On the morning of February 15, 2012, my life was pretty darn perfect. Happy marriage, perfect 6-month-old baby boy, and a sweet and silly boxer. We’d enjoyed a nice Valentine’s Day at home. My husband, JP, gave me a beautiful bracelet embellished with a small heart. I’d braved the cold to grill steaks. Our son, Max, slept while we ate. In the morning, JP told me to stay in bed while he walked the dog – normally something I would do while he dressed for work. I remember being so appreciative of that gesture. And then at around 4:30pm, I got the call that turned my entire world upside down. By 6:30pm, I’d said my last goodbye to JP, whose heart gave out – in a cruel coincidence – the day after Valentine’s Day.
There I was, suddenly and unexpectedly completely alone with a baby, no job, and no clue how to function. I won’t try to explain what I went through from a grief perspective during that first year. Suffice to say, I was a mess. I made a bajillion mistakes, and could have used quite a few do-overs. But we got through. Not alone – not even close! Because, of course, I was not alone after losing JP, and haven’t been since. “Lucky” is not a word I would use to describe myself in any context related to being widowed. But “grateful” is one I’ll wear out from overuse. I am grateful for the friends and family who jumped into action, and pulled me through. I am eternally grateful to my parents, who moved in with me and Max to take care of us. They were there every step of the way as I went through some major life chances in quick succession. Within one calendar year, I became a mom, was widowed, sold my condo, moved to a new place, went back to school for a Master’s, and began a new career. On top of that, the dog developed some major health issues. Because you know what they say, when it rains it pours.***I’m currently reading Tribe, by Sebastian Junger, which explores the psychological benefits of tribal communities, especially when dealing with trauma. War is the focus of Junger’s book, but the topic of tribal living struck a chord with me. We all have our tragedies, our traumas, our losses. This is mine. There are layers, and ripple effects, and the impact will change over time but JP’s death will always be a presence in our lives. I’m fortunate to be part of an incredible tribe, one that reaches coast to coast (and beyond), and is continuously growing. While our family dynamic/living arrangement might not be the norm these days, I don’t know what I would do without my daily support system, and multi-generational cohabitation definitely has its benefits.Co-parenting with my parents has been a blessing and, as you might imagine, extremely challenging! When I could barely get myself through the day, I relied heavily on my parents to care for Max. And guess what? Six years later, that hasn’t changed. It’s different – now, instead of being a grief-stricken zombie with a new baby, I’m trying to balance full-time work, a social life, and raise a gentleman. As for Max, he considers himself lucky because he lives with his Nana and Papa. That’s pretty cool.
Having the ‘Granny Nanny’ has afforded me some freedoms: not having to worry about childcare costs, the ability to go to the gym, to get out of the house. It also means getting real-time “feedback” on my parenting. My mom is always there to tell me where I’m doing well and where I’m falling short. My dad, everyone’s favorite neighborhood urgent care doctor, is all-in on being a father figure and role model for Max. From scootering to the bus stop, to teaching him the rules of football, to hours spent on playgrounds, he does it all. His nickname when I was younger was “The Prince of Fun,” and he still lives up to it.My parents handle the lion’s share when it comes to the daily grind. But despite not being responsible for the day-to-day items (getting Max to school/lessons, grocery shopping, cooking), I wouldn’t say I have it easy, even if I sometimes joke that I do. The reality is that I struggle with heavy stuff regularly. A lot of it is not specific to being an only parent, or a widow, but when I hear married friends talking about similar feelings, it’s clear that when you’re in a partnership, you experience everything through a very different lens.
Guilt – for not being as involved as I’d like. When I am with Max, we focus on having fun…and he doesn’t see me as an authority figure but rather an equal, or co-conspirator, with my parents being in charge. Sometimes this is fun, and I feel like we’re bonding in a way we missed out on before because I was dealing with grief and loss, and then school and work. At the same time, I feel like I’m shirking my adult duties. I may never stop feeling guilty, but at the end of the day I remind myself that I’ve ‘outsourced’ parenting to people who, in my biased opinion, did a good job on their first tour of parent duty and whom I trust completely with anything and everything related to Max’s well-being and development.Sorrow – I’m sad Max doesn’t have his dad in his life, and will only know JP through stories and pictures. I’m sad for the siblings he doesn’t have; every time I watch him insert himself into games with kids at playgrounds, or take advantage of dads playing with their own kids, my heart breaks a little. I’m sad for my own loss, and I’m sad for JP, who doesn’t get to share in all the little moments.Exhaustion/overwhelmedness (is that a word?) is familiar to every parent, but on top of everything we’re all trying to balance, I have constant reminders about the hand I’ve been dealt. Sometimes I joke that I don’t understand how couples who both work do it – we have a ratio of three adults to one kid, only one adult works full-time, and we’re ALL always exhausted trying to keep up. But we’re also constantly renegotiating roles & responsibilities in a situation initially envisioned as more temporary than it’s turned out to be. And then there are the events I attend alone, decisions that must be made by a me versus tribunal (I hate making decisions, even small ones), going to court for Max’s tuition money, and any time I meet someone new and tell them my story…it’s tiring! Add the ‘dating game’ on top of that, and I’m telling you, I was very much ready to say, “thanks, but no thanks” to that whole activity. Between not wanting to spend free time making small talk with strangers, not believing I would find love again, and the awkwardness of dating while living with my parents (oh, so many levels of awkwardness)…it was just not particularly enjoyable.I am now at a point where I’m trying to navigate bringing someone I care deeply about into Max’s life and my own. “Simple, not easy,” is one of his catch phrases, and boy does that apply here. The simple part is, I am in love and happy in a way I didn’t think possible. For the first time, I am excited about envisioning a change for my tribe. But it won’t be easy! From the “sharing” issues we’ve already encountered to a potential seismic shift for everyone, the whole thing is rather intimidating. I don’t expect everyone to be happy with the change as we go through it, but I do intend to architect it thoughtfully if it comes to pass. I’ve already started to think through the logistical items I’ll need to take on. I know it’s impossible to predict the future, but at least I know that Max and I have a tribe that will be there for us in some capacity, no matter what the future holds. And truth be told, I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to wear my “mom hat” more often.
by Life of Mom’s Journaling Motherhood contributor, Eden