It has taken a long time to get to this place

I remember all those times I felt righteous indignation
all those times I was sure you were wrong,
and I was right
and maybe you were wrong, sometimes,
but now I understand
just how hard it is
how complex the human soul
the layers of our interactions
the trying – the striving – to do the right thing
when so often all you can do is come up short
and then try again next time.

I remember so many of our struggles and differences
but I want you to know that I also remember the good times:
nights in front of the tv
making toasted tomato sandwiches
trying to break my fear of spiders.
I want you to know that when I look at my boy
I think of you and smile
and I remember the good times, too.

An unexpected exploration of my childhood assumptions spun from a conversation about parenting with my son and the NaPoWriMo day 29 prompt to write a poem based on things we remember.

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As life expands and contracts 

This new place expands around me at first. It feels overwhelmingly vast so that I’m disoriented and can’t work out which way I’m trying to go. I have the sense that there are things happening just beyond my perception. The games room my son keeps disappearing to seems confusingly far, and never quite where I think it should be.

But once I walk the paths a few times and find my bearings, when familiarity sets in, the spaces begin to shrink. They become navigable, I can sense the layout, the extremities. This expanding and shrinking is my mind trying to find comfort, reaching out and seeking to hold onto what it knows.

Now, after a few days, I have a handle on the place. I’ve mapped its shops, activities, its corners. My son, reunited with his friends from home, has happily spent his time swimming, playing soccer, competing, exploring and eating with them – and I’ve let him roam, secure that he is somewhere within the walls, that our paths will cross at some point before bedtime.

I feel ridiculously joyful each time I see him pass with one of his friends. This desperately social only child of mine has, for this week, more or less joined an expansive family of five kids. He is the missing sixth and part of an easy pair, though they all form and reform, finding friendship in all combinations. They look for him, he looks for them and they run-ramble-roam in timeless abandon.

My husband and I may struggle with the concept of a resort, a mall-like compound full of people and divorced from the land itself, but this one joy makes my mothering heart soar.

Despite all the things I find wrong about a place like this – a place that degrades and infringes on the natural environment and displaced local populations – I find myself falling into step. Not embracing it, no, but finding the positives. The sun, the safety, the easiness, the kids’ freedom. I try to ignore the unease I feel at being able to do this, to ignore the blatant wrongness behind it all. 

I am well aware that kids could just as easily roam free and safely in a ecologically and culturally sensitive resort. I’m here, though, and happy to be with our friends, the parents of the five, watching them get married.

Moreover, I’ve left last week behind. It was the culmination of months of mounting stress and pressure at work to pull off an important meeting between our Deputy Minister and the head of an important organization. I felt uncomfortable leaving before the meeting, before everything was done, but I felt pride, too, the pride of knowing I had poured all my effort and my most analytic and strategic thinking into the preparations I had seen to over the days, weeks and months leading up to it.

So, here I sit poolside, with no questions to answer, no worries, no pressure – just sun, breezes and a son happily roaming. It’s hard not to just let go and relax into it, no matter how guilty or incensed I maybe should be.

Unfettered: The story of an evolving relationship

It has been many, many years since my son stayed overnight at his father’s. Many years since I’ve trusted my ex enough to let him have our son more than the allotted five hours. Many years since I’ve referred to my child as “ours” and meant someone other than my current husband. In fact, he hasn’t stayed overnight there since I won full custody, reduced access to five hours every two weeks and changed my son’s last name to mine. That was all five years ago. Half my son’s life ago.

It hasn’t even been very long that my son has been seeing his father, this time around. After mostly two years of his father being unreliable and absent, my son decided he had no interest in seeing him either. It was only Father’s Day 2015 that my son asked to see him again following eight months of unexplained refusal.

While I don’t know what changed my son’s mind, I can say that as far as my ex goes, things have vastly improved ever since February when he and his partner had a baby. I wouldn’t say I fully trust him – people don’t change – but I don’t feel terror at the thought of our son staying with him anymore, and that’s saying something. For now, he’s in a better place in his life and his mind and  I can’t really justify refusing to let our son stay with him. In fact, it was me who started involving him more in our son’s life again. I even organized this weekend for both of them.

I hope he doesn’t prove me wrong. I hope he doesn’t fall apart while our son is still a child, still vulnerable.

As awful as things were at their worst – lies, drinking, stealing, erratic behaviour – when he’s stable, my ex is charming, fun and able to run a business and a house. He can be a warm, relaxed person. They bond over a shared love of soccer and their shared experience on this earth, however limited it has been.

I’m happy about that. I hope that it will continue. It’s good for our son to feel unconflicted between both parents, to feel he can go back and forth between both households without incident. To spend time with both of us – and his new sister.

So, at the very early hour of 8:00 am Saturday, I packed him off for a day and a half.

My son is my heart and soul, just as much a part of me as my own limbs. Yet, he is also the independent person I have taught him to be. He is able to stand on his own, speak up for himself, and go off and do things and make his own way – the way of an only child. At 8 years old, he chose to go to sleepaway camp for 26 nights straight and he did just fine (survivable homesickness aside). He flies alone to visit his grandparents in Toronto. He walks into all sorts of situations on his own, introduces himself and gets involved. So though we’re very close and I miss him, I know he’s ok away from home.

