As a parent, we learn to watch our children’s eyes as a barometer of how they are handling present circumstances. I will never forget the looks of rejection when I finally asked for a divorce. My ex chose to use the children against me, and it took many months for me to win them back. Those looks, where you are now seen as a having fallen from grace and the pedestal, they had put you on as a dad – hurts more than the English language can describe. But being half a century old also brings wisdom. After all, you had survived the terrible two’s, the gut-wrenching 13’s, the crazy period where they start driving, and sometimes even juvenile court when a party at a friend’s house got out of hand. You consider half of the gray hair as being a result of raising these broodlings you love so unconditionally. And through these years you got to know them well. So here at the rock-bottom position, a parent can reach you still have a flickering of hope that you will be able to win them back. So, you learn new levels of loving unconditionally through months of scorn and emotional isolation. But slowly you start to see a few signs of hope – like when one of them meet you for lunch and utter the words, “I just want everyone to be happy.” In those words, you read the grief they are dealing with that their parents are divorced. But you also hear the emotion of hope that one day there will be some imperfect future where everyone finds a new “normal” a new equilibrium where everybody gets along and find a way to traverse the new situation.
The first year I found myself dreading the Holiday season – I think I still do! I knew that my children would be longing for some of the traditions we had, celebrating Thanksgiving and decorating the tree Thanksgiving evening after dinner. Sitting alone in my apartment one evening, I realized that I absolutely had to recreate a new normal. Thanksgiving eventually rolled around like a sinister reminder of a previous “normal” that did not exist anymore. My children arrived with a few dishes, and in spite of their superficial carefree attitude, I could see the uncertainty they felt. That was the moment I produced the Christmas tree and decorations I bought, as well as the Polar Express model train that was supposed to circle the base of the tree. Instead of trying to control the situation, I gave the boys the task of assembling the tree and the train. The chatter and light arguing broke the tension we all felt when they walked in. My daughter and I started to decorate the tree as the boys figured out the last issues with the train, and then in a magic moment, the angel was put on the top of the tree, and the train entertained us with all the sounds it has been programmed to deliver. We sat back down, and the conversation suddenly ebbed and flowed without effort. The tension was gone out of their faces, and their eyes glowed. As I hugged them before they left, I could see the affirmation that I succeeded in providing some emotional continuity for them, a new imperfect normal that made them catch a glimpse of the holiday season. The ceremonial watching of the movie Home Alone 2, a few minutes earlier, had them relaxed enough to put their ability on display to narrate minutes at a time of the cult movies that we used to watch over and over when they were small.
Harry: Here we are, Marv. New York City, the Land of Opportunity. Smell that?
Harry: Know what that is?
Harry: It’s freedom.
Marv: No, it’s fish.
Harry: It’s freedom, and it’s money.
Marv: Ok, Ok, it’s freedom.
Even as smart-ass young adults they let themselves be dragged along the emotional roller coaster of the movie, and for a few magic moments, my children and I were in perfect escapism bliss – once again a family.
This is the journey of an imperfect parent – this is 51…