Ann marie Houghtailing writes:
Earlier this year I was struck with the kind of fear that takes over your body, weakening your knees and depriving you of sleep. My youngest son had been experiencing a mysterious pain in his arm and was scheduled for an x-ray to rule out osteosarcoma -- bone cancer. I'm not an alarmist. I'm always comforted by the assumption that most of the time the worst-case scenario probably isn't so bad, and I can manage it, whatever it is anyway, so why worry? This was different. Austin presented so classically for the disease that I checked each and every box on the list of markers as my heart pounded in my chest like a trapped bird and I blinked back tears to quiet my anxiety. There wasn't a single symptom unchecked.
I called my ex-husband who I've been divorced from now longer than we had been married. We shared a calm dialogue, because we are calm analytic sorts, and processed the information like rational people and agreed to get the x-ray as soon as humanly possible. We then spent 24 hours in separate and collective fear with the magnitude of what we were sure would be the worse news of our lives. There were a few texts and phone calls in which we simply stated our unclothed fear without expectation. We filled the space with all of our fragility knowing that we were together in this quiet little agony holding our breath and holding one another up with hope and humor and manufactured optimism.
We're divorced, but we love our children so ferociously that we continue to love each other enough to share in the joy and pain that parenting delivers upon us. When people ask me how we overcame our grief and anger from our divorce, I tell them that it was a choice much simpler than the complexities of marriage and divorce and the suffering of human relationships. I say, "We made people together." This singular choice to bring children into the world uniquely binds us to one another, not for 18 years, but for life.
No two people on the planet are as invested, devoted and in love with our sons as the two of us. No two people agonize over their pain or delight in their joy as we do. Leaving space to love one another expresses to our children how deeply we love them. Our sons remain and will always be the best of who we were and who we are now.
Some of the most singular experiences of our lives have been shared experiences. When I gave birth to each of our sons, Michael was in the room. That intimate, ordinary and extraordinary experience of having a child was one that I will covet all my life. If I had a different relationship with my ex-husband there would be no human being to share that experience with in that way that only shared memory allows. If we had chosen hate over love, we would have had to surrender some of the most special moments of our lives because they would have been tainted by the meanness of divorce. If my ex-husband and I did not love and respect one another we could not possibly enjoy the past that we built with one another.
Michael and I did not know how to be married and because of this we hurt one another, but eventually we found forgiveness. All of our sons' teachers have been shocked to learn that we're divorced. We show up together as a force of support and love for these two remarkable people we are so lucky to call our sons.
To be sure, we did not arrive at this place of divorced bliss without pain. In our most honest moments we would both confess that we behaved badly at times and probably felt something akin to hatred at times when we were dismantling our future and letting one another go. Hate is such a strong and powerful word that it's hard for me to even admit or write it, but to deny its truth would be shamefully dishonest. Fortunately, those moments were replaced with wisdom, compassion and forgiveness.
I am happy to report that our son is healthy and our worst fear was not realized. Michael and I shared 24 hours of terror knowing that if the worst possible outcome become our truth we would fight and love and heal our way through the experience together. Our family escaped unspeakable pain. Yes, our family. Divorce severed a marriage, not a family. Divorce did not destroy us but rather grew us up. There will be many more anxious days as parents, but those days will be shared.