Thanksgiving number five

Navigating co-parenting life does not necessarily get easier with the passage of time. But it gets…more formulaic, in a way. Most things are less of an emotional livewire, like in the early days. Every visitation, every holiday… hell every conversation left me feeling hurt, defeated. Empty. That isn’t the case any longer. Most visitations trade-offs are comfortable. Easy. Negotiations of time are civil, conversational even.

All that being said, holidays are still sticky with discomfort. Whenever people ask what our Thanksgiving plans are, I feel a pang of guilt when I mention that Moose will be with his father. The shame of admitting my son must switch between families. This is his normal. This is all he has ever known.

As I type this, I find it interesting that I still carry that shame. The stigma of single-parenthood. A scarlet letter upon my chest, broadcasting to all- my failure. What’s strange is the dichotomy. In my head, when I replay all of the events of my marriage, the termination of said relationship, and all of my decisions from that point- I do not see myself as a failure. Not overall. I have stumbled. Made mistakes. But predominantly, I know at my core that I have done the best I could.

Yet, when the words “he is with his father” escape my lips, shame envelops me.

I wonder what thoughts race across people’s mind when they find out I am divorced. No- not just divorced; divorced with a child involved.

There is an irony in my writings presently. One you wouldn’t be privy to, were I not to disclose it. However, I think it is worth unveiling. Cocooned in my drafts folder, is a sweet prose about how my son allowed me the freedom to become unabashedly myself. To embrace the complicated, strange human that I am. To stop hiding from my quirks. Conversely, I am confronting my immense shame. How strange it is, to hold these two truths simultaneously in my soul.

When I gaze upon my son, reflect on our life we have built, I brim with pride. My heart overflows with happiness. He truly is one of the best decisions I have made in my 37 years. Being his mother is an unexpected joy that I cherish. Though our life experiences frustration, exhaustion, and other papercuts of emotion- they are not the core. They are merely blips. Our center is love. Empathy. Compassion for one another. Even the hard days have laughter. Hugs.

The entire purpose of this experiment in writing was to chip away at the frigid isolation of parenting. To unearth the realities. The difficulties. Remind others that they aren’t alone and that we can and will get through the ruts. And I hope I have achieved that. In the meantime, what these have, in fact, shown themselves to be are a place for me to make connections within my own mind that I didn’t realize were there.

I have made it no secret that I have longed for a safe place. Shelter in the storm of life, that I can rest. I believed with all of my being, that this was an external place. A phenomenon that would coalesce within marriage. If I was loved enough, I would love myself. As it turns out, this isn’t true.

When my marriage disintegrated, so did my hope of that safe place. I gripped the belief that I had lost my one chance to achieve this elusive dream. Determined I was unlovable. Broken beyond repair. I carried the pain of these “truths” with me. I couldn’t fathom a world in which I could put them down. So, I didn’t try. I became accustomed to their weight on my shoulders. The despair that tugged at my heart. I worked hard to ignore them. Only allow them in my periphery vision- never my focus. Moose became my focus. The desire to learn better coping mechanisms, to be a better guide. To ensure he felt loved. That I didn’t impede the important relationships that no longer had anything to do with me. His father. His paternal grandparents. Extended family. New sibling. Step-mother.

What I just realized, is that we created that safe place. For both of us. In a way, he and I have grown up together. We have learned to enjoy ourselves, as we are. To grow where we need it, without hating ourselves for it. We both have a safe place to land. The beautiful shelter we built- originally only large enough to cover our two heads- is now immense. We have a growing family. A home that is full of love, laughter, and acceptance. We have a foundation of individuals that know we aren’t perfect and love us anyway love us.

I’m not entirely sure what to do with the shame I feel when I disclose to strangers that I am divorced. That my child spends every other weekend away. Some holidays he enjoys with his father- while I feel his absence immensely. It’s been nearly six years that these circumstances have been our reality. It no longer pushes me into depths of pain. Holidays can still be a mixture of emotions- though sadness is no longer the primary.

I have lost the path in which I began this post on. I’m not entirely sure where I ended up. What I do know for sure- today my monster is at my office with me. I have indulged in many hugs. Heard more “I love you, mommy’s” than I can count. Watched him sneak into the gum drawer out of the corner of my eye. I also know that he will be loved with his family on Thanksgiving. And I will be loved with mine. I will eat delicious food. I will enjoy laughter. I will learn to settle into the reality that I am accepted there. My shame is self inflicted- not projected onto me by others. For they don’t care how I got there, they just care that I am there.

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