“Don’t take this the wrong way, but it’s a bit of a nightmare co-parenting with you.”
How am I not to take this the wrong way?
The words were barely out of my ex-husband’s mouth and I could feel my blood begin to boil.
“Let me explain”, he continued, “it’s great co-parenting with you because we get along, we can talk respectfully, we try to be flexible, it’s about the kids, and you know I love Rob.”
So what’s the problem?
“But, you guys have created this “white picket fence” world; you guys have a great marriage, lots of stability for the kids, they have step siblings, live near their school, you go on vacations, and time together, and now you’re even getting a dog! It makes it harder for me, when my life has been less than stable relationship wise and job wise. I mean, I know I have made my own choices and am living with consequences of those choice and trying to get and stay on track, but if you could just appreciate how hard it is co-parenting with you and your white picket fence.”
My mind was spinning.
MY white picket fence????
Funny though, I did get what he meant.
I have created a white picket fence.
I built it.
I painted it.
I take care of the garden inside that white picket fence too.
I planted it.
I water it.
I weed it.
But, it was not the garden I had intended to grow.
I had planned on having a garden outside of the city (right beside my giant pool), where I stayed at home, raising my multiple children. I dreamed of living abroad for at least a few years, and taking long vacations during the summer months at a cottage up north. Holidays were celebrated with the same traditions every year, and family was always around. That was what I planned on building a white picket fence around.
Instead, I had to plant this garden and start construction on this fence, on my own. In between the hours of working like crazy and picking my kids up at daycare. In a house that I wasn’t sure I could manage a mortgage on. Vacations? Luckily I had a wonderful boss who sent me away, and an opportunity of a lifetime when a timeshare was handed to me. Holidays were lonely. Thanksgiving and Easter – alone. Christmas, rushed and then alone. Birthdays? Split, if I was lucky. The sadness and grief and anger took over every night, until the morning when I had to pull myself up again and put the smile on and continue working on my garden.
I remember a pivotal moment when I was away with some friends in Mexico. It was a girl’s trip with some of my best friends (who were my lifelines at that time). I made a decision that I needed to really move on. I needed to fake being happy until I really was. I needed to do more than just survive. I was missing my children’s childhood and I knew that one day I would regret that. I needed to find joy again. I needed to take responsibility for my life. I needed to create the kind of garden I wanted to have.
I came home from Mexico, dumped Mr. Meaningless that I was dating, rearranged some work commitments, and booked a trip to Mexico with my boys, and also arranged to spend a family vacation with my Mom, sister and brother and family that summer. Travel was my second passion, aside from my boys, so I was going to do it!! I also decided that I would not date anyone for the sake of not being alone. But, I was going to put myself out there. I made a timeline and committed to dating during that time frame.
Of course, 6 months after I made the decision on that beach in Mexico to really live again, I met Rob – on the last day of my “dating timeline” (before I called it quits).
Miracle of miracles.
I was ready to meet him. Had I met him any earlier, I wouldn’t have been ready. I had needed time to grow. To know how strong I was as an individual. To know what I wanted. To be ready for what I was in for.
Although meeting Rob was amazing, it came with some challenges. I remember being on a date with him at his tennis club early on in our relationship, and having it interrupted by his ex-wife who was out in the parking lot, demanding money. Certainly a red flag.
Regardless of the crazy surrounding us, we decided to start over and plant our own garden – together.
But there were so many restrictions! We had to plant in a certain location and pledge to never leave. Gone were any dreams of living abroad. Gone were any dreams of living outside a 30 km radius! We had to plan our finances to accommodate his financial obligations and rebuild from scratch. Gone were any dreams of being home to raise the kids. We worked around schedules and agreements that were completely inflexible. Gone were extended vacations or summers up north. We attempted to expand our family, only to find out nature has a clock that does not stop ticking while you try to rebuild your life. Gone were the dreams of a child together. We adjusted to Christmas dinner a week before, and Christmas Eve all before 7pm. We celebrated Easter and Thanksgiving whenever we could, and 3 hours for a birthday would have to work. We planned our summers around other people’s vacation schedules and separation agreements, missed family weddings and events if they did not fall on “the right day”. We had to give up precious time with our kids so they could spend it with stepparents – stepparents that we had to learn to embrace despite the circumstance of how they had become the stepparents. We had to deal with constant stress, vindictiveness and plain old crazy.
We had to do all these things to build our own garden.
Then we decided to build a white picket fence around it.
We re-branded our family to be “The CDF’s”. We created our own traditions – ones for when we are all together, and ones when we are all apart. We created a home base, and rearranged our work schedules to ensure one of us was always home. We planned great big vacations, and alone trips too. We started individual kid dates and sushi Wednesdays. We established a routine of phone calls at night, and school yard hugs. We ignored anything crazy, went to church together, did family night on any night we could, read books together and talked and talked and talked. And, yes, we got a dog.
“Yes”, I said to my ex-husband, “I get what you are saying. But you need to understand that I created this white picket fence around the circumstances I was left with. I chose to create this life, and trust me, there are many things in my life I would love to be different.” I then proceeded to highlight all the ways I am not living “my ideal life” – mainly when it comes to my kids.
People often say to me, “Oh, I could never be apart from my kids” as if somehow I was making a choice that they wouldn’t make. That somehow I was choosing to be apart form my kids so I can have my Wednesday sushi date every week.
It’s not a choice. It’s a fact of life for me, and for Rob. It’s our reality.
However, we do have choice too, and I think we have chosen wisely. We choose to celebrate and enjoy what we have been given. We have chosen to build a white picket fence around this kick butt garden that we created. It’s not the garden that I dreamed of. It’s not the garden that Rob dreamed of. But, you know what? It’s our garden that we created together. It’s a garden of miracles. It’s a garden of blessings. It’s a garden of gratitude. It’s a garden of love.
It’s our own, imperfect, unique garden surrounded by a white picket fence that we chose to build.
Sorry if it makes me hard to co-parent with.