The Not Boyfriend is exiled for the National Guard training for four months, which is grueling for him and tough for me and a strange limbo between coasts and visits. To help, I keep telling myself when he can't return texts or is exhausted mid-Skype that is just a pause.
It's a pause of 12 weeks before we hit play in a big way. In September, the Not Boyfriend is moving here, to our city.
It's big news. Huge news. A major commitment that I've wanted and asked for since we hit the year mark and decided that maybe, probably, yes, this was something serious.
And now that it is a reality, I am terrified. I am thrilled but I am also scared, not about the Not Boyfriend. About The Boy.
We have a good gig, Lil E and me. We have a routine, a way of being together happily and with lots of laughter, dance parties, inside jokes, quiet times to snuggle and read, ways of arguing and apologizing and being stubborn that all seem to work out into a home we are very comfortable in. The Not Boyfriend wants in and oh, how I want him to be closer as well as nearer.
Lil E feels the shift and turns clingy and sensitive and talks in a baby voice I don't recognize him as ever using. The Not Boyfriend pulls back and I try desperately to make everything OK for everyone. And in my head, I am grabbing my son and running far and hard and justifying the thoughts like, "I don't need to be with someone. It can just be Lil E and me. It will be fine. I will be fine."
It's ridiculous to think like that. Being in a happy, healthy relationship (even one that's hard sometimes, too) serves Lil E as well as me. I get to have that kind of big-time gooby love. I choose this man, this Not Boyfriend, not only because of who he is and who he is to me and with me, but who he is with my child.
And it's good for my son to see what that actually looks like. He says he doesn't remember his father and I being together at all and I see the truth in that when he looks at photos of the three of us like it is a map to a foreign country. Lil E has very few models of what happy couples are like together, and I am aware of this. I point out when I see parents who are affectionate and silly and supportive, make little notes in conversations about how those families work -- "I love it that that mom and dad take time to go out and enjoy each other every Friday," I have said. "That means the kids get to have a fun babysitter and the parents get grown-up time." Sometimes he joins in, asks questions, nods in agreement. Other times, he's quiet and I wonder if he'll bring it up months later, as is often his way.
The Not Boyfriend is very different from Lil E's dad. This is a choice and also a blessing. His dad will always be his dad, and they have a gig none of us wants to interrupt. And having a different kind of man in his life will help my son to see new ways of being and to be parented from a different perspective. Nobody can engage in full Nerf Gun warfare like the Not Boyfriend. No one else can speak to Lil E's Buddhist curiosities or teach him to roll pizza dough in the ways this new(ish) man can. He's disciplined, meticulous and has definitive rules -- all qualities my Virgo son needs soothed.
The Not Boyfriend's own childhood has some similar threads to Lil E's life in three homes. He gets where Lil E has been and he sees where situations like this can go. I hold that tenderly.
The Not Boyfriend has things to learn from my boy, too. Like that a messy room can be a wonderful space to retreat to and that "Penguins of Madagascar" is hilarious, that not much can interrupt a mama during the bedtime ritual, that parenting is exhausting and blissful and worth it.
There's much more to discover, of course. These two are complicated, layered, sensitive, intense. It will take time and ice cream and colluding and many more Nerf darts.
Other single moms have wrapped their arms and experiences and understanding around me while I've told them about the quick weekends the Not Boyfriend has been in town that I've tried to pack full of FUN! AWESOME! activities and Lil E has gotten whiny and quiet or rolled in the grass being goofy or charged off to his room for some miniscule reason. They already know this will make the Not Boyfriend pull back and me frantic. They've related when I've told them I feel caught in the middle of these two, not knowing where to give my focus or sympathy or hand. All of them have said it takes one thing: time.
And another thing: stepping out of the middle.
They've said over and over I must let them figure it out on their own, sending them off on missions or walking away for a few hours. One told me to simply say, "I'm going to let you two decide together" or declare it Guy Day and hand over the wheel to the little sticky hands and the bigger sticky hands.
They've assured me it will come. One day, walking home from school together or planning a snack or watching a Penguins marathon, the love will wash over them.
There have already been some of those moments. The Not Boyfriend visited us several months in a row, forgoing my trips to SF because it was simply time to involve E more. When he couldn't be here for my birthday, he engaged Lil E in a secret texted mission to find out what I'd like for my birthday. Lil E took that so seriously, and the Not Boyfriend nudged that along while making me laugh in the process. It was a delight. There will be more of that, right? Less planned, longer=ranged but still man-moments that call on the best of each of them to meet secretly, laughing and conspiring and having fun?
I hope so. I love each of them so much. I know both of them so well. Now it is time for them to find their way to each other.
To be honest, I am scared for that to work as much as I am scared for it to fail.That seems ridiculous but it is the truth. I know that I can handle it if this relationship or these hopes for the life ahead don't work out as I'd like -- I've survived all that before. But I can't handle one more man breaking my son's heart. I can't protect him from that, of course, but the thought is unbearable.
Can there be great excitement, big love, huge news and no fear? I don't think so. At least not yet.
It's going to take more than weekends every couple of months for the Not Boyfriend and Lil E to see around me to trust and know each other. It could just be that we are all trying so hard, too hard, because we see what could be. Or that we're lovingly, wonderfully protective of each other's hearts. Maybe it helps that we're all a little apprehensive, that it is new for every one of us, that we're all scared and squinting and tentatively holding hands as we chart his foreign land we're standing in.