A few weeks ago, I bought my kids a trampoline. It arrived and my kids haven’t missed a day jumping on it. Through fits of laughter, as they’re catching their breath, they ask me frequently why I didn’t get this for them sooner—like at the very start of the pandemic when they’d first began begging for one.
I tell them the truth—because Daddy didn’t want a trampoline to ruin the grass.
They accept that explanation and return to jumping—happy to have the trampoline, happy to have the memory of him working proudly on his lawn, and unaware of the depth of internal conflict making the choice to get a trampoline caused me. Because my husband, Matt, their father, died three years ago and saying “yes” when he would have said “no” feels like a betrayal.
When Matt died, I lost more than just him. More than just my best friend and soulmate and co-parent. I lost my co-decision maker. I lost the person who could play devil’s advocate or share a viewpoint I hadn’t considered. I lost the person whose interests were aligned wholly and completely with mine, especially when it came to the kids. I lost the person with whom I could share the blame if we made the wrong decision, who could celebrate if we made the right one. That extra voice is invaluable.
Now, I decide everything—from the small to the life-changing. I decide what cereal the kids eat in the morning, what doctor they go to when they’re sick, and what family values I want to highlight. The decisions are mine alone. And yet, they’re not. For each decision, I think about Matt. What would Matt do? What would Matt say?
Often I know the answer and holding space for his wishes is a no-brainer. The choice to send my kids to sleepaway camp is one example. I never went to sleepaway camp, but sleepaway camp meant a lot to my husband. Before we got married, way back before we were even engaged, he told me how important it was to him that his future kids went to sleepaway camp. The thought of sending my kids to sleepaway camp sends me into all sorts of anxiety-spirals, but I will send them. I know that it’s what he would have wanted.
On the other hand, there are times when I know what he’d want, but I ignore his wishes because what he wanted applied to a world that ceased to exist after he died. The trampoline is one example. It was easy for him to say “no” to that trampoline in a two-parent household with no pandemic canceling playdates and all other kinds of entertainment. The “no” is harder to say when it’s just me, trying to work and trying to keep the kids off video games. The benefits the trampoline offers in a solo parent pandemic world outweigh the damage to the grass. The grass will regrow eventually. I can hold space for his wishes and still make a different choice.
The harder times are when I ask myself “what would Matt do” and I don’t know the answer. I want to hold space for his wishes, but I don’t always know what he’d wish. My daughter is entering middle school next year. She has the option to go into honors math or not. In a regular math class, she will undoubtedly succeed and gain much needed confidence. In honors math, she’ll struggle, but be on track for an honors curriculum throughout middle school. When I ask myself what Matt would do, I don’t know. I can hear him tell me to push her forward, because it’s character building to be challenged. I can hear him tell me to keep her in the regular class and build her confidence because that matters more.
Likewise, my son wants to stop going to religious school. Religion isn’t a big part of my life (and wasn’t a big part of our life as a family of four). I have no reason to encourage him to continue other than that his father went to religious school, and it’s tradition. When I ask myself what Matt would do, I again don’t know. He might have said, “let him quit.” He might have said “religious school is a rite of passage and it’s important he goes.”
I don’t know. But I suspect knowing exactly what he’d say matters less than making space for his wishes and his memory. He’s gone, but he gets a say. He gets a voice, even if that voice is only in my head. His wishes and wants get the same amount of space they would have gotten if he were alive.
As our two kids get older, as I run into more and more situations that my husband and I never had a chance to encounter together, I’m more often left with a guess. A guess as to what would have been in his heart and his mind. A guess that I combine with my gut instinct and the certainty that what Matt would want most of all is for me and his kids to be happy.
Because ultimately I’m sure that’s what he’d want. For us to be happy. For us to find joy, even when it means destroying his grass.