Let’s back up a bit, shall we?
My ex-husband has had two serious girlfriends since we separated. The first relationship lasted about a year; I never met her, but the children did (I kvetched about it here). When they broke up, he was bereft. (So bereft that he confided in me, weeping, in what still stands as the most surreal post-marital encounter I have ever endured.) Then he became extremely fixated on expediting our actual divorce. By the time the paperwork was finalized, a new girlfriend was in the works. He calmed down, which calmed me down , and all was reasonably right in the world.
The kids liked her. She, apparently, liked them. All the scraps of information that trickled back to me sounded good–she was our age, she was divorced, she had no children, she had a delicate little nose piercing (this particular fact enchanted both my kids, who marveled that their father had managed to snag somebody “cool”). In her spare time, she apparently pursued rollerderby. (Is that the correct locution? I am not an aficionado of the sport, though I must say it amused me greatly to think of my boring scientist ex-husband spending his weekends watching tattooed, pierced women with vaguely misandric pseudonyms shove each other around in the name of empowerment while circling a gymnasium.) She had a dog and several cats, she was an anthropology professor, her sister taught at my older son’s Quaker school. She had an interesting first name and drove a green Mini Cooper. On Facebook, she was tall and pretty and raven-tressed. (I have always coveted raven tresses.) She liked hiking and camping and scuba diving, apparently, and convinced my shark-and-boat phobic ex to get his diving certificate in Mexico shortly after they started dating. She baked cookies and pineapple-upside-down cake with my kids. She adopted damaged animals from the pound. In short, she sounded like a total catch.
I toyed with the idea of writing a whole post about her. It’s not a relationship you hear much good about, is it? The ex-husband’s new squeeze? Friends seemed generally to assume that I would be hostile to her, particularly with regard to the children, but I honestly never have been. When you instigate a divorce, the person your ex takes up with is your golden ticket to emotional freedom. And maybe I’m conceited, but I don’t think there’s a human being alive who could displace me in my children’s affection. As long as she’s nice to them, I’m delighted to have her in the picture. Sometimes she even sends them back to me with the fruits of their weekend baking, which are always delicious.
She and my ex-husband have never lived together. When they started dating, she still lived around here; after several months, she had to take a tenure-track job at a university five hours away. This bit of distance is awfully nice; I think that kids have a much easier time accepting a parental love interest who isn’t constantly around. Long-distance relationships are tough on the participants but soothing for their offspring, who still get to have their parents all to themselves most of the time. I strongly suspect that my boyfriend’s kids and my kids would be much less keen on us (and on each other) if the six of us (or any assorted four) were together even one weekend a month.
I finally met her a couple of years ago, at one of my older son’s baseball games. My younger son and I got there late–there had been horrible traffic, and we’d been clowning around in the car with the windows all open, with the result that my hair looked like Bridget Jones’s hair when she loses her headscarf on her mini break with Hugh Grant. And there she was, of course, a tall raven-tressed person next to my ex-husband’s familiar slump; even if I hadn’t done my due diligence on Facebook, I’d have recognized her as his girlfriend by the way they sat together. My younger son lit up with excitement and ran ahead. She turned around with a big smile, and I left off trying to finger-claw the biggest snarls from my hair. She was lovely.
Lovely, and also charming. Talkative, a little nervous, very eager to please. My ex was obviously uncomfortable that we were getting along so well. My younger son sat by me for half the game, and then moved one row down on the bleachers to sit by her, which made me happy; when it got chilly late in the game, my ex-husband offered her his sweater, which struck me as rather gallant and made me happy, too. The game went on forever, but I didn’t mind; she was wonderful company, and when we said goodbye I told her so. “I’m so glad I got to meet you, finally,” I said. “The kids talk about you all the time. You really mean a lot to them, and they’re thrilled to have you in their lives. And so am I.”
Her eyes filled with tears and she hugged me. “Oh, thank you,” she said. “That…that really makes me happy to hear. Thank you so much.” And I was forever smitten.
Since then we’ve crossed paths a handful of times at piano recitals or baseball/soccer games or in one or another driveway while swapping out the kids. She was kind to me when my grandmother died. She has sent me nice messages on Facebook. I’ve often told friends that I hoped that she and my ex-husband would get married, or that she would move in with him; you really couldn’t have mail-ordered a nicer ex’s new squeeze.
There are ways to convey information, and ways not to, and I think we can all agree that having your kids tell your ex-spouse that you are remarrying is not the most tactful way to break the news. “No, we’re not supposed to talk about this!” my younger son blurted, after his big brother spilled the beans. “No, it’s okay, we can,” my older son said. “It’s fine! Mom likes her. Mom’s happy about this, right, Mom?” I smiled gamely. “But Dad said not to tell her,” my younger son said, unhappily. “No, no, he didn’t. It’s fine, we can tell her, this is good news,” my older son said, while I struggled to maintain a convincing expression of pure delight while turning left across two angry lanes of after-school traffic.
“Wow, that’s great!” I said, trying to meet my younger son’s eyes in the rear-view mirror. He was slumped down, not looking at me. My older son, oblivious, chattered away. The proposal had taken place during their week on the Outer Banks. No, my son didn’t know when the wedding would be. He didn’t know when she was going to move in. Actually, he didn’t even know whether she was going to or if she was going to quit her job, or what. From the back, my younger son kicked his brother’s seat; I quit with the leading questions. My older son is going to college next year anyway; the arrival of a stepmother would hardly rock his world. But my younger son is only eleven. He’s presently in the throes of middle-schooldom–prickly and insouciant one moment, tearful and sensitive the next, obnoxious when he’s not heartbreakingly sweet, charming when he’s not a total brat. Alone in the back seat, he looked awfully little.
After we got home and my older son disappeared upstairs with his laptop, I sat next to the little one on the sofa and poked him. “Quit it, Mom,” he said. “I’m serious, stop! Stop poking me.” A tiny grin broke through. “Come on. Leave me alone! You’re so annoying!”
“So,” I said, poking more and more till he giggled. “A wicked stepmother, eh? I wonder if she’ll make you sleep in the fireplace.”
“That tickles, go away!” he said, squirming, laughing. “That’s not funny, Mom.” But the ice was broken. That night at bedtime, he snuggled in when I kissed him. Clearly he wanted to talk.