We entered the library eyeing the huddle of fidgety boys in the back corner of the room. They were sitting at pint size tables amongst the rows of books watching a sci-fi, instructional cartoon about the game of chess. Sage and Susan picked out super-hero coloring books to occupy their time while we were waiting for Miller. The air felt stale and stuffy, reeking of smudgy kids, and dry heat-agitation was tapping on my shoulder.
When the boys scattered, Miller found us sitting at a table waiting for him as he talked excitedly about the games he’d won. I noticed he didn’t make eye contact with Susan and that he somewhat ignored her all together. I said to him, “Did you say hi to Susan?” He looked down and shuffled his feet mumbling, “Hi Susan.” She of course spoke cheerfully to him, engaging him by asking about the kids he defeated at chess. He loosened up a little but I could tell he was feeling distant and uncertain.
Before we went home the kids decided that they wanted to play on the playground for a while. (I guess the half-mile walk to school, the seven-hour school day, and the extra hour of enrichment didn’t exhaust enough of their metabolic resources.) Susan followed Miller over to the tetherball pole and the mood shifted abruptly like the changing seasons in Atlanta. Almost as if in slow motion, they were squealing and laughing as Miller hurled the ball towards her and around the pole. I sat on the seesaw with Sage propelling my stomach up and down watching them feeling myself starting to relax. I could hear her infectious laughter, as Miller would ask her, “Are you ready for this one?” He was grinning ear to ear, revealing the empty spaces in his mouth. The sight of them enjoying themselves together quieted my busy mind, and made my bones feel lighter in my skin. I’m always anxious and curious about what’s really going on inside my children’s heads, wishing I knew their entire secret feelings-the reprieve was a relief.
The rest of the weekend looked about the same, normal with unsettling nuances pulling my blinders away. I knew, but I didn’t REALLY know. I sensed something but I repressed it, hoping it would go away like every other uncomfortable feeling. By this point in my life I should be more aware of my body, it always tells me when something has gone astray. The sensation isn’t unfamiliar; it’s a slow building energy, a dust storm of emotions gathering strength as it moves. It starts as a soft buzzing vibration separating me, although making me more aware of my form. It’s a nervous twitching like a Morse code sending signals from my heart to my brain. If I could interpret the rhythm it would sound something like this: “Hello there, you are experiencing an internal conflict, but your fear is preventing you from solving the problem. You are unable to recognize it yet, I suggest you stop and listen to what your heart is trying to tell you.”
By Sunday I was in full-blown anxiety mode, but that was a good thing because it’s usually in that space I am able to find my way out. Miller had a parent participation event at Sunday school that day. I was stressed out about what or whatnot to wear; who I would see and what people would be thinking of me; I mean my head was spinning like a helicopter propeller.
“No, don’t wear pants, people will think you are wearing pants because you’re dating a woman now. Don’t put that dress on you can see your nipples.” The truth is I was making myself way more important than I really am. I was also concerned about seeing a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. Our relationship has changed since things on my home front took an about face. (Again, another story.)
It was also my one-year anniversary with Susan, and we were planning on spending the day together celebrating with the kids. Our plan was to meet her at “The Fort,” otherwise known as her place and walk to the Midtown Arts Festival. We were going to take the kids to the children zone for face painting, arts-n- crafts, sugary snacks, and to watch a live musical performance. When I told the kids about our day I was confronted with two different reactions. Sage was thrilled; she jumped in my arms and yelled, “Yippee, I love festivals!” Miller on the other hand looked at me and said “I don’t want to go, I don’t like festivals anymore.” My skin tingled a little but I just looked at him and said, “I thought you loved festivals?” He said, “Well, I don’t want to go, I want to stay home with you.” Sage was upset and I was aggravated! In my mind this was the plan and I was going to go forward with it despite his feelings. I told him, “Miller, you always get to decide what we do, it’s Sage’s turn and she wants to go, so we are going.” In keeping with my word, I packed my backpack with a change of clothes and we loaded up the car.
Miller sat low in his seat staring out the window all the way to Sunday school. I asked him a few times what was wrong but he fussed and said, “I don’t want to talk about it!” I kept my chin high with indignant intention-I was headstrong on celebrating my anniversary by going to the festival. I felt a slight nudge of other emotions telling me otherwise, but I wasn’t going to have any of it. I was having an internal dialogue without even realizing it; I was afraid of hurting Susan, thereby resenting Miller’s opinion. The paradoxical side was just the opposite, I didn’t want to do anything damaging to Miller, but I felt pressured by my relationship.
