Co-Parenting: My Daughter’s Two Mom(s)

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These are Olivia’s moms. Plural. I’m on the right. Jess is on the left. She met my ex-husband two years after our divorce and now they have a little boy named Luke that my daughter loves more than me. She told me so and I adore her for it. Nothing makes me happier than to hear her voice become nurturing and sweet when she talks to her brother. As moms of siblings, Jess and I are nailing this co-parenting thing. Olivia has recently tried to order another brother or sister and Jess announced that it was my turn, “You’re up, Sister Wife.”

“I’ll pass, thanks.”

Jess has a killer sense of humor and we spend every Christmas morning together making our weird little family work.

She also loves my daughter which makes me love her. She sent me a text several months ago to let me know she was concerned about some of Olivia’s comments surrounding body image and beauty, “She said no one cares about smarts. Not ok.” She immediately changed messaging in their home and asked for advice, “Liv is gorgeous, but she’s also brilliant and hilarious. We need to talk about how smart, clever and funny she is and dad is on board. No more telling her how pretty she is…”

Jess was there for Liv’s school orientation, she’s there for school plays and once she was there dealing with a bully when I was on a business trip. She picked Liv up that day, handled the fallout and was ready to go toe to toe with the parents if needed. The best thing I could have ever hoped for was that my daughter would be surrounded and raised by strong women who want the absolute best for her in life.

This is unusual, I know. It shouldn’t be.

Mutual friends give each of us the heads up when we may run into one another, concerned for a scene or an awkward encounter and we both laugh. Sunday night we ended up in the same suite at TMobile Arena to see the wonder that is NKOTB. Jess immediately gave me a hug when we saw each other, “They warned me you were going to be here and I was like, ‘I like Jeanette! We’re cool!'” Other mutual friends have called me before big events to warn me I’ll run into her and my ex-husband and I immediately announce, “I love Jess.”

When people respond with confusion or say, “I couldn’t do that,” I argue that you can, but you have to get out of your own way. I often remember the advice I was given in the required parenting class I had to take when I filed for divorce, “You have to die to the relationship you had and create a new one. You are in the business of raising a child together. No more who did what.”

You have to forgive the past, shed the hurt and there is no room for jealousy. You also pray the woman on the other side is secure, mature and willing to recognize your role as a parent. She has to be willing to meet you in the same place. Before Jess there were girlfriends who were uncomfortable with my frequent conversations with my ex-husband, our Christmas morning tradition that was created both out of divorce and a joint promise to our child, the photos we would text one another as milestones or memories were achieved. Those who have never had kids don’t realize that the ex doesn’t want your man anymore. She doesn’t show up to insert herself in your relationship or remain on his mind. She just wants him to be a good dad to their child and it takes a secure woman to understand the difference.

There is also a hell of a lot of respect. Jessica makes it clear that I’m mom and what I say always goes. She will always defer to me. I also back her up when Liv is in trouble with her and we both recognize that we need breaks. We all know that we are healthier parents when we have vacations, time to work on our own relationships and interests. It brings us back to the most important person in the equation with a much stronger, healthier mindset.

I always prayed that the woman that would end up in Olivia’s life would love her (almost) as much as I do. It would be the best thing for all of us.

We lucked out.

And Liv lucked out. She has an(other) amazing woman in her life and a baby brother that looks at her as if she herself hangs the stars.

And, if I’m honest… another thing I didn’t expect, but which has been a pleasant surprise?

I love Olivia’s brother too.

Life can be beautiful in all it’s weirdness… as long as you let it.

My Dearest Livi Rabbit on Your Sixth Birthday

 

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My Dearest Livi Rabbit:

Yesterday you turned six and my heart hurt a little. In that bittersweet mom way that includes memories and pride. In that way that makes me want to wrap you up in my arms and tell you that I’ve got this, you don’t have to grow up any more, I’ll take it from here. You’ve already told me that’s not possible and I love the way you are so logical and so funny at the same time. You have the best sense of humor and dear God, girl, sense of self. I won’t have to worry about you in life. You know who you are and I promise that I will always honor that about you.

