Have you ever received news that literally makes your jaw drop? I have. I was standing in the entryway a few weeks ago, my ex-husband was dropping off the kids, and he asked me to stay behind, he had to tell me something.
“I wanted to tell you before I tell the kids, I wanted you to hear it from me. My girlfriend is moving in,” pause, “…and we’re having a baby.” That was when my mouth fell open. Then it broke into an unwitting smile. And then I just said, “Wow!” I was, I am, truly happy for him. Then the past few weeks fell into perspective; how much nicer he had been to me recently, improved coordination of schedules, a general warmth I hadn’t felt in a long time. Of-course, it was the sympathetic-pregnancy glow. That’s fine. Whatever the reason, if he’s happy, I’m happy. But, what about our kids?
I couldn’t say anything until he told them, obviously. When they came back after their next stay with him, I asked them each if they had anything to tell me. “Something interesting maybe?” Blink, blink. “Something about your dad?” Veronica guesses, “I might need new glasses?” I can’t tell if they think I’m not supposed to know, or if they honestly aren’t thinking about it. Out with it then. “Like maybe that your dad and his girlfriend are having a baby, and you’re going to have a little brother or sister?”
“OH YEAH.” they say, and all but shrug with enthusiasm.
We talk about it later, and the response is one of overall enthusiasm, with hints of trepidation. Which seems about right. It’s new to everyone involved, this whole blended family thing. I worry that they won’t want to come over and leave the bosom of a more nuclear family over there, and I worry that they’ll feel displaced when they return to his house. I worry because while I expected my ex to move forward, I sure didn’t know what that would look like. And I worry, oddly, about my perpetual singlehood. I wonder if there is something wrong with me that I haven’t moved on to the same degree. That while I’ve dated on and off, it has never been serious, and I’ve never involved my children.
As far as my kids know, I have been chaste as a nun since moving out. Which isn’t exactly true (ahem, no comments please), but it’s an image I’ve seen no need to contradict. However, recently I’ve started dating a man that I could imagine introducing them to. Not yet, it’s still casual. But one thing I realize is that once they are involved, it won’t be casual. So, I test the waters with hypotheticals. It comes up as we discuss my plans for an upcoming evening,
Me: “Maybe I have a date.” I do.
Ivan, quickly: “No, you can’t date.”
Me: “You’re dad is moving in with someone else and having a baby, and I can’t even have a date? That hardly seems fair.”
Veronica: “Ok, you can go on a date as friends. But just as friends.”
Ivan: “Yeah, no kissing. That’s for teenagers.”
I glean two things from this interchange.
1. I’m so old and mom-like the idea of me kissing someone is totally disgusting.
2. The time to introduce another big change into their life – the idea that your mom isn’t a nun but a sexually liberated and modern uber-woman – is not now.
I ask them regularly how they are doing, keep the lines of communication open, both generally and specifically, about the new situation. They seem to be fine. But sometimes, all you have to do is pay attention. They don’t want to keep me from dating, or kissing people with my old, disgusting mouth. They just want this one thing to remain the same a while longer. Ok, I’ll keep up the nun routine for now. Kissing is for teenagers and also divorcés whose kids are at their dad’s house.
12 thoughts on “Keeping Up Appearances”
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“No, you can’t date.” This does not necessarily mean that they are uncomfortable with the idea that their mom might have sex. After all, dad is having sex and so is dad’s girlfriend, and they seem to be taking it in stride, even if it means being nonchalant about the fact of the big news.
My son’s mom married and the two of them had a child who will turn four later this year. It is a complex psychology, but by hoping you don’t date, they are trying to preserve their family unit. Their dad, his girlfriend and the new baby will be an “unbroken” unit, in which Ivan and Veronica will be loved and have a real home there, I expect. Still, one thing that I found from what I observed from my son as I became close in a relationship, I could feel and heard him state his fears, that we was going to see himself, again on the outside, a step child in two homes.
For a while, he was spoiled, the only child in two homes. Now, he has that only at his dad’s house, and we are family. But he was really afraid of losing that for a while, especially since the woman has a son who lives with her almost all the time, and it would look very much like him being an outsider, again.
It took almost a year for him to get to a place where he was not worried that he was getting pushed out again, to where he was comfortable with what things might look like, what the future might hold. Both he and her son gradually made a transition to something more where they were more comfortable and happy to be in each other’s company and doing something as the four of us. I have to admit that the boys made this transition, in their own times, much better than the relationship developed. Much better. We gave him space. But he is prepared for a situation that does not, at the moment, exist.
Maybe they are a little freaked out by mom “kissing.” But kids also know how powerful that love thing is and they don’t want to lose you to a love other than them. They know you would not desert them, but they want the security of knowing that they are always first.
The past year and a half is the first time that I let my son know that dad could have a girlfriend. I took that risk. Not so much a matter of whether he could handle it, but as a matter of–do I want to be open with hm about a relationship that might not last? What if I end up with a parade of girlfriends–or that it might look like that, if they keep breaking up with me (or vice versa) but they will keep breaking up if I don’t let them in to my life with the thing that is most important to me.
“No kissing” means don’t be too serious: we’re the ones to be serious about.
The other thing: don’t they read this? No matter. We gotta write.
And this is something you get to do, date, have a relationship, etc… and you should. It is what you deserve if you want it, but careful not to try and keep up with the ex. 😉
Thanks Clarence. I’m not too worried, even though it may seem so by the post. I come from a family of divorce, and there were lots of lessons learned there, as well as those gleaned from popular television sitcoms. KIDDING. No, really, I’m in agreement with my friend Sean who commented on Facebook, “It won’t go as smoothly as you hope, or as badly as you fear.” Or something like that. Thankfully, We all (the kids and I) are pretty good at adapting.
Sean is right. Hard to remember this. Me, on the other hand, have been working blind. My parents provided an example that is far from what I have to work with at this point and, at me being of an age nearing ripeness, don’t know that there is anything I will ever figure out.
I had a talk with a friend last night, someone who I “attempted” to date a few years ago, who pointed out that in the relationship stuff, I have a tendency to pay the kind of attention to my son that makes it hard to have space for relationship. It feels like a bad excuse if I were trying not to get too close, but it makes me feel a little better about the relationship failure.
Great piece! The whole exchange between you, Ivan and Veronica is exactly as I would have expected. (Ivan, quickly “No, you can’t date”.) Ah, that adorable, over protective little man.
Thanks Melissa! He is something, aint he?
Hilarious and poignant… and what a cute pic of V&I! Man, will their ears fall off when they learn the real story… maybe in high school should be about right.
They will NEVER know the real story. Some day they’ll hunt you down in an assisted living home and try to pry it out of you. I’m counting on you to keep up the illusion of sainthood at all costs. So basically, I’m going to have to erase your mind. Thanks for the kind words.
Jennifer, I love you. Will you be my Valentine?
Yes. And I also will go to the homecoming dance with you.