on love and compliction (3 for 3, this time from the library)

17 09 2010

Shortly after his arrival at the house for his first schoolyear Monday/Tuesday short week with us (long ones, like the one that starts today, are Friday through Tuesday evening), C follows us into his room, where he’s being led because a newly-washed pile of terrific, hardly worn hand-me-downs from Escher, who’s only a few months older but a lot taller than him, awaits his inspection (between those and the gorgeous things sent after they survived Jamie, we might not have to buy him clothes at all for years). I’m there too, because I haven’t seen the clothes yet either; they arrived and were washed and sorted when I was at work, and we’ve been out of town all weekend.

“Meow,” C says. We look down, at the spot where the boy who was following us used to be, and instead see a boy-shaped kitten on all fours meowing up at us. “Are you a kitty?” I ask, because I’ve guessed wrong before, and it’s good to check. The kitty nods and makes the noise again.

He hasn’t seen us in almost two weeks, and he’s missed us (he’s told us so already), so attention-getting strategies are neither surprising nor unwelcome. “What a good kitty,” his daddy says. “I think that kitty needs a snuggle, that’s what I think,” I say to the kitty’s father, and pick up the boy-kitty. C snuggles down into my arms as soon as I have one under his butt & the other wrapped around him, tucking one of his own arms down between us and reaching out for with the other. “Group hug!” I say, & wraps his arms around us both. C looks up happily and announces “I have a family!” “Yes,” I said, giving him a squeeze before he wriggled to get down, “you do.” A minute later, he’s running down the hall after a primary-colored plastic Cookie-Monster racecar, hollering behind for us to follow him: “Come on, family!”

Emotions are rarely singular for me, especially as these scenarios unfold. is teary-eyed because the things he loves are in one place and the empathetic child’s assessment of our togetherness is genuine and trustworthy; he’s too little yet to have the cultural awareness to write his own Hallmark cards to pluck at heartstrings, and he can’t yet read. C is just happy, to be back in one of his homes, to have his daddy beside him to play with, to have my love like the steady light he’s always known. But me, I’m a bunch of things. Because of course that’s precious, a treasure to record and keep forever, a little gem to set out in the light and turn to sparkle when we’re old and he’s independent, surly, gone off on his own adventures, and that’s why I wrote it down. And it’s also complicated, not because I have any doubts at all about where I am or about the truth-value of what he’s saying: he does have a family, albeit one larger than just his dad and me. And we are his family, only part of it, only one of them, but it’s still true, just as stated.

It’s complicated because I know that hearing him say that would absolutely break his mother’s heart. Not because he wouldn’t say it to and about her and his grandparents and his uncles and cousins, whom he’s been living with different permutations of all summer: they’re all his family. He’s got lot of family, and is unequivocally loved and protected by them all. It would kill her because I’m a damn interloper, and I have no right being her son’s family. It’s her place, not my place, and it cuts her to the core to know somebody else is standing in it. She’s able, albeit ruefully, to accept that she and his father are not going to be together again, that her son’s family will always be comprised of people who spend their time apart and take turns with him, but she can’t accept my being in the picture—she wants, when C is with us, for him to really only be with his dad, and for me to not exist, not in any of the stories, the moments, or the activities of her son’s life. is his family, and I am not, and for her, that ought to be the end of it. And I can, because I have plenty of my own empathy, imagine how much more this sucks than did any of the betrayals and the feeling-replaced-by-new-girlfriends incidents that I’ve been through, because this is her child. She wants to share in and be a part of (if not be wholly in charge of) all of his days, his moments, his experiences. She doesn’t want his life to go on without her, and she certainly doesn’t want it to go on without her and with her ex’s girlfriend. I hated feeling shut out and replaced when new girlfriends shared rooms I’d slept in or pets I’d borrowed for the duration of a relationship. I cried about that, and this is her son.

So the sugar-sweet moments always hurt, alongside singing, because I can’t not imagine how they would wound her to witness. And at the same time, I’m sure as hell not going to step away from C, put him at arms’ length, try to avoid allowing moments like that to blossom in the first place, because he’s 2 still, he’s gone through a crazy year of changing definitions of where home is and who his people are, and he loves and trusts me to be there, close at hand, telling him straight, listening when he cries, promising him that he’s still loved, that he’ll see Mommy soon, that one can have a home in a new house, that morning will absolutely follow night each night… he trusts me to be family. As rotten as I know it is to be his mom and to feel the way she feels right now, and as rotten as I feel for occupying the role I do in this story for her, I don’t have the choice she thinks I have—I can’t just opt out of being there and thus do what to her looks like the “right” thing (even if I wanted to, which I absolutely don’t, because I love him back), because I’ve made promises to him, with words, and before words, when he memorized my face, too, in infancy. It’s uncomfortable constantly, knowing what she sees, empathizing with how she feels, trying as best I can to make room in his life with us for her mention and her memory, all the while knowing she’d be even more spiteful if she knew that I was doing it. But leaving to spare her heart would only strike another blow to his, and I won’t do it. I can’t. I’ve promised.

Sometimes love means having to actually be—not just tough-love look like—the asshole.

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2 responses

17 09 2010
pictsy

I’ve seen this situation play out a few times. It seems like everything is tense for a few years, but eventually everyone finds their own happiness and lets go of the chaotic beginnings.

18 09 2010
2eclipse

you are not an asshole.
even if she feels like you are.
she was part of whatever reason they broke up. she gets the responsibility for that.
but your feelings are valid, and especially well thought out and deep.
and that is a big part of why you are always awesome in my book.

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