea, became fast friends over the summer. Bryn is a popular little girl with lots of friends and activities, but she felt a special affinity for Chelsea.
Me: Sweetie, James and I never talked about getting married. You know that.
Bryn: But me and Chelsea did! We had it all planned out! Do I even get to be friends with her now??
Me: Yes, of course. You and Chelsea will be friends for as long as you want to.
Bryn: Good. Because I’m going to write her a letter and I”m going to see her when she comes at Christmas and we’re going to stay friends!
She might as well have added “So there!” for good measure. She turned her back to me and busied herself getting ready for school. I left her packing her backpack and retreated to my bedroom, where I collapsed on the bed.
So, today I am carrying not only my own sadness at the relationship’s end, but my daughter’s as well.
When did it all get so complicated? Should I never have included my children in our relationship? How long are you supposed to sneak around your kids before you trust that what you share has some long-term potential? How in the world can I protect them from the disappointment of my failed relationships when I can’t even protect myself?
I simply don’t know the answers.
What I do know? Someday, they will have their share of heartbreaks; they shouldn’t have to share in mine.