The air captures perfect stillness on the river bed. We pull up our waders and pull on our vests. We lace our boots and apply sunscreen to the few spots of exposed skin on our arms and noses. We lift our poles and head into the water. The sensation that surrounds my legs and waist as I wade into the cold water while comfortably dry remains a fond memory of learning how to fly fish.
It is a little known fact about me that I own waders and know how to cast a fly rod in a river. The serenity of the scenery juxtaposed with the ever-present excitement of a catch waiting is an ideal combination. Each year while I was married, I joined in my in-laws’ tradition of traveling to a small fishing river just north of Arkansas. I came to love this annual trek just as I had come to love my in-laws over the decade that I was part of their family.
I had a particular soft spot for my former father-in-law who patiently and without judgment taught me his favorite craft. Both introverts, we loved to talk about books and both reveled in the mystery of how your soul could be filled up while standing knee-deep in water, waiting and wading.
My former mother-in-law, on the other hand, embodies the notion of maximizing life. She is one of the most spirited and caring women I have ever had the fortune of knowing. I will never forget the Christmas we spent hours making what seemed like a million Italian fig cookies. She had no girls of her own, so she was passing on to her dutiful daughter-in-law the joy of a tradition she held in her heart of making these cookies in years past with her mom and three sisters. The kitchen is not exactly my best stage and bless her heart, she swallowed up what was sure disappointment in my culinary can’ts with an evening of us laughing and laughing together at how ugly my cookies were.
I loved them. I love them still. And here’s the catch. Since the divorce, my former father-in-law has been cordial to me, but has barely spoken any words. Knowing that his heart broke with the heartbreak of divorce remains a source of grief in my heart still. My former mother-in-law has declined offers for a cocktail with me when she is town, wisely choosing instead to honor my former spouse’s new family. I am sure she knows, like wise women do, that some heartache is best left at rest.
But here is how they show up in the way that really matters – my daughters just returned from a week in Texas with my former in-laws. They call them Ba and Nana – because my former father-in-law, upon hearing his wife declare she was Nana – couldn’t resist the joke of being the BaNanas. You see why I love him… The girls skyped me during their visit, they sent me many text messages from their Nana’s phone giving me updates. Nana sent me numerous pictures and messages about how great my girls were, and above everything else they loved my girls like crazy. They honor their grandchildren by continuing to honor and acknowledge their mother in their lives.
Just like raising children takes a village, so too does getting through divorce gracefully for the sake of children. It takes the cooperation of all involved. It takes extended family realizing that although one person is no longer legally bound into the family, that those called family by the children, does not change. It means me not taking the heartbreak of my former in-laws personally. It takes them not holding the fact that I am divorced from their son against me. It means that above all, we show up respectful toward each other so that our children may feel safe, secure, and loved.
In the wake of divorce, relationships inevitably shift like the sand in the river bed. Our job as the collective family to the children, is much like the fly fisher: to make the shift as steady and as seamless as possible; and, to tread lightly and reap the reward for being still, spacious, and focused on that which matters most.