After a couple of intense days of more “discussion,” I took the boys out for the afternoon. It was a lovely afternoon with my men and Max’s girlfriend, Kiki, followed by a delicious if tense dinner with Rango. (The man is a great cook, by the way.) Rango and I excused ourselves to the talk privately, again going in circles about the same issues from the last few weeks. We disengaged, and he went to sleep on the couch while Max and I drove Kiki home.
On the way home, Max asked if Rango and I were going to break up.
“I don’t know,” I replied carefully.
“Well, I want you to do what’s best for you, of course, but I love him to death. I don’t want him to leave.”
And then I remembered exactly how much my relationship with Rango impacts so much more than just me and him.
By the time Rango came into our life, DH had been living out of state for four months. In the two years he’s been gone, he has seen the boys for 34 days. On average, they talk to him every 3-4 weeks. Max and Tricky have very little expectation of their father, other than 1) he will eventually show back up for a brief period and 2) he will buy them something when he does.
For Max, especially, this has been incredibly difficult. He has 4 extra years of memories with Dad that Tricky just doesn’t have. He was hit hardest by DH’s withdrawal. He is also the most willing to seek out a relationship with him, but he tends to do so guardedly, with hope but no anticipation of regular engagement. Having just turned 13 when the move happened, it came at a really tough stage in his life.
Enter Rango, who understood being a child of divorce, being the child of distant and difficult parents, and being a teenage boy in a way I just never will.
And while he fell for me, he also fell for my boys. They hit it off immediately, and he established a solid, loving, imperfect relationship with them that is entirely separate from me.
He did what a good stepdad should do.
They fight sometimes. They give each other shit. But he also brought Max out of his shell, showing him that it was okay to trust someone other than Mom. He is a steady, constant, loving, engaging influence on their lives.
And he does it because he loves them, not because he loves me. (Though he does, certainly.)
So is that a valid reason to stay in a relationship?
No, of course not. But it is a reason to re-evaluate the strengths and reasons for that relationship.
When I got divorced, DH and I blew the boys’ world apart. Max has said before that we are all happier and better off after the divorce, but it has also been really hard on my children. (see above) Rango is a large part of why and how it got better. (see above) And I do not want them to have to extricate another important, loving relationship from their lives. (see above)
So Rango and I have called a détente. We realized how scary this was for the boys, and that’s just not okay. We have issues to work through, but we have agreed to stop them in their tracks and move forward, together and carefully, because there is more at stake than just us.
I’ll be honest (surprise!): it still scares me. Choosing to rely on someone else means allowing for the possibility of disappointment. I’m not one to run from adversity, so why the hell would I choose to run now? In the end, the possible pay-off is much greater than the possible loss, and returns on investment don’t come when you buy high and sell low.
So there are still things to work on, and we will. This was a warning to us both, to remember the lessons of the past. I don’t want to repeat the past, good or bad, and it is unfair to compare Rango or myself to those times.
While I was out with the boys, Max bought me a gift. He saw it and thought of me, even before Kiki pointed out to him that it was Alice:
And on the drive home, he told me, “Just because something doesn’t go the way you want it to, that doesn’t mean it’s bad, even when it feels bad. You can’t appreciate what you have now if you didn’t experience the bad you had before.”
That boy is totally my kid.