As I gave my ID to the guy guarding the gate to the beer garden, I thought how lucky I was to be entering into that kid-free sanctuary. I was at a street food festival in downtown Seattle. There were dozens of food trucks and pop-ups filled with everything from Russian dumplings to Hawaiian malasadas. There were also two blocks full of some of the best, local-artisan crafts. In the middle was a green, sprawling lawn with umbrella tables, bag toss games and a stage where a DJ was playing good music. You had to be over 21 to enter because they sold cider and mojitos and micro-brewed beer. There was a light breeze, but the sun was warm and the grey clouds had burned off mid-afternoon.The whole blissful event was located in a trendy part of Seattle with a plethora of young, hip, bearded professionals who worked at cool companies like Amazon and Google and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It is the exact type of event I would have gone to with my husband and kids had we still been married.
And there were plenty of kids there, too. I side-stepped a tantrum-y toddler who was D.O.N.E. He was waiting in the long line for gourmet waffles as his father tried to calm him in a measured tone I’m sure he saves for public use. I gave the pony-tailed moms with the jogging strollers a wide berth and I happily and easily passed by the park a half a block away which was full of young parents playing tag team as one scarfed down food precariously teetering on their lap while the other attended to their progeny on the monkey bars.
Truth was, I was grateful to be there sans kids. I donned a pretty, delicate dress and fixed my hair and makeup to the point that I felt pretty. I wanted to carefully analyze the menus and shuffle through the screen-print t-shirts without someone demanding something of me halfway through each process, and then having to cut everything short because someone was tired or had to pee. Sitting inside that tranquil beer garden, where no one was shouting and running around, I commented to two friends how this event was so much better without children. Because I’d attended plenty of street festivals with children, and because I’m a mom, I was thinking about my children.
They were with their dad at some beach house in Oregon where they’ve regularly been the past year-and-a-half. I’ve never been there, I don’t even know who owns it or who was staying with them or even that they were going until they were already gone. When they are with their father, their life is foreign to me because their father would rather I not exist and so he pretends that I do not.
Just recently, we transitioned to a 50/50 parenting schedule. It is one designed for “high conflict” families which limits the interaction between parents to protect the children from ongoing hostilities. A plan ordered by a judge who listened to 4 days worth of the dissection of our 8-and-a-half-year marriage. With this new plan, every other week I don’t see my kids for 5 days…5 whole days. I barely get to talk to them, either. I’ve had to fight tooth and nail just to get two short phone calls during those 5 days, and normally, he only allows one.
So for 5 days I am on my own; I’m free to meander around this city, go on romantic dates, attend yoga classes, check out trendy restaurants, sit in my pajamas all day, sleep until noon and take weekend trips. And it is sweet…but bitterly so.
This was not the life I set out to have. I wanted a husband, a marriage, a whole family. It was what I planned so carefully for until the moment came where I had to make a critical choice to leave that dream behind. I don’t regret my decision. Time, and my ex husband’s behavior over a year-an-a-half, have served to prove my choice the prudent one. Truth is, I would have had no life if I stayed and allowed the downward spiral to gain momentum. I would have been one of the walking dead—going through the motions without emotion.
So I’ve had to let go. I’ve had to let go of the idea that I get to see my children everyday of their young lives or be involved in many of their most potent memories. I’ve had to let go of reminiscing on their accomplishments and milestones with their only other parent, the only other person on the planet who can care as much I do. I’ve let go of security and propriety for the sanctuary of an urban beer garden on a sunny afternoon and the solitude of lazy, pajama-clad Sunday mornings along with just the possibility of one day being loved. I’ve let go of the life I wanted and planned to live, in favor of a life worth living; because I am no good to the world with my head underwater.
But still, it feels like a punch to the chest to watch that dad with his son on his shoulders turn to his wife while she spoon-feeds him gnocchi from a paper bowl. It stings a whole lot to watch that mom gently pet that baby’s downy hair who’s snuggled up inside the sling on her chest while her husband pushes a sleeping toddler in a stroller and they smile as she points to sweet, handmade doll their daughter might love.
And so, my only choice is one of gratitude as I enter the sanctuary of the kid-free beer garden and am able to sit in the sun with my mushroom bai and eat undisturbed. This is my consolation prize, my default life; I have sacrificed so much to have it and I won’t let it go by without notice, or being grateful it even exists.