Still, when it comes to his father, I worry. And it’s more than the man himself. There’s so much all parties invest in a parental relationship, so many hopes and expectations. Especially one as complex and fraught as this one.

It doesn’t help that I’m naturally anxious and a worrier.

I must have kept myself sanely busy, though, because here I am now, about to go pick him up.

I’m surprised to find myself looking forward to hearing all about the house, his new sister, his time with the other part of his family. I don’t feel the expected pang of regret or sadness or even fear. I just want him to be happy, to have had the weekend he was looking forward to. And I’m sure he did.

It is so much easier to abandon the angst, fear and outrage, to leave the bad of the past in the past and, while still watching out for my son, finally move forward, unfettered.

Growing Pains

He’s struggling, stretching between the little boy he’s been and that older person he can see in the distance, the shadow of himself he thinks he’d like to be.

Already he’s rebelling, fighting against the life he has, asking for something different, though he’s not sure yet what that something might be.

Tonight I found him separating his belongings: things to keep (books, achievements) things to discard (Lego, costumes).  Resolute, he grows the one pile, the discard pile, faster than the other.

When I ask if he’s sure about this item and that, he gives me that look, the one that tells me he has been sure for some time, for as long as I’ve pretended time was standing still, for as long as I’ve tried to believe things will never really change.

Now I can see it coming. That moment he eventually casts home into the discard pile, when life for him consists of some hitherto unknown collection of not-home items, when the past remains and he is gone.

And so tonight, when he asks me to snuggle instead of reading to him, when he asks me to warm him up, I climb willingly into his soft, dimly lit world and hold him tight. When eventually I extricate myself, insisting it’s time to sleep, I do so wondering why I didn’t just stay the whole night.

First Flights

As I navigate through another quiet morning, another start to the day with my son out of the house, I realize I follow the same routine whether he is here or not. It is quieter, sure, but my mornings and evenings now naturally, instinctively, follow this routine. A routine that has been 10 years in the making.

Ten years of carefully cultivating a schedule. Predictability. Of feeling responsible and being responsible for guiding another life, ironically, to a place that I can start letting go, bit by bit, to see how he manages the first small flights on his own.

This is how it starts, the emptying of the nest, though there are years yet left to go. Years of adjustment for all of us. I wonder what our schedule will look like as those years change our patterns, what my routine will be when the nest is empty. But I don’t want to think about that eventuality just yet.

On Friday, our school board had a PD day. I realized this at 3pm on Thursday and almost enrolled the boy in his usual after school program, but my husband said he wanted to spend the day with him. Usually, my husband has so many work projects on the go that this just isn’t possible and he often laments the fact that he doesn’t get to spend the fun times with the boy that I do. I was thrilled that they would have some time together.

Friday morning, he told the boy to dress nicely and off they went to a fancy hotel for breakfast, while I threw some granola in my lunch bag and headed to work.

Mid-morning, they called me from the car. “We’re going to Montreal!” they shouted exuberantly into the phone. “See you tomorrow!”

All day, my phone silently flashed with pictures of their exploits. I watched from my distance, bemused.

Of course, my son heading on a road trip with my husband is hardly an emptying of the nest. But it is a change, even a small step in that direction; for 10 years it’s been my son and me, for 6 years it’s been my son and my husband and me. Only every now and then is it the two of them. This is a good thing. They are still getting used to each other, even now, after living together for almost 6 years.

Friday evenings we usually clean the house as a family. It’s an established part of the routine. Not wanting to have to face a Saturday with chores, I spent Friday evening cleaning in the solitude, my mind wandering. It took me 5 hours to get everything done but still I was in bed at pretty much the same time I would have been if they’d been here. The routine remained intact.

Saturday morning I still woke up at 7:30, still got out of bed at 8. Like clockwork. They returned home shortly thereafter but my son went off again, this time to a friend’s house for a sleepover, mid-afternoon.

My mother-in-law came for dinner, which we ate in the garden at the same time we have dinner every night. My husband and I, though we had all the freedom that comes with an otherwise empty house, were still in bed at the usual time, watching the show we’ve been watching for weeks. We went to sleep at the same time we do most Saturday nights and again, we were up at 7:30.

I have time to write before I pick up the boy from his sleepover, but that’s not vastly different from other Sundays, either.

So, here I am, writing, thinking about schedules and slowly emptying nests. I have glimpsed what my life will be like in 8 to 10 years when my son has moved out and perhaps superficially it won’t be much different, though I can only imagine (and I try not to) the size of the hole his absence will leave me with.

Maybe I cling to the routine because it makes his absence feel temporary. Maybe it’s relief that I’m feeling as I reflect on the extent to which my life doesn’t change when he’s out of the house.

Though I like to know he can fly, though it makes me proud of him, I’m glad it’s not anywhere near the time that he will fly away.