Once upon a time, I had a family. A family that consisted of myself, a husband, a son and a dog. We had dinners together, we walked the beaches of Maui, we browsed Costco. We went out for impromptu frozen yogurt and we went out with friends. We walked the dog.
We definitely had "traditional" roles, my husband and I. He paid the bills, fixed things in our home and handled lawn and yard maintenance. He also went to work. A lot. I planned meals, cooked, grocery shopped and kept things "within" the house running. I think I did pretty well as a housewife. It was definitely a role I never thought I'd have, but I found that I enjoyed the responsibility of being the epicenter of the family. I returned to work briefly when Ben was 3 months old and I immediately missed the grounding and the stability that being at home offered. So I quit and went back to cooking meals that I thought my family would enjoy, making my own baby food and thinking that I could always be fulfilled if my family was around me.
And then it all fell apart.
Hello divorce. Goodbye family.
People ask me all the time if I regret the split from my ex. The answer is no. But that's not to say that I don't miss the joy that being in a family gave me.
Don't get me wrong. We had our issues, as a family (obviously). My ex wasn't around much. I coveted the time when we was here. I felt like those were our best times. I started to resent the time when he was away. Even when we were a family, there were many days and nights that were lonely for me. I always said that if we had more time together, perhaps our outcome would have been much, much different.
But it wasn't.
I genuinely long to be part of a family again. I know Ben does too. On most nights, I'm throwing dinner at him - and it's certainly a long ways from the homemade items he had as a toddler - while running out the door and turning over the evening responsibilities to my mother so that I can work.
If anything makes me sad about divorce, it's the loss of family. I would like nothing more than to sit down each night to a good dinner and talk about our respective days. I know it sounds old-fashioned and unrealistic, but it's the way that I grew up and I see many strong families who still follow this tradition.
Like my friend Kathie's family. She's a busy mom to three boys who are under the age of six. She has no family help. She is always changing a diaper or wiping away tears or issuing time-outs. But she still makes time to assemble her family for dinner and put out a meal that might not be homemade, but at least has some semblance of good nutrition.
Ben loves going to Kathie's house because her oldest son, E, has been his buddy since birth. They are two months apart and they are two peas in a pod. It is heartwarming to watch them play (even when E says, "Hey Ben, do ya want to be my master?" To which Ben answers, "Yes!).
We've been going to Kathie's for dinner "play dates" since the kids were babies. Even when I was a part of a family, Kathie could sense my feelings of being disconnected - when Ben's dad was away - and she would have us over. She referred to Ben as "Brother Ben" when he was a baby. I loved that.
Ben, I think, is grieving his loss over being a family in his own 6-year-old way. He cries when we leave a play date with E. He asks why E can't live with us all the time. He tells me that no toys are as "good" as his play time with other children. It's kinda heartbreaking.
So imagine Ben's delight of being able to spend a weekend day each week, during January, at Kathie's. I had a great rotation schedule in January. Each weekend was mine with Ben. No school, no work, no other commitments except to be together. Which left plenty of time for Ben to ride is new Rip Rider with E and for me to sink into the warmth and the comfort of my good friend's family.
The first Saturday we went to Kathie's, Ben cried when it was time to leave. It wasn't a tantrum kind of cry; it was the kind of cry that came from the sheer disappointment and sadness over having to leave. His tears caused Kathie and me to both cry. Kathie told him that he could come back whenever he wanted. So we took her up on it!
Ben would tell you that the highlights of this month were his times at E's house. When were are at their house, Kathie and her husband envelop us in their routine. And we both love it. Even when the kids are crying, a sippy cup is spilling, or bickering is starting between Kathie and her husband, a strong sense of family overrides the chaos. When I'm there, the walls between "single mom" and the rest of the world are gone; we belong. We're taken care of, accepted and loved up to no end.
I'll always cherish our times at Kathie's and her wonderful way of helping Ben to feel like he's one of her own. What better gift could a friend give?