We talk things to death around here; it's just how we do. Lil E and I play "interview" during dinner, asking each other questions about our favorite movies, dream homes, what we'd change our names to if we could, and then, holding the air-mic in close, dig deep about what it might be like to have a brother or sister, how it feels to be around the Not Boyfriend, what things we'd like to make better in this slow-growing situation with our family.
The Not Boyfriend and I spend car rides and Skype conversations talking it out in similar ways. What's your favorite line in "Office Space"? If you could only listen to one CD for the rest of your life, which one would you choose? What kind of house would like to live in best? What might get in our way if the the three of us lived together? At what point should two people share financials?
While Lil E and I have talked a lot about what might come up someday with the three of us, we've never discussed what might happen in the moment when there are four in the room -- the Not Boyfriend, me, my son and his dad. The Not Boyfriend and I have talked that through, mostly with me cringeing at the very thought of my ex-husband being invited into this dynamic I am handling so tenderly and with the new man in my life offering to reach out in some man-to-man kind of way.
"Tell me how that goes!" I've laughed, because the truth is that, even as a fly on the wall, I'd get all fluttery and buzz away, come back, retreat, wiggle around, ditch any fight for more flight.
It didn't make sense to linger over the possibilities of that meeting because, as long as the Not Boyfriend was far away and only here monthly, there was very little opportunity for an accidental run-in. Plus, time with we three was too precious to give any over to someone with such history and tension anyway.
It will be organic, I reassured myself, and dismissed the understanding that one day, we'd all be sitting together for the sake of my son.
Could that one-day be high school graduation?
No, no. It'd have to be sooner. Eighth-grade graduation then?
How about next year, earliest?
Whenever the dreadful idea and images of the awkwardness embodied like a fifth person in the mix filled my head, I pushed aside with some kind of single-mama meditation about this being one small moment in time. One small moment in the time marked two-thousand-twenty-never.
But I looked at the calendar this week and realized 20Never actually lands on Saturday. THIS Saturday. TOMORROW.
The Not Boyfriend's week-long post-army training stay at our house overlaps eight hours with Lil E's next Taekwondo belt testing. Belt testing is a big deal (even though it happens -- cha-ching cha-ching -- every 17 minutes at his studio) and Lil E, like all kids, loves a cheering crew. I wouldn't miss it for the world and I knew the Not Boyfriend would be happy to see E compete for the first time. And, of course, his dad will be there, too. My parents, who might be very welcome bodies seated in between the NB and the former husband, will be out of town, and so the crowd that fills the plastic chairs just outside the mat will feel smaller, squeezier, strange without a buffer.
When I realized that this might very well be the place my Not Boyfriend and son's father would first meet, I whispered it to the men who matter most. Would the Not Boyfriend be amenable to a handshake and then be willing to spend the next two hours staring down my kid and avoiding eye contact with the ex? He said he would, if E was up for it.
I presented the situation as casually as I could to my son.
"Here's the deal," I told him, "if you'd like the Not Boyfriend to see you test, that means he will meet your daddy for the first time. How do you feel about that?"
His voice went up a few notches as he answered, also making every effort to be casual.
"Well, I always thought when they first met, it'd be like a wave across the room or something. Buuuuut," he added, contradicting himself, "I haven't really thought about them meeting."
He paused. I let the silence sway between us.
"It should be casual," he added.
I agreed. I also offered him options.
"The Not Boyfriend can come -- which I am sure he would love to do to support you. Or he can stay at home -- which I am sure would be totally fine. It's your choice."
He thought some more.
"What do you think Daddy and the Not Boyfriend will think of meeting each other?" He was weighing it out. I could tell by the words he chose.
"I think it is not our job to worry about how they will handle it. I think it is their job. You don't have to worry about how adults manage situations, even ones that involve you. We just have to make the best decisions for ourselves and hope they do, too."
Another pause. It felt long, but I am sure it wasn't.
"He can come!" he suddenly chimed. "Yeah. He can come."
I looked back at him in his carseat. More silence, just a moment more.
"Are you ready for that? I want to be sure. You can make your own choice here and can change your mind if you need to. And no matter when they meet, I want you to know that we will all do our best because we all love you." That's what I told him. I didn't want him to feel overtaken by these three adults and I didn't want him to parent his own dad through the newness of this.
A bit more quiet.
"Yeah, he can come. And I will let you know if I think about it and change my mind."
"That's a deal," I told him.
But saying it out loud, at least most of the time, for Lil E is like marking it with a Sharpie in his own calendar. And over the last few days, he talks about us all being there like the inaugural meeting happened long ago.
Perhaps that's how I should think about it, too, like this is just another time we will all be in the same room. I am sure it will go unremarkably -- intro, intro, handshake, man-grunt, nod, desperately seek out seats on opposite sides of the room.
There will be fallout in phone calls and other ways only other single mothers will fully understand, if the transition plays out as others before have. But I will put that off in meditation, focus only on the time when two hands of past and present clasp.
Then I will get back to my boy, who will do forms and spar his way up to a red belt, who will amaze me with his focus and memory and limberness. I will squeeze the knee of the Not Boyfriend, who will be taking video and tucking away tips and acknowledgments to share with my son when it is all over.
When it is all over. The words are glorious and still, unrepresentative. Because this is still all unfolding. It's the beginning, really. The opening chapters, the first months of our years. This will be a sentence buried by much more, many other times with me and these men.
For now, I am ready for this part to be done.
What's your advice for me? What did you learn from your new partner meeting your kids' dad?