There are so many moments, post-divorce, that are nothing short of surreal. Sometimes precious, sometimes horrible, but never anything you could have possibly imagined as you stood across from each other and spoke the vows that should have bound you together forever. I have stopped wondering if such moments will ever stop and have come to accept them as part of the “new normal.”
Christmas Day delivered another such moment.
My official parenting plan with Bryce dictates that we take annual turns having the girls for Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, then turn them over to the other parent at noon on Christmas Day. We’ve never stuck to this mandate, however, opting instead to share Christmas morning together with our children and parents at whomever’s house the girls are at for Christmas morning, and then depositing them at the other home after lunchtime. Last year, Bryce’s then-girlfriend joined us, which might have been awkward, but honestly wasn’t. This year, however, neither of us had partners there.
Our Christmas morning routine has raised more than a few eyebrows among our mutual and individual friends, but we have agreed that as long as Bryn believes in Santa Claus, we will continue this tradition so that we both get to see the girls experience Christmas morning. Those years are certainly numbered now; in fact, I suspect we just celebrated our last Christmas morning together, as I think Bryn has begun to piece together the truth about Santa. But if this was to be the last Christmas for our original nuclear family, plus grandmothers, to celebrate together, then I shall be at peace with it, as I think we’ve achieved our mutual goal of creating mostly conflict-free holidays for our young children.
This year, Christmas morning was over at Bryce’s house. My mom and I attended the traditional, adrenaline-filled present frenzy and returned home to the peace and quiet of a cup of tea, the sofa, and a Christmas movie on tv. Bryce dropped the girls and their foyer-bursting haul off at the usual time. We had a laugh about our daughters and all their gifts, wished each other a Merry Christmas, and then, as he was leaving, it happened.
It wasn’t a romantic hug or a long hug or a tender hug, but it was the first time we’ve touched each other that way since I announced that I was leaving almost 4 years ago.
A simple gesture, that was profound in its simplicity.
After he left, I stood in my foyer and briefly contemplated the long road that had brought us to that hug. Yes, the hug was spontaneous, but we are long past the slips that used to happen right after our separation — the moments when one of us off-handedly used a nickname or started to utter a habitual “Love you” before hanging up the phone. No, this was a moment of ease mixed with intent. It was the culmination of so many small, difficult sacrifices, compromises, and acquiesces over the past few years as we sought to forge some kind of relationship that we can both live with in the future. One that will allow us to co-parent our children — and, hopefully, grandchildren — while still accommodating our changed circumstances.
There are a lot of books about how to have a great relationship with your former spouse. I have read none of them. I have tried my best to stick to one goal for my relationship with Bryce — that I might, one day, truly call him a friend. I have not been in a hurry to reach this destination. Nor have I taken any time to define what that friendship might look like. No, I have simply known, since the time I realized that I had to end my marriage, that Bryce and I would have been very successful friends if we had only stopped at that crossroad all those years ago. I would not go back and alter our past, but I felt that if we had to pick a future that did not include a lovestory for us, well then, I picked friendship.
True, it isn’t a friendship of any ordinary definition. There will always be things about him that make me glad he is not my husband any more, just as I am sure there are moments he is deeply grateful to be rid of me as a wife. He is a guarded, private man, and I am no longer a confidant, which I fully accept and respect, but there are also parts of his life that I understand better than anyone, and I have noticed that he still appreciates that perspective on occasion. There are mutual hurts between us that will probably never be healed, and disappointments that can’t be overcome, and those will likely create boundaries that friendships not borne of the ashes of a marriage do not have. But that’s okay.
There is so much on the internet and on blogs and in books about how awful divorce is and how much anger and hatred and dysfunction it visits on everyone touched by it, that I feel consistently compelled to share with you the small ways that Bryce and I are charting a different course. I absolutely do not mean to glamorize divorce — the pain of severing a family is one I sincerely wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy — but I also do not think that it needs to become the action that forever ruins everyone involved. There are other choices, other paths, and other ways of being divorced. And I personally wish that each couple had the freedom and motivation to make a pattern all their own, that works best for them and their family, to move forward through the pain and regret and disappointment.
I am enormously grateful to Bryce for staying committed to this course with me and creating a present for our daughters of which they can be proud. As more of their friends’ parents divorce, our girls are slowly realizing that our relationship is more of an exception than a rule, and I talk with them plainly about how hard it has been at times for their dad and I to keep communicating and working on this new kind of relationship. I want them to understand that none of us can take this for granted.
Divorce is such a strange, strange journey. I have learned so many things that I never knew I didn’t know. I have come to want things I never imagined wanting. And my life resembles nothing I had ever planned or hoped for. And yet, that is all okay, too.
Maybe it’s crazy to want to be friends with my ex-husband. Maybe it’s ridiculous to even hope for it. But one thing that divorce has taught me is that all the things I felt so certain about for the first half of my life didn’t hold up as I expected them to. So now I’m exploring the stuff that’s “impossible.” And if someday, somehow, we defy the odds and I am able to call Bryce a friend first and my ex-husband second, I will simply be grateful and accepting of what we were able to create.
Who knows? Four years ago, I’ve have bet all my chips against a hug on Christmas Day….