"When I think of home, I think of a place with love overflowing."
- "Home" from The Wiz
Last summer, my then-husband and I spent many Sunday afternoons looking at apartments. We were hoping to buy a two- or three-bedroom with a yard someday. Though we had already saved up quite a bit, it would be a long while until we could really afford to buy. Still, I loved browsing the New York Times real estate section to find open houses for us to visit on the weekends. We often made a day of it, having brunch and checking out apartments and neighborhoods with our newborn in tow. I vividly remember one afternoon spent imagining myriad ways we could rearrange our furniture to fit into a sun-filled apartment in Ditmas Park.
Both of us grew up outside of New York and spent idyllic childhoods with our nuclear families in our single-family homes. We spent sunny summer days playing tag and running through sprinklers with our siblings and friends in our perfectly mowed yards. We now found ourselves in Brooklyn and accepted the fact that we would never have the type of big house we each grew up in, but that having a little yard was a possibility. This was something we both really wanted for ourselves and for our son - a little patch of green in the urban jungle.
Only a few weeks after that day in Ditmas, I discovered the affair. He told me it wasn't just a fly-by-night romance, but a long-term relationship. This reality became excruciatingly clear to me a few weeks later when I found a blueprint of an apartment in his handwriting. The sketch detailed a living room, kitchen, bathroom, a bedroom for them, a bedroom for our son and, finally, a yard.
Here he was planning on a future with her and our son in a new home. My absence in this life was glaringly and painfully obvious. It galled me to see the carefully labeled bedrooms, but it was the presence of the yard that stung more than anything.
The yard represented the home and life I thought we would have together, but now never would. The yard was what I had thought we both wanted - the white picket fence - of our future.
They didn't move in together at the time, but that blueprint has haunted me for the past year, floating in and out of my consciousness like a recurring nightmare.
After we separated, I decided to stay in the apartment we had lived in together. I didn't want the stress of moving and didn't want my son to face any more transition then necessary. My ex found his own apartment in a nearby neighborhood.
From the time we separated, when speaking with my son, my ex always referred to my place as "home" and to his place as "Daddy's apartment." I was and am grateful to him for this small, but meaningful semantic choice. I didn't ask him to do that, but he understood how important it was and is to me that our son associate "home" with "Mommy."
Next month, my ex will be moving into my neighborhood with "the other woman." They found a two-bedroom apartment in a little house. Of course, it has a yard. I know that our two-year-old will love having his own mini park, but I selfishly worry that he will find my yard-less home less appealing.
I recently learned that there will also be a dog in the picture. Now I envision the three of them and the dog happily frolicking in their yard. That image seems more like a complete home than any I can currently offer.
But I remind myself that "home" is so much more than a house with a yard and a dog. Home is a place that exists more in the heart than on a map. It's a word to describe the indescribable - love, family and security.
I also know that I need to set aside my own insecurities and resentments to help my son through this transition. My ex and I have agreed on a unified message. Instead of saying "Daddy's apartment" and "Mommy's home," we now tell our son that he has two homes - a home with Mommy and a home with Daddy - and that he is loved dearly by both of us.
A friend of mine who works with toddlers suggested that I make a photo book to help illustrate this concept. She has found that toddlers respond well to pictures of themselves and things they are familiar with as a way to better understand difficult transitions. She has made books for everything from when babysitters moved away to when the family cat got sick.
I followed her advice and created a little six-page album on Snapfish. It includes pictures of our son with Mommy and Daddy and pictures of our respective homes, including Daddy's new home. I made two copies of the album; one for each parent. I show it to my son every now and then to reassure him that he has a Mommy and Daddy who both love him and that he has two places to call home.
I think our son is starting to understand that he is different than other two-year-olds he knows. When he has playdates, he realizes that his friends live in one home with both mommy and daddy. He has asked me several times lately, "Where is Daddy? Why isn't he here?" The other night he whined, "I want my Mommy and Daddy together." My heart shattered into about a million pieces, but I took a deep breath and said, "I know you do, but your Daddy's at his home today and you'll see him soon. Right now you're home with Mommy who loves you very much." And then I squeezed him with all my might.
It may not be the dream I had for him, but I do everything I can to make it home sweet home. And as much as it hurts me to think about it, I'm relieved to know that his father is doing the same.