In the normal way of things (meaning if I were still married), my daughters wouldn’t know me nearly as well as they know me in my single state.
In a text exchange the other day with my younger daughter, I told her that I changed the notification sound for her texts to a bird chirping.
“You gotta know when I’m texting you so you can avoid it ASAP,” she texted.
To which I replied, jokingly, “You know me so well.”
“I like to think so,” she responded.
Her comment made me think about how much she and her sister do know me and how much that’s because I am a single mother, not because I am their mother/friend. If I had still been married to their father, he would have been my sounding board (of course, his inability to be my sounding board is one reason we’re no longer married), which would have enabled me to expose far fewer vulnerabilities. My daughters would not have seen me falter and then push against their father. If I had remained deflated by his controlling ways and words, they probably would have kept their distance from me because why should they seek support from someone who can’t stand up for herself?
They would not have seen me fall in and then out of love with another man. I would have remained an example of someone settled into the sway of long-married life. They would not have seen me wonder if my new relationship had veered into settling territory, or if it was loving but not in a way that was nurturing for me. I lost my ability to be an icon to look up to and, perhaps, emulate; instead, I have become an example (a warning?) of how love and the desire for it can play havoc with us at any age and stage.
Even the financial realities of being a teacher (purpose over paycheck) would have been shielded from them by the power of two salaries and a closed door for parents-only to deal with money matters. My determination to prevent their monetary ignorance, as I had been, might not have been there if I had been cushioned by their father’s, at one time, substantial salary. Then, again, I wouldn’t have had the same struggles, but at least they see what it means to make it on their own—in or out of a relationship. My older daughter is in a relationship with a financially secure man, but she understands the need to be independent even within dependence.
Surely the time that might have been spent propping up and soothing their father’s ego (or another man’s) went to them. And the time that might have been spent cuddling, goes to them. But it’s not only time that I gave and give to them, it’s about having been unable to hide the realities of my life and my personality from within the huddle of a relationship, and so I gave them bare me. It’s also about decisions and opinions that didn’t need to be tempered by being the fruit of consensus, so, again, they got bare me. Amid whatever anxieties I have about being alone night after night, it bolsters me knowing that in this scenario I have not remained hidden from them.
And they know that this is their mother. The good, the bad, the grumpy, and the devoted.
And I have secured an honesty from them that would not have been forthcoming in a world guided by “Don’t tell, Dad.”
Life, it seems, is a continual coming to terms with the past so that the present is a breathing space that remains unclogged by regrets and guilt and tears.
Their respecting me for who I am, who we each has become, is the gift that makes breathing easy.