I wasn’t sorry that all I wanted was a traditional, old-fashioned family life, yet I constantly found myself apologizing not only for having it, but also for not trying to change it. It was enough for me. It was fun and fulfilling and left me wanting little if anything at all. And yes, I wore trendy, rose-colored glasses. For this city gal there was nothing better than suburban bliss even when coupled with an overdrawn checking account and a husband who worked a hundred hours a week.
But the masses were relentless. “You should be a lawyer,” they’d say. Insert: teacher, personal shopper, boutique owner, party-planner — whatever.
I was what I was going to be — mom, wife, homemaker. What was so hard to understand? My declaration was usually accompanied by a grandiose Price is Right gesture.
It was the prize behind Door Number One, and I was not trading it in for graduate school or a different kind of full time job. I wasn’t interested, at the time, in working for a paycheck. I was smart enough to know that it was right for some women, and also that some women had no choice in the matter. For the time being, it wasn’t right for me. I was lucky. I had choices.
But I didn’t have a choice when my husband lost his job and we had to move 600 miles away for a new one. East Coast born and bred, I’d never been farther west than Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and found myself packing up the Hyundai hatchback and heading through Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana into Illinois where I’d find no rolling hills and no family. Though it threw me for a loop, it immersed me even more in my role of mom and homemaker. I adopted a “Bloom Where You’re Planted” mantra and only barely fell short of wearing it embroidered across my chest. I made the choice to make my way. It’s a good thing I did, because the rose-colored glasses were tossed aside with the latest fashion trends.
I earned my Master’s in packing with five interstate moves in nine years and the birth of a daughter. No matter where we ended up, I unpacked boxes and hung pictures on the walls within 48 hours. My job was making a home – and no one in my charge was living out of boxes.
I became the perpetual outsider looking for a way in. I always found it. While my husband worked and built his career, I researched neighborhoods and found homes, visited preschools and interviewed teachers, chose Temples and located tennis coaches and tee-ball leagues, made the friends, the social plans and the holiday dinners.
I not only parented and kept house – I carefully constructed each new life within the confines of our newest zip code. I entrenched our family in communities around the country, over and over and over again.
So as the world was getting smaller, my world was, in turn, getting bigger. I lived in different climates, grew plants I’d never heard of, in states I had never even visited before they became my home. While for thirty years I lived in the same county, I now packed up and picked up my family on command, built a life in a weekend and traversed professional and personal crises. I learned that unforeseen circumstances either make you or break you. I garnered strength and aptitude because I had no choice, and then realized how well it suited me.
Slowly as years passed, my life began to take on the look of something spectacular. The moves had bolstered my husband’s career. We no longer bounced checks and our homes got bigger, our cars fancier.
None of that mattered when I was plagued with inklings and misgivings. Once again I was faced with having no choice, and again, I found my way. The confrontations and confirmations led to mediators and finally to child-support checks. I cannonballed into the buzzword world of co-parenting and as always, ended up afloat.
But nothing rocks your world like divorce and single parenthood. It’s like being smacked in the side of the head with a two-by-four and then getting dinner on the table. It means falling apart at the seams but not letting out any of the stuffing. But all this resulted in realization that even without a career under my belt I was well prepared for life on my own. Look what I’d already done.
I was as strong as an ox, though grateful that I didn’t look like one. Dating after twenty years was on the horizon and “looks like ox” doesn’t work well in an internet profile.
Settling into a brand new life with many of the same trappings and trimming as the old, reminded me that not only are children amazingly resilient, and amenable to change, but so are their mothers. We rocked and swayed through many sad times and lived an oxymoron — a good divorce.
With time, this new life became rote for my children and offered me unparalleled freedom along with a strange sense of security. My kids had good times with their dad, and with me. He was involved in their lives more than ever before. We stayed in our home, they didn’t change schools. It was the best of a bad situation. They continued to thrive, as did I.
It became normal and anticipated to be without my kids every other weekend. Sharing them on holidays was always difficult but I learned to appreciate the solitude. It was revitalizing and rejuvenating. I had the backup of the “other” parent. It’s one of the perks of divorce – and I enjoyed it to the fullest.
Yet as if made out of sticks, this carefully and lovingly constructed post-divorce life tumbled down around us when my ex-husband died suddenly one winter night. My kids never even had the chance to say good-bye.
I, on the other hand, had said good-bye, and mourned, years before. Strangely, these experiences meant I was able to focus on my children with no internal distraction. An adult lifetime of my own choices, and of those thrust upon me, would end up being what benefited my children most of all. I was independent and strong – and I was there for them 100%.
The words full-time mom have never had a more distinct meaning — it was, and is, just me. While I embrace the responsibility and sometimes even revel in the joy I am privileged to experience by watching my children grow up — I no longer get weekends off.
Now, after almost two years of mothering fatherless children, having an intimate relationship with probate court, an unconventional new extended family but no time for internet dating, I realize that we’ve hit our stride in our newest normal. And there is nothing simultaneously more reassuring or startling than the cadence found in an absurd set of life circumstances.
I have finally taken a deep breath and a step back. My life is not what I expected it to be, but it is and will continue to be what we make of it. Though sometimes I want to run and hide, sometimes I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Sometimes I don’t want to remember yesterday, or plan for tomorrow.
But sometimes, thankfully most times, the view from here is so bright it hurts my eyes.