Weeks ago, back when Lil E first started asking perceptive, sensitive questions that surprised even me (me, who has become, over time, attuned and accustomed to what he gets for such a small child) about where Daddy is living and will live and why we are not all living together anymore, I answered as much as I could, as simply as I could and then just hugged him for a long time. He asked the questions with an urgency that I understood and felt myself but he cried to hear the answers, and that I understood as well. He crawled on my lap with his paci and his babydoll Tiger and rubbed my elbow to soothe himself, as he has done since he was brand new.
And then, because I felt this was so much bigger than the experiences I've had or I know, I went to the bookstore.
I had a list of books from myself that my benevolent and ass-saving therapist recommended. I asked the woman behind the information desk to help me find them.
"Those are all in the divorce section," she said matter-of-factly. But when she looked at me, her face softened. "Here, let me show you. Let me take you there."
It made me uncomfortable and it made me laugh and so I asked her, "Does this tour to the divorce section also include directions to where I can get a drink and a date after I buy my books? Are you required to hug the people you send here?"
She laughed with me, "It totally should, honey! And I would hug you!"
Finding my books wasn't hard. It was empowering, even if actually reading them has been an exercise in reliving deep love and deeper wounds. But other perspectives and someone else's words are important when I am feeling tapped of any of my own.
Finding a book for Lil E was harder. I had some titles I researched, but I ended up pulling out all the books from the shelf marked "Separation and Transition" in the children's area. Most of what I found was about animal families and divorce and since we aren't porcupines (mostly) and at that point, weren't yet divorcing, those books didn't feel right.
But I found one that did. My Two Homes. The illustrations are cute and the words are simple and the message -- here's how this one kid negotiates living with a mommy and a daddy -- seemed good for my boy.
I bought it. But then I put it away. I knew I'd have a sense of when to pull out the book to read and since so many things were still up in the air then, the book felt right but the timing didn't.
It is now weeks and weeks and many dips into the attorney's retainer later. Lil E seems more settled into his routine of spending Mommy Time and Daddy Time and his carefully-plotted schedule here with me and my parents and there, at the apartment with his father.
But the questions have escalated as he's tried to figure out if we are ever going to return to our apartment (which is an excellent and unanswered question) and where each of us will live. And although he is happy to see his Daddy and spend time at the apartment, he now refuses -- REFUSES -- talk to him on the phone on days when they do not see each other.
We've had many conversations about why it is important to just listen to his Daddy say he loves him. Still, he will not even press an ear to the phone on those mornings or evenings before bed. Then, the other night, he screamed and cried at the request to say ni-ni on the phone, even angrier and more upset than before.
I asked him why he felt that way and he said, "I just want us all together in our apartment! I just want to be in my apartment!"
And again, I understood. It was time for the book.
So I pulled it out and we poured over it at bedtime. We read about how this little boy has a room with his mommy and a room with his daddy, about two toothbrushes and two favorite chairs. We read about how his mommy calls him when he stays with his daddy and his daddy calls him when he stays with his mommy. We read about how they love him no matter where he is. Lil E pointed out things in the pictures and asked questions about the boy and his toys and pets and parents. It was calming and good, and as I'd hoped, right.
After I read the last page, I paused. I wanted to ask him what he thought without being too pushy.
"What do you think about this book, love? Is it a good one?"
And right on time, with all the perception he has, Lil E stepped to the beat.
"Good. It's good," he said straightforwardly. And then, "But it doesn't make me want to talk to Daddy on the phone."
And there it was.
It was hard not to laugh. And cry. It is just hard. But when I hear that, I know this kid is going to be OK.
My heartache for him, for having parents who once were madly truly deeply and are now untethering in every way but as parents, was softened by the sensitivity he has. It isn't easy and won't be. He is working on it, though. The wheels are ever turning. And I am going to be there to answer honestly, hug hard, offer my lap and elbow. To read and read and read and ask my own questions. And sometimes, just to laugh at it all.