I have a million thoughts swirling in this brain of mine. Like a word on the tip of your tongue, the thoughts all seem to be connected, but I cannot suss it out, just yet. I wanted a clear, captivating sentence to start it out. A precise thesis, if you will. However, it is eluding me. I have learned, that if I fixate on that perfect opening, the words never make it to the page. Instead, they plague me in the twilight of sleep. Distract me during workouts. Vex me in all the places I cannot document it, if said perfection did suddenly pop into my brain. Instead, I am here. Working it out alongside you. Come along with me on the journey into the labyrinth of my thoughts.
I’m not sure when parenting became natural. The honest truth is, for the five days my son was in the NICU, I was terrified to hold him. I held his hand. Stroked his cheek. Allowed the nurses (the incredible NICU nurses) to position the pillow in my lap and lay him upon it so I could feed him. I claimed that the various wires and tubes attached to him intimidated me. It wasn’t a lie. It also wasn’t the truth. I was terrified I would break him. In my mind, my body had already failed us both. It wasn’t a difficult, anxious leap to assume it would continue to do so.
The day came that he was discharged. Everything I did with him, was done carefully. Uncertainly. I’d love to say that I became more comfortable with him as the days passed. That would also be another untruth. Though, minutia does matter, in this instance. I got more comfortable with him physically. I knew how to pick him up. Feed him. Burp him. I loved the feel of his weight in my arms. Conversely, leaving the house brought on new apprehension. Would he get hungry while out? Would his reflux cause him discomfort? Would everyone in the general vicinity see, clearly, that I was ill equipped? Postpartum anxiety coupled with a reflux baby was a recipe for mild agoraphobia.
Post divorce, I didn’t have the safety of numbers to face the outside world anymore. It was Moose and I. Grocery shopping was required. As were a myriad of other tasks. We learned to face the world together. His ability to eat solid food helped tremendously. We never traveled light. Clothing, diapers, and snacks always in tow.
We learned what we were capable of.
Now, several years later, we are a well oiled machine. Mom voice escapes my mouth without any forethought. Sometimes even to humans that did not develop within my womb. Boundaries are straightforward to instill and reiterate. Snuggles occur without question. The world is our oyster and we explore it with abandon.
We woke up one day, and this was our life. No longer unfamiliar terrain.
So many things have taken that path, not just the comfort of parenting. Unrelated tasks, such as driving. When I was first granted the allowance to charter a vehicle on my own, my whole body shook with adrenaline. The feeling of performing said task against the rules. Now, touring the pavement is merely a daily requirement. Habitual.
Co-parenting has taken a similar course. One, that surprised me in the gradual nature of it. When my ex chose to put his heart elsewhere, I was devastated. Everything hurt. Seeing him was excruciating. Talking to him, even harder. Watching him interact with our son brought waves of unfamiliar emotions. I felt hopeless. Fearing I would be plagued by these emotions forever.
As time progressed, the concussive force of feelings abated. Occurred less frequently. Until, finally they seemed to slip away, in the cover of darkness. Just like the jarring realization that parenting had become a part of me, an extension of my personality and abilities, it hit me that I was okay. Really okay.
Last week Moose received a new belt in karate. They have testing one day and then a ceremony to collect their belts a few days later. During this particular celebration, parents were tasked with putting the new belt onto our offspring. My son excitedly chose his father to dawn his new garment. I momentarily felt cheated. A flash in the pan. I quickly course corrected and positioned my phone to document the moment between him and his father. No pang of hurt. No cacophony of emotions at the reinforcement that we are not a traditional family unit.
At some point, over the course of our divorce and journey into new experiences, our independent families have become our normal. In moments like these, he feels a bit like an interloper. An exciting guest for our son. A stimulating divergence from our daily unit. And I understand it completely.
With the recognition that Moose and I have forged a beautiful life together, comes the security that I am home base. Nothing will drive a wedge between the monster and I. I may be the disciplinarian, but I am also the solace. The one that he takes for granted. The one he knows in his core will always be there, no matter how often he wears his ass on his shoulders. Therefore, he has the comfort and freedom to do just that- take me for granted. He doesn’t give a moments notice to my feelings when he chooses his father- nor should he.
Co-parenting can be difficult. Respect is not always given both ways. Mistakes are made. I do not want to give the impression that we make all the right choices. That we communicate perfectly. But damn, we have done some big things right. Our kid doesn’t feel like he is missing anything. He has his “family”. I put it in quotations, because it may not be that traditional household I thought we were forming at the beginning of this journey; conversely this is precisely what my son has been provided and how he sees it. This unit involves not only his father and I, but his step-mother, little sister, grandparents, and my boyfriend. He is comfortable with all of us. His chatter unincumbered. We never made him feel like he had to be secretive. Or choose sides.
Without us realizing, we navigated the treacherous waters of dissolution. We created a new normal, one that works. We are thriving- more importantly, our kid is blossoming. He is loved. Comfortable in who he is. Willing to take risks. All because he has the safety net of his family.