They're gone now.
Probably in his car on their way to his new apartment. Their new apartment.
This is the right thing. And so very wrong.
I write about divorce but rarely the details of my own. Our communal experiences are all similar enough that I can raise general themes without revealing too much or invading my own family's privacy, or at least that's what I try to do. But today is a very specific day in our family's life and I don't know how to write around it. So I won't.
In a shattering twist of whatever, my marriage ended the same week as the death of my younger brother. We were living in Oregon and I had to get back home to Chicago. Though our marriage was ending, my (then) husband's and my friendship – and most importantly – our new parenting partnership was, in certain ways, just beginning.
An unbearable deal
My daughter and her father are incredibly close, which is one of my greatest joys. But I had to get home to be with my family, to be with my brother's wife and his baby son. So in an unfathomable act of generosity, my (then) husband stayed in Oregon to keep his job for a year while I took our daughter 2,000 miles back to my hometown. I knew the tremendous cost to them both. He was and had always been an integral, equal, daily part of her life for her entire life. For me to go home, that would dramatically change.
For the past year he came to town almost every single month. He re-entered her daily life - and mine - each visit with sensitivity and patience. While apart, they did her math homework on Skype. He sang her to sleep and read to her over the phone. They texted and chatted and clung to each other over 2,000 miles for the year.
It was an unbearable deal made bearable only because he knew it meant everything to me and to my family, and because he knew it was temporary. He knew to save me, he had to let us go. It was in his daughter's best interest.
So temporarily, I've had our daughter all to myself. Every day. Every night. I have been a single mother for one year. And now, starting today, I'm not. It is something, I am well aware, that many, many women would be grateful for. I am grateful. Or I will be. But just not right now. Not today. Today I am lost.
He's almost here
We've been mapping his cross-country drive toward us. He called from Montana and Wyoming and South Dakota and Wisconsin. She's been packing, planning her new room, her new routines, trying to start her new life by talking about it. "I need two of everything," she announced. "I have two homes, you know."
She has never lived the two-homes life of a child of divorce. Neither have her parents.
But this morning he called, not from Wyoming or any Dakota, but from his new place, a few minutes away, on his way to pick her up and take her. Away. As agreed upon by the two people who love her most in the world and want what's absolutely best for her within the constraints of our life circumstances.
Fathers and Daughters
I know from reams of research and from my own role as a father's daughter that one of the greatest gifts – maybe the greatest gift – my girl can have is the blessing of a deeply engaged, loving, open, fun, smart, consistent, fully present, fully co-parenting father. I know that in terms of identity, self-esteem, choices in relationships, mental and physical development and the way she will bring herself to the world are all deeply defined by her relationship with her father. A secure attachment to – and a trusting, consistent relationship with – her father deeply embeds essential tools for her psychological infrastructure that she'll carry with her into adulthood.
I know this on all levels. Except, apparently, until this morning, I didn't realize it meant I had to let her walk out the door. I didn't know it was literally joint physical custody. I mean, I knew, but I didn't know.
And so it was, because we not only must share our baby who isn't a baby, because we are devoted partners invested in not only her physical well-being but in her emotional well-being, I packed and folded and listened as she laughed and couldn't wait another second until he finally called to say he was just around the corner.
They schlepped her various fuzzy necessities into his car and she waved Love you, Mom! Bye! And I thought if I move I will shatter so I stood very still and smiled Love you, too, sweetie, have super fun!!
And I reminded myself that when it was his turn to put her first, to put me first, at great cost to himself, he did not flinch.
And like that, she was gone. She is gone.
I walk by the stove and see the four-cheese ravioli I was heating up for her before he arrived. In all the excitement I'd forgotten to give it to her. She loves cheese. If you ask her favorite color she'll say cheese. When she was 2 years old I made her the same ravioli and explained it was called 'four-cheese ravioli' and she said: "Why can't they put five cheeses in there?"
So there it sits. A bowl of four-cheese ravioli with cheese melted on top. And I'm looking at it thinking – 'Hey, it's five-cheese ravioli now! Hey …' and I can't tell her that all these years after she asked me why it's not five cheese that I made it five cheese. Why didn't this occur to me before? I've made this for her a million times.
I can't tell her because her dad, who loves her so very much, picked her up. He shoved three pink pillows and a lime green sleeping bag under his arm, dragged two purple suitcases, a weary stuffed monkey and took my daughter, our daughter, to his new home, their new home, welcomed her into his new life, their new life. It's all I can do not to call her and tell her about the five cheeses.
But it can wait.
It will have to wait.
I will have to wait.
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