My children and I do not have the luxury of living together all the time. Sometimes they live with their father, sometimes they live with me. For Spring break, they spent a week with me and then a week with their father. By the end of our week together, we had gotten into a really peaceful rhythm. We did a lot of leaning against one another and reading, had smooth mornings and music and laughter and time with friends and afternoons of baseball practice. When the week ended, I felt immense sadness. Not only because I would miss them, but because I knew that we had built a castle of sand, and that our time apart would wash much of it away. When I picked them up after their vacation, they were grumpy, unaffectionate, uncooperative–though consciously they knew it wasn’t the case, they felt abandoned by me. I was impatient, disappointed by their reception of me, hurt and angry. I was unused to dealing with children, with the slow pace of people who are unconcerned with deadlines and urgency (to be honest, I get pretty impatient with adults who are this way as well).
They are fortunate to have parents who love them this much. And their father and I are fortunate to co-parent as peacefully as we do–each of us values what the other brings into the boys’ life. This two-household situation is not ideal, but is their life. There is no solution on the horizon. Our only choice is to know ourselves, know one another, to consciously recognize that it is difficult. When we calmed down and spoke about it, it was a relief to admit that we all struggle with it, and that it’s not weird for it to be hard. There are so many things we try to pull a sheet over rather than acknowledging they are hard. The effort to pretend or keep it hidden is so much more exhausting and time consuming.
What transitions or little bumps in your life need some proper attention? We have been talking about rituals to allow us to mark these transitions, to slow down so that we’re not trying to force ourselves to take it in stride. You may be familiar with this poem by William Stafford, which I think is all about this. You can also hear it on the Writer’s Almanac here.
A Ritual to Read to Each Other
If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.
For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.
And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.
And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider—
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.
For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give – yes or no, or maybe—
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.