In my last post I talked about how parents often lie to their kids and how Gabbie and I were going to continue that tradition by lying to them about our split.
Boy did that post generate some comments!
Apparently the twinges of sarcasm that I tried to add to the facts didn't come through clearly. Yes, the plan has been for Gabbie to move out and to spend every other night at home. Yes, the plan has been to explain Gabbie's absence as being work-related. (Which is somewhat true, actually. They're doing a huge computer conversion this month.) But let's be real. How long is the every-other night scenario going to last before it becomes tiresome? And when Gabbie hits that point, clearly we're going to have to do some explaining.
My best guess is that it will be less than three weeks before we have to tell the kids. The thing is, we both see that short time as an important adjustment period. It's supposed to be part of a gentle transition that, in retrospect, will not be remembered, but at the time, will make the changes easier for them to take; it's our attempt to make the news of our split as undramatic as possible.
Also, in my last post, I wrote about how well my mother-in-law took the news of our split. Her calm reaction was a big surprise to both Gabbie and I.
It turns out, she didn't think we were serious.
That changed two days later when Gabbie told her that she had found a new place and that she would be spending every other night there. The reality of renting a place made Mom realize that our split was not idle chat.
The shit hit the fan.
Fortunately I was not home at the time and I missed all of the horrible things her mother said about us. Gabbie spared me the details. Still, I am aware that it was one of those landmark conversations where her mother said many horrible things that Gabbie will never forget.
One thing that hurts, but I shouldn't be surprised about, is that I have made it to the top of Mommy's shit list. I have no idea what I've done that has made me the villain but apparently that's what I am. Mommy cannot understand why Gabbie has not already filed for divorce, that's how awful I am. As I said, I shouldn't be surprised. Blood is thicker than water so of course her mother is going to blame me.
Anyway, this whole loud and nasty conversation between Gabbie and her mother went on for nearly an hour over the phone. The two younger kids, John (13) and Rose (11), were home at the time and when Gabbie emerged from the bedroom following the telephone brawl, they asked her what was going on. I'm not sure what she said - it was nothing significant - but I do know she asked them what they heard. "Just you yelling at grandma." I wish it was otherwise, but Gabbie and her mother frequently fight and the kids are used to their bad behavior. To them, the argument was more intense than usual but still nothing shocking.
The fighting between Gabbie and her mother has been a life-time dynamic (Mommy wants absolute control, Gabbie desperately wants to be free of all control) but three decades of it gets tiresome. More and more lately Gabbie has tried to get her mother to relax so the two of them can patch things up quickly. That's what happened this time. A few hours after the first conversation Gabbie called her mother and begged her to be supportive at this difficult time. Mommy took those words to heart and calmed down. By the time I got home, the whole situation was as resolved as it was ever going to get. Mom even came over for dinner and we all played cards together afterward.
I no longer try to understand the love/hate dynamic. I just try to stay out of the middle of it.
Yesterday I came home from work to pick up Conrad (17) and take him to karate. He came running out of the house. Apparently he was in a big hurry.
As he got in the car he said, "Dad. I'm not happy about something. Rose and John just told me something really awful and I want to know if it's true or not. Are you and mom getting a divorce???"
To make a long story short...Rose picked up another phone in the house during Gabbie's big fight with her mother. She overheard a piece of their conversation. She told John that same night what she had heard. The two of them told Conrad when he came home from school the next day, which was only an hour before I picked him up.
When Conrad ambushed me with that question I literally did not know what to say. What did he know? What did the younger kids know? Did I want to have this conversation with him now, in this way?
As I silently freaked out and scrambled to think of the best reply, Conrad took my silence and puzzled expression the wrong way. He assumed that I didn't know what he was talking about. I didn't correct his error but I didn't confirm it either. Instead, I asked him exactly what happened and who told him what. By the time we got to our destination, he was seemed satisfied that I was going to call Gabbie and talk to her right away - which is exactly what I did.
She was, obviously, very distressed. But then she told me something that really made me panic. She told me that her mother and she had talked about EVERYTHING during the fight on the phone. That's shorthand for "My mother and I discussed your sexuality at length." Oh wow. Having the kids find out about our split by eavesdropping was bad enough. Now they might know I'm gay too?
As soon as Conrad and I returned home from karate, he cornered Gabbie and the two of them began 'the' conversation. I kept the other two kids busy so that Gabbie could question Conrad and find out exactly what the kids already knew.
It turns out, they didn't know much. After a few minutes I brought the other two kids into the room with Gabbie and Conrad and we all talked about what Rose had overheard. She could only recall specific words and phrases: "divorce" and "mommy's own place" and "keep it a secret from the kids." Thankfully there was no mention of sex. As we explained the situation, the younger kids didn't seem to be especially distressed. Conrad, however, was beside himself.
Once we got him calmed down we tried to emphasize a few key points: that we still love each other; that Gabbie will be home very often; that we'll continue to do many things together as a family; and, that other than Gabbie being away a few nights a week, nothing in their lives is going to change.
They seemed to take the news reasonably well. But the next few days will be the real test - who knows what unspoken fear, anger or resentment might come out.
After it was all over and the kids left the room, Gabbie and I both took a deep breath. What a stressful nightmare. We hugged tightly and exchanged 'I love yous'. Gabbie then said goodnight to the kids and left to spend the night alone in her new place.
I knew that keeping the kids in the dark was a short-term solution. Three weeks at the most, I figured. It turns out that thirty-six hours would have been a much more accurate guess.
Neither Gabbie nor I personally experienced divorce as children.
When I decided to have kids with Gabbie I made the firm commitment to myself that I would not bring children into a marriage that I knew was doomed from the start. It was only after we broke up and reunited that having children was something I wanted to do. When I think back to that commitment from 18 years ago, I feel sad and sickened to be in this situation. Truly, splitting up is not something I want to do.
Gabbie, on the other hand, has shown a quiet but steady determination to make our split permanent: she insisted on moving out; I wanted her to stay. She quickly found a new place; I was in no hurry for her to go. She wanted to tell her mom very quickly; I would have waited. Gabbie is relieved that the kids know; I feel like telling them has made the split irreversible.
It also makes me feel like a failure.
To say that I have mixed feelings is an understatement. It's good that Gabbie has been so determined to make this happen. If she wanted to cling to me as much as I want to cling to her we'd never get anywhere.
Making this change has been on-and-off stressful and depressing. It's so tempting to think about the future because that will (hopefully) be positive and uplifting. But on a rational level, I know that it's too soon to start dating. The month I've given myself to adjust and prepare really is essential, even if I often feel like I'm stuck in no-where-land, with nothing to motivate me to get out of bed every morning.
A month isn't such a long time. I need it. I just have to be patient so that everyone can adjust. Brighter days are ahead, I'm sure.
Thanks again for your thoughtful comments.