“How far away are you?” I write.
Immediately, three grey dots appear, and the words, “Two minutes,” show up a moment later in the next text bubble.
“Great!” I reply.
I put my phone down and begin fumbling around in my bag on the seat next to me for my lip gloss. Mid-application, I turn my head toward the auditorium doors behind me. I see my ex-husband. He’s scanning the rows, I presume for me. I wave. Our eyes meet and he walks over.
“Hi,” I say with a smile as I remove my bag from the chair. “Here’s a program.” He smiles back and sits.
It’s our oldest daughter’s high school awards ceremony. Graduation’s a few days away, so you might be thinking this is a dress rehearsal of sorts. But for us, it isn’t. We’re old pros at this. And by this, I mean putting aside our differences so we can enjoy our children’s school events as their parents, not their divorced parents. That includes sitting together.
To be clear, we’re not the couple who sat around our kitchen table exchanging heartfelt “I love you’s,” declaring with a sigh after, “It’s just not working between us.” I wish it had been that easy. And inexpensive.
In the six-and-a-half years since we first separated, I’ve slowly come to a revelation: I no longer know my ex-husband.
Six figures between the two of us later, what we remain, if nothing else, is our children’s parents. Depending on the day, whatever else we are—friend, enemy, frenemy, asshole—is up for debate. Whichever the title, for as long as we sit in the audience at ceremonies, orientations, presentations, and graduations, we push ourselves to remember the only audience that counts is our kids. As much as we’re watching them, they’re watching us, too.
Our rule of sitting together at school events is unspoken, and we’ve never discussed it. But in the six-and-a-half years since we first separated, I’ve slowly come to a revelation: I no longer know my ex-husband. He’s not the person I married 23 years ago; he’s someone else now. So am I, which means sitting next to him is as easy for me as sitting next to a friend or an acquaintance, even a stranger. Plus, it makes our kids happy, which is more than enough reason for me to do it.
To people contemplating divorce, I caution, “This isn’t an easy life,” especially when there are children involved. No matter how amicable the situation, no matter how much your day-to-day will change for the better once your spouse is out of the house, you have a period of adjustment ahead of you, a time when you must figure out how to make your new family dynamic work—for all of you.
I find small gestures work best. What may not mean a lot to me may mean the world to my kids or my ex. I embrace these opportunities whenever I can. They’re gifts I can give that don’t cost much, perhaps anything, but can be priceless. And after paying for my share of the legal fees, I know I’m definitely in the market for more of those.
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