In the last year, Liadan Hynes’ marriage fell apart. She is now working on adjusting to the new reality. In her weekly column, Things Fall Apart she is exploring the myriad ways a person can find their way back to themselves.
I’m willing to admit that there might be a modicum of parental bias at play here, but our daughter is magical. It is her fourth birthday party this weekend, and as is appropriate for someone magical, the theme is unicorns. After much deliberation (she has been planning this event for almost a year), the cake is carrot, with blue sprinkles, and a miniature Princess Celestia (of My Little Ponies) on top.
I know that when people separate, it is common to say “thank god there were no children involved.” I know this. I have said it myself, about friends. But then I also thought that the she in that case was brave; brave to leave a marriage in her thirties, and maybe give up her chance to ever have children. Men can come and go. There is a window for children. “Imagine if I didn’t have her,” I say to a friend in horror.
But I am lucky, I have her.
And so I can relax into getting used to this new life, the new ways.
And so I thank my stars that there is a child involved. A child makes it harder to end things, but easier to bear when they do end. When your life involves a joyful almost-four-year old, and ours is particularly joy-filled, then that infuses your every day.
I remember walking home from a tough day at work when I was pregnant, and realising that there was only so bad a day could be now that I was equipped with the knowledge of Herself’s burgeoning existence. Already, she was acting as a sort of emotional trampoline.
When the midwife told us at the five-month scan that we were having a girl, unbidden, the thought popped into my head, “we’ve won the lottery.” I hadn’t even admitted to myself how much I wanted one. A girl that is.
When they handed her to me in the delivery room I thought “fifty-two Christmases in one.” It was my tired brain’s way of saying her arrival was as good as a year of Christmases.
As a tiny baby with reflux, she would only sleep lying with her head on the crook of my arm, on waking she would look up at me and smile. For the first few weeks, there would be a split second upon waking where I would forget she had arrived. And then I would remember and again think, Christmas. She is like Christmas morning.
Now, she is a messer, the source of constant laughter. “More tea?” she croons in an exaggerated imitation of her grandmother’s cork accent. She has her own language, a sort of guttural affair she speaks with utter conviction. “Shalamaluk, as they say in Sabalee,” she was overheard saying to her best friend recently. Much of the day is spent making up songs. “I love my mommy, she is the best, she makes my dinner, she cuggles me at bedtime,” she sang the other night. She plans to get a tattoo like Moana’s Maui when she is sixteen, and open a cake shop when she grows up.
For those in her inner circle, she is a child overflowing with love, who will walk into a room to say matter-of-factly “mommy, I love you”, before returning to whatever she is doing.
I didn’t understand when Gwyneth announced her conscious uncoupling. Is it possible to do such a thing, end a marriage, unconsciously? Now though, I think I get it. In her own, inimitable check-your-privilege way, GP was saying that they were consciously creating the kind of post-marriage life their family would have. As opposed to being caught up in some sort of maelstrom. It’s the kind of thing you get to do if you are lucky.
We have been lucky. We are very amicable. It helps that there is a child involved, everyone tends to pull together; the focus goes to them. When your child is a magical, joy-filled person, you focus on protecting that.
We’re going on a family holiday together next month and we’re all counting the days. She is going to teach Daddy to swim, she has announced, and we will live on a diet of chocolate chip mint ice cream and spaghetti bolognaise.
None of this is to suggest a picture of parenting that does not involve hiding your head behind an open kitchen press door and screaming in silent frustration because they will. Not. Put. Their. Shoes. On. Or the kind of exhaustion that feels like your skin has been flayed, so raw are you. Or the endless tyranny of dinner making, laundry doing, night-time waking. Sometimes though, when she is asleep, I miss her.
“Are you overcompensating?” says a friend jokingly when she hears of the party, and the cake and the bouncing castle and all the planning. Actually no, I think. We’re celebrating. Celebrating our girl.