Yesterday as I waved Lewis off for the half-term week at his Dads, I felt that familiar lump rise in my throat. As he turned to me and smiled through the car window and I watched them drive away, I blinked back my tears and told myself that it was just a week, just seven short days.
When I rang him this morning, as I do every day that he is not with me, he didn’t answer his phone, instead sending a text message that just said, “I’m at my friends, speak some point this week!”. And I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me a little, the realisation that while I am sat here missing him, he isn’t sat there missing me.
And you’d think that after all this time that it would have gotten easier and yet I still struggle to hand over my child each week, to watch him disappear through the front door to his dad’s house and into a world that I know very little about. Seven years later, it’s still a life that I never imagined for my child.
Because once upon a time, in a life before Gaz, Eva, Megan and Harry, I was a completely different person living a completely different life. And it would be wrong of me to say that it was a mistake or something that I have lived to regret, because the truth is, at one point in my life, it was everything that I wanted.
I married at just 24, to my boyfriend of six years, infront of all of our family and friends and with Lewis, just twelve weeks old in my arms. And as I stood there, promising to love my husband for all eternity, I absolutely meant it.
Being married was hard work. We both had very different ideas about family life, about what was and was not acceptable in a marriage, and I think that we both spent a great deal of time unhappy. We were both so young and merely stumbling our way along and so when we lost Joseph, it was inevitable that the cracks began to appear. After experiencing something so devastating it just seemed impossible to find our way back from it and whilst I grieved in one way, he grieved in another, and as the weeks and months passed, we grew in two very different directions.
When Lewis was just four years old, my ex husband left our home and told me that our marriage was over. I won’t go into the details, this isn’t an episode of Jeremy Kyle, but, despite lengthy attempts at couples counselling, there was no going back from it. And I was completely and utterly devastated.
Divorce is such a strange experience, it is so much more than just the initial heartache and that overwhelming sense of failure . It is very much like grief, perhaps even harder in some ways, as knowing that the person you want to be with is still right there infront of you, still sat within touching distance, but you can’t be together anymore, that is perhaps the saddest thing of all.
And divorce was more than just losing my husband, my marriage, my home, and a future we had planned together, it quite literally changed everything. For me, losing my husband meant that in turn I lost my family as I knew it. A family that, after the divorce, became strictly his family. My ex in-laws had been a very close-knit family and I had loved them like my own flesh and blood. My sister-in-law and I used to joke that given the choice between she and my husband, I would choose her every time. She had been my best friend, and the little sister I never had, for eleven long years. She knew me better than any other person on this planet and we shared every secret, every experience, every high and low. There has never been another person who I have laughed with the way that we did, even now just thinking about the memories I can barely breathe for laughing. She was my shining light through every dark time, the person I turned to at every hurdle and she was always there, championing me on from the sidelines, holding my hand and telling me, “I love you mister”. And it broke my heart to lose her in that way.
But perhaps the hardest part, and something that never got easier, was the feeling that I had lost a part of Joseph all over again. My ex husband was the only other person who had shared that experience with me. He was the only person who had felt that pain as deeply as I, who remembered every moment of it as I did, and who was helping me to keep his memory alive over the years. There would never be a time when I would be able to turn to him and say, “Do you remember the way that Josephs little toe curled inwards the same way as mine?” or ask, “Tell me again about the day he was born.”. When I was scared that I was forgetting even a second of that precious time together, there would be no-one to remind me of that, to reassure me that my memories would not slip away. On his birthday there would be nobody there to hold my hand and look at me and just know. No-one to hold me, to cry with me, to understand that pain in my heart and tell me that it would all be okay. And that killed me.
On top of all of that devastation there was Lewis, aged just four, who was suddenly thrust into this whole new world of two separate parents, two new houses and two very different lives. And it was so hard, particularly in the beginning when emotions were so raw and I was so full of anger and resentment. I found myself becoming very selfish, thinking this is MY son, he belongs with me and why should I have to share him because of a mistake that I didn’t make? And I found that difficult for such a long time, to swallow my pride, my own longing to be with my son 24-7, and accept that actually, this is the way that it will be from now on.
