“Whatever, Mom!” and up went her eyes rolling into her forehead. My hands gripped the steering wheel a little tighter as I forced myself to focus on keeping my Irish temper at bay. My eleven-going-on-twenty-seven-year-old daughter, Anna, had just disclosed to me that she had, let’s say, not been as helpful when a teacher asked for assistance as I thought she should have been. When I said so, this prompted my first experience with both a “whatever” and an eye roll. Double whammy day. I knew to be quiet and let her sit with it.
Later that evening, she came to me without any prompting and told me she had emailed her teacher an apology and volunteered to contribute to one of the class tasks. The indignant tilt of her chin from the car was now replaced with a soft smile as she had successfully restored her integrity. I waited for the celebration confetti to come raining down over us. I thought this must surely be what it feels like to hit a home run! I wanted to cry for the second time because of her that day.
After she went to bed, I excitedly grabbed my phone to message her dad. I wanted so much to share this pride-filled moment I was experiencing with someone who would really get it and I wouldn’t have to worry about bragging. He inherently understands that our daughters are the most wonderful, unique and special beings on this planet. It has long been our secret. I asked if he had time for a lengthy text message and he replied yes. I delightfully typed out the tale and waited for him to find the fist bump emoji.
“Well that is a good ending to things. I am glad she did the right thing.” Pop went my happy bubble. What? Why aren’t you gushing with joy and raving about her good choice? I wanted to write. Then it dawned on me. He wasn’t there to see or hear her – at either instance. Even though he is her dad, this parenting experience was not his – it was mine and mine alone. I suddenly felt like I had shared the story with a stranger. In some ways I had.
In exactly one month’s time the calendar will count down the five-year mark since my divorce complaint was filed. In that span of time, my ex-husband and I have stayed in weekly contact with each other as we parent our daughters. Our communication has been reduced to a handful of texts per week. We see each other on average maybe for 5 minutes a month at a random exchange. The truth is, we do not know very much about each other anymore. We have become civilized strangers. Just last week my girls were talking about something and I said “Your dad loves that.” Then I faltered, “Or at least he used to.” I didn’t know anymore.
During the divorce, the emotions you experience engulf your days. Sadness, fear, even anger can be overwhelming. This sadness is different. It is less pronounced, not as heavy, but it still stings the heart. I am learning that the divorce grief will weave in and out of the years that follow.
My job now is to feel the grief or the momentary sting and not further the frustration that accompanies it by attaching more to it than necessary. My ex-husband’s reaction to Anna’s story, did not and does not, minimize my parenting experience. It does not take away from the eye rolls, my imaginary confetti-filled-celebrations, and my mother/daughter moments. It is simply a sadness to be felt that I now parent alongside a stranger… who happens to love my daughters as much as I do.