I was thinking how nice it was to hear the sound of the doorbell as I swung open the red front door to our new home, the one we had lived in for just a few days, and saw a woman and young girl standing on the front porch of our new home.
“Hi! We’re your neighbors, so we thought we should come say hello,” the woman with blonde hair said, introducing herself and her daughter.
“Who lives here?” the little girl, who had the same hair color as her mother, asked.
“Well, we do now. It’s me, my husband and my daughter, Megan. She’s 8,” I told the curious little census taker.
“Where is she? I want to play!” She sounded both curious and excited as she peered around me into our messy house full of boxes.
“Well, unfortunately, she’s with her dad this weekend. She lives here but spends every other weekend at his house,” I explained, looking at the mom to see her reaction and hoping I wasn’t saying something wrong.
I think all of our faces fell upon my announcement.
“But my daughter is here during the week, and she’ll be here next weekend,” I offered hopefully. The mom cooly informed me that they would be gone next weekend and then turned and quickly departed, with her blonde mini-me following after.
I told my daughter about the visit, and she and I kept an eye out but didn’t see them outside at all. The fact that I was up to my eyeballs in boxes may have obscured my line of sight into their lush green yard, a hallmark of the suburb to which we had just moved, and although I was on high alert for a blonde hair sighting, it didn’t happen.
Two weeks later, the doorbell rang again. The mother and daughter were back, and this time, the little girl was holding a plate covered in shiny tin foil, and I assumed it must be the source of a delightful chocolate aroma. I hadn’t had lunch and my stomach gave a grateful growl.
“We thought Megan could come over today,” the mom said, with her blonde hair perfectly coiffed, as if it was decided.
Hunger forgotten, my stomach just dropped.
“I’m really sorry, but she’s with her dad this weekend,” I apologized.
“Again?” the little girl asked.
“Yes. She’s there every other weekend. What about Tuesday afternoon? Are you available then?” I asked.
“Well, we will have to see,” the mom said curtly. “We’re starting to wonder if she even exists.”
The comment stung.
It hurt in part because it wasn’t the first time someone had said that regarding the fact that I cannot always produced my child on command, theirs or mine. I’ve heard it from when I’ve gone back to my hometown to visit. Sometimes I travel there on holidays when my daughter is with her dad or when she’s on summer vacation with him—the times when I am legally obligated to share my heart with someone who now hates me.
It seems both old friends and new neighbors are flummoxed by the idea of shared custody. It’s certainly not something that comes naturally, even to me, and I’ve been living with the less than ideal arrangement for many years now.
That does not, however, mean that my daughter is some sort of unicorn or fictional character whose existence is in question. She is, in fact, very real and very much mine. Hearing that people think she may not be real makes me feel like Geppetto defending Pinocchio, and that’s not what I pictured parenting would be like. Then again, I never pictured having to share my daughter, either.
As the neighbors backed down the steps, the little girl turned around and offered up the foil-covered plate.
“They’re brownies. I really like brownies, so I got to eat half, and we gave you half,” she said with a mixture of satisfaction knowing how good the brownies were and with a tinge of regret that she had to part with any of them.
“Thank you,” I said as they hurried away.
I shut the door and walked to the kitchen where I carefully peeled the foil off the plate. It wasn’t heaping with brownies, but there were more than enough. I inhaled deeply to get the full effect of the chocolate scent.
Before I took a bite, I kicked myself for missing the teachable moment and failing to using the brownies as a metaphor for what parenting is like for me.
I wish my parenting plate was heaping full, that I could have more time with my daughter, and that we could eat all the brownies together. I don’t like sharing my sweet daughter any more than that little girl liked sharing her favorite treats.
I took a bite of the brownies. They were soft, gooey and delicious. I savored them, and while I wanted more, the amount didn’t make them any less wonderful, or less real.