I love watching the new facets of your personality shine forth. I giggled inside when you hit the Emergency Stop button on the escalator at Dillards and then pretended you didn’t know who did it when the alarm went off. You slid your little hand in mine, your co-conspirator, eyes straight ahead as you trusted me to get you safely away without telling on you, “I won’t do that again.” I love that you trust me and oh how I hope that when you are hitting life’s Emergency buttons in the future you will trust that I’m still a soft place to land.

When you downloaded over $300 worth of Apple apps I shook my head. You very responsibly helped with chores around the house until we “paid off” your debt. Your heart hurts that I hide my passcode from your sneaky little eyes now, but we had a gorgeous conversation about responsibility and I saw how conscientious you are through and through.

I love what a big heart you have and I have adored watching you become a big sister to your dad’s new baby. Your voice becomes very soft and nurturing when you talk to him. You have a maternal quality about you and he is very lucky to have you. You will be the most important influence in his life and I know this because I know you. You leave little pieces of yourself with everyone you touch.

The other night you crawled into bed with me because your growing pains were keeping you up. You snuggled your head into my neck and told me I smelled like lavender before your breathing slowed and you fell asleep. I felt a tear slide down my cheek as I remember a very specific night in your nursery when you were only a few months old. I had just slathered lavender lotion on you, fed you a bottle and swaddled you. You dug your little upturned nose into my neck and made the same little sweet sounds as you breathed deeply at first and then fell asleep. I know these moments will be fewer and farther between, but I will always be here to comfort you, lavender or not.

As I told you the morning you were born – I will always choose you. I will always be here to advocate for you, hold you, help you, be your biggest cheerleader and safety net. I will try to do it in a thoughtful way so that you are wise and prepared when you experience the bad things we all have to in order to grow. When those lessons and heartbreaks come your way, I will be there with bandaids, snacks, be it Goldfish or wine, and a soul’s worth of support. You will never doubt that you can slide your little hand in mine.

You, my love, are so bright. You have the world awaiting you and I adore your strength, your voice, your inquisitive nature. You have pure light running through your veins. I am truly honored to be your mother. Thank you for picking me.

Love you to the moon and back, bigger than the Universe, deeper than the Ocean and more than chocolate or shoes,

Mom

 

 

 

 

 

Pretty Little Thing

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At first gardening seemed totally Earth Mama and I was so proud of my beautiful vegetables. I loved digging into the earth with my daughter and roasting carrots and beets for her to eat, “Mom, everything at your house is delicious.” There is nothing quite like smelling earth in your kitchen and feeding your child the food you grew yourself.

Then I found an inchworm.

It was the same color of the bunching onions I was chopping and I would have cut right into it had it not suddenly.. inched, Um, these onions are moving. I brushed it off, deciding not to think about it as I smashed it into a paper towel and threw it into the trashcan.

Then my tomatoes suddenly had holes.

Hornworms.

I stared at the two little bastards while they noshed. I took a deep breath, you got this. You are much bigger than they are and you have weapons. I used a gardening tool to scoot them into a plastic baggy that I then stepped on. I could feel their fat little bodies under my flip flops.

I’ve learned that when I’m facing something I don’t like (read: scorpions, rats, worms, unsavory creatures) I typically get very quiet and still. If you listen you will likely hear my subconscious working. I actually miss being married for a flash of a second, I have got to start a Hire A Husband service. Who wouldn’t want a dial a hunk who wants nothing more than to kill things and hang things and who will replace the light above my kitchen island, but right. I’m a strong woman. This comes out more like a statement I’m trying to convince myself of as I wince.

Text to gardner: I have hornworms. What can we do?

Text back: Your garden is organic. Pick them off with your fingers every day.

I held my phone in my hand while I closed my eyes, again getting quiet and wondering what it is that made me think I could have a garden without guests. I flashed back to the day the gardening company came out after I noticed the first signs of visitors. The woman that consulted showed me a grub she found. She then popped it between her fingers and it sprayed on my shirt. I jumped and I’m sure she called me a pretty little thing in her head while I thought other things, namely, oh my God I shook her hand when she got here.

Two days later my tomatoes had bites. Not like nibbles, but like a toddler lying on their back and snacking on my garden. My dogs were also extremely interested in my garden boxes. I very bravely decided to investigate and found a rat stuck between the garden box and the wall.