I used to pack Lewis off to his Dad house and it would break my heart waiting for him to come home. I would worry what would happen if he didn’t come back? What if something happened to him whilst he was there? What if he realised that actually, he would rather live with his dad after all? And yet he would come home and snuggle up in bed beside me and tell me that he had missed me every second of the day and I slowly came to realise that whilst this may be hard for us as adults, as a child Lewis had taken it very much in his stride.
And seven years down the line, he barely remembers a time when his Dad and I were ever together. Obviously he has us, Gaz and his siblings, but he also has a life that I am no part of whatsoever. A life that involves his Dad, a Step-Mum and a baby brother just five days older than our Harry. And although I have exchanged pleasantries with his Step-Mum and I have cooed briefly over his very adorable little brother, they are still, lets face it, complete strangers to me. And due to the fact that getting anything out of Lewis is like drawing blood from a stone, I hear very little about his time with them from him either. Its strange, infact it’s heartbreaking at times, that I know so very little about my own sons life, a child that I thought I knew inside out.
Last month I discovered that Lewis has a new cousin who I literally knew nothing about. A baby boy, over six months old, my own sons flesh and blood and yet he hadn’t even thought to tell me about it. I went storming up to his bedroom, flung open his door, waggling my phone in his face, “Why didn’t you tell me that you had a new cousin?” I asked. And as he dragged his eyes away from Instagram, or Facetime, or whatever it is that requires his constant attention night after night, he simply shrugged, “I forgot to tell you”. And at times like that, I look at him and wonder who is this imposter living in my house? What else is he not telling me? And will we live our entire lives sharing only half of it?
Because it’s not just his step mum, his brother, his new family and friends who I know nothing about. It’s all of the little things too. Like the fact that he lives in a house that I have never set foot in or that he picks out clothes every morning that I didn’t buy for him and hang in his wardrobe. He sits at a dining table, eating his tea, surrounded by his family, and makes conversation about things that I know nothing at all about. For five nights out of every fortnight he sleeps in a bed that I didn’t tuck him up in and kiss him goodnight. And that’s hard.
But whilst it was easy, especially in the beginning, to focus on the negatives, these days I can see so many of the positives. Lewis is probably a much more rounded character because of the many influences in his life. He is wise beyond his years, sociable, independent and confident. For him, it has been the making of him whilst for me, I struggled so much with the thought that I was missing out on so much of his precious childhood.
And it is still hard to know that I am only sharing half of his time, half of his life. It is hard for me and yet the way I have to look at it is this; for us it may only be half, but for Lewis it is double. Two loving homes, four parents who adore him, four brothers and sisters who are delighted to see him, four extended families just waiting to spoil him. And looking at it that way, I couldn’t have wished for more for him. And when Christmas comes around and he is opening two sets of presents, then neither could he!
It is impossible for me now to look back on my failed marriage with anything other than gratitude. I thank God every single day that our marriage ended and that it led me to Gaz, to my three beautiful babies and to a life that I had no idea was out there waiting for me. My failed marriage taught me everything that I wanted from a new relationship, taught me not to make the same mistakes that I did the first time round and what I would expect from my partner in return. It taught me about compromise, trust, honesty and laying solid foundations on which to build. And although the breakdown of my first marriage left me in pieces, I was able to build myself back up into someone who is much stronger, much wiser and I walked into my marriage to Gaz with my eyes wide open. And I’m so thankful for that, for the mistakes that we made and even the pain that I felt. To feel loved, truly loved by Gaz, mended my heart in more ways than one and as the saying goes, you can never appreciate such happiness have you never known such sorrows.
And so next week, when Lewis comes home, tired and grumpy and wanting to lie on the couch and catch up on a weeks worth of Hollyoaks, I will have to swallow my hurt that he did not have time for me this week. I will hide my frustration when I question him about his week and he is too busy catching up with his friends onFaceTime to talk to me or he simply tells me, “It was alright…”. Because the fact of the matter is, all we ever want is for our children to be happy, and if Lewis is happy when he isn’t with me then I couldn’t hope for anything more. I’m grateful that his new family loves him every bit as much as I do, that he is experiencing new things and enjoying a diverse and fulfilling childhood.
And I’m confident that next Friday, when he is home and I tuck him up into his bed, he will tell me, “I missed you” as I kiss him goodnight, and cuddle me that extra bit tighter for all of the cuddles we missed out on this week.