Madhuri Banerjee narrates a friend’s experience in first person.
Papa’s getting married. My daughter Anna dropped this bomb on me at the dinner table when I innocently asked how her day had been.
She had a smug look on her face as if you say you’re still single and he this wonderful person found someone else.
I refused to react.
I chomped on my food and asked, “Really, who is she? What’s her name?”
My cheeky eleven-year-old daughter replied, “I don’t know. All I know is that I’ll have another mother and I will love her. Maybe even more than you.” I knew now she was goading me to see if I would have a meltdown.
I responded saying, “Will you go live with them? Can you start next week? She can then pay for your college!”
My daughter glared at me since I wasn’t taking her bait.
I chuckled at her, “I’m kidding,” and after a moment, “With your grades who says you’re going to college?”
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I laughed out loud and she finally chuckled and we chatted about her grades. But I knew in the back of my mind that I would have to ask my ex about this wedding and sort this out for my child.
That was a conversation I never wanted to have even though I knew he would get married one day. It had been a few years since we divorced but seeing your ex moving on is bittersweet. A part of you wants him to be happy and another part wonders about your own marriage.
My friend Freya told me, “A man can’t remain single forever. His mother will always want someone to look after him even if he’s proved he can finally manage to look after himself. Companionship is regarded higher than happiness in this country.”
“Yes,” I said, “But I thought I would find someone before him. And now he seems to be moving on!”
“Darling, he moved on the day he took off his wedding ring. It’s time you let him go.”
But I had let him go. Except he was always there because of our child. It wasn’t as if I wanted him back in my life. Jesus, not at all. It was this strange feeling in my stomach that it would change something that I couldn’t put my finger on.
I went about the next few days ignoring that my ex was happy and feeling mild pity for the woman who would have to tolerate his idiosyncrasies. I also fumed at the fact that he had enough money to have another wedding when he couldn’t pay for the kid’s school trips while he was still married to me. But I had forgiven him and moved on. More or less.
He called me after a few days to check if he could take our daughter to a movie.
“Yes sure. As long as it’s not a crude, stupid film, I’m fine,” I replied.
“Okay, then we’ll just watch Dangal again on Netflix,” He replied. I rolled my eyes as if to scream you can also play something with her or help her with her homework. But who was I kidding? Those chores were left to me while he played the fun cool Papa to her.
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Instead, I cleared my throat and said, “Anna said you’re getting married. Congrats.”
“Um. No. Nothing decided. Oh, that child. You know you should talk to her about eavesdropping on phone conversations. It’s a bad habit she’s picked up.” How typical of him to deflect the topic and ask something else I should do in return with regards to raising our daughter.
I brought him back to the subject, “Yes I’ll do that but when you do decide to get married, it’s important that you spend enough time with your daughter, tell her who your fiancé is so they also spend time together. Make your child comfortable enough over time and include her in more activity.”
“Of course, I will. I know all this!” But he didn’t.
Over the next one month, I spent time with my child to figure if things were bothering her about this new situation. But she said it wasn’t.
Then I probed to check what she was feeling about it, truly.
“I just want my space and my stuff. And if I spend time with my new mom, I don’t want to pretend to be nice if I’m not feeling like it.”
I nodded without interfering. Listening without giving an opinion is a virtue I have developed over time. But use it only occasionally.
“Have you told Papa all this?”
“You tell him Mama. I trust you.” She said as she went back to doing her homework. She didn’t seem to be panicking at all. Didn’t she realise life would change? She would need to ask him to spend more time with her. He may refuse. Or she would want to work on proving herself to her new mother. Which I didn’t want her to do. Then I would be left picking up the pieces of her broken heart.
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I checked with my other single mom friend M what to do.
Single mothers give better advice than others. It’s because we’ve been blessed with so much trauma that experience makes us sages. Surprisingly she told me, “Leave it alone. Children have more resilience than you think. They adapt themselves really well to new people and situations. And if she ever needs you, take time to talk to her. You’re the only one who’s actually worried.”
She was right. My fears were mine alone.
The wedding day finally arrived. I decided to go about doing my normal activities. It wasn’t a special day for me and I wasn’t planning to make it so. I also didn’t want to drink and shut out the pain with an alcohol induced stupor. It was important to recognize it for what it was worth – a past chapter closing forever.
Maybe a husband comes into your life to just give you the child you’re meant to have. They’re not meant to be there forever.
I called and wished him, “All the best. I hope you are happy and really work on it this time.” Suddenly the niggling feeling from my stomach left. It had been my fear of being happy for him. And I genuinely was. I didn’t need to get back at my ex or prove I’d moved on by getting married first. I didn’t need to substantiate I needed him either. I was complete as a single mother.
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My child came back from the wedding happy and stuffed with ice cream.
“How was it?” I asked helping her change out of the new clothes her new “mummy” had bought for her.
“The wedding was boring. But there was good food. And the bride had too much makeup on. But she has to be nice to me. I’m Papa’s daughter first.”
I hid my smile.
She gave me a hug as she got into bed, “I think I’ll tolerate her for Papa’s sake. I’ll call her aunty. And don’t worry Mom… I’ll always love you more.”
I knew that. I wasn’t worried at all.
Madhuri is an author, film writer and single mother. She values her books, her friends and her freedom. The views expressed are the author’s own.