I once again reminded myself that I’ve got this, this is your home. These are your garden boxes. I did, however, go down the list of the men in my life and wondered how they’d accept a call on Father’s Day, “Soooo.. Doing anything?” I saw all of their faces in my head and the disapproving looks from their wives and girlfriends and decided to be passive aggressive about it: Facebook. I posted an adorable little rendition of what was happening in my household with the sweeping request that if any strong men would like to come over and get my rat I’d compliment their muscles from inside the house.

They all “liked” my post and had funny quips, but there I stood at Lowe’s on a Sunday night talking to the dude that covers the area near insecticides. He recommended I put rat poison down.

“I don’t know. Rat poison in my organic garden seems counterintuitive.”

“Right. Organic. Then you’re going to want the sticky traps so you can catch and release them.”

“First, who said them and I’m not like… a hippy or anything. I want it dead. Like dead dead. Not like relocation services.”

He handed me a stack of rat traps. I checked Facebook on my phone while I paid for them, shaking my head. Still no takers.

I did have one post from a friend:

“Get a trap. Buy some gloves. Bag the dead rat and own it. You can do this. You are a tough chick. It doesn’t mean you won’t squeal as you get near it, but Jeanette you go show that rat who’s boss.”

In that moment I decided this was all my father’s fault. You see, I grew up in Florida. We had worms and we had rats. This may be why I live in Las Vegas. When I was a child my father loved earthworms in a weirdly religious way. If there’s something wrong with your yard you get earthworms. If your mulch isn’t mulching you get earthworms. If you want to catch the biggest fish? That’s right. Earthworms. I don’t know how many times he’d come home with a styrofoam cup full of worms that I’d mistaken for boiled peanuts.

Yes, in Florida you can get bait and boiled peanuts from the same roadside vendors and they use the same containers for both. It totally screws up small children.

My father’s pride was the grass in our front yard and he swore up and down it was his beloved earthworms that kept it lush and green. Well, yours truly was in charge of cleaning the mud off the porch when it rained. In Florida. When the yards get flooded the earthworms seek out higher ground. So at least 2-3 times a week I was cleaning mounds of mud and earthworms off our porch while I sucked in my breath and got very quiet.

I couldn’t eat spaghetti.

Gummy worms? Forget you.

I had the top bunk in the room I shared with my sister. A family of rats built their home directly above my head. I heard the comings and going of our own little Ratatouille family and their glorious squeaking offspring. My dad tried traps, we borrowed our neighbor’s mouser, Charlie, and one night in true Florida fashion my father told us to stay away from the windows. I kept hearing shots going off and finally snuck to peek out the front window. My father was sitting in his work clothes in a lawn chair in our front yard. He had a dark beer and a BB gun. My father, friends, was shooting rats off our roof.

Who the hell knew that when I decided to garden I was going to have to face all of the atrocities I left Florida to avoid?

One of my co-workers offered to come over the night after I made an open call on Facebook. When I opened the door he had a mallet, a hammer, a dowel and an electric fly swatter called “The Executioner.”

“What is that?”

“You don’t want to know. I need a bucket and keep Liv away from the windows.”

Oh my God, here we go again.

He asked if I needed it to be humane and I laughed, “No, I need it to be dead.”

Steve spent at least 45 minutes chasing the rat that was not, in fact, stuck. Apparently when he heard me come outside he’d hide between the box and the wall. I can’t believe his fat little belly didn’t get him wedged in there, but no, he was fast. Steve put out more traps and said he knew he hurt him twice, but couldn’t catch him.

“How do you know?”

Steve made a squeaking noise.

I shook my head.

The next day I found the traps to be empty of both rat and the peanut butter I’d put in them, now he’s taunting me.

My landscaper and his BB gun got involved. I now have an industrial sized rat trap made of PVC pipe with peanut butter over the end that lands the offender in a watery grave.

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Two men, firearms, electrocution and I’ve got a fat little rat throwing up deuces in my backyard. I have half a mind to call my dad and tell him to end this mess.

The other half of me realizes the moment he sees my garden boxes I’ll have a yard full of styrofoam cups and there will be another post about how I’ve had to leave Vegas because of the earthworms.

Wish me luck.

