I have been spending an inordinate amount of time lately with my ex-husband, Bryce. No, we’re not grabbing beers together after work or hitting the tennis court for a doubles match. We’re attending informational meetings, open houses, and promotional tours for local middle schools in the hopes of selecting the best fit for my elder daughter, Sabrina. It is a choice we will make jointly.
Now, for those of you who are not from this area and are already scratching your head, our school district is somewhat unique in that you can “open enroll” your child in any school in the district. You are guaranteed a place in your local, neighborhood school, but if you’d like to enroll in a different school, you may do so through the open enrollment system. Essentially, with open enrollment, you toss your child’s name into a lottery system for that school, which determines their acceptance or not. So, there is a lot of school shopping in my town. Sabrina is a very bright kid with some special needs at the talented and gifted end of the spectrum so we’re visiting four different schools, all of them more than once, to make this decision with her.
And tonight, quite unexpectedly, I found myself facing one of those surreal divorce moments that always seem to sneak up on me….
I was sitting in an auditorium, with Sabrina on one side and Bryce on the other, when one of the elementary school moms I’d once been friends with walked in. Our eyes met briefly, then I saw them sweep and take in Bryce and Sabrina, and finally determinedly look elsewhere. I couldn’t help but grin.
For this was one of a handful of women who stopped speaking to me altogether when word hit the grapevine that I was leaving Bryce. She didn’t know Bryce — I’m pretty sure they’d never spoken before — but she was instantly judgmental and appalled at my gall. She and her friends haughtily and publicly insisted that I was making a big mistake and would regret it in short order.
Except that I wasn’t and I haven’t.
And frankly, I’m not sure which aspect of my present life confounds and annoys them more…
- Is it that I didn’t crumple under the weight of guilt and regret and become a frumpy and pathetic divorcee?
- Is it that I have made a life — however modest and humble — of which I am proud and with which I am content?
- Is it that my standing within our community has not been altered or affected in any appreciable way?
- Is it that Bryce and I have (at least on the surface) a very congenial and mutually-supportive friendship?
- Is it that we have both found happiness with others and have accepted those other partners?
- Or is it that they were so damn wrong and can’t figure out how or why???
I know that after the divorce, I was supposed to slink around town looking guilt-ridden and glum, but I didn’t feel that way and wasn’t about to play that role for anyone’s benefit. I know that my relationship with Bryce — the fact that we sit with each other at soccer games and school functions and community events — is surprising and confusing to those who don’t know us and our commitment to our daughters. I know that my sincere acceptance and welcome of his girlfriend Debbie makes some people just plain uncomfortable.
But you know what?
They need to just get over it.
Because it’s actually pretty simple: Bryce is not a terrible person; he just wasn’t the right partner for me, nor me for him. Debbie is a very nice, sweet, friendly woman whom I have absolutely no reason to dislike. We are all doing our mutual best to support and raise my daughters. For the life of me, I will never understand what is wrong with this picture.
I had a phone conversation this week with a guy friend I’ve known for 27 years, during which he told me that he thinks it’s “unnatural” for Bryce and Debbie and me to attend the girls’ events together. Now it was my turn to be confused. “Unnatural”?? Seriously? What exactly are we “supposed” to do — take turns loving them? Maybe I should only love them on Tuesdays and Thursdays so that Bryce and Debbie can also get their days? Or perhaps we should do the time-honored thing and shove them in the middle of some acrimony so that they can get the more traditional divorce experience?
So here we are now, reviewing and considering schools, discussing pros and cons for Sabrina and trying to make the best choices possible for her, and I am reminded — once again — that even in our attempts to do what is best by our girls, we are somehow different.
I have made my peace with different. I am proud of where we are now and what it’s taken us to get here. I am glad that my children are not embarrassed by our behavior, nor do they feel torn between us. There will be arguments and hurt feelings and maybe even legal battles down the road, but we are establishing a good, strong precedent for working together for the sake of our children. We are integrating new partners and trying to support each other in our new lives. We are the embodiment of the modern American family, for better or for worse.
And we’re not going anywhere.