EDIT: I wrote this a month ago (obviously we are more than 334 days into 2009) unsure of whether I’d publish it. However, in the spirit of this new decade approaching (um, what?), I’m going to put it all out there. This shit is way more therapeutic than it gets credit for. Also, the end of the post wasn’t totally true a month ago, but now I think I’m at the point where it might be.
…and I wrote the date as 11/29/08 yesterday.
That’s so not even the point. I have so much on my mind I can’t even write about it. I know if I wrote about it, I wouldn’t have to think about it, but … I started this post over an hour ago and this is all I have. Ugh.
My mom has a new boyfriend. Well, new to me. Not so new to her. Even though they only met in the beginning of August, which is barely four months ago. They met on e-harmony and at first when she emailed me about how well it was going I was really happy for her. Because that’s all it ever was: she’s dated men before, since my dad, but never anything serious and never anything past a few dates. So I went along with it, with her gushing on the phone about how he is so smart and funny and charming-and-everything-I’ve-been-missing-for-years-and-years. Because it always starts like that and then the whole world comes crashing down when she finds out the new man she’s oh-so-in-love-with is actually a pill-popping alcoholic or a manipulative bastard or still married or all three.
But then he stuck around. He has three daughters. She met them. My brother, who’s still living at home because he just graduated, had dinner with them. Then my mom asked if he could come to my birthday dinner and I said yes because it was a month away and it was my 25th birthday so that was distracting enough. Then she called to ask if I’d mind if his eldest daughter came along and I said no before I could think about whether I really meant it. I tried to take it back – no, it wasn’t ok if this strange girl came – but she was already invited. The anticipation made me so anxious I had dizzy spells at work.
And then I went to the dinner. First impressions mean a lot and he was unimpressive to me. He seemed distant, my mom seemed more into him than he was into her, he didn’t engage me, he barely spoke. I decided I didn’t like him. His daughter – a major part of those fucking anxiety-induced dizzy spells – was very blond and very pale and incredibly smart and outgoing. I didn’t let myself like her, but she was an acceptable addition to my birthday dinner.
My mom continued to date him. I continue(d?) to resist every anecdote she tried to tell me. I am very detached from her life, I realized, as she grew (grows) closer to him and I remain in the same spot. Now it’s The Holiday Season and over the past barely-four-months I’ve been able to admit that I’m having a really hard time with her (finally) having a Real Boyfriend. I want to close off our family, hang up a Not Welcome sign, and continue existing the way we have for the past 10 years.
Or I did, until I rode the train home with the oldest daughter. Basically, our parents orchestrated our coordinated train ride, with my mom telling me she wanted to ride home with me and her dad telling her I wanted to ride home with her. We realized this fairly soon after meeting at Grand Central, walking together in our boots, leggings, and long shirts to the 3:33 Metro-North train at track 25. Small talk ensued: she’s 20, a junior at NYU, and – like I said before – incredibly smart. Her name’s Alex. Time passed and I found her saying “me too!” in response to many things I said. Not in the “I don’t have my own opinions so I’m agreeing with you” kind of way, but in the way that made it clear that we really have a lot in common.
Inevitably, the conversation turned to the main thing we have in common: that our parents are dating each other. I might back up here and clarify that while my dad left 10 years ago, her mom died 3 years ago from a really rare kind of cancer. Not exactly the most relatable ways to become Kids of Single Parents. When the conversation turned toward our parents dating, we agreed it was weird. Really weird. Even though I knew, through my mom, that her dad hasn’t dated seriously since her mother died, I told her that I didn’t know if he had dated but my mom hadn’t and I lied about not knowing because I wanted her to know I could relate to her on that note. Alex only mentioned her mom once; I think I mentioned my dad maybe twice. The absent parents were non-entities in a foreign and totally relatable way.
Finally, with her help, I was able to articulate something that struck me even as I found myself saying. When kids find themselves with a single parent – regardless of how that parent became single – they adjust their view of the family dynamic and it becomes their bubble. When that single parent moves again toward being a partnered parent, it’s really fucking hard to navigate that new expanded-shifted-burst bubble. Now that I’ve been able to (sort of) see Alex’s perspective – and how similar it is to mine and yet how differently she appears to be approaching it – I’m not so intent on closing everything off. It doesn’t feel normal and I’m definitely not comfortable, but I’m accepting it. Also, Alex is cool as shit.