Co-Parenting: You Thought You Were A Grown Up

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All I ever wanted was my family – that cellular group that defined my role in life. I wanted the husband, the children and the ridiculous English Springer Spaniel that jumped in the tub with the kids after dinner. We would laugh while bubbles filled the air and my husband wrapped me up in his arms. Oddly enough I pictured this happening in a house somewhere in the Northeast with a Lexus in the driveway.

My idea of family was based on a scripted commercial and it smacked of Kay Jewelers and a luxury car brand.

I never thought the angelic being that finally came to me would look up at me with saucer-like blue eyes and ask, at three years old, if I liked her dad.

It was one question that sat atop a lot of other questions and worries that make my chest tight as she awaits my response:

Do you love my dad?

You and daddy keep getting new houses. I’m scared you are both going to get a new house and leave me in one of the old ones.

Do I have one dad? Will I always have one dad? Will I have two dads and two moms? How many parents am I going to get?

Like her mom, all my daughter has ever wanted was a family. Her father and I speak regularly so we can handle her questions and concerns as a united front and sometimes we deliver the message in the same room. It is important our daughter knows we are always here for her no matter the house.

I remember being in the same room with Liv’s father the moment our fertility doctor turned the screen to us and a little being full of light and energy and sparkles danced across the screen. Her dad said she looked like a seahorse. We talked about how our seahorse would be raised, the values we would instill, the lessons we would share, us both children of divorce. My husband and I talked fervently about raising a beautiful majestic little seahorse in a two-parent union where all we wanted was a family, which we very quickly got around to irrevocably imploding.

Our seahorse is now the only thread that holds us together.

The State of Nevada requires you to attend a three hour course prior to granting your divorce when children are involved. A social worker who came from a broken family stood before us and explained every little way you were breaking your child and how the damage wasn’t just a now thing, but a forever thing.

I cried for three straight hours.

I also realized the following year would be dedicated to making sure my daughter survived the damage in the healthiest way possible. There would be no relationships, no dates, no nothing. The State shared daunting statistics and it was clear that no relationships entered within the first year of divorce would remain intact after you got through the business of healing, vulnerability and grief. It was the first time I’ve ever been given permission to have what they referred to as Temporary Adult Relationships, I think the state just made booty calls sound like a bailout program.

We were told that you must die to the relationship you had and look at your new relationship as a business arrangement. No more squabbling over who did what, no more fighting, get over yourself. You are in the business of raising this child with this person and the State recommends joint custody, so figure it out.

The first time my daughter came home to tell me a woman I didn’t know painted her nails at daddy’s house it was extremely hard for me to die to the relationship and get over myself. Another woman was mothering my child with the man I had her with and I couldn’t help but feeling replaced. It took a full 24 hours to pull myself out of the emotion and recognize that my daughter would inevitably have other women in her life. The best thing I could do for her, my daughter, would be to forge good relationships with the women that become her village.

My daughter recently told me I was her old mom and she hopes to get a new mom at daddy’s house. We had to talk through her definitions and she finally explained, “You’ll always be my mom and you and daddy are my always family, but I’d like to have a mom at dad’s house too.”

I didn’t feel threatened this time. Rather than being hurt I recognized my child is a girl’s girl and she is drawn to the warmth and nurturing arms of women in her life. I couldn’t ask for a better end result than a well-adjusted woman surrounded by loving mother figures. She actually decided she wants to marry one of her little girlfriends the other day because, “I think a baby would like to have two moms.”

Of course she’d like to have a mom at dad’s house.

I hope she gets a great one.

I am shocked at how emotionally resilient we can be when we recognize our ability to make each situation better for our children, to think of their eventuality. It isn’t natural, but it is doable with intention. It requires that I leave behind ego, my own hurt and my pride. While some women might not be able to fathom such things I promise you that it gets easier over time and why fight something that is inevitable? Another woman will never take your place, but she can compliment the love your child feels from the collective of caregivers.

What I find astounding is that I truly believe it helped me grieve and heal in a very healthy way. I now have more of a detached friendship with her father because we’ve had to build it per her request. The way her eyes shine and how she hums and sings and laughs and loves when her mom and her dad are present with her as her family forgives the how or the why.

After all, we have a seahorse to raise.