Sunday nights are hard in this house. No matter how graceful the divorce or the blended family- and I think ours rivals maybe any I’ve ever seen- there is no cure for the commonplace broken heart of a child who doesn’t understand why ALL their parents can’t live under the same roof.
For those new to my life, Beckham is my 6 year old son. I made him with Jon (my once-husband, my now-ex, my friend) and raise him with Jon, of course, my husband Shaun- both of whom are called “dad” by our boy. Shaun and I live in Nashville with Beckham, our 5 month old, Luca, and our 12 year old puppy (yes, he’s a puppy), Otis. Beckham is with us mostly, but spends every other weekend or so with Jon, Jon’s parents- Nana and Papa- and sometimes Jon’s girlfriend, Tracie.
Over the course of navigating these waters, Beckham’s grief for us not all living together (perhaps his only disappointment...or at least the only one he vocalizes) has morphed into strange shapes and articulations. When he was little, he’d just poop. Anywhere, anytime. All up in whatever clothes he was wearing. Then, he went through a phase where he’d just act wound up. Now, it’s maybe the most familiar manifestation of disappointment: tears. But not over the obvious stuff. No. Instead, he picks something that shouldn’t be upsetting and somehow configures it into something that is.
Tonight, it took the form of braised short ribs.
Now, Beckham has been an optional vegetarian basically since he was born. In the past year, he’s grown his tastebuds, trying burgers, barbecue chicken and fish (if it’s fried a la fish sticks). Anything else is pushing it. So I shouldn’t have been surprised.
But as I spooned dinner out, he just lost it. Through sobs, he told me how much he didn’t like ANYTHING I had given him and it wasn’t fair. Shaun and I gently sent him back and forth to his bedroom to “take a minute” and “pull himself together” more times than I can count, until finally, we prompted him to take a shower.
He wailed about us not being fair, especially disallowing him from watching the predators play hockey. We heard his cries nearing hyperventilation through the running of the shower water.
He came down, eyes bloodshot and cheeks tear stained, and I took his hand to put him to bed, as he refused dinner a jillionth time.
We lay in his bed- hiccups of sadness still engulfing him with its heavy hands. He told me how upset he was he didn’t get to see the predators play. I promised him highlights over breakfast. He told me he didn’t like the food. I told him maybe he would tomorrow...and then finally:
”And I think I’m sad because I just miss Jondad.”
Statements like this used to make me oddly...competitive? Or sad? Or jealous? I don’t know, but it wasn’t a good look for me.
I’ve learned now that Beckham missing one of his dads has NOTHING to do with him loving me any less.
“I get that...” I started, slowly, not wanting to diminish or undermine his pain; his reality...”but let’s choose to be grateful for what we have.”
If he were a teenager, he’d have rolled his eyes in that moment. I could feel his exasperation with me.
“Name 5 things,” I implored.
“Ughh....my room? My house. My mom and my dads....my cars? And, uh, my moon nightlight.” He said, lacklustered with my parenting skills.
“...AND YOUR BIRTHDAY GIFTS! AND YOUR TRIP TO DISNEY!! AND YOUR HOUSE ON THE CAPE!! And, and, and...”
With the furthest pendulum swing from his lack of enthusiasm I could muster, I began listing every wonderful thing I could think of. Beckham joined in. Soon he was smiling. Laughing. High-fiving me about how awesome his life was.
We exhaled gratitude for 81 things, people, adventures and ideas in 12 minutes and collapsed together, a pile of happiness and joy. With just a glimmer of the silver-lined-heartbreak that follows kids of divorce around (no matter how great the divorce is, or how young the kids were when it happened).
“So what DID you eat today, anyway?” I asked casually, not wanting to stir up another episode I couldn’t contain.
“Some yogurt. Hummus. Eggs. A salad. I’ve been working really hard to eat vegetables, Mommy.”
I look at the clock. 7:20. Almost an hour past his usual bedtime.
”Beckham...if I made you a spinach and feta omelet, would you eat it?”
”Yes”. Almost in a whisper. Excited, and not sure if it’s a “would you ever?” rhetorical question or a real life option.
“Come on,” I motion to him.
Like a puppy, still full of gratitude and grace, he bounds down the stairs after me in his Santa robe that’s too small. He was given another one this year, but won’t retire the old one. The special one.
I start cooking and he sits at the kitchen counter with a crayon and a strip of paper.
“Mommy, I’m just drawing something.”
”Ok!” I singsong. I am admittedly happier ending the night a bit later to get to be free of tears.
I finish cutting watermelon as a surprise and putting his omelet on his plate, and he is standing by me.
“I couldn’t fit my whole name”, he explains, holding the paper scrap, “...but at the end that’s meant to say ‘Beckham’”
I flip the paper from side to side, deciphering what it could be and then I make out his sounded-out words:
”Thac yooe for ledeen me hav suthen else. Love Beckham”
I scan again and once more and it’s clear:
”Thank you for letting me have something else. Love, Beckham”
I choke back my own hot tears now, as I pull him into my arms.
It’s the best note any boy has ever given me.
I turn on the predators game, 82 minutes past bedtime, and he watches until he’s done. Then he goes to bed with kisses, hugs, gratitude. But no argument and no tears anywhere in sight.
I’ve struggled with realities and disappointments similar to my son’s for years. I am the product of a unique family that had lots of bittersweetness and silver linings. I have terrible fear of missing out. I have anxiety, and struggle with being present and satisfied with the “now”. I’ve found the only cure to be gratitude.
Tonight, I’m not sure who taught who a lesson, but I think we both learned it.
Gratitude is the last thing I want to think of while I struggle in the moments. “But THAT doesn’t matter!” I want to yell when someone points out one of my TRILLIONS of blessings. But it does. What we hold, right now- or, more accurately- WHO we hold right now, who we are right now, WHERE we are right now, is so, so much more beautiful and promising and fulfilling and perfect than anywhere or who or what we think we’re supposed to be or hold. Because what we have is meant for us- just like anything we have received or will received is ours.
No, Beckham will never share a home with his 3 parents. Instead, he will get the privilege of having expansive families across many households who love him desperately.
And no, Beckham will probably never be excited about my perfectly executed short ribs, braised in red wine.
But make that boy a spinach feta omelet and watch: his gratitude might be so big, and so great, and so perfect and beautiful that it will give back in ways you didn’t even know you could, or needed to receive.
So in addition to my trillion eighty one items I am so grateful for tonight, I add a trillion eighty second: I am grateful for the little boy, who, unprompted, wrote me a perfectly imperfect note that I will cherish for the rest of forever because I made him an omelet.
May everyone be so lucky.
I'm a mama, first and foremost, to 2 beautiful boys (3, if you count the furry one).