Yesterday my ex and I were informed that our split was too amicable.
It was Ralph. He’s the counselor we starting taking Forest to a month ago. Forest has been struggling with anxiety and always seeing the dark side of the force and we were mystified and actually I was freaked out, which probably wasn’t helping at all. I mean the anger would flare up out of nowhere and go from zero to sixty and I tried having more boundaries and less and more support and more alcohol (for me, not Forest) and nothing seemed to be working.
So we found Ralph, who specializes in anxiety with kids and who was recommended by another parent in Forest’s class. He’s been going for a month. He told me it was “reassuring.” His word. Six!
Then Ralph asked if Michael and I could come in and meet with him.
I picked out my outfit very carefully. I wanted to feel maximum comfort and confidence and a little bit chic also. I felt like I was going to go get a parental report card. (I opted for dark jeans, a long belted navy sweater with a loose neck and a white shirt underneath. Fyi.)
Ralph said he had noticed three themes:
1. That Forest is very perceptive for his age and very good at talking about what’s going on with him.
2. That he believes that people bigger than he are not going to be fair to him, that they “keep getting it wrong.”
3. And that he is “profoundly sad.”
When he said those last words, inside me my heart just broke at the same time that it said "Yes."
I’ve been so worried about him. Don’t get me wrong, he has his happy moments, but there have lately been times that I feel that I'm trying to figure out something we can do together that will make him happy and I just can’t succeed.
Ralph looked at me. “I don't think that's going to help," he said. "I think the way is through it, not around."
Of course. Haven't I been writing and thinking and reading about descent, and how important it is? We don’t allow it, we don’t allow pain or darkness, we want snappy happy certainty instead of the messiness of letting the old die and feeling all the hurt and limbo and confusion of transformation.
We have only to watch the seasons to see that it is essential.
But I couldn’t see it with my own child, who I want to seal from all the pain of the world.
Then Ralph says he’s heard Forest talk about how sad he is that he has to be with one of us or the other. M and I both nod. We hear this too. Then, “I think the two of you have been so successful at having an amicable divorce that he never had time to grieve it. I don’t think he is struggling with anxiety,” Ralph said. “I think it’s grief.”
Ugh. I thought I could spare him that. I thought that if we did divorce right, he would be okay. I’ve said (with my out loud voice) that we were the poster children for a good divorce.
Can you hear those drums? Edith has gotten out the congos: Bro-ken-home. Bro-ken-home. Bro-ken-home.
But I’ve learned about this! Studies show it’s more important for kids to be in a home without conflict than in a married home. Married with conflict is worse that unmarried without. We had lots of conflict when we were married. And now? We are so so supportive of each other as parents. It’s like a miracle.
Outside in the parking lot, I was crying, but also relieved. We can do this. Michael and I hugged and then he said it reminded him of when I was 20 and my mom got breast cancer. “What? Why?” I said. “You told me that your family talked about it once, and then never talked about it again. It’s like it wasn’t happening.”
Yes. That’s what it was like. No one to talk to about it. My mom scared for her life. My dad too. Months and months of long awful silence.
“Maybe think about that,” Michael said. “What would have helped you, then? Maybe that will help Forest now.” (Wow. See what I mean? Also, he spent the weekend helping Forest with his science fair project. Like 12 hours… because Forest was so excited he didn’t want to stop. OMG, I’m so glad it was him.They were creating mine craft monsters to scale. Kill me now.)
“He is very lucky to have you as a dad,” I said.
“He is very lucky to have you as a mom,” said M.
Now, we have to help him grieve not having us both at the same time.