Lately, Saturday has become our “family day”. When we have separate houses, it will be “Daddy day”, but for now, it’s usually all of us together. A couple Saturdays ago, we went over to the neighbor’s house to celebrate their daughter’s 6th birthday. There was a gigantic bounce house, plenty of Chick-fil-a nuggets, cake and all the presents a little kindergartener could handle. Everyone was happy, smiling and the sun finally graced us with its presence. We gather around the table to sing Happy Birthday and suddenly my chest tightened. I felt like a 300 pound behemoth was kneeling on my rib cage. This has happened a couple times over the last year or two. I stand there, basically frozen, and rub my chest like I can somehow massage the tension away. It doesn’t work. Instead, it has become a small tell that I am about to have a full on fucking panic attack. I tried to breathe through the unbearable pressure.
Deep breathe in…Happy Birthday to you….deep breathe out….Happy Birthday to you….deep breathe in….Happy Birthday dear neighbor girl…deep breathe out….Happy Birthday to you.
My (soon-to-be-ex) husband sees me from across the room. He looks concerned. Tears are pooling in my eyes as the weight is bearing down on my chest, crushing my lungs. My breath quickens. He comes over and asks if I am ok, I nod. But, I am not ok. What the hell is happening? I tell him I will be back in a minute and go towards the front door. As soon as I hit the driveway tears are streaming down my face. I don’t know why. I have no idea what is happening. All was well. I had a couple nuggets, talked to some random guy about our favorite places in New Orleans and then had a panic attack while singing Happy Birthday. What the hell is happening?
Thankfully we live right across the street so the commute was short. I try to soak up my tears with a paper towel and contemplate the fact that I may hyperventilate soon. The tile floor looks cold, that could be nice. Clearly concerned with my mental status, my husband comes in the door holding two pieces of cake. He asks what is wrong. I have no idea. I can’t give a logical explanation. He asks if maybe it’s because we are attending the party all together? Maybe it was overwhelming? Maybe? Maybe. I am not sure. I still don’t know why I cannot stop crying.
At the beginning of the school year the neighbors divorced. They are young, in their mid twenties with two small kids and just couldn’t keep it all together. I totally get it. The husband moved out and she has been holding down the fort. I help out pretty regularly, when they need someone reliable to pick up their daughter after school or when they need an extra hand. She began dating someone not too long after she and her husband separated. They all seem very happy- the kids are thriving, pretty content and adjusting well. The kids go to “Dad’s house” some nights and understand the new living arrangements.
At the birthday party they were all there- dad, mom and mom’s new boyfriend. One big happy family. They seemed to be making it work, all of them helping out with their assigned duties. Smiling, making small talk, trying not to step on anyone’s toes. Their delicate, polite dance was working.
Maybe that was it? Maybe subconsciously watching this new co-parenting couple navigate the family dynamics was a bit overwhelming? That will be us someday. Someday we will move on and have new relationships and new family dynamics to deal with. Someday we will have to smile and make small talk and try not to step on anyone’s toes.
I walked into our kitchen so I could blow my nose and cry in privacy. My husband follows, turns me around and gives me a huge bear hug. We stand there for a minute and he says, “we will be fine”. I reply, “I know. We will make it through this just like we have made it through everything else.” He is right, we will be fine. We will make it through this just like we have made it through everything else. We will make it because, even though we no longer need to be married, we do need to be family. We are a family; a weirdly functionally-dysfunctional family, but we get to make our own rules. We have the great opportunity to structure our family the best way that will work for us.
This whole bittersweet episode reminded me of the first time we filed for divorce and met with a realtor to sell the house. We were told that we may just break even. Defeated, I went into the bedroom and collapsed on the bed. My husband followed, laid down next to me and rubbed my back. We would be ok. We are used to set backs but everything was going to be fine. We would be fine and together we would get through it- just like we have gotten through everything else.
We can do scary things.
I am thankful for these small moments that reassure me that our family will make it out alive. There will be some growing pains. There will be anger and frustration and hurt feelings- but at the end of the day we will be fine. I am sure of it.