Forging a Relationship With the Ex
Last night was my 3-year-old step-daughter’s pre-school Christmas pageant. My husband had to work, so if I wanted to go, I had to go alone. And be there, in the same room as the girls’ mom and risk getting a “look” from her. It was tempting to stay home and miss it. Miss taking video for my husband, and miss seeing our littlest girl’s adorable little blond head do the penguin dance with the rest of her class.
Even though I’m much older, and hopefully more mature than their mom, I get really nervous when I know that we’re going to be in the same room together. Even though it’s been over two years since it became final, she still has pain and anger from the divorce. And I’m sure that I’m a symbol of some of that pain. Every divorce has two sides, and while I’m intimately aware of my husband’s side, I know that if I’d only heard her story, I’d believe my husband to be a villain, and I wouldn’t think much of me, either. My husband and I have tried to be acutely aware of her feelings, and for the first 18 months of dating, I kept a super low profile. But after getting married, I wanted the girls to know that their lives are important to me, and decided that it was time to start attending their functions. Being in close proximity with the ex is awkward, to say the very least, but if I wish to be present at our girls soccer games and dance recitals, I need to put aside my own unease and risk potential confrontation.
It’s never happened, of course. I thought I caught a dirty look once, but mostly what I’ve seen is discomfort, the same thing that I’m usually feeling at the time. The first time we ever came face to face was last June, at daycare. I came to drop off some clothes for their mom to take home, and she was already there picking them up. The director of the preschool, Dana, called up to the classroom to send her down, and then asked me to wait. I thought she was trying to control the situation, but in reality she didn’t know that we had never had a face to face, in the same room meeting before. The ex came down to the lobby to find me waiting there. Her eyes grew big and she looked down at the floor then over at Dana as I handed her the bag of clothes with an apology for getting them there late. I could see Dana actively trying to assess the situation and took note of her exceptionally calm voice. A few days later I stopped by Dana’s desk and brought up the incident, she immediately started to apologize, but I stopped her, I told her that I wanted to thank her for being there. Yes, it was uncomfortable for all of us, but it was obviously the most uncomfortable for the ex, and I was glad that Dana was there to help support her. It had never occurred to me before how often this type of situation must happen at day-cares and schools, and how these staff members have to be prepared to handle the possible outcomes.
So there I was last night, sitting several rows back, between two sets of grandparents. We all laughed and took pictures. I managed to find a place to stand and get a few good shots and some video while our 3-year-old did the Penguin Dance with the rest of her class. I could see the back of her mom’s head, and her 6-year-old sister waved and smiled at me. When it was all over, I felt brave, and decided to wait in the lobby and offer assistance when they came out, it was possible that a single mom with two little girls might need help carrying stuff and/or kids to the car. I caught sight of them as they exited the auditorium…and we all smiled at each other. Maybe I’m taking it too seriously, but the smile on the ex’s face seemed spontaneous and genuine. But then they turned toward the stairs to the 3-year-old’s classroom before I could shout out my offer to lend a hand. I decided to accept the smile, and call it a night.
Ariana Gruver is a mother (and landlord) of 3 grown sons. Being single after 25 years of marriage seemed pretty awesome, but then Mr. Right walked into her life, bringing with him two little girls. Starting over again, moving from vibrant Portlandia to the soggy Southern Oregon Coast, changing from a full-time career to being a part-time insurance agent, thrice-weekly stepmom, growing blogger, and full-time wife, she is embracing adventure and sharing her experiences and lessons on her blog. Still Growing. You can learn more about her by following her on: Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/