The other night my ex came by after work to drop off some stuff for the kids. The kind of belongings they always carelessly leave behind: that one crucial page of homework, the stuffed animal they can’t sleep without, or the warmest jacket they own (the night before the temperature happens to drop 10 degrees). It’s a good thing we live 4 blocks apart from each other.
On this particular evening, he walked in to find me running around the kitchen, attempting to balance a phone between ear and shoulder, while halfway participating in a conference call. I might have been simultaneously loading the dishwasher. Or perhaps I was finishing yet another load of laundry. Actually I think I was doing all of these things. What I do recall though, is that there was a half chopped pile of vegetables on the counter waiting to be thrown into the chili which was patiently simmering away on the stove. I nodded toward the cutting board and he instinctively jumped in, finishing what was left of the dinner prep and confidently putting the lid on the pot while muttering a few cooking tips under his breath. This was the kind of thing that used to irk the hell out of me. Not the help, of course, but the constant need to correct whatever I was doing. Nowadays, it doesn’t irritate me in the least. In fact, it’s become a running joke between us, and I often find myself looking over at him during our interactions and thinking, “You know? I’ve really come to like this guy.”
Sometimes it takes prolonged distance to learn how to appreciate someone all over again. Years ago (long before ex and I separated) I had picked up a copy of Iris Krasnow’s “The Secret Lives of Wives“, which explores the many ways in which women find happiness in their relationships over the long term. The wives interviewed tell of everything from separate summer routines in order to maintain space and individuality, to open relationships and affairs. But the passage that I remember most was the one in which the author almost jokingly states,”I am like many aging wives, content for two days, sulking for four, frequently perched on the flimsy line that separates love from hate from a fistfight.”
Yes, oh yes. We knew that feeling well. And I despised it. No one wants to live in a state of constant fluctuation between frustration and contentment. Married or not.
Prior to our split, I had never known adult life as a single woman. And to be fair, at 22, he was almost as young when he met me. This isn’t me saying that people shouldn’t commit when they are of that age, or that couples aren’t capable of overcoming some of the obstacles we faced in our relationship. This is simply me stating that, for us perhaps, we didn’t have the space, opportunity, and freedom for growth that we both needed in order to self-actualize.
Now that we do, we’ve become better parents, and co-parents as a result. Which, if you ask me, is a really nice perk as it makes all interactions much more pleasant. We both trust each other’s parenting choices and decisions, as we know that we act with the children in mind. We’ve learned to check in with each other frequently throughout the day in order to remain on the same page as to their comings and goings, upcoming events, and small daily triumphs. There is no arguing, or resentment, or battles over insignificant things. Thankfully, we’ve moved past that. And I do mean thankfully.
Sometimes I start to think about how unconventional our situation is. It might, from the outside, seem impossible and foreign. But a few weeks ago, during a family reunion, I turned to see my parents (who have been divorced for 13 years), waltzing away on the dance floor. My mom’s head was tilted back, mid laughter. My dad wore his giant cheesy smile, the one that indicates that he’s about to drop a groan worthy punchline to some variation of a joke we’ve all heard before. I watched them dance past tables filled with extended family—all of whom are unique and non-traditional in their own way— and I realized why it’s perfectly normal for me to proceed in this co-parenting relationship the only way I know how: with love, and laughter, and cheesy punchlines to get us through.
You know, some parents get along much better when they don’t live together. They don’t fight all the time and they can become better people. Much better mommies and daddies for you. And sometimes they get back together. And sometimes they don’t, dear.