We finished up at Sunday school by noon but the sky still seemed dark as if left over from the night. The kids were having a slice of Sunday school-fundraiser pizza when I got a text from Susan. She asked, “Are you up for the festival?” We hadn’t really talked that day other than a “Good morning, happy year!” text or two. In my mind everything was OK and our plan was go, until she sent that text. The first text I sent back said, “Are you? What’s it like outside?” Then, uncomfortably, I came out with it, “Sage wants to go but Miller doesn’t. I’m not sure what to do.”
Then as if a sign from the universe, it started raining! I almost felt relieved yet saddened by the dreary, crying sky. Susan told me not to come over, she told me to go home and rest a while. We were thinking that maybe she should come over to my house instead and bake cookies with the kids. So I loaded up the kids, as we dogged the moist droplets, and darted into the grayness not only of the day, but also of our lives as well.
As we headed home, I was the one sulking and mourning the anniversary I felt I deserved. I told the kids that we were going home for a while and that Susan was coming over later. Miller asked, “Can it just be us at home?” I felt a lightening bolt of gloom strike a cord. I said, “Why?” Miller said, “Sometimes I want it to just be us!” This time I was the quiet one. I drove home the rest of the way feeling off balance, but knowing what I had to do.
When we got home I told Sage that I needed to have a private talk with Miller. I told him to go in the guest room and wait for me while I got her situated. I walked in and found him on the bed hiding under a pillow with his soft eyes peering up at me. I sat down in front of him and asked him, “ Buddy, what’s wrong? Why are you sad?” He kicked his socked feet and moved the pillows around a little as he avoided making eye contact. So I tried a different approach, I asked him, “Why don’t you want Susan to come over?” He stuttered some and said, “I just want it to be me, you and Sagey!” (Silently saying, and Daddy too!) I knew what he meant-there was no need for words. I said, “Miller, you know I love you, right? Well Mommy loves Susan too, she’s my good friend and she wants to be around you guys. She loves being with you.” He said, “I know, I know, but why is she your friend?” as he banged the pillow with his fists. I remained calm and alert, telling him, “You know Mommy and Daddy love you so much Buddy, and it is not your fault that we aren’t together anymore.” (Avoiding his question.) That angered him even more, he was ready, but I wasn’t.
He ran off to the den to watch TV with Sage. My chest stung and my heart pounded as it sunk into sorrowful pool. I knew I had to call Susan, and I knew what I had to tell her was going to pierce her like a blow-needle full of heartsick poison. My head was screaming aarrgge, I don’t want to do this to her on our anniversary. I shut the bedroom door and tentatively dialed her number. She was expecting my call, and she knew from the sound of my voice that things weren’t going well. I told her I was sorry and that I had to put my kids first. She said, “It’s the right thing to do, I saw it coming.” I said, “Isn’t it ironic, celebrating our anniversary by not seeing each other?” “We’ve always said our relationship wouldn’t work unless we put the kids first.” I told her I didn’t want to hurt her and that not seeing her torments me too, but disregarding the kids would be far worse.
We hung up the phone and I started crying. I was so mad at Miller and I felt so resentful for not being able to be with her on our special day. I was also consumed by fear of her leaving me because being with me requires so much selflessness. But, I pulled myself together and walked out of the bedroom, and there I saw my two round faced, innocent, little children staring at me from across the room. In an instant I knew I’d made the right decision, it is my job as a Mother to protect them and that is exactly what I did.
I spent the rest of the day feeling melancholy but I went on about my business. We spent the whole day inside as the ground soaked up the rainy day. I sent Susan a few texts, a video of Pink’s “Glitter in the Air, and a virtual card but I didn’t hear from her until much later.
Our sacrifice had been a blow to both of us although we knew it couldn’t be any other way. She needed the time to heal and to align herself with not only my, but also her premise as well, to honor my children. And by doing so, she added a deeper, more meaningful element to our relationship. So here again, yet another element to the paradox, to get more, you give more.
In my relationship I’ve had to go against my entitled urges, ignore all my old patterns and really be still and listen to my inner voice. I’ve had to square off with my fears, by doing terrifying work at times, but all of it has been so rewarding. My relationship with her is layered thick; and rich with honesty, (Authentic humanness, the type of honesty that makes you afraid they’re going to leave.) selflessness, and taking personal responsibility.
The most amazing gifts from this have been the foundations of trust I’m building with my children, and the tight bond Susan continues to form with them. But it’s not over yet.
The poetic part of our anniversary hasn’t even begun to be expressed because I failed to tell you what happened that night. (To be continued.)