There are so many surreal moments that come with being divorced. It is almost as if sometimes you are living in a parallel universe. You and your kids have a rhythm that is similar to “the way it used to be” but then there are clear, glacier-sized marks of separation.
Yesterday, I popped into the grocery store and I was in the self checkout line and out of the corner of my eye I saw a swirl of blonde hair. It was a familiar motion, like catching my reflection in a shop window. It was my 13-year old daughter. She was with her dad and her brother shopping in what is now “our” grocery store since their dad moved nearby.
“Oh, um hi mom.” she said in a flat voice that isn’t too uncommon for a teenager. My son, 11, was frozen. Not sure if he should hug me, help me or stay close to the person who had custody of him that night. My ex-husband smiled politely and said hello.
It wasn’t like any other awkwardness you would have ever known. Not like running into a teacher out in public or seeing your gynecologist in line for the tram at Disneyland. (Which by the way, I have and for reasons known only to postpartum me shouted out across the crowd “Look at what a good job I’m doing!” pointing eagerly at my new baby .) Those encounters are more with people that you don’t ever think about having a life. People you don’t think about shopping or driving or going to Chipolte.
Running into your former family is the exact opposite of that because you used to be, well a family. And now you’re not. Now you’re out buying things for your house and he’s out buying things for his house. It’s not like running into an old boyfriend either. I know that’s what you’re thinking, but it’s not about your relationship with your ex. You don’t care that you look like you just served 5,000 grilled cheese sandwiches to hipsters at Coachella in the 100 degree heat. It’s okay you forgot to put on shoes and are wearing your ratty slippers. It’s more about what your relationship with your ex-family.
No one ever talks about that family that’s gone but I think for the kids sake, you should. My kids and I talk about what it was like before the divorce. My husband talks to his kids about “when I lived at mom’s house.” I think the kids want us to remember.
Last night my stepdaughter and stepson were talking at the dinner table about when their dad used to work longer hours when their mom and dad were still married. We talked about how it’s different now. About how things have changed. It was good.
Back at the grocery store I finished bagging my things and said goodbye to my kids. “See you tomorrow!” As I walked out of the store I could see they were watching me. I wanted them to think of me happy when I’m not with them. Okay. So I stopped at the flowers that were displayed near the door. I know, cliche, but that’s how I want them to remember me: stopping to smell the flowers.