09 October 2023
I didn’t know yesterday was going to be a defining moment in my life. While it was happening I was pacing between event spaces in the beautiful clubhouse of our new apartment complex, anxiously scanning the activities of a few dozen middle schoolers, and then checking my watch. When parents came to pick up their children from my son’s twelfth birthday party I joked with them that it had been the longest two hours of my life.
A parent told me they heard a kid exclaim, “This was the greatest day of my life!”
Apparently it was a pretty rad party. I’m glad that was their experience. I was mostly trying to hear myself think, and keep myself from looking like a cop in a mosh pit.
In the background were four flat screen TVs broadcasting a kaleidoscope of A/V; Rick Astley promising to never give you up, Dwayne Johnson serenading in character as Maui, homemade YouTube birthday tributes to my son, Bob the Builder singalongs (??)…
In the foreground was my eighth grade daughter and three of her friends managing surprisingly competently as bartenders to a semi-circle of exuberant sixth graders waving cash in their faces and placing orders for Slim Jims and Cheetos and Limoncello La Croix.
Outside the temperature was in the 50s but that didn’t stop some boys from jumping in the pool.
On the deck kids were pelting one another with balls from the ping pong table and sand bags from the corn hole area.
In the game room two girls were sparring with billiard cues.
I found the birthday boy, my very own son, in a back office space holding loan consultations with the stack of “birthday bucks” I’d printed out hours earlier. He had a guard outside the sliding office door, and a line of hopeful borrowers waiting.
I’m still kind of coming down from it all.
If you know anything about my history, you might know that I split up with my kids’ dad when they were one and two. What followed was a nightmare I could never have imagined. Multiple child abuse claims filed about me. Unspeakably humiliating experiences in courtrooms. Months upon months of torture without custody of my babies. Judges and lawyers predicting dire futures for me. Years of litigation.
It’s only by an Unseen Grace and the cooperation of unlikely human heroes, that I survived. I still choke up when I contemplate my personal Valley of the Shadow of Death.
Not only did I get custody, but I eventually got permission to leave that part of the country.
More than a decade after I stepped off the cliff of my marriage and hurtled into a void, the kids and I are on solid ground.
Three quarters of the way into the party yesterday, my children’s father, his wife, and their young son, arrived. They’d flown in from NYC and I knew they might show, but wasn’t sure until they did. I don’t know if their initial apprehension was the shock of sensory stimulation, or the fact that we’ve never engaged socially. But I noticed it wore off and they found their party flow. I continued my polite policing and watch-glancing. Eventually the crowd thinned and we wrapped up.
They came with the kids and me to our apartment so I could help pack the kids’ overnight bags. They were in my home. They told me it was beautiful with a variety of compliments and observations.
I mentioned we just moved. Earlier one of the young partiers, a family friend who had spent time at our old apartment, had looked around and said, “This place is so bougie.”
“I know, right?” was all I could think to say. It’s not bougie to everyone. To plenty of residents it’s precisely what they expect, a good location and nice amenities. But it’s a big deal for me when I think about the suitcase and mattress on the floor I started my odyssey with.
There were years I had to hold on to a reality of myself as a good mom, when the compelling story being told about me was the opposite. And it wasn’t a meaningless story, it was a story that nearly severed my right to raise my children. Clinging to my reality didn’t always work, I sometimes lost my grasp and questioned what was true. It’s almost impossible to keep your convictions steady when you’re the only one who holds them. When your strength faulters, the wheel whips violently.
I am not always a stellar mother. My children have plenty of nervous system re-regulating skills to acquire, thanks to me. Real parenting is as brutiful as they say it is. You need defining moments for clarity. I hadn’t been expecting one yesterday, but it happened. I was witnessed parenting solo, throwing a killer middle school party, and flourishing in a loving home, by the one person who testified under oath that I could not and would not raise our children.
I was telling some women about it today at the office. Someone asked if it felt good to let him see. It’s weird, but it didn’t feel like anything. I keep replaying the facts because it seems like there should be a more gratifying sensation. But it's been so long since I spent concern on his opinion, that I can’t feel pleased with the prospect of influencing it. That seems to be the most noteworthy feeling - the void of it.
I have a long way to go as a mother. I am still frustrated with ways I fail, still determined to move beyond those failings. I rarely dwell on accomplishments because I know what I aspire to. But taking stock is necessary, and yesterday’s impromptu opportunity shows that so far, I’ve got a bar manager and a banker. We’re reporting that as gains.