Sometimes, my life has felt like climbing a steep mountain. Just putting one foot in front of the other and slogging up the hill. You're winded, tired, your feet hurt, but you keep moving because to stop is to give up. And life isn't a climb you can give up on. Every now and then you come out and have a bit of a view—it's lovely up here on this mountain! You can see for miles and miles! But the mountain top is still ahead of you, so you keep going in hopes of another beautiful view. The years pass and you keep climbing.
Looking back from this particular vista, it all seems to have gone by in the blink of an eye. But when I stop and really think about it, I remember the years of work that went into raising my two kids after their dad died. They were only four and one when he died. At first, I didn't think I had it in me. It was like anything you do that is new and hard. You spend a lot of time looking around and wondering why no one is helping you with this new, hard thing? Where has everyone gone off to and why aren't they here? Then you get used to this hard thing, and you just keep moving up that mountain.
In the early days, I just assumed I would meet someone and marry again. A psychologist had once told me that if my kids didn't form a bond with someone by the time they were nine, they most likely wouldn't form that type of parental bond with anyone. After nine, it's just too hard to let someone into your life as a parent. I have no idea how nine took the rap for that kind of thing. But nine came and went for my kids, along with all the other birthdays, and still there was no one to take on the dad role.
Of course, there were men I dated. Most of them good, decent guys who would have been a perfectly fine choice for my family. Here's the deal—I've never been happy with good enough. Not in my work, not in my life, and certainly not in my choice of a partner. I had the curse and tremendous great good fortune to be madly in love with my husband. When I met him, the world stopped turning and just like in the movies, the only thing I could see was him. While there were times over the 10 years we were together, that I would have quite happily planted an axe in his forehead, 99 percent of the time, we were madly in love. I just never found anyone after he died that I could have that kind of thing with.
It always seemed that they either really adored me but weren't too fond of the kids or they loved the kids but weren't so wild about me. Either way, it was a compromise I couldn't make. I wanted the kind of security for my kids that comes from knowing where they're going to wake up and who will be there when they do. I never wanted a string of uncles passing through their lives. And if I could continue to support my kids financially and provide a life that was safe and secure, we were better off as a family of three.
That is certainly no value judgment on people who have chosen to blend families. I know lots of families that have blended smoothly, but I also know of a lot of blended families with big chunks in them. For me, it just became easier to raise the kids alone rather than incorporating someone else into our tightly knit crew. Neither right nor wrong, it’s just the way it worked out for us.
Somewhere during their teenage years, I just quit looking. I found that the lonely times came and went just like the not-so-lonely times, and I have always relished my independence. If I decided to take the kids to Mexico on spring break, great! That's why God invented credit cards. I would be the one who paid off the trip so it didn't matter what anyone else thought, we could just go. There's a freedom that I've always found in not asking permission.
I also worried that I would never love anyone the way I loved Chris. I remember being pregnant with my second child and absolutely terrified that I wouldn't love the new baby the way I loved my first-born son. I adored him! Every hair on his head. The way he smelled. The way he smiled. Even the way he cried. How could I possibly love this strange baby the same way? Then I held my daughter and was amazed that it was a completely different, yet absolutely the same kind of love! Over the moon love that lasts all of our lives.
Finally the kids grew up and moved out. On to college and their own lives. I continued up my own mountain, head down, slogging, step after step.
Then one day a man who has long been a friend took my hand and said, "Hey, are we ever going to be more than friends?" I was flummoxed! We'd spent many hours over dinner, at my house, his house, with my kids, without my kids, talking, always talking and never once had I ever looked up from my own climb to see his outstretched hand. I had grown so used to climbing on my own that anything else didn't even seem a possibility.
So when I took his hand and said, "Yes, let's see where this trail leads," it was like the clouds had parted and we'd reached the summit of that particular mountain and the view was glorious! It was completely different from my love for my husband, yet absolutely the same in so many ways. I could not and never would choose between them. I'm astounded that I have been able to have them both in my life. For the first time in 20 years, every day has a beautiful view again. The relief of finally taking a break from the climb and going back to God's-in-his-heaven-all's-right-with-the-world!
Right now from this vista, we can see for miles and miles and miles. From where we've both come and the climb all seems worth this lovely view. We can also see the mountains still ahead of us—it's just that now, we'll climb together.
This essay originally appeared in Mamalode's print issue themed